Recognition of the difficulties faced by dairy producers comes from Tony Evans, partner in the Andersons consultancy. "The year 2000 has been desperate for UK dairy producers, but there is a feeling that the worst is over." On the plus side, Evans cites strong SMP and butter prices and the fact the IMPE price linkage has been broken by shorter supplies. Senior consultant Mike Houghton said: "Those UK producers who remain will have the lowest cost of production in Europe, together with the increased scale." Both these factors will pay dividends when EU quotas are finally dropped and Europe starts to compete on the world market. However, even Houghton's most optimistic estimate was that this is still seven or eight years away. {{PROVISIONS }}