Dairy farmers struggle to meet demand after recent drought hurts industry

Lihle Mtshali

Lihle Mtshali

Consumers might have to start weaning themselves off milk and dairy products. The overwhelming drought that has struck certain parts of the country, and the shortage of maize that is a direct result of it, has resulted in a serious shortage of milk.

"The shortage is pretty bad and we are expecting it to last for another three to four months," said Etienne TerreBlanche, managing director of the Milk Producers' Organisation of South Africa (MPO).

TerreBlanche said that because of the drought, maize prices had shot up drastically, making it difficult for some farmers to maintain their herds. Many milk farmers therefore had opted to slaughter their cows and take advantage of the high returns that they could get on meat products.

"The demand for dairy products has gone up by 2 percent over the past two years, yet farmers have not received any increases on the price of milk in that time, though consumers have had to fork out more for the products," said TerreBlanche.

As a result, farmers had been producing less milk, which was one of the factors contributing to the shortage, he said.

Roelf Venter, group marketing director at Spar said that some suppliers, such as Parmalat, had stopped producing fresh milk and were concentrating on UHT milk, which is long-life milk, but "at this stage nobody will walk into a shop and not find any milk at all. They just might not find their favourite brand."

The shortage of milk is global and therefore the option of importing was not open to suppliers, said Venter.

Marina Hanson, marketing manager at Douglasdale Dairy said that to keep a steady flow of the supply of their products, the dairy product producer had recruited more milk farmers and were now paying a higher fee for a litre to the farmers.

The MPO is running training programmes to attract and encourage younger farmers to come into the business, said TerreBlanche.

"This is a long-term investment for us, and we will be teaching these up-and-coming farmers everything from the farm to when they get their product on the shelves," he said.