How did farmers curb milk production this spring?

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

By Chris Gooderham

Farmers knocked an estimated 55 million litres off volumes in GB through April and May. But how did they manage it?

Latest Milkminder data from Promar gives us an indication of what happened. The chart below looks at the movement in two herd factors between March (prior to curbing) and May, as well as the annual change in May milk yields. It then compares 2020 with the three-year average from 2017 to 2019.

Over the previous three years, the number of cows in the herd has stayed relatively stable between March and May. In 2020, the Milkminder results recorded a 1.9% decline.

In terms of the proportion of cows in milk, the results show a slight decline this year. On average over the past three years the proportion of the herd in milk has increased by 0.3% between March and May. This year, it fell by 0.4%.

Looking at trends in milk yields through the spring is always a little more tricky because of the variations due to weather. The drought conditions in early spring this year could also mask any deliberate attempts to curb volumes. However, over the last three years we’ve seen milk yields in May increase by an average of 0.7% per year. In 2020 the May milk yields did not increase compared with May 2019, but instead remained relatively unchanged. We could argue that this means the normal 0.7% increase was taken away.

We previously estimated that GB milk production in May was curbed by 36 million litres as a reaction to calls for lower volumes. Based on the Promar Milkminder data and our analysis, 20 million litres was cut through removing cows from the herd. A further 8 million litres was cut by those remaining in the herd being dried off early, and around 9 million litres by not increasing milk yields.


Please note the numbers do not add up exactly to the 36 million litres lost in May, but appear to give a close approximation of what happened to the herd this spring.

Chris Gooderham

Head of Market Specialists - Dairy & Livestock

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