26 September 1997

…as buyers concerned about costs and

extra paperwork

MILK buyer reaction to the NFUs consultation document for a national dairy farm assurance scheme was mixed.

While some welcomed the move, others voiced concern about an increased level of paperwork, and the cost burden of paying for independent inspectors at a time when the dairy industry faces falling prices. It also appeared that milk companies are continuing to develop their own schemes.

Merged co-operatives Waterford and Avonmore and the Cheese Company are currently developing a uniform scheme for producers supplying the three companies, explained Waterford farm liaison manager Richard Garner.

"Its important to have a unified scheme for the three companies, and it is the basis for a lot of discussion at the moment. But theres no certainty that we would sign up with the NFU," he said.

Scottish milk buyers are working towards their own scheme, with on-farm assessment staff currently being trained at SAC, according to Wiseman Dairies procurement manager Peter Nicholson.

"We would need to see how the NFU scheme fits in with the Scottish animal welfare and quality assurance scheme which we are involved in, but would be open minded about dovetailing the two as we buy milk in Scotland and England."

However, Mr Nicholson expressed reservations about paying for independent auditing. "We must have a credible, practical, measurable scheme; but do we need to bear the cost of independent assessment – the Scottish scheme uses milk company staff."

At MD Foods, farm liaison manager Ian Cameron cautiously welcomed the scheme. "We have to satisfy consumer demands, and are considering the document and will go back to the NFU with comments. But I feel it demands too much record keeping initially."

Despite Northern Milk Partnership launching its own audit scheme at the event, chairman Richard Smith said he would welcome a national scheme if it was acceptable to producers.

Head of milk purchasing for Nestlé, John Ross, supported the scheme. "A national scheme of farm quality assurance will mean milk can be freely traded between milk buyers."

A national scheme, which should set realistic and practical standards and monitor them, should satisfy most dairy companies, he says. But he said buyers may include other standards in a company scheme and offer incentives to meet those standards.

Those involved in the initial working party were obviously less cautious about welcoming the scheme. Milk Marque membership director Ian Redington said that it was better to have an industry standard rather than everyone going their own way.

Midlands Co-operative procurement and planning manager, John Mann, was also involved in developing the scheme. "We are looking forward to working as part of a national scheme. We will wait and gauge producer reaction, but in principal its what we all need."

Unigate agricultural affairs manager Brian Pocock was Dairy Industry Federation representative to the committee developing the scheme, and naturally welcomed it.

"It will reinforce and build confidence in the industry. We are taking responsibility before being told what to do, and want to give a uniform, cohesive picture. Once the scheme is agreed, we will harmonise it with our own scheme.

"It has a practical structure, balancing the need for independent auditing and cost – we have tried not to have any more cost that can be justified. And theres nothing in the scheme which will mean additional paperwork apart from self-assessment," said Mr Pocock.

NMPs Richard Smith: Would welcome a national scheme if acceptable to producers.

Nestlés John Ross: A national scheme should set realistic and practical standards.

Unigates Brian Pocock: A national scheme will reinforce and build confidence in the industry.