What does sustainability mean to you? Is it all about climate change and saving the planet? There are numerous definitions of sustainability to be found these days, but I like this one I came across on Investopedia.com that says “Sustainability focuses on meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”.
Of course, environmental safeguards are of utmost importance when trying to establish sustainable food production. As are our own needs (social needs), in terms of securing a reliable source of healthy and affordable food that is essential for our survival. But what about profit? Should we regard that as a component of sustainability too? Profit has become a dirty word, increasingly associated with power and greed, but this economic need is a primary motivator for ensuring that someone, somewhere, will get up in the morning and make sure there is food in stores for us to buy.
It is an inescapable fact that profit is made from the exploitation of natural resources, or our planet’s ‘natural capital’ and nowhere is this more plain to see, than in farming and food production. We hear a lot about how the relentless pursuit of profit is destroying our environment, compromising animal welfare and even damaging our health, because it often drives businesses to adopt practices that are totally unsustainable. However, profit can be a force for good, rewarding producers for farming in harmony with the natural environment and helping them to feed their families, pay their bills and reinvest in their farms.
Profit should not incentivise industrial agriculture that depletes our precious natural capital, denies freedom for farm animals and diminishes our health and wellbeing. Instead, profit from farming should be a reward for delivering ‘public goods’ and making a positive contribution to society. That way we can all profit from sustainable farming and enjoy great food. This is what Free Range Dairy Network aims to deliver. We believe that by helping people to understand how their milk choice influences the way milk is produced in farms, we can give milk producers an opportunity to profit from traditional family farms.
When we license the Pasture Promise logo to dairy companies, one of the conditions of the license agreement is that they must pay farmers a premium for adhering to our free range standards. The farmers promise to give their cows the freedom to graze for at least 6 months of the year and operate a traditional, pasture-based farming system. In return some of our members are now earning as much an additional £20,000 a year, for producing milk to be sold under the Pasture Promise logo. This financial incentive is making a real difference, helping farmers to profit from farming the way people want them to farm and enabling them to further invest in the care of their cows and the countryside.
A Free Range Dairy farmer recently told me that the premium he receives for his milk now exceeds the value of his EU Single Farm Payment subsidy. This highlights that, by helping people to understand the true value of the milk they buy, we can reduce reliance on support from the public purse to make dairy farming economically sustainable. Free range milk gives farmers an opportunity to win back some of the value in milk that is rightfully theirs and to escape the pressure on them and their cows to deliver more for less. Farmers don’t want government support – they want a fair reward from the market and we are proud to be helping them win that.
We are learning, first hand, how a fair reward to farmers is key to delivering sustainability. It is a powerful incentive for any business and, with your help, we can harness that incentive to meet your needs and the needs of future generations. Please help us to drive wider change by asking for the Pasture Promise logo wherever you buy milk and dairy products.