British Cattle Breeding Club Conference..........Dairy Day...........Into a Brave New World
Setting off up the motorway to Telford, my sat-nav told me it would take 3.5 hours and I would arrive nicely at 530pm. Lots of time to have a child-free, relaxing drink before getting ready for a slap up roast beef dinner the night before the dairy day began. As it turned out, having sat in traffic for hours, I finally arrived at 7pm, just as the drinks reception was beginning. And so it turned into quite a busy night and day. The evening was spent chatting to other people in the industry, farmers, AI company directors, the president of just about every cattle body possible, and a few agri students. So, a great mix. No one had lost sight of the difficult times we are facing ("volatile" is the trendy word used to describe the dairy industry at the moment) but everyone seemed to have a positive long-term outlook on their future.
The dairy day began with Judith Bryans, CEO of Dairy UK who talked about her take on the current threats to the dairy industry. Dairy Alternatives are an area which Judith identified and which she thinks is underrated..........with £75m moved last year, these products (eg soya milk) are now mainstrean and taking up dairy space. "snackification" of breakfast was also mentioned.
Reputation risks were discussed at length and Judith hilighted examples of dubious science being quoted in the media, suggesting that consumption of milk was a health risk. She also highlighted an interesting example of a lady, a "Dr" (of geology), who believed that giving up milk cured her breast cancer. She had also received other conventional treatments such as chemotherapy but it was portrayed in the press that milk was actually the cause and was everything that was bad.
She went on to talk about the future of the industry. We will need 60% more food by 2050; South Asia's requirement for dairy will go up by 125% by 2030. This opens up an opportunity for us...........could we develop an export market I ask myself.
Nick Green, Lye Cross Farms, Alvis Brothers described their rise to success. He discussed the structure of the business which is based, not far from here, south of Bristol. He talked about the farm shop which they run, mostly as a marketing tool rather than a profit making venture and explained how they try to be innovative in what goods the sell and how they are presented. He described how they found they didn't get enough money for their milk so they decided to make and sell their own cheese. The by-products of this go to the herd of pigs and the waste from the pigs goes to the arable side of the business... a great self-sufficient triangle
Nick stated that he thinks there is considerable lack of understanding about where food comes from and impact on the environment which results in consumers decisions on what they eat. So communication and education are a big part of their business.
Peers Davies, a vet from Nottingham University described his PhD in which he studied S.uberis. This was a fasinating paper where he explained that S uberis exists in many forms (sequence types). When this was looked at in detail, it was found that there were191 strain types, many of which only appeared once on one farm. However, it was found that 9 strains were responsible for 40% of clinical cases. This means that, if a vaccine were developed to combat this particular strain of S uberis, around 40% of S uberis could potentially be removed. This is quite a significant finding which suggests an opening for vaccine development.
We were lucky to have two dairy farmers come to speak to us, to share their own personal experiences of running a dairy enterprise. David Homer, a Nuffield scholar, described how their business has gone from strength to strength since their 2 sons and 1 daughter decided to come home and farm. He firmly believes that a big reason behind their decision to come home was because he and his wife never forced or expected their kids to work on the farm. If they did want to help, they were always paid fairly and, if they didn't want to help, they were not forced. As a result, his daughter, who went to work in hospitality and social science, came home and has turned into the best calf rearer they have ever had. He stressed how, as a family, they have identified each other's strengths and weaknesses and they all respect these in each other. They work hard to make the best out of each other's skill sets, and work hard to improve the "triple bottom line" this is a term he picked up in New Zealand and it depicts 3 areas: social/life, profit and environment. So, when times become tough, they remember their family mission statement "Balancing excellent farming with a high quality of life" I found this talk so inspirational- hearing a story of how a family has worked together to make a successful business while staying close, was very uplifiting. He did say the next hurdle is likley to be when sons/daughters-in-laws join the business. He expects this to add another dimension to the business but, as he said, as long as it is always talked about and considered, and they approach it in a similar way to previous changes in their business, there is no reason why it can't further enrich their future. Thank you David for brightening up my day!