First Milk asks farmers to meet new sustainability goals

Dairy processor First Milk has become the latest milk buyer to incentive ending bull calf euthanasia as it unveiled a raft of new farmer-focused sustainability and welfare objectives.

Complying with the production commitments will attract no additional premium for farmers, but those who choose not to sign up will lose First Milk’s co-operator rebate payment worth £12.50/month, the processor said.

It asked its members to sign up to the First4Milk Pledge by 30 June.

See also: Meadow Foods cuts Cumbrian milk price by 2p/litre

What criteria are in the First4Milk Pledge?

The pledge encourages the processor’s farmer members to make commitments in three main areas – animals, the earth and people.

1. Animal welfare

  • Ensure cows have access to pasture for six hours a day for at least 120 days a year when the weather and ground conditions are suitable
  • Implement animal health and welfare plans in conjunction with a vet
  • Record, monitor and share total use of antibiotics with First Milk
  • Guarantee no healthy animal shall be euthanised on farm

2. Earth

  • Implement a soil and nutrient management plan to demonstrate responsible use of fertilisers and manures
  • Maintain levels of soil organic matter to improve soil health and carbon storage
  • Take measures on farm to enhance and promote biodiversity

3. People

  • Ensure all individuals are appropriately trained to carry out their duties
  • Help promote a positive image of dairy and support consumer and community engagement
  • Ensure the working environment on farm is safe

The vast majority of First Milk farmers are doing these things already, so it will not be difficult for them to make the pledge.

The monthly rebate will also be withdrawn from any farmers who sign, but are then found to be failing to meet the commitments during a stringent monitoring process.

“While the initiative is voluntary, it is not toothless. Pledge commitments will be monitored through annual farm business reviews and farm assurance audits,” said a First Milk spokesperson.

Online data collection, via the First4Milk platform and member app, will also be used to check compliance.

Addressing public concerns

First Milk chief executive Shelagh Hancock said the initiative would help to address public concerns about food production.

“With livestock-based food production continuing to be under the spotlight, we need to demonstrate we are proactively addressing these areas of public concern in order to prosper long-term.”

Ms Hancock added that the pledges built on the launch of its First4Milk sourcing programme last year.

“Our First4Milk programme has already seen us make some ambitious commitments across our business, including reductions in energy and water use, a 65% relative reduction in carbon dioxide emissions and the elimination of direct waste to landfill,” she said.

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