As a significant entity on the international economic and cultural landscape, the UK is well-known for a number of its quirks and qualities. Television dramas are pitched around its history and monarchy, and its vibrant cities and quiet historical ruins see thousands of wide-eyed visitors every single year. When ranked according to national GDP, the kingdom falls firmly into fifth place. What many might not know, however, is that the UK has drawn considerable attention for its position as a major player in the global dairy industry.


To understand how the dairy industry functions in the UK, needs to visualize the nation’s geography. As the name suggests, the United Kingdom is a collection of tightly-knit countries including: England (the mainland), Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Given their geographical proximity, all have cool and temperate climates and see regular rainfall. However, the type of farm utilized is anything but uniform; some UK dairy farmers opt for extensive grazing-based farms, while others rely on more intensive indoor systems. Given the temperate climate, milk production in the UK tends to follow a seasonal pattern by peaking immediately after calving season draws to a close in May and dipping when cooler weather sets in during September and November. This said, the dairy industry has made strides over the years to adapt their practices to a continuous production cycle and meet year-round demand.


According to statistics provided by AHDB Dairy, there were over 13,300 active dairy farms in the UK in 2015, with most bulked in south- and northwest England and Wales. The average herd size has increased a full 5.5% since 2010, leaving the total number of dairy cows (defined here to be any dairy female cattle aged two or more years with offspring) standing at approximately 1.9 million head. Interestingly, this figure is a 27% reduction since 1996, indicating a potential long-term downward trend in overall cattle numbers. Milk production, however, has remained strong; the average cow in 2016 produced a total of 7,636 liters per year. When totaled, this number comes to 12.3 billion liters in 2016 – less than was produced in 2015, but nearly 9.3% more than what was produced in 2006. Milk production accounted for a full 17.8% of the UK’s total agricultural output in 2014.


Overall, the UK stands as a significant player in the international dairy market. Click here for our overview of the dairy industry in New Zealand!