That’s the top line in a new report conducted for non-profit organisation DairyCo by research firm Promar International, which interviewed major buyers and processors of Welsh milk (18 Wales-based and 4 English-based firms).
The report claimed to be the first major assessment of the Welsh dairy industry since 2006, and it showed that 708m litres of milk (around 49 per cent of a 1.48m litre total) is shipped to England for processing.
These statistics showed there were opportunities for more home milk processing within Wales, DairyCo suggested.
According to the DairyCo report: “Although the Welsh industry is able to produce a wide range of products, including whey powders, there are 2 obvious gaps in the product mix.”
“The industry has no capacity to produce milk powders and the industry also lacks a ‘large scale’ milk processor capable of meeting the needs of the major supermarkets.”
Spare Welsh capacity
Despite the large amount of milk exported for processing, there was spare capacity within the Welsh dairy processing industry, particularly in cheese but also in - without new equipment or significant investment - liquid milk, the report authors wrote.
However, DairyCo said the country's current processing capacity “was still far below that required to efficiently supply any of the major retailers with the bulk of their milk needs”.
Although the English and Welsh dairy industries had similar structures in terms of numbers of processing plants up to 200m litres, DairyCo said the structures varied considerably beyond that level.
“The Welsh industry industry does not have any plants with processing capacity greater than 300m litres a year. In contrast, over 20 per cent of English plants have intake levels greater than 300m litres," the authors noted.
For instance, Robert Wiseman Dairies runs a 500m litre processing plant in Bridgewater, England, while Arla’s controversial planned ‘super dairy’ in Buckinghamshire will handle over 1bn litres a year.
Of the remaining Welsh milk balance of 51 per cent, most is made into cheese within the country, with over 80,000 tonnes a year produced.
DairyCo said that cheddar and mozzarella/pizza cheese account for the bulk of cheese products made in Wales.
Liquid milk processed in Wales accounted for just over 6 per cent of all milk processed for end product use, while yogurt, clotted cream, ice cream, butter and other dairy products accounted for the remaining 4 per cent.
Informing future strategies
However, the report also found that 130m tonnes of liquid milk is shipped from England to Wales for processing each year, along with smaller volumes of other products such as butter, whey and cheese.
Welsh government deputy minister for agriculture, Alun Davies AM said the scopting study provided an “excellent picture of the industry at the moment which will help to inform the action we need to take to develop a sustainable supply chain for Welsh milk from farm gate to the consumer".
Delyth Davies, DairyCo's head of dairy development for Wales, declined to comment on whether she thought her organisation's report suggested it was a bad thing that so much liquid milk was sent to England for processing.
"It's a statistical report to highlight what the situation is within the sector. It's up to everyone to use these as they wish to inform future strategies and policies," Davies told DairyReporter.com.
She added that DairyCo had received EU funding to produce the report, which she said had been written to simply help the industry by providing more information.