BLOG: Dairy - big, small or not at all

Abi Reader_46219

A debate at last week’s Oxford Real Farming Conference looked at the rise of micro-dairies and the impact they could have on the dairy industry.

NFU dairy board member Abi Reader took part in the discussion which also explored how the rest of the sector will look in ten years.

She writes:

The topic for debate was dairy – big, small or not at all.  Alongside me on the panel were Alex Heffron (Mountain Hall Farm, micro dairy), Shaun Young (The Estate Dairy, Premium Dairy Merchants) and David Finlay, (Cream o’ Galloway, organic farmer dairying with calves at foot).  Tom Levitt, former editor of Ecologist Magazine and journalist at The Guardian and researcher for the RSA Food and Farming Commission, chaired the session.

Since the three other panellists were very much focused on niche markets and premium price, I felt my presence was to provide evidence that the dairy products found in 95% of British households come from conventional farms like mine (180 cows).  I strongly believe the size of the farm is the wrong question - instead we need to ask is that farmer capable of managing this number of cows and can they do it in an environmentally sustainable way. We should not be afraid of these questions as the answers are there on our farms - we simply need to speak out about them.

Alex Heffron is a new entrant to the industry - he and his wife milked three Jersey cows with calves at foot.  He produced 15 litres a day, sold raw for £2/litre. He also kept around 12 Dexter beef cattle on his 17 acre property and hoped to expand his herd to 12 cows, 80 acres and more beef cattle.

Shaun Young admitted his knowledge of dairy farming was limited but was extremely adept at marketing and sold milk from four farms to coffee chains in London.  He was paying 34ppl to his farmers. He now sells over 80,000 litres per week and also looked to expand.

David Finlay is an- organic farmer experimenting for the second time milking 100 cows with calves at foot. He sells 6000 litres/cow/year with the calves taking the rest.  His biggest challenge was sorting the cows and calves prior to the twice day milking.  Calves were weaned at 5 months.  David was not keen on larger scale dairy farming which he felt compromised welfare and the environment.  He was looking to diversify into cheese.

I can conclude that all four of us care about our farms and all four of us are looking to expand or evolve our businesses.

I maintain there is room for producers of all sizes as long as we have sound business models.