I was so pleased to read about Deputy NFU President, Minette Batters, promoting beef from suckler herds at the South West Beef event this week. It is music to my ears to hear someone else talking about defining the value in a traditional British farming system. Especially when that someone is a representative of the NFU. A report in Wednesday’s Western Morning News refers to an initiative started by Ladies in Beef that is seeking to champion British beef from cattle that are kept with their mothers for up to 10 months and then fattened on grass. As a part of the 2016 Great British Beef Week, Ladies in Beef will be launching ‘Nurtured by Nature’ as a way to start a conversation about beef with consumers.
I am involved in managing a suckler beef herd myself and I know that calves running at grass with their mothers produce a very different product to dairy-bred offspring weaned at birth and raised on a cereal based diet. Ladies in Beef are absolutely right to actively celebrate this fact and give the farmers that deliver such a high quality product an opportunity to enjoy recognition and reward for it.
For too long now, lame attempts to simply market milk as just milk have failed thousands of dairy farmers who have now quit the industry and everyone seems frightened of differentiation for fear of being accused of creating division in the industry – something I have experienced first hand. Other products celebrate what is unique and different as a way to stand out from the crowded marketplace. Milk producers and sellers must do the same if we are to escape the volatility of the commodity milk market and prosper.
Thus far, industry organisations like the NFU have refused to support Free Range Dairy, maintaining that they have to be seen to represent all of their members and are therefore unable to support any kind of differentiation. However, I maintain that if we are to capture the true value of milk at the farm gate, we must define the value in the way we farm. Those of us who run farm livestock understand that the way in which we care for our animals and the life we afford them has a huge impact on the quality of the food they produce. It is time to break the grip of industrial food and farming and let consumers make a more informed choice about the milk and meat they buy. I hope that the NFU will now follow Minette Batters lead and get behind other initiatives like ours, to add real value to milk.