As the cold and wet weather takes its toll on UK milk production - and with major processors harbouring ambitious growth plans - competition is heating up for processors to recruit dairy farmers.

Provisional figures show UK milk production is down 3.5% year-on-year to 11.9 billion litres [RPA]. The NFU said competition for milk had increased as a result, with processors such as Arla and Müller Wiseman looking to boost their supply bases. “There’s stiff competition for milk,” said chief dairy adviser Rob Newbery. “It was a very tough winter and summer last year- there’s less milk being produced, so they know they’ve got to increase their volumes.”

Arla wants to secure an extra 500 million litres, and a spokeswoman said recruitment was going well, with farmer meetings ongoing.

Müller Wiseman, which wants more farmers to supply it direct rather than through brokers, also said interest was strong. “It’s only been one month since we launched our recruitment campaign, and we’re pleased with the response we’ve had so far,” said a spokesman.

Dairy Crest, too, is looking to up the proportion of milk sourced direct - from 75% to 80% - but a spokesman said competition was not any stiffer now than in the past couple of years.

First Milk also struck a relaxed tone. “We recruited a large number of disillusioned direct suppliers in summer and autumn last year,” said a spokesman. “”On the flip side, we recognise that we may lose some farmers who don’t want to invest capital in the business, but that’s reality.” Anyone who doesn’t think a small number of farmers will move around on a regular basis probably put their life savings in a Cypriot bank last weekend.”