At the entrance to Alcorisa, bellowing is no longer heard. In mid-March, after more than four decades in operation, the last dairy that produced milk in the province of Teruel slaughtered its 200 head of cattle, a source of 3,000 liters a day. The decision of its owners responds to the harsh reality of a sector that for decades has suffered derisory sales prices, rising costs and little generational replacement, a lethal combo that makes the survival of small producers unfeasible.
The figures certify the demise of these farms. At the beginning of the 1990s, some 900 families in this province were engaged in the sale of milk, directly or through the Los amantes de Teruel dairy cooperative. But over the years, the successive crises in the sector accelerated the closure of the farms, and most ended up slaughtering their cattle, seeing that their meat is paid at a better price.
Farms in Spain close at the rate of more than 700 per year, going from 14,500 in 2018 to 10,500 in 2023
In 2005, there were only three farms that totaled less than 500 cattle. After the closure of those of Villarquemado and Fuentes Calientes, that of Alcorisa still endured five years alone. But with the retirement of the two brothers who managed it, the son of one of them, the only employee in the family, has not seen the strength to continue. “He did not see economic viability or quality of life,” says Álvaro Aranda, a veterinarian in the area who provided his services on the farm. “After all their lives with animals, the family doesn’t take the change well. It is complicated, but there was no other choice, ”he adds.
The closure also directly affects two other companies in the area, in Ejulve and Caspe, which used their milk to make their cheeses, yogurts and other derivatives. To supply the extinct supplier, they have to travel up to 200 kilometers to obtain supplies or resort to other sources such as goat’s milk, which complicates their operations, makes logistics more expensive and threatens their viability.
The situation is no better in the rest of Aragon, where there are only 41 farms dedicated to milk production. According to Aranda, the main problem in the sector is the low historical prices imposed by the large distributors, a lack of profitability that has led to a massive closure of farms throughout Spain (more than 700 per year, going from 14,500 in 2018 to 10,500 in the 2023).
The consequent reduction in the number of cows in production put the industry on alert, which in the last year reacted by increasing prices to the 0.60 cents per liter currently paid. An increase welcomed by producers, but for many it comes “too late” and barely covers the rise in production costs (energy, feed, etc.), especially as a result of the war in Ukraine.
The sector suffers low sales prices, high costs and lack of generational relief
In addition, Aranda denounces that small producers suffer more and more bureaucratic obstacles and demands in environmental matters or destination and handling of by-products and manure, which requires high investments that they do not have the capacity to undertake. “Only large farms will remain, with workers who are not from the area, who do not create territory or community. It is a different model, I don’t know if it is better or worse, but it is going to cause small farms to disappear”, he predicts.
César Sanz, Lely’s sales manager in Spain and Portugal, sees it likely that some provinces will follow in Teruel’s footsteps and run out of farms while concentration in other areas such as Galicia or Castilla y León accelerates thanks to their climate, the structure of ownership and ability to produce feed. “With the war in Ukraine, those farms that do not have the capacity to produce fodder because they do not have land or experience a prolonged drought, are more exposed to closure,” he said from his stand at the International Fair for Animal Production (Figan) held in Saragossa. Fewer farms, but bigger, more productive and efficient, which guarantees that, in his opinion, there is no shortage of milk in Spain. “These businesses give life to towns, generate wealth, and protect the environment. But if they close and the territory empties, who is going to take care of it?” Aranda complains.
In addition to the closure of the farms, the province of Teruel suffers loss of inhabitants. In a century, the province of Teruel has gone from almost 266,000 inhabitants to the current 134,400.