Milk bought by middlemen from farmers in villages fetches them double the price in nearby towns. The situation is almost pervasive in the region with a slight change or variation in milk prices and input costs. The main reason behind this win-win situation for the middleman and big dairies in towns at the cost of farmers is the gap between the producer and the buyer.
"Milk, which I produce through high input costs, is purchased at R20 a litre by the middleman. The same milk is sold in Kotkapura town for R32 to 40. Even the same milkman buys buffalo's milk from me at R28 and sells it at R33, just a few metres from my house to a neighbour and the buyer often complains about the bad quality of milk," says Jagroop Singh, a milk producer from a Kotkapura village.
But if the input costs, including labour expenses, are calculated the dairy farming leaves little profit for milk producers. The rates of the cattle feed, which consumes a large part of income from milk, are about R1,600 to 1,700 per quintal on an average.
"Selling milk to middlemen in the absence of any viable option is rather discouraging. I sell cow's milk at R20 per kg while animal feed costs R16 per kg. Growing and keeping green fodder all the year round is not possible. Straw rates are also going up and so are the rates of medicines and feed supplements," says Gurmeet Singh, a farmer from Bir Sikhan Wala village, who started rearing milch animals to support his small income from agriculture.
On the other hand, the buyers at towns often complain of higher rates and substandard quality of milk.
"As of now, we are buying milk at R40 per kg and we don't know whether it is cow milk or of buffalo or mixed. The quality is a problem most of the time," says Sarbjeet Kaur, a house wife from Kotkapura town.
"The milk rates in Kotkapura town range from R32 to 40 per litre. Several milkmen separate cream from the milk before selling it and buyers mostly get skimmed/separated milk," claims Raju, a Kotkapura resident.
The district health department, it appears, is going slow as far as taking samples of milk and milk products is concerned. "We have just taken four samples of milk and now are focusing on milk products," said Dr Surinder Kumar, district health officer (DHO). Faridkot.
"The dairy farmers can earn some profit only if they market their produce themselves to the consumers and also make arrangements for selling milk products and its byproducts. But this is nearly impossible for most of the farmers due to their small-scale enterprises and given their limitations," said Jaswinder Singh, a farmer from Dhilwan Kalan village.
However, selling milk to the leading dairies at their collection centres is somewhat beneficial for the producers. "Presently, the fat rates are at R4.20 per unit.
The sellers are getting R22 for cow milk and R36 for buffalo milk at my collection centre on an average," claimed Sukhdeep Singh, a youth from Surghuri village, who is running a collection centre of a prominent dairy.
The milch animal rearing has been one of the few allied occupation among the small farming community but low milk rates have forced many to give up this occupation.
Cow milk is usually bought at R20 by milkmen
A 1-litre bottle of packaged water of standard company sells at R18
A 2-litre cold drinks packing sells at R65 to 70
Feed rates for milch cattle R16 per kg