Intensive Dairy Farming Debate

During a debate on intensive dairy farming Neil Parish highlights concerns about the effect on the industry as a whole, the welfare of farmers and the public's concept of farming.Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I should like to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) and say that my views on this issue are also mixed. If I look at the commercial situation and even the animal welfare situation, I do not think that there is a problem with the unit that we are discussing, because there will be vets on call, the buildings will be exceptional and the quality of everything on that farm will be excellent. I do not think that that is the issue.I shall explain my concern. When we see the advertising of milk, cheese or butter, we see the wonderful Kerrygold cows hopping around the field. I do not think that the Kerrygold cows are any happier than anyone else's cows, but of course that company is very good at marketing the product.I worry about the dairy industry as a whole. We live in a time when people want to eat less fat and we need to market the product well, and I am not convinced in that respect with regard to 4,000, 6,000 or 8,000 cows on a farm in Lincolnshire or wherever that are kept indoors all the time. Let us say that a farm has 6,000 cows. Six fours are 24; that is 24,000 feet. Imagine turning those out into a field; certainly, if it was one of my fields in Somerset, it would not take long to turn it into a plough ground. I know that, in reality, not all 6,000 cows would be turned out together, but the chances of those cows going out into the field and being seen grazing are pretty negligible. I think that we all accept that.We can argue the rights and wrongs of the single farm payment and the common agricultural policy, but farming does take quite a lot of public money one way or the other, and the public, rightly or wrongly, want to see a certain style of farming. They want to see cows out in the fields. We have only to think back to the time of foot and mouth disease in 2001, when so many sheep and cattle were, unfortunately, slaughtered. The one thing that the public told me was that they missed the livestock in the fields. We have to face up to that.My hon. Friend the Minister has a huge conundrum to solve. From the point of view of the economics, welfare and planning, there is probably no problem, but in terms of the industry, the welfare of farmers and the public's concept of farming, there is a big issue. We can argue about the economics of dairy farming, but it will be accepted that even now, people should be able to make a reasonable living from 200 cows, so do we really want to go to 4,000 or 8,000 cows, which will take out 40 or 80 of what I would call commercially viable farms?Then what are we doing? We are handing over even more power to the supermarkets. They will love to get their milk from herds of 4,000, 6,000 or 8,000 cows, because they can send dirty great tankers along, probably all day long, to collect the milk. I suspect that the cows will be milked several times a day, so there will be milk there all the time and the supermarkets will be able to get tanker-loads of it. That suits everyone from a commercial point of view, but will it actually increase the price of milk? I doubt that very much. I suspect that it will decrease the price of milk and then the 200-cow herd, the 300-cow herd and even the 400-cow herd will be under pressure.I know that I am perhaps wanting to have my cake and eat it. I want to say, \\Let's have commercial farming,\\ and then say, \\Well, this is a little bit too commercial. Let's stop it here.\\ However, we do have to consider the issue carefully, because we are talking about the overall health and the overall marketing of the dairy industry and what I believe is an excellent product; it is very good for people to consume. Returning my remarks to my constituency in Devon, I have to say that keeping cows out grazing is part of the landscape that people expect to see.I do not envy the Minister his task today because he has to balance many elements, but as we move forward on this proposal, or stop it or whatever, we must be conscious of the dairy industry as a whole, of smaller farms and of the public's perception of dairy farming.| Hansard