Release date: Monday 25th February 2019
Over 100 milk producers in England and Wales have left the industry in the last month1 alone, with dairy farmers quitting at the highest rate since 2007.
Dairy Farmer Neil Darwent, founder of the Free Range Dairy Network, is concerned that if the industry doesn’t try new ways of establishing real value in milk and fast, then it will be too late to avoid further catastrophic decline in dairy farmers in the UK.
One way the Network believes value can be added, is to connect producers to their communities and inform consumers more about the farms producing their milk and cow welfare, by freely publishing grazing days data.
Free Range Dairy is publishing2 full details of the number of days that free range cows are free to graze in fields, under its Pasture Promise free range milk scheme.
This is the second year the farmer-led organisation has made this data available. Members in the Network that meet the minimum grazing days standards qualify to use the term ‘Free Range Milk’, under the Pasture Promise logo.
Milk producers signed up to the Pasture Promise scheme are required to make a commitment to giving their cows the freedom to graze in fields for a minimum of 180 days a year. In return they are awarded a premium on top of their standard milk price, to help them sustain a system that delivers great tasting milk and stops more cows migrating into intensive, large-scale operations.
Consumers are responding well to the initiative and the concept of free range milk, with more ethical shoppers realising how opaque the dairy industry currently is, compared to eggs for example.
Neil Darwent, Free Range Dairy Network Director said: “Transparency is key to winning confidence and trust among consumers who have become increasingly wary of misleading labels, fake farms and food fraud. More people are realising that not all milk is the same and neither are the farming production methods. We are empowering shoppers to vote for the kind of farms they want to support, every time they buy milk. The Pasture Promise logo is now winning tangible value for some of our remaining traditional, family farms.”
In the wake of increased awareness of free range milk, others are now seeking to cash in on the Free Range Dairy initiative, without adhering to the minimum standards.
The organic sector states all organic dairy cows are free range, although Soil Association standards around grazing3 appear vague and potentially open to interpretation by farmers. Elsewhere, some retailers reference “access to pasture” on consumer labelling, although in practice this often means as little as four to six hours a day.
Neil added: “The Free Range Dairy Network is calling on organic milk producers and others, to publish truly transparent data on the number of days cows are grazed on individual farms, so consumers genuinely know how free range the cows really are. It is vital we establish widely recognised free range standards, to allow for greater consumer championing of our products and add value to milk and dairy.”
Contacts for photos, interviews and more info on the data:
Free Range Dairy Network is a Community Interest Company (CIC) that works to win recognition for the true value of milk and dairy products produced from traditional, pasture-based dairy farms, under the Pasture Promise logo. For more information visit www.freerangedairy.org.
NOTES TO EDITORS:
- According to Food Standards Association (FSA) figures, the number of milk producers registered in England & Wales on February 1st this year, was 106 less than in the previous month
- Full grazing days data can be found at the end of the notes to editors
- Link to Soil Association grazing standards (see page 155 of the following document) https://www.soilassociation.org/media/15931/farming-and-growing-standards.pdf
- More details of the Producer Standards behind Pasture Promise free range milk are available from Neil Darwent (contact details above).
2018 Free Range Dairy Network grazing days data
Last year was one of changing seasons and the turnout dates and housing dates on Free Range Dairy farms, in the table below, highlight this. Heavy snow in February and March was followed by heavy rain and floods in April, which delayed the date cows were turned out by as much as a month on many farms. This changeable start to the grazing season was then followed by one of the most prolonged dry spells in living memory. However, all of the farmers producing milk under the Pasture Promise logo still achieved the minimum requirement of 180 days at grass, with many managing to keep their cows at grass for well over 200 days, thanks largely to an unusually dry end to the autumn.
Table to show grazing dates for individual Free Range Dairy herds in 2018
Source: Free Range Dairy Network: February 2018