Farmer calls for ‘less and better’ approach to dairy
Following the recent publication of Eating Better’s Principles of Eating Meat and Dairy More Sustainably: The Less and Better Approach. We asked farmer, Neil Darwent to write an article exploring how a ‘less and better’ approach to meat and dairy consumption impacts on farming livelihoods. We are keen to show that if we place greater value on the food we eat, the animals that provide it and the people who produce it then the ability of farmers and producers along the supply chain to make a viable economic return will be improved.
Neil is a dairy farmer of 30 years experience, BBC Outstanding Farmer of The Year 2014 and Director of Free Range Dairy. This is what he had to say:
Farming is classified as a ‘primary industry’. Such industries are often defined as those that harvest or extract raw materials from nature. Activities such as forestry, mining and fishing, all fall into this category and all draw upon the rich natural resources around us. But the tapestry of small, pasture-based farms that once delivered great tasting meat and milk for our nation, are slowly being replaced by industrial scale operations to satisfy growing demand for cheap food.
Currently, for most farmers, the only way forward is to produce more for less, to feed a supply chain hungry for profit from milk, on its journey from farms to household fridges. Dairy farming has become an almost entirely production focussed business, as the void between producer and consumer has widened and, as a result, milk is losing its taste, provenance and value. The mass production of raw material milk, is driving small farms out of business and ongoing consolidation in the dairy supply chain means there is less and less opportunity for people to source local milk and dairy products. The adoption of increasingly intensive farming methods is also raising concerns, amongst health conscious consumers, about the role of dairy in their diets and the impact of its production on animal welfare and the environment.
Right now, it is very difficult for people to make an informed choice about the kind of farms their milk comes from. Free Range Dairy Network CIC was established to switch the focus from volume to value in the dairy industry and restore the true value of milk from traditional, pasture-based farms, for all to enjoy. We are a social enterprise that works to give these farms an urgently needed identity in the marketplace and offer conscientious consumers the chance to choose milk produced by cows grazed in fields, under the Pasture Promise logo. Producers are required to adhere to strict standards, with a commitment to giving cows the freedom to graze in fields for a minimum of 180 days a year at the core of our ethos. Farms are independently assessed by a recognised certification body, to establish integrity and trust in the logo.
We believe that farmers should be recognised and rewarded for the value of the milk they deliver, not just in terms of its taste and nutritional composition but, also, for farming in harmony with the environment and ensuring that cows are afforded a life something akin to that which nature intended.
We encourage consumers to think more about the value of the milk they buy, rather than simply the price they pay in the store. If people consume less milk, but are willing to pay a price that reflects its true value, we see benefits for consumers, farmers and cows.
A reduction in the number of litres consumed would not mean farmers lose out, if they are rewarded for value rather than volume. We are currently achieving a premium of around two pence per litre for farmers supplying milk under the Pasture Promise logo and, for a typical free range dairy farm that could mean an additional income of around £20,000 a year. Furthemore, cows would be free from the pressures to continually produce more and more milk and consumers could enjoy great tasting milk of known provenance, in the knowledge that their dairy choice was making a positive impact on our world.
So we believe that by building a closer connection between farmers, cows and consumers, we can indirectly drive a reduction in the volume of milk and dairy products consumed, with a positive impact for all concerned. I’m pleased to report that people are now beginning to wake up to the fact that not all milk is the same and many are now able to taste the difference and make a difference for people, cows and planet.