On Monday evening I attended a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party Conference inManchester, organised by the NFU. A panel of four Owen Paterson (Secretary of State for DEFRA), Justin King (CEO of Sainsbury’s), Peter Kendall (NFU President) and Meurig Raymond (NFU Vice President) set out their vision for the future of the UK dairy industry. Both the government and NFU message was very much about the need for growth, overcoming the dairy deficit, export opportunities and relaxing of planning regulations to permit expansion.
Since the average herd size in the UK is still around 130 cows, I asked the panel what could be done to promote the value of the small dairy farms that make up the backbone of British dairying today. In his response, Justin King stated “Milk is a commoditised product. I don’t think you can aspire for milk, on the whole, to be anything other than a commoditised product”.
Oh dear – that’s it then. We are all condemned to chasing volume, producing at the lowest possible cost and accepting that all milk is the same. Milk is to remain an undervalued ‘super food’ and farmers will be swallowed up in a global race to industrialise food production.
Sorry, but I cannot accept that. It is a travesty that such an incredibly nutritious product that farmers and their cows work hard to deliver, is regarded by large retailers as nothing more than a simple commodity. There is real value in milk from our pasture based herds and I am not prepared to sit back and see farmers stripped of that value by those who profit from piling it high and selling it cheap.
It is vital that we provide an alternative to the single-minded focus on volume, to ensure we continue to enjoy a milk supply that delivers what is right for the consumer, the cow and the farmer. If you are a farmer who believes your cows deserve the freedom to graze, or a consumer of British milk who cares about how your milk is produced and the life our cows are afforded, please make the Pasture Promise now.