A JOB-STARVED community has been left reeling after learning that 81 much-needed posts will be lost with the closure of a dairy farm.

UK Dairy Sales has confirmed today (Thursday, June 12) that it is ceasing production at Rock Farm Dairy, in Wheatley Hill, east Durham, following “difficult trading conditions”.

The move will also affect 24 dairy farms in the North-East and North Yorkshire, whose contracts to supply milk will not be renewed.

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Chris Taylor, a spokesman for the Lincoln-based firm, said: “UK Dairy Sales conducted a strategic review of its business in light of very difficult trading conditions for the dairy industry.

“It proposed it was no longer economically viable to process milk at the Wheatley Hill site and we went through a consultation period with members of staff.

“After careful consideration of all viable options it was concluded there wasn’t any alternative, but to cease production at the site.

“Members of staff have all been given notice. They haven’t a final close date yet, but they will all get redundancy payments.”

While UK Dairy Sales would continue to trade and service its customers across the region, 24 dairy farmers supplying milk had been given notice under the terms of their contracts, he added.

Until such time as their contracts end – in between three to six months time – UK Dairy Sales will continue to collect their milk on a daily basis and pay them for their product.

Mr Taylor said there had been many contributory factors, but “the straw that broke the camel’s back” was the move by supermarkets to slash their milk prices.

Sedgefield's Labour MP Phil Wilson said: “It is really sad news for the 81 people involved and also for the village.

“The area has higher than the national average of unemployment and I understand Rock Farm Dairy is the biggest employer in the area.

“I have spoken to Job Centre Plus and the Durham County Council and other agencies, to try every avenue possible to find employment for those affected.

“We are hoping to organise a jobs fair towards the end of June or beginning of July so that people affected can get additional advice.”

NFU regional dairy adviser, Laurie Norris, said: “This is a very worrying time for the farmer suppliers affected, a number of whom were also affected when the co-operative ‘Dairy Farmers of Britain’ collapsed in 2009.

“While they have been given three months to find a home for their milk, the practicalities of finding a suitable new milk buyer in that short timeframe will put a lot of pressure on those farmers affected.

“Smaller processors who often supply local shops and smaller retail chains, are currently under significant price pressure as their customers try to compete with major supermarket chains who are selling discounted milk.”