On March 1, the association ‘Sponsor a cow’ launched the following alarm: “In a few days we ran out of dairy cows in Teruel. The last ones will be loaded this month to the slaughterhouse. This is over.” And his prognosis came true in 14 days. Last Tuesday, the historic Alcorisa dairy slaughtered its last animals, specifically 200 head of cattle that produced about 3,000 liters a day. For five years it had become the only dairy farm in the entire province. Alone, he had endured the harsh current reality of the sector: zero generational change, unsustainable production costs and derisory sales prices to dairies to maintain exploitation. The previous farm in the area, that of Fuentes Calientes, had taken the same path in 2018.

So there are no more cows left in Teruel. Animal depopulation joins human depopulation. The data leaves no doubt. 134,421 people currently live in this Aragonese province, according to official data, 9,000 fewer inhabitants than a couple of decades ago. In a century, it has lost more than half its population, going from the 265,908 inhabitants of 1910, its historical maximum, to the current dramatic figure. The demographic desert is joined by the livestock desert.

Thus, according to data from the official milk control in Aragon, at the beginning of the 1990s there were some 900 families with milk deliveries that sold milk in their area or through the dairy cooperative called ‘Los amantes de Teruel’, but the successive crises in the sector have accelerated the closure of family farms. Most ended up slaughtering the animals because meat is now paid much better than milk, which has led to a drastic reduction in the number of farmers. In 2005 there were only 425 cows concentrated in the towns of Alcorisa, Fuentes Calientes and Villarquemado. Until only one farm remained in operation, Alcorisa, in the hands of the Josa family, with more than 30 years in the sector.

However, with the retirement of the two brothers who were in charge of them, José María, the son of one of them, and the only one of the family who works in it, “has no longer seen the strength to continue,” their neighbors say. The owners are silent due to the pain they are enduring. These are hard days for the whole family: “They are having a very bad time, not only from the emotional point of view but also economically,” warn fellow ranchers in the area. They have given their all to the end, but they want to prevent society from considering the closure decision as a “failure”. They do not deserve it.

The closure of the farm in turn represents a serious danger to the economy of two other companies that use its milk to make dairy products, located in Ejulve (Teruel) and Caspe (Zaragoza). From there came between 2,500 and 3,000 liters of milk every 24 hours, supplying the cheese maker and the producer of yogurt and other dairy products, they advance in ‘Sponsor a cow’. The association, made up of farmers, veterinarians, technicians and non-profit administration personnel, was born in the face of the -now consummated- danger of “guaranteeing the survival of dairy cattle farms in Aragon as a family business, an environmentally sustainable activity , backbone of the territory and fixer of population in rural areas”.

In all of Aragon, only about 50 farms would remain today. Carlos Larraz, owner of a farm with 120 cows in Monzón (Huesca), assures that to dedicate himself to cattle “you need enthusiasm and a lot of sacrifice, and if the inputs are through the roof, it is almost impossible to maintain production exclusively of milk if it is not compatible with other sectors or you make your own feed to save costs”. This producer assures that another dozen farms in Aragon will close in the near future: “Either solutions are put in place or it is impossible to continue, at least for the medium and small ones.”

The situation in the rest of the country is not much better. Currently, according to data from the Ministry of Agriculture updated in March, there are 10,577 farmers with milk deliveries. In January there were 10,717, 6.9% lower than the same month of the previous year, confirming the drop period after period. For example, in January 2021 there were 11,447 registered. In Aragon there are only 42 left. All this despite the fact that the sale price of milk, stagnant for years, has risen in recent months, but not at the same level as the high production costs, and even more so after the consequences of the war in Ukraine, which triggered prices: from 0.483 euros that the farmer was paid per liter in December 2021 to 0.643 today: “We need these prices for a long time, not in recent months and when the dairy industry has seen that we were running out of cows because it was not profitable,” says Larraz. The price for the consumer in supermarkets has risen by 16.9% on average in the last year for each liter of milk, according to the IRI consultancy.

In March 2023, the census of dairy cattle in Spain was 784,846 cows, which represents a decrease of 3.2% compared to the same month of the previous year and 0.3% compared to February. Throughout Spain, at the beginning of this year, 621,538 tons of milk were declared, which represents a decrease of 2.0% year-on-year. It is not surprising -as EL MUNDO announced- that a few months ago the sector warned that perhaps, if this decline continued, milk would have to be imported from abroad for consumption, presumably from France.

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