The economic and social crisis has also reached the countryside. There are many livestock farms that are currently closing because being a shepherd is no longer profitable and because of the economic difficulties of industrial producers, which are late in paying for the milk they purchase. The current situation is that there are families that are abandoning the shepherding. In the Basque Country and Navarra, there are 417 livestock farms that farm the latxa breed of sheep in the A.O. of the Idiazabal cheese and 124 of them, are also cheese producers. But this crisis brings changes.
Alternatives for their milk are emerging from the producer cooperatives. For example, a recently created producers cooperative, that has become quite important, sells milk through contracts. Something that it did not happen before. This initiative of selling milk through purchase and sales contracts has been driven by the the E.C. There are also other groups of producers who use collective bargaining in order to negotiate the price as a group and not individually. Bargaining individually weakness the farmer’s position with regard to industrial purchasers. There is now a better coordination between sheep farmers who are joining in their efforts to fight against the abusive prices of the milk that are given by big companies. The “Latxa Esnea” cooperative has been created by the local producers. This cooperative has obtained some collective contracts, although the industry keeps wanting to purchase the milk individually so they can negotiate the prices downwards. In Navarra there are groups of people who are not only thinking about the production but also about integrating into the community as they believe in the careful elaboration of Idiazabal cheese by smallholders. The situation with the farmers has reached rock-bottom, and as it can only get better from here this encourages a more hopeful future scenario.
Compared to other Autonomous Regions, in the Basque Country small producers are increasingly turning to producing cheese, as the sale of milk, on its own, is not profitable. This occurs especially in Basque farms, when younger generations are taking over farms. Each year there are two or three new cheese farms, lead by young shepherds that want to continue living in the country. Despite the small total production of Idiazabal cheese, 1200 tons per year, production is far from being concentrated into a few producers, it is diversified among plenty of cheese farms. This is considered as positive as it is profitable business for all those that live in the territory.