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Greek economic woes felt in Surrey

by Rod Kebble

Mike Clear, tenant farmer of the Countryside Restoration Trust’s 204-acre Pierrepont Farm in Frensham, Surrey, seems an unlikely victim of Greece’s debt problems as he sprays 2,000 gallons (9,000 litres) of chocolate milk onto his fields.

Farmer Mike Clear of the Countryside Restoration Trust's Pierrepont Farm prepares to spray his fields with unwanted chocolate milk.

Farmer Mike Clear prepares to spray his fields with unwanted chocolate milk.

Two years ago, Mike contracted with a British easter egg manufacturer to provide Chokkilait, a milk that comes from the cow with chocolate flavouring already in it.

“We give a special feed derived from cocoa beans and sugar beet to a group of our pedigree Jersey cows producing milk with the highest fat content,” says Mike. “Our robotic milking system detects the flavoured milk and directs it to a particular holding tank for collection by a dedicated tanker.”

Any overproduction of the flavoured milk is usually taken up by the demand from Greece, where the Orthodox Easter often falls later than that in the UK. This year, however, has seen the collapse of the Greek easter egg market due to the country’s debt crisis.

The chocolate company, which Mike declines to name, has had to refuse deliveries of the unique milk and Mike cannot store it. “Due to its high chocolate content, the milk has to be kept in tanks with paddles, to stop it solidfying,” he explains. “This also makes it unsuitable for use in chocolate drinks.”

A DEFRA spokeswoman confirmed that the milk is difficult to stockpile and also pointed to an EU directive that bans its storage for longer than six months, in order to prevent another Chokkilait Lake developing. “This was an example of the kind of entrepreneurial initiative British dairy farmers need to engage in to remain competitive,” she said, “and it is a great pity that on this occasion events elsewhere have caused it to fail.”

Mike’s herd has 130 milking cows.

Update 2nd April 2012: Please note that this post was published on April Fool’s Day 2012…