28 Mar 2010

Bute Cheddar | The End

You may imagine that life in rural Scotland is one big beautiful VisitScotland advert: Good-looking couples escaping the humdrum of their city life and taking romantic strolls along huge arcs of windswept beach followed by a warming glass of whisky as they sit wrapped in their Celtic Sheepskin snugs by a crackling wood-fire.

Well, it can be beautiful, there’s no doubt about it.

But picturesque Scotland needs its unglamorous behind-the-scenes industry to keep functioning.  And one of the island’s main employers is set to close in 30 days


The Creamery bosses say that it is ‘losing money’.  I wonder if that’s true.  When it opened, there were 15,000 gallons of milk being delivered.  Sure, it went up to about double that, but now my farming mole assures me that today it’s certainly no lower than that initial figure.

All the dairy herds on this island send their milk to the creamery.  In fact, milk is even ferried over from the mainland to ensure cheese production.

So what's changed?

Well, the ferry fares to/from the mainland can't be helping keep the product prices competitive, that's for sure.

Plus, First Milk are being screwed down by the supermarkets and the margins are narrow.  Too narrow to be viable, it would appear.

First Milk propose to ‘bus’ the island’s milk all the way down to a brand spanky new creamery in Campbeltown – check it out on a map.  The milk will have been shaken to butter and yoghurt by the time it arrives.

If you are wondering at the warped brain-power that decides to build a brand new creamery in Campbeltown (which is located in the farthest end of the Mull of Kintyre), it’s because one those self-same ‘screwing-down’ supermarkets (namely Tesco) wants to build a store on the site of the old dud creamery there.

Yes, Tesco will pay for a shiny new creamery MILES away from a decent tarmac-ed road and as a result, ours (only a 30 minute ferry ride away from the A8/M8) is f*cked.

How long with First Milk be able to sustain trundling milk up and down the length of Argyll to the main arterial routes of central Scotland? Maybe a year, maybe more…..and then it too will shudder to a standstill because it just won't be viable.

But it’s not just Tesco wanting land that has done for us, it’s cheaper to import cheese from abroad.  Yep – just like it made good business sense to import cheaper coal from Poland.  And you know how THAT ended up.  We just can't compete.

Yes, rural Scotland can be heart-breakingly beautiful; sometimes it’s just plain bloody heart-breaking.

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