Eighteen months on from the SOS Dairy protests, farmer confidence in the dairy industry is back – and at a record high, new research suggests.

DairyCo’s latest Farmer Intentions Survey, which gauges confidence among dairy farmers, shows just 4% of UK dairy farmers plan to exit the industry over the next two years. That’s the lowest since 2004, when DairyCo first ran the survey and a whopping 22% of dairy farmers planned to leave the industry. Last year, the number stood at 9%.

Fifty-four percent of dairy farmers said they planned to maintain their current level of production over the next two years, and 31% said they planned to increase it.

The survey also suggests dairy farmers are feeling increasingly optimistic about the future of their industry. Asked to rate how optimistic they are about the dairy industry - on a scale of one to five, with five being the highest – 50% gave a score of four, and 8% scored their confidence as a five. Just 2% said they were extremely pessimistic, giving a score of one, and 6% gave a score of two. Overall, the mean score for confidence in the industry this year stood at 3.56, up from 3.22 in 2013 and 3.44 in 2012.

According to the DairyCo survey, farmers’ satisfaction with their contracts is also high: 80% said they were happy with their contract, and 85% are happy with their milk buyer. Asked about their confidence in the dairy industry’s new voluntary code of conduct, which was introduced in the wake of the dairy farmer protests of 2012 to improve contract terms for farmers, 20% gave a score of four out of five for confidence, and 4% gave it a five out of five. However, a relatively large proportion – 25% - was unsure, saying they did not know.

The results of the survey were presented by DairyCo analyst Julie MacLeod at the Outlook conference, organised by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, in Westminster on Wednesday (12 February).

The survey polls a representative sample of 1,060 dairy farmers in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Polling for the 2014 survey took place during December 2013.