2 March 2001

From research to milk promotion – the issues

Restructuring of the UK dairy

industry, investment in

scientific research and

promotion of milk products

were key topics at last

weeks Royal Association of

British Dairy Farmers

conference in Malvern, Worcs.

Hannah Velten reports

SHOULD the dairy industry concentrate on funding scientific research or milk marketing and promotion in order to remain competitive?

This debate dominated the RABDF conference last week, and although it was decided that both issues are important, there was argument over which should be given priority.

Addressing the conference, Brian Peacock, chairman of the MDC said that there was an urgent need for unity within the industry. "Fragmentation is holding us back and we need to work together."

However, David Beever, director of CEDAR, University of Reading, is concerned grass-roots research could be side-lined.

"There has to be a co-ordinated programme to support milk production, marketing and consumption," he said.

But he believes that research which enables farmers to reduce production costs and become more efficient is vital.

"Biological system are complex and without research, knowledge transfer will be a victim.

"Producers and scientists need to consult and decide what needs to be researched, which will help stop research duplication and aid a structured, well-communicated transfer of research findings."

Marginalising research

Tim Bennet, NFU deputy president, is worried that tendering of research grants is marginalising centres of research excellence, with more work being taken up by universities, which provide quick fix, short-term research.

One long-term project, the UKs only major cattle genetics programme being undertaken at the Roslin Institute, Edinburgh, has become a victim of funding withdrawal from MDC and MAFF, said the institutes director, Grahame Bulfield.

"Commercial traits are physiologically complex and controlled by several genes. By identifying genes and manipulating them, technology will allow producers to improve traits such as disease resistance, fertility and carcass quality.

"Possible replacement overseas funding will mean the UK has lost its place at the international table," he said.

Must act now

John Loftus, chairman of the Federation of Milk Producers (FMP) campaign, took up the issue of funding milk marketing.

"With quotas likely to be abolished in 2008, the need for UK producers to become pro-active marketers of milk and re-structure the industry to remain competitive is paramount.

"If we dont react now, we will never gain a fair share of the market place and will be dependent on milk prices set by processors."

Mr Loftus aims to educate and encourage milk producers to establish three or four co-operatives, under the FMP.

A late night debate at the conference tried to produce a framework for setting up effective businesses.

Speaking at the meeting, Andrew Cookson, a European marketing consultant said co-ops should aim to negotiate the best possible milk price and ensure adequate outlets.

To do this meant established and new co-ops working together, so no competition arises, he added.

"Standards of management need to be high and a two-tier control structure of trained producers and a professional board must be established.

"Returns should be based on delivery of litres, rather than equality amongst all producers, and co-ops have to decide whether capital investment spent on processing facilities is needed," said Mr Cookson.

He believes that a 20:80 funding split should favour milk marketing in the short-term. n

continued on p54

KEYCONCERNS

&#8226 Scientific research.

&#8226 Producer milk co-ops.

&#8226 Promotion of milk products.