Chino-Russian dairy unit will hit farmers
Work has begun in China on the construction of a 100,000-cow dairy unit – to supply the Russian market with milk and cheese that were originally coming from farmers in Shropshire.
Russia extended a ban on Western food imports earlier this year, meaning milk, including a significant amount produced in Shropshire, was no longer being sold in the country.
With President Vladimir Putin supporting moves to boost Russia's "food security", officials have promised to invest more in agriculture to make the country self-sufficient in milk, meat and fruit and vegetable production.
It means the country is turning to alternatives like China to produce food and milk that once came from the UK. And it closes the prospect of Shropshire farmers winning back contracts in the event of diplomatic relations between the West and Russia thawing.
Russia has banned milk, fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and dairy imports from the European Union, USA, Australia, Canada and Norway in retaliation against sanctions being imposed because of the conflict in Ukraine.
The super dairy being built in Mudanjiang City, north-east China, will be used for the Russian market. It will be the world's largest and marks a £103 million collaboration between Russian and Chinese investors.
China's Zhongding Dairy Farming and Russia's Severny Bur are behind the project.
The world's largest site currently operational is the 40,000-cow Modern Dairy Company unit in China. For the new site, feed and forage stocks needed to supply the year-round housed animals will be grown on 100,000 hectares of land, most of which is in Russia.
Before the Russian ban the EU exported about 300,000 tonnes of cheese, roughly 25 per cent of its production.
Mansel Raymond, chairman of Milk Working Party Copa-Cogeca, the umbrella organisation for European agricultural groups, said the ban and the Chino-Russian dairy venture sent a worrying signal to EU dairy farmers.
"The scale of Chinese investment in dairy production is vast," Mr Raymond said.
"Building a 100,000-cow dairy farm is simply mind-boggling. If the project goes ahead and the 100,000 head represents milking cows, this unit alone could produce 800m litres/year. In that case, it would equate to 100,000 tonnes of cheese – and that would mean this unit alone could produce about 30 per cent of our previous exports to Russia," he added.
The loss of exports to Russia has contributed to the crisis of falling UK milk prices. Supply is outstripping demand in the UK, leading to the slump. Farmers who met at Market Drayton Livestock Market on Thursday described the state of the industry in Shropshire as "critical". David Handley, of Farmers for Action said his members were in "dire straits".
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