IP Dairy Farmer - May 2021

Posted on: 28/04/21

The recent sensational and shocking Daily Mail article and film footage of the treatment of new born calves at Derek Whittalls, Oakland Livestock Centre, was jaw dropping and indefensible, particularly when one of those videoed was his own son! I have never seen anyone punch, kick or hurl young calves like this, and I never want to see it again. It’s the ammunition and oxygen the activists and anti-dairy organisations thrive on in a bid to get people to ditch dairy and portray dairy farming as a big animal welfare and ethical problem, whereas my vision is our welfare standards should be part of the solution. It’s no wonder with scenes like these that media/TV coverage is heavily biased towards knocking livestock farming.

If you want to read the article either email me, or google Daily Mail Oakland Livestock. But brace yourself, it’s pretty shocking.

Last Saturday I drove by a roadside farm in the Peak District where numerous walkers were out and about. To my horror on full display in front of the farmhouse on the road verge was a dead calf. As I glanced across to the farm the general appearance and animal husbandry was, frankly, terrible. Farmers like this, and Whittall’s calf operation, are the hooligans who let the whole side down and tarnish the public’s image of farming.

Like most of you, and most of the general public, when you walk into a farm yard in less than 20 seconds you instantly know the likely standards of animal care. It all starts with the farm’s commitment to excellent animal welfare and milk production practices. If we don’t all unite on these areas then dairy alternatives will continue to take a greater slice of our market. It’s up to every dairy farmer, and the team on those farms, to be proud of what they do and to be compliant 365 days of the year. Farms will face increasing transparency demands and the opening of their doors to the public - both physically and virtually through webcams etc.

For some this will be a chore and an unnecessary invasion of their business, but others will embrace new technologies and not fear remote inspections and technologies.

The industry scrutiny will continue to increase whether its animal husbandry, the irresponsible and unnecessary use of antibiotics, or the many other areas we need to be open about. It is every dairy farmers’ duty to do all they can everyday of the year to defend, promote and protect this great industry’s reputation. Fewer than 12,000 dairy farmers (0.016% of the UK’s population) provide almost 100% of the nation with nutritious dairy products, and Covid has positively raised the profile of what they do to feed the nation. Let’s not blow it.

I have been writing this column now for thirty years, and still come across too many ‘victim farmers’ who are constantly claiming they are not paid a fair price or treated equitably. Some farmers haven’t changed in those 30 years, and neither have some of my messages. Having said that I accept a handful of liquid processors do have a case to answer. Still a significant number of farmers remain short-term operators who seize the profit and expand at the same time. Too many still want fixed price contracts and futures related deals , but on their terms which basically translates to “if prices drop, I want the agreed futures / fixed price, but if it shoots up I shouldn’t be held to that contract”. That, I hope, will eventually change with longer-term professional commitment and trust between milk purchaser and farmer. I have huge respect and appreciation for the vast majority of dairy farmers and processors, who work 365 days a year, however, at farm level many are at a crossroads facing one of basically three options in the new unsupported world:

1) Do I want to continue to serve my time as a lifestyle farmer tapping into the various environmental payments?

2) Do I want to be part of a progressive dairy agribusiness? Or

3) Do I exit the industry with the Government’s golden handshake payment?

The latter is not an easy decision, because for many if they are over 40 (and on average more than half way through life) they often feel they will lose their identity if they are not a farmer. Many find it too hard to make that huge decision. That’s probably why many decide its easier to soldier on and suffer in silence, hanging onto the cows tail at all costs, as opposed to grasping the nettle and making that irreversible move to quit.

Many farmers have had the same daily routine for years, and indeed generations, with an emotional attachment to both the farm and the cows. In some cases it’s more than their attachment to their partner or family! They don’t know how they can exit or cope and many produce milk because they enjoy milking cows and there’s nothing wrong with that if they can afford to. I will, for example, never forget a dairy farmer I shared a radio interview with who stated that “I can’t bear the thought of my son not continuing to milk my cows”. That’s not right, and is a huge burden which exerts unnecessary guilt on to the next generations shoulders. Oh, and remember a dairy farm can- and will - run without father’s input!

Finally, to me. After 30 years of writing this article I have decided this will be my final contribution. It has been a demanding task each month, but one which has had its benefits and rewards. I am struggling to juggle the monthly commitment now I am involved in my own diversification projects, including exciting plans to broker the use of farmland for carbon , biodiversity and nutrient offsetting. I might re-appear with the occasional guest article, so please keep the nuggets of juicy information coming my way. As always, any information I receive is confidential and strictly off the record.

I know that over the years some readers have criticised my openness, particularly a handful of ill-informed, naïve and blinkered dairy farmers, but that has always been my way. And I do plan to continue to breathe down the neck and look over the shoulders of those who don’t play ball with you hard working dairy farmers through my free Dairy Industry Bulletin email (from www.ipmsltd.co.uk).  Thus I will continue to try and expose what’s going on behind closed doors and ask some tough questions to hopefully help keep the industry honest and accountable.

Thanks for the many, many good times over the 30 years. It has been a pleasure writing my article for you, and I hope it has been your pleasure to read it.

Comments (for one last time only!) to ianpotter@ipmsltd.co.uk