Thank you to all who came along to the Free Range Dairy farmer meetings in Penrith, Garstang and Nantwich last week. It is really encouraging to see the interest in what we are trying to do and the feedback on our standards and strategy for getting free range milk to the market is invaluable.
I received the latest Ian Potter Associates bulletin on Friday and it warned that “bar a miracle the majority of UK farmgate prices are almost certain to fall further and in some cases monthly from now until well into 2015. It’s a global trend and will continue until supply and demand get back into balance.” It seems our exposure to global market volatility is not going to go away unless we do something to differentiate our milk from the rest of the world.
I think Free Range Dairy is unique because it’s about building something with farmers, for farmers, from the outset. Our aim is to create recognition for a defined system of producing milk on British farms, based on the seasonal grazing of dairy cows. Having had the chance to discuss this idea with a number of people already, I feel there are a few things that need to be made clearer to those considering joining and supporting us. I hope that some of what follows will help you to understand more of what we are all about.
180 days at grass
Following consultation with a farmer focus group in the south west a few months back, the bar was raised to 200 days at grass. However, it is apparent that a number of producers in the north of England, who are committed to grazing their cows, will struggle to achieve this every year. So, we are reverting to a standard of 180 days.
The table below shows typical grazing days by region from 650 respondents to our 2011 farmer survey.
Traditional farming system
Some farmers have said that before coming to our meetings they believed Free Range Dairy was exclusively for producers running spring calving herds along a New Zealand style system. This is not the case. We are all about building recognition for the value of traditional, seasonally grazed herds that a great many British dairy farmers still run. 180 days equates to six months at grass, but we also want to promote high quality grass silage as the basis of the diet during the winter housing period. It is our aim to adopt innovation in soil and pasture management to ensure that the Free Range Dairy brand is synonymous with sustainable and efficient milk production
Antagonistic to milk buyers
There are some fears that Free Range Dairy could be seen as a ‘rebel’ movement, working against processors and retailers. I just want to reassure everyone that whilst we are focussed on trying to capture value in milk at the farm gate, we recognise the need to work within existing supply chains as well as developing new routes to market for members. When you sign up to Free Range Dairy, we are simply asking you to commit to a system of producing milk and we would welcome the opportunity to work with your milk buyer to create value all the way along the supply chain.
We need you now
Free Range Dairy is not offering producers access to a premium market today. We are working to bring about real change in the British dairy industry that will build lasting value in our milk. To do that we need numbers, to help us tell the story and have large volumes of free range milk available to meet demand as it grows. So please join us now.
We are on a journey to get free range milk to the market and secure a fair reward for farmers. The sooner you get involved the sooner we will get there. Please come along to one of our forthcoming meetings and find out more.