21 November 1997

MILK ASSURANCE MUST COME

Feel youre under pressure from all sides? While milk price is falling, dairy companies and supermarkets are calling for ever higher standards of milk quality, farm assurance and cow welfare.

Its a hard pill to swallow – accepting what has been a 5p/litre drop in milk price for some producers, resulting in reduced net margins of up to 72%, while, at the same time, quality and welfare standards must be second to none. And make no mistake, quality assurance will be the issue of the future.

Take what has happened in the horticultural industry. It is now impossible to sell vegetables to a supermarket unless a growers farm is part of that industrys assurance scheme. The same scenario is inevitable in the dairy sector – with milk buyers training their staff as farm inspectors already.

Within the year it is likely they will start visiting dairy farms to verify that all areas of hygiene and husbandry meet required standards.

We must ensure, though, that these standards are practical and meaningful – checks for hock damage or lameness rather than for arbitrary cubicle dimensions.

Provided that this is the case, it will pay the industry not only to be producing to the highest standards, but to be seen to be doing so, as in the long term, as most producers know only too well, comfortable, disease-free animals and clean hygienic milk go hand in hand with profitability.

Research will also be important to ensure profitability is maintained in the future. It is, therefore, important that the Department of Trade and Industry is not allowed to get its hands on any levy money paid to the Milk Development Council to fund dairy research. Producers need the fruits of this research. Also vital is that research findings are promoted by good technology transfer to help us compete on the world market. This will be increasingly important once Agenda 2000 reforms bite.

Jerseys still have an important role to play while specialists creameries are crying out for high fat milk, argues Scottish producer Robert Graham whose own Jersey herd produces a quality product. Turn to p36 for more details.