The launch of our new website (which I hope you approve of by the way) has prompted me to reflect on how far Free Range Dairy Network has come since the original website was first launched in 2011. Back then free range milk was just an idea in my head, born out of frustration with the lack of value in milk and an urge to promote a better understanding of the true value of cows in fields.
Today, the Free Range Dairy Network CIC, is a registered company, promoting traditional family farms, under the Pasture Promise logo. Our members offer milk, cheese, yoghurt and cream, through a network of local and national channels. We are still a tiny fish in a very big pond or, rather, a vast white lake, working to rescue some beautiful British milk from obscurity in the modern-day dairy supply chain.
A growing disconnect between farmers and consumers has denied so many the chance to enjoy great milk and to vote for the kind of farms they want their milk come from. For me, Free Range Dairy was and still is today, a way for me to try and make difference in this world. It is a channel for my passion for dairy farming, nature and our rural communities. So, of course, I would love us to unite all free range milk producers across the UK, under the Pasture Promise banner. Right now, the free range banner quietly flutters in the modest surrounds of isolated fields, shops and cafes, as we continue to seek ways to release the grip of those who profit from peddling white water.
“We got some valuable publicity for our cause and undoubtedly unnerved the dairy establishment.”
We entered the milk market in 2016, as ‘disruptors’, armed only with a label and some bottles of milk from Yorkshire. Over the past four years, we have won some valuable publicity for our cause and undoubtedly unnerved the dairy establishment. But, we have met with strong resistance from some major retailers, fearful about the questions that free range milk will raise about the provenance of their own-label milk.
As yet, unlike chickens and eggs, there are no laws in place to govern the use of the term free range on milk and dairy products. This means anyone can liberally apply those two words to their milk label, with little or no details to define the term, without fear of being challenged. But experience has taught us that as with any food category, mistrust and confusion will rob farmers of the opportunity to win the rewards that they so badly need. In my mind and hopefully the minds of all of us, free range means providing animals with a clear and, preferably, quantifiable and measurable assurance of freedom.
I believe that labelling milk from cows grazed for less than half the year, as free range, will fail to meet the values and expectations of conscientious consumers and will fail to add any real value at the farm gate. Anything less risks misleading and alienating supporters and damaging the reputation of those truly committed to keeping cows in fields. Trust and transparency in our messages are key to building value and it is vital that a universally recognised free range standard is established. I believe the Pasture Promise can be that standard. It is the only label on milk that requires cows to be grazed for a minimum of 180 days a year and is backed by clear standards and independent auditing of farms.
“We celebrate diversity and unite beliefs. We are calling on farmers, who want to be able to continue to produce milk in the traditional way that their families have done for generations, to join us and unite under the Pasture Promise banner.”
The Pasture Promise logo is not a milk brand; it is a symbol of a way of life for farmers and cows that embraces and supports a variety of local and regional dairy brands, from liquid milk in Yorkshire, to cheese in Kent and clotted cream in Cornwall. We celebrate diversity and unite beliefs. The Free Range Dairy Network is calling on farmers, who want to be able to continue to produce milk in the traditional way that their families have done for generations, to join us and unite under the Pasture Promise banner.
We have a clear proposition for consumers that is now getting widely recognised and has been proven to deliver tangible returns for farmers. Most importantly, we are promoting free range milk production for the benefit farmers, cows and consumers – not to line the pockets of big business. In time, legislation may come along to set the bar for free range and open the door to anyone, who allows their cows to feel the grass under their feet for one fleeting moment each summer. But we must challenge ourselves to do better than that if we are to build real value in the cows grazing in our fields. We have taken the lead, we have an opening and we must not lose this valuable opportunity to the dairy giants.
“The prospect of a free range opportunity may seem along way off for some, but the dairy industry is changing.”
Dairy farmers tied into contracts with milk buyers, who are reluctant to consider offering free range milk, may feel they have little to gain from joining us. The prospect of a free range opportunity may seem along way off for some, but the dairy industry is changing. Together we have a voice and our messages are in tune with the demands of today. Many of those who have struck out on their own path, processing and selling milk direct from their farm have already made connections with local customers. But, as some of our members are discovering, the assurance of a clear commitment to grazing cows in fields, is helping to answer questions and instil added value in their products.
We are here to put the farming back into food, to connect consumers with the things that really matter when it comes to great milk and to seize an opportunity that belongs to farmers. So, if you share our beliefs and consider yourself to be a free range dairy farmer, please join us and make sure the value in free range milk belongs to farmers.
If you want find out more about how we can help you to add more value to your milk come and talk to us on our stand at the Welsh Dairy Show, in Carmarthen on October 29th.