Mixed Messages on Dairy in Agriscot Survey

Confidence levels suggest industry ‘on a knife edge’

A survey to assess the current mood of Scottish dairy farmers, carried out ahead of a major farming event, suggests the dairy sector in Scotland is ‘on a knife edge’.

Scottish Dairy Hub, dairy market analyst Chris Walkland and Kite Consultancy revealed the results of the survey at AgriScot, being staged at Ingliston, near Edinburgh today (20 November).

With more than 125 responses, the survey provided an excellent snapshot of the state of the sector in Scotland.  The survey results were discussed at an AgriScot seminar jointly hosted by Scottish Dairy Hub and Kite Consultancy.

More than 60 percent of dairy farmers who responded said they are ‘not so confident’ or ‘not at all confident’ about the direction of travel for the Scottish dairy industry. Just over 15 percent are ‘extremely confident’ or ‘very confident’.

However, there are some mixed messages.  Around 30 percent of respondents said they have ‘no confidence’ to invest in the short term but the same proportion say they are ‘very confident’ or ‘confident to invest’, with a further 40 percent in between.

That led the survey authors to state that confidence levels can easily swing one way or another, depending on what happens with regards to future agricultural policy and the milk price.  They state that both Government, and milk buyers have a role to play here.   When compared to 2016, when milk prices crashed, a third say their businesses are stronger, but two thirds believe their businesses are unchanged.

Looking to the future, a third of farmers are intent on expansion, mostly by up to 10 percent, but two thirds of farmers will keep output the same. Only seven percent are looking to cut volumes.  Based on this survey, it looks as if milk volumes in Scotland will continue to grow.

And there is reasonable optimism among farmers for life post Brexit.  Some 60 percent state their businesses will be about the same or better off after Brexit.

Summarising the survey results, David Keiley, Kite Consulting’s senior advisor in Scotland, said: “Scotland has a very polarised milk field, with some farmers getting very good milk prices but most aren’t.  

“A lot of businesses have been cash negative for a while, and that is putting a lot of pressure on them.  Many are on a knife edge currently having to deal with increasing overdrafts, higher levels of debts per cow and creditor burdens.

“Whilst we have very efficient businesses in Scotland, the survey results reflect the position of the Scottish dairy industry and the need, going forward, to determine a clear strategy for the future in light of the present challenges facing dairy farmers.”

NFU Scotland’s Milk Policy Manager Stuart Martin, who also runs the Scottish Dairy Hub said: “The survey and its results are significant and have implications for the whole supply chain in Scotland and the many stakeholders that engage with Scottish dairy farmers.”

Notes to Editors

The following NFU Scotland events at AgriScot are scheduled for the Upper Foyer, Highland Hall, Ingliston on 20 November. 

  • 11.00am – 12 noon The annual AgriScot debate involving NFU Scotland President Andrew McCornick and the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy Fergus Ewing, chaired by AgriScot Chairman Robert Neill, where future agricultural policy for Scotland will be on the agenda.  
  • 1.00pm – 2.00pm The Scottish Dairy Hub and Kite Consultancy seminar.  The panel includes Mairi Gougeon MSP, Minister for Rural Affairs and Natural Environment; Paul Flanagan Strategy Director for Dairy at levy body AHDB; ex-banker and now progressive dairy farmer based in Dumfries, Brendan Muldowney; Chris Walkland, independent dairy market analyst and journalist, who together with David Keiley, Kite Consulting’s Scottish based senior consultant, will present an overview of the present market situation, prospects for the next few months and immediate practical challenges facing Scottish dairy farmers.  The event is to be chaired by Alec Ross of Biocell Agri Ltd.
  • For media who would like to attend, email:
  • Photographs will also be available after the event by emailing:
  • NFU Scotland’s stand in the Highland Hall (Stand 10) will have a full line up of officeholders, policy managers and regional staff throughout the day.


Contact Bob Carruth on 0131 472 4006

Author: Bob Carruth

Date Published:

News Article No.: 163/19

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About The Author

Bob Carruth

A dairy farmer’s son, I joined NFU Scotland in 1999 after 13 years as an agricultural journalist. Following spells as a regional manager and policy lead on milk, livestock and animal health and welfare, I became Communications Director in 2008.

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