Our small (90 acres) farm here in the Yorkshire Dales was, until the Foot and Mouth outbreak, a Dairy Farm. We milked around seventy Freisian/Holstein cows and made a reasonable living from them.
We were unlucky enough to actually have Foot and Mouth here on our farm; all our cattle had been milked in the morning and by evening milking time they had all been killed, as had a hundred or so pedigree Swaledale sheep we were keeping for another farmer.
It was a tough time; but we got through it and came out the other side having been supported by some good people and having decided that, considering the farmer's age, we would not go back into milk production. We now let out most of our land and also cattle and sheep keep for other farming friends.
But since those days the bottom has really dropped out of the Dairy Industry. This is traditionally an area where the farms are relatively small and mostly kept by one man - with sheep and/or cattle (milk or suckler herds) and maybe supplemented by hens or poultry for the Christmas market. But now all that has changed.
As farmers have died off (the average age for a farmer up here is sixty-ish) so farms have been sold and incorporated into other farms so that now, around us here, there are some large dairy farms milking large numbers of cows.
But the world dairy market has been depressed so that even with these larger herds many farmers have found themselves in the position where outlay has cost more than the milk prices were bringing into the farming economy.
This week has seen the first signs of a recovery. The Global Dairy Trade auction (GDT) brought an increase of 16.5 per cent so that now prices are at their highest since April.
At least this year has been an exceptional year for silage crops - large quantites and good quality, which means that the cattle should milk well over the winter. And of course farmers will not have to buy in so much winter food.
Anyone who has witnessed the demonstrations by farmers throughout Europe knows that there is a feeling of desperation there. And when I see that milk is often a loss leader in supermarkets, where it is priced as low as £1 for two litres in some instances, I do despair of ever seeing farmers making a decent living. I think the farmer is well-pleased that he is out of front line farming now.
Where things will go in the future is anybody's guess, but I do hope it doesn't go the way I saw on the television the other day where very large herds of cows are kept indoors, principally as milking machines - all their needs are catered for, but they never get out into the sunshine and the fresh air. Anyone who has been close to cows will know that even on the coldest day of the year, if there is a bit of sunshine and the farmer accidentally leaves a door in the inside shed open for a second the whole herd is off down the pasture, tails flying, free as birds and enjoying every minute of it. Don't let us ever deprive them of that.