GB dairy producers down 5% but volumes remain high

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

By Chris Gooderham

Our most recent survey of major milk buyers suggests that in April there were an estimated 8,380 dairy producers in GB. This is a reduction of 470 producers (5.3%) compared with the survey we completed in February last year.

Despite the drop in dairy producers, overall milk volumes remain high. The latest numbers suggests that the average farm in GB is now producing around 4,100 litres per day, or 1.5m litres per year.


Poor weather conditions earlier in the year caused challenges to some for spring turnout. Farmers are also estimated to have reduced volumes by 23 million litres in April to ease the pressure on processing capacity. Despite both these challenges, April milk production reached an estimated 1,094 million litres – the second highest for 17 years. Only April 2019 exceeded this level.

chart, bar chart

Overall the evidence shows that, while there are fewer dairy farms in the country, through efficiency gains production levels are remaining high.


Getting a true picture of the number of dairy producers in the country is often difficult due to the different reporting methods used.

  • The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is often used to track producer numbers across England and Wales, based on the number of farmers registered to produce milk. However, the FSA database will be updated quickly when a new farmer starts up production, but not necessarily when a farmer exits. Deregistering is voluntary, and therefore unlikely to be top of the “to do” list for a farmer leaving the industry. The FSA will often only capture this cessation when a regular check is carried out. These checks occur on a 10-year basis (for those registered with Red Tractor) or a 2-year basis otherwise. This means FSA numbers will often over-state the number of dairy farmers in the country.
  • Defra carry out a survey on the number of dairy holdings. This includes all farms with a dairy cow over 2 years old with offspring. The latest data, for 2017, showed there were 16,605 dairy holdings in GB, a much larger number than our estimate. However, nearly 40% of these holdings had fewer than 10 cows, meaning they are unlikely to be commercial dairy farms.

AHDB’s estimate represents the number of producers actively contributing to GB milk production. It is based on the number of active producers and temporary inactive producers from the milk buyers that contribute to the Daily Milk Deliveries survey. This covers approximately 77% of volumes in GB, and so the estimate has been adjusted accordingly. A figure based on levy data has been used to account for direct suppliers.

We last completed the survey in October 2019, when producer numbers appeared relatively stable. However, this was at the time of the Tomlinsons issues, and it now looks likely that the number of producers in October was probably around 100 lower than we initially estimated.

Image of staff member Chris Gooderham

Chris Gooderham

Head of Market Specialists - Dairy & Livestock

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