Jesús Manteiga has had a farm in Pontevedra for 40 years that houses more than 200 cows. Given the lack of collection, on Thursday of last week he had to throw away 4,000 liters of milk, the production of an entire day. “You don’t know if the next day you’re going to get paid or not for your work. It is an unbearable sinvivir ”, he recounts on the other end of the phone. The carriers’ strike has taken its toll on all the actors in the dairy chain: farmers, industrialists, merchants and consumers. Faced with a shortage of collection trucks, producers are forced to dump liters of milk. Factories are scrambling to stock as much product as they can, while customers stockpile the few bottles left on supermarket shelves for fear of stockouts.
The cows give milk every day, without skipping a day. And the life cycle of that milk does not go beyond 48 hours: from milking until it is transferred, treated and hermetically sealed in the container, no more time can pass. If that doesn’t happen, you have to throw it away. That cycle, explains Ignacio Elola, CEO of Lactalis, the company that owns Puleva from Granada, is being fulfilled for now more bad than good. The refrigerated tankers collect the milk from the dairies daily and manage to put it in the factory. But all the milk produced has been in the industry for almost two weeks because they can barely get it out, admits the CEO.
According to Luis Calabozo, general director of the National Federation of Dairy Industries (FENIL), the dairy sector is the most visible in this crisis because it has been the first to raise the alert about the risk of paralyzing the industrial chain. “The factories already detected on the second day of the strike that the warehouses were reaching their maximum capacity and, at the same time, the materials for packaging and packaging were running out,” he points out. The blockade was imminent.
In its plants in Lugo, Lactalis has stored the equivalent of 1,000 trucks of milk ready for stores. Each day, normally, 90 would go out, which means that they are almost 12 days late. “For this reason, if the situation is not fixed in a couple of days, we will not be able to continue producing because we cannot store more, and we will be forced to stop production,” says Elola. Meanwhile, in the Puleva factory in Granada, located on the outskirts of the city, 370 people work daily, seeing how 400,000 liters of milk arrive each day with which different types of dairy products are manufactured. This plant, the largest in Andalusia, currently has, according to the company itself, 33,000 pallets of finished product, which represents 27 million bricks stored. Lactalis calculates that there are 410 trucks that have not left with product since March 14.
Farmers on the ropes
The stoppage of transport, together with the escalation of production costs, has drowned many farmers. “There are two diseases that one kills you and the other buries you,” says Albino Gutiérrez, 50 years old. His farm, located in Pontevedra, gives shelter to 38 cows, and last week he had to waste a thousand and a half liters of milk. Since the strike began, on March 14, the trucks have come by the dropper: “They spend one day yes and one day no. On Wednesday they had to pick her up in the morning and they have come at night. If they hadn’t arrived, I would have had to throw the milk out again,” he says. Despite the consequences of the strike, Gutiérrez empathizes with the carriers, considering that they are in the same unsustainable situation as the ranchers. “Everyone should demonstrate in the street. If I were the one in charge, until they paid us the milk for the price it is worth, I would stop everything. We have been working for years with losses like crazy and having to get money from our parents, ”he ditches.
He knows in depth all the sides of the coin.
Even if the strike was called off in the short term, the sector agrees that the problems would take a few days to resolve. The stoppage of the chain has generated a large bag of stock accumulated hard to digest, which exerts enormous pressure on the supply available on the market. “Consumers who have stockpiled product will not buy again before consuming what they have. The evil is already done”, says Calabozo. Ramón Artime, head of the dairy sector of the Asaja agricultural organization, emphasizes that when carriers resume their activity at full speed, there will be much more demand for service. “Everyone will be asking for vehicles to carry the goods that have accumulated. The normalization time will depend on the availability that there is, ”he ditches.
Waiting for a solution, Manteiga believes that the most urgent problem is the risk of feed shortages. A small amount came in on Saturday, but if it doesn’t arrive again, in a couple of days it will run out of food for the cows and production will drop to 50%. “Animal food is sacred. If they really want to do harm, leave people without eating. We work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to take care of them as best we can. And now because of others they are left without eating? It doesn’t make much sense,” he confesses.
Román Santalla, secretary of livestock of the Union of Small Farmers (UPA), stresses that from the first day of the strike the sector has insisted a lot to defend the animals, which cannot be self-managed. An objective that is becoming increasingly complicated in the face of rising feed prices that trigger production costs: “A farmer already has to pay 55 cents for a kilo of feed, while for his milk he is paid less than 40 cents per liter. If on top of that he has to throw away product…”.
The accounts of Antonio Casas, president of the Alba Ganaderos cooperative and owner of a dairy farm with 300 cows in Moraleda de Zafayona (Granada), leave no room for doubt. The production cost of a liter of milk last year in his cooperative was 41.5 cents, and yet he was paid 34 cents. Now he is paid 39 cents, but according to his calculations, the cost of diesel, electricity and of cereals it has raised the production of a liter of milk to 45 cents. “We have a very big structural problem,” he says. And remember more prices: “This year, the ton of soybeans is 600 euros and last year it is 316. That of corn is 420 and last year it is 170. If you add a rise in diesel and electricity, you already have the complete picture” , adds Casas, who produces 12,000 liters of milk a day and loses 20,000 euros a month.
Galicia, the most affected community
Along with fish, which has also been missing from stores due to the fishermen’s strike, milk is the most mentioned product for being missing from the shelves of large supermarkets. This is due, explains Ignacio Elola, to the fact that the transporters’ strike has been especially strong in producing areas.
“In Galicia, where 50% of the milk in Spain is produced, in Asturias, and even in the southeastern area of Andalusia, the strike has been strong and has blocked the transport of milk,” he says. A transport that, in the case of Lactalis, both inbound and outbound is carried out by freelancers because the company does not have its own department or network of trucks.
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