It's a topic that has currency all around the world - who will be the next generation of dairy farmers?
Apparently there's no money in the business, there's no future, it is impossible to get a start, the hours are ridiculous, and so on.
But the milk keeps flowing somehow and, in a global sense at least, the volume keeps increasing - so somebody must be doing the work - and last time I checked slave labour had been abolished in the western world.
This week I had some insight into the future farmers of Britain and found it is none too different to what is going on down under in Australia and New Zealand.
It is perhaps an understatement to say that land is expensive in the UK, especially 40 miles from London. The townies come down and buy a country cottage or estate to escape the madness of the city. This demand for land and housing has pushed up prices to the point where there is an absolute disconnect between the price of land and its agricultural value. The competition for purchase is not between two farmers but between the Harley St doctor and the successful QC - "We really must have it Hughie darling ... ".
The global economy is no longer underpinned by noble pursuits such as farming and food production, that has got too easy, and cheap. Bigger tractors, harvesters, and factories doing twice the work in half the time with less people. In real terms food prices have fallen dramatically - well for farmers at least. If you don't believe me take a look here: EU annual milk price trend 1994 - 2009.
In the past 15 years prices for land, labour, fuel and other critical farm inputs have more than doubled but the price paid to farmers for milk has fallen and after adjusting for inflation the effect is even more dramatic. Polish farmers have had a better time of it. Their milk price has doubled in the past 15 years. You can be sure however that the price of land and labour has risen alongside this and they too are now faced with the challenge of rising costs and flat or falling milk prices.
For those that have come from a history of family farms with 80 cows and 80 acres this change in the economic environment has been a disaster. They are unable to make a living from the farm anymore and there is certainly nothing to hand on to their children - if indeed sons and daughters could afford to wait the extra 20 years that their parents are living. Little family farms in the UK and Europe have been saved by the Single Farm Payment, and by the townies that bought the old barn and 5 acres of boggy ground, for a ridiculous price.
But while there is much gnashing of teeth on the farm, in the village pub, and in the press, the future dairy farmers are getting on with it. Trained agricultural professionals are taking on farm management jobs and growing the business from 80 to 800 cows. After a while they become business partners - because the original land owner couldn't do it without them - their sons and daughters have gone to town to be bankers and doctors and lawyers or just about anything that doesn't require you to get up at 5am.
Pretty soon the assets and wealth start to be shared. First the growing herd of cows, then that new dairy vat, then the shed and dairy parlour, waste treatment system, and on it goes. All of this is funded by loans against the security of the land, still held by the original owners. The banks are happy to lend the money to a growing and modern dairy business, the farm owners are making a whole lot more money than they have ever made (they can afford to buy that retirement villa in the south of France) and the farm manager is growing his assets and wealth without owning any land. It's a 'win-win-win'.
It doesn't take long before this business grows to the point where there is more land needed, and here is where the business of wealth transfer really gets cranking. The townie that has bought the estate just next door has no idea really what to do with all those acres. The daughter's horse doesn't eat much grass ("oats are much better for her, Daddy") and the alpacas kicked and spat so they had to go.
Hugh Foster-Smythe starts chatting to the lads at the village pub and it just happens that our ambitious farm manager is looking for more pasture. Yes, he would be happy to look after the horse during the week, and trim the hedges, and do all those other jobs where contractors and agents were charging Hugh a fortune. Another 'win-win'? Well it might be a 'win-win more' but then it is all about perspective.
"£50 an acre? That would be capital chap!" Hugh is all of a sudden making an income on the estate and he doesn't have to do any work at all on the weekends. Never mind the fact that he paid £500,000 for the property, and has spent half as much again doing up the old cottage - perception is reality.
Our farm manager in the meantime is giggling all the way to the bank - the one that Hugh gave him an introduction to, and which wouldn't talk to him at all 10 years ago when he was first starting out.
And the original farm owners are sunning themselves in the south of France - "Yes we'll be back in May to give you a hand with the calves when you are doing the silage, but in June we are off to Australia to see our cousins. Cheerio."