17 May 1996

Dairy future in designer milk?

By Shelley Wright

DESIGNER milk, tailored to meet the demands of each processing plant, is the way ahead for dairy farmers, according to Northern Foods.

And Milk Marque cannot meet this need because its members have to produce milk that can go to any market, claims Neil Davidson, managing director of Northerns milk business.

The UK is in a unique position in Europe because its people consume two-and-a-half times more fresh milk than any other country. "And about half the milk produced in this country goes into the fresh, liquid market, where short shelf life and the sheer logistics and costs of distribution mean it is the only dairy market not open to imports. So it is a secure market for farmers," Mr Davidson says.

The fresh, liquid milk market is worth £3bn a year, with low-fat milk contributing about 60% of the total. Mr Davidson estimates that by 2000 full-fat milk will have fallen to only 30% of the market.

Northern Foods has 23% of the liquid market and sourcing of raw material is a key issue to the firm. "We want to buy all our milk directly from farmers for traceability and food safety reasons, and to offer our customers and consumers total reassurance in the quality of our product," he says.

Northern Foods currently buys about 40% of its milk directly from farms through the Northern Milk Partnership. "There are big opportunities for farmers. In the past the Milk Marketing Board encouraged them to produce milk that could go to any processor but now farmers can work directly with dairies to produce the right milk for that factory."

The growth in low-fat milk, along with the GATT deal and future enlargement of the EU will all make disposing of butterfat a growing problem. So the message to producers from Mr Davidson is to start reducing milk fat now. &#42

Northerns Ashby Dairy producing fresh milk – a secure market for farmers