1 March 2002

Productivitys not a dirty

word

Expansion, health planning and political interference

were just some of the topics under discussion at last

weeks Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers

conference. Marianne Curtis reports

DAIRY producers should not be afraid of productivity and the worst should either learn from the best or quit, according to Chris Haskins, chairman of Northern Foods and the governments rural recovery co-ordinator.

"We should champion productivity, not be ashamed of it," he told delegates at last weeks Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers conference.

Lord Haskins is optimistic about the future of British dairy production. But rationalisation of the industry will undoubtedly occur, he warned.

"There is a huge UK fresh milk market which is best supplied by British producers because they can offer a high quality, safe product and security of supply.

"Offering traceability and responding quickly to market needs is more difficult for milk producers 10,000 miles apart."

Lord Haskins wants to increase the size of the liquid milk market, which accounts for 60% of UK milk. "This sector is less affected by global commodity markets and I would like to see it accounting for 70-80% of UK milk."

Better co-operation between producers would improve milk marketing and reduce costs, he suggested. But one milk producer at the conference in Malvern, Worcs, attacked Lord Haskins in his role as Express Dairies chairman, for demanding producer co-operation when the Dairy Industry Federation had recently withdrawn support from the White Stuff campaign.

"I wish to see a return to joint producer and processor marketing of milk, but we had to take £8m of cost out of Express Dairies, including staff, so marketing budgets were also cut."

Looking forward, Lord Haskins called for fewer, larger, lower cost dairy units. "These are not something to be ashamed of. Dairy producers should fully exploit engineering and scientific advances without compromising animal welfare or the environment."

But over-valuation of the £ and bureaucracy posed the greatest challenges to dairy businesses, he said. "The £ is 15% over-valued, producers face increasing environmental and animal welfare regulation and there is much political uncertainty over CAP and WTO, making it difficult to plan ahead and invest with confidence."

He also called for a more sensible approach to farm inspections. "They should be better co-ordinated and designed to help producers comply with regulations rather than penalising them.

"More than 95% of producers are keen to obey the law and inspectors should concentrate on those not obeying rather than the rest."

Political change is making it difficult for dairy producers to plan ahead and invest with condidence, admits Lord Haskins.

UKcows must produce milk for the liquid market to add security for producers.

&#8226 Grow liquid milk market.

&#8226 Fewer, larger units.

&#8226 Better co-operation.