Dairy farmers told industry future is positive if they take more risks

Dairy farmers could make better profits if they took more risks and developed their businesses, speakers at the Pasture to Profit conference at Stafford said this week.

The industry faced a positive future if alternative farming systems were considered and farmers made the most of their skills, even if finances to develop their business weren’t available, delegates were told.

Tom Rawson, who milks 200 organic cows with his wife and parents on their 340 acre farm in Yorkshire, turned to organic dairying after deciding he could not afford to expand his herd.

By becoming organic, their milk price went from 16ppl to 22ppl and the family were soon able to invest in facilities to process their own milk under the Clever Cow organic milk brand.

‘Unknown market’

While Mr Rawson admitted there were risks, the business has benefited from trying to do something different.

“In processing our own milk we were entering an unknown market,” Mr Rawson said. “But we could see the potential – there were 4mn possible customers in our catchment area.”

Under the Clever Cow Organic milk brand the Rawsons have pushed up their milk price to 55ppl and have supply contracts with local schools and cafes, as well as their own doorstep service.

They have also used a £10,000 Defra grant to buy an automated bottling and labelling machine, allowing them to bottle 3000 litres of organic milk a day.

‘Take a risk’

“You’ve got to take a risk and look at how you can drive your business forward,” Mr Rawson said.

“We recently sent a letter to customers saying we were putting up our prices by 10% and we have had no complaints. Maybe that’s a lesson for the rest of the industry.”

Rhys Williams also told delegates how he transferred his experience from working in farms in New Zealand to his 300ha dairy farm in north Wales.

Aware he would not be able to afford to buy his own land and still have money left to develop his business, Mr Williams entered into an equity partnership, a system favoured by many farmers in New Zealand.

‘Great opportunities’

Mr Williams now owns 20% of the farm he manages, while the remainder is owned by his partner David Wynne-Finch.

As well as now having someone to discuss business concerns with, Mr Williams benefits from sharing any farm profits, which encourages him to continue to drive the business forward.

“I can see great opportunities in this industry and I want to be a part of it,” Mr Williams said.

“This has been a great way for me to get started in farming. It would benefit lots of farmers and land owners by giving someone with drive and enthusiasm a chance.”