The president of the National Farmers' Union has said that the price of milk has been devalued to the extent that it is now "cheaper than water".
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said:
This is only a symptom of what has happened in the milk industry over the last number of months ... There are very few dairy farmers making any money, most are haemorrhaging money at this present time, particularly those at 20p a litre ...
Dairy farming is seen as nearly iconic in the British countryside. We have lost 60 dairy producers in December alone ... We have halved the number of dairy farmers in the last 10 years.
Britain's largest dairy firm has delayed payments to farmers because of a slump in the global price of milk, its chairman has said.
First Milk, a co-operative owned by British farmers, said last year was a "year of volatility that has never been seen before" in the global dairy industry.
Its chairman, Conservative MP Sir Jim Paice, said it will delay today's payments to farmers by two weeks and all subsequent payments by a fortnight in order to put the business on a "stronger platform".
He added: "We are aware that hundreds of UK dairy farmers are unlikely to find a home for their milk this spring."
The UK's food and drink exports have defied the recession and grown to nearly £19 billion, the farming minister is expected to claim.
In a speech to the National Farmers' Union (NFU) George Eustice will claim the 112 new export markets opened up last year have lead to nearly a £180 million increase in the amount of food and drink exported to non-EU countries.
Government action to cut red tape, changes to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) right, encouraging innovation, safeguarding plant and animal health have all helped growth, Mr Eustice will say.
In a preview snippet of his speech, Mr Eustice said: "Our long-term economic plan builds a stronger, more competitive, economy and secures a better future for Britain by helping spread growth and prosperity all over our country.
"For years, the rural economy and farms were ignored. Today, the Government is doing everything it can to support them. And that means more jobs, more opportunities and more financial security for hard working people."
Five women and five men have been shortlisted for this year's sexiest farmers.
The finalists were chosen from 300 entrants to the competition run by Farmer’s Weekly magazine.
The 10 range from 18-year-old Racheal Churches, whose parents say she is “up for anything including welding, milking and especially tractor-driving”, to Judi James, a single mother aged 53 who owns a veal business in Dorset.
Tim Relf, community editor of Farmer’s Weekly, said: “The competition will help dispel the myth that farmers are old-fashioned and scruffy and encourage more young people to consider careers in this exciting, innovative and high-tech sector.”
The National Farmers' Union has said that it believes that ordinary farmed beef is sustainable - something that some scientists disagree with.
A spokesperson added: "Beef farmers are proud of their farming which delivers great tasting, sustainable food for British consumers while also offering significant benefits for the environment, landscape and the rural economy."
In an article for ITV News, farmer Gareth Barlow describes the tough year for the industry and calls for better contingency crisis planningRead the full story ›
Tim Jones, a livestock farmer from Worcestershire, told Daybreak that "things are undoubtedly tough" for farmers.
He said a harsh winter has been followed by a run of dry weather, which has left livestock farmers like him, "desperately short of grass" for the sheep.
"Input costs have gone up, with animal feed now 18% more expensive than it was 12 months ago", he added.
Food prices are likely to rise after UK farmers reported a poor harvest due to the rainy summer.
Today Environment Secretary Owen Paterson will address farming representatives at a summit which will discuss ways of improving farmers' access to financial support.
- A decline in winter wheat of around 12%, with some crops written off, the crop will rely on good growing conditions from now on
- Demand of winter barley and oats has declined, and planting has suffered, winter oats could in stead be replaced by spring oats
- A quarter of oilseed rape is in a "very poor condition"
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson will host a summit for farming representatives, charities and banks to discuss the effects of last year's bad weather on the industry.
Following the second wettest year since records began, farmers have warned that heavy rainfall could affect the price of food.
Long-term averages of 30-year periods show an increase in annual rainfall of about 5% from 1961-1990 to 1981-2010:
- 1961-1990: 1100.6mm
- 1971-2000: 1126.1mm
- 1981-2010: 1154.0mm
Source: Met Office
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said the UK should be "proud" of the "fantastic" job farmers do.
He will hold a summit today to discuss the financial worries of many farmers after a year of bad weather.
He added: "This last year has been particularly tough. Farming contributes a huge amount to our environment and our economy.
"We want to ensure that farmers are able to deal with challenges like bad weather, to grow their businesses, create new jobs and help the country compete in the global race."