Blog: Dairy farmers and the environment


She writes:

In compiling and launching the 2015 Dairy Roadmap, I’ve seen first-hand the focus that NFU members are giving to their environmental footprint. The Roadmap unites the full supply chain including farmers, processors, retailers, government and industry partners.

Collectively, the dairy supply chain has defined environmental targets and is reporting on progress made against these targets. 

After research, data collection and case studies over recent months, the overriding impression I have is of farmers who have a passion for what they do and have successfully incorporated environmental benefits as an integral part of their business. 

However, my experiences don’t seem to tally with a recent report by University of Cambridge. This explores the potential commercial gains from addressing natural capital challenges in the dairy sector. No-one disputes the potential opportunities, but it appears to downplay and even ignore the current environmental initiatives and hard work that’s being achieved.

The Dairy Roadmap clearly shows how farmers are working hard to implement environmentally friendly methods. It is in the farmer’s best interest to reuse resources and conserve energy.

  • 77% of dairy holdings in the UK are actively nutrient management planning
  • 78% are using water efficient methods, including collecting rainwater and reusing water from the plate cooler.
  • On farm pollution incidents have dropped by 15% in the past two years
  • 78% of dairy farmers are taking action to reduce GHG emissions – through improvements in manure management, precision farming, animal health and husbandry as well as feed quality
  • 90% of dairy farmers have manure management plans 

It’s a win-win, as this reduces their spending and benefits the farm business long term. However, throughout the report by Cambridge University none of the above achievements are recognised. For me, it shows a lack of recognition of the various industry initiatives already in place such as the Greenhouse Gas Actions Plan, Campaign for Farmed Environment, Tried and Tested, and Nutrient Management Planning.  

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As the Dairy Roadmap states, it is aligned with the work of the Dairy Sustainability Framework. This committed the dairy industry to actively improve its commitment to environmental sustainability by setting 11 criteria, six of which the Dairy Roadmap directly relates.  

Having visited and met with the farmers and seen the hard work happening on farms, be that installation of solar panels, rain water harvesting or provision of essential wildlife habitat through environmental stewardship, farmers’ work for the environment deserves to be acknowledged. 

Of course, sustainability has no finish line. It is a continual challenge. But based on my investigation of the dairy sector’s approach to environmental practices, I truly believe the industry continues to show admirable commitment to this.   

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