Dairy farmers across the UK have been dumping thousands of litres of milk after demand from cafes, restaurants and offices plummeted following the coronavirus lockdown.
Now, they say they must receive government support – or the sector faces collapse.
The Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF) said that without financial assistance, some farmers may have to cull thousands of cows and could struggle to survive the pandemic – meaning a shortage of milk when restrictions are finally lifted again.
It asked for its members to be reimbursed for a reduced value of unsold milk throughout the lockdown.
The push comes after it emerged some farmers had been pouring away milk they could not sell.
Robert Mallett, a dairy farmer in Wiltshire, revealed he had dumped “17,000 litres down the drain” in a tweet on Monday, while Winterdale Cheesemakers, based in Kent, posted a video online showing discarded milk flowing from a pipe.
“Rough times for artisan cheesemakers,” the post read. “Now the devastation continues – our milk was not collected today and sadly ends up down the drain.”
Cows must continue to be milked even when there is no market for the product to ensure they stay healthy.
It is estimated around 300 dairy farms, which produce around one million litres of milk a day, are being impacted by the ongoing crisis.
Peter Alvis, chairman of RABDF, said: “This scheme will ensure both short-term and longer-term food security and ease the stress on the industry.
“Removing the excess distressed milk from the market place will help to stabilise the current spot price without causing long-term market distortion.
“It will also allow those affected dairy farmers to continue to pay for invoices for farm inputs to the wider local and rural supply industry beyond the farm gate.”
He added the proposed scheme would prevent cows being culled – which, in turn, could drive down beef prices, causing issues for farmers specialising in meat.
It is understood ministers and officials are looking into ways the discarded milk could instead be sent to supermarkets and shops, which are themselves seeing a slight increase in demand.