14 June 2002

Processing is path to dairy profit

David Strachan believes more dairy farmers will have to move into milk processing – or supplying local dairies – if they are to survive.

More than two years ago, Mr Strachan and his wife, Colette, decided that the profit margins in selling the milk from their 200-head pedigree Holstein herd were not good enough and questioned the farms future viability.

They drew up plans to build their own processing plant and to deliver milk within a 25-mile radius of their home at Rendham Hall, near Saxmundham, Suffolk.

It has been a long battle to meet planning, hygiene and other regulations, but the state-of-the-art plant began operating a few weeks ago.

The £500,000 cost was partly met by a £50,000 grant under the European 5b rural development legislation – aimed at helping economically and socially deprived areas.

If the Strachans had delayed a year they may have got a bigger grant under DEFRAs new processing and marketing scheme. "But we decided we had to go ahead at the time – it was no good waiting for something which may or may not have happened," said Mr Strachan.

"We were depressed by the industry. No one was necessarily to blame but the returns back to us were not good enough. It also seemed that trucking milk about the country made little sense."

All the farms milk previously went to Arla Foods of Hatfield Peverel in Essex.

Now only the excess goes to that company, the rest being processed in the Strachans new plant, built at Walpole, about six miles from the farm and transported in a small 10-tonne tanker.

"We looked at other dairies elsewhere and a long time before foot-and-mouth hit the country we decided it would not be a good idea to build the new plant on the farm," said Mr Strachan.

Five other farms in the area have already offered their milk and the business is set to expand from its current processing figure of 1300 litres/day to nearer its 30,000 litres/day capacity.

Two people are employed in the plant and another three as roundsman. Staff will increase as the business expands.

"Its been stressful but weve spent a lot of money making sure the plant meets all regulations. We didnt want to give our competitors anything to pick on," said Mr Strachan.

"For dairy farming to survive in this country more farmers have got to go this way – the big operators are just killing it," said his wife.