Farmers urged to focus now on genetics ahead of dairy contract changes

Dairy farmers are being urged to make efforts now to improve the genetics of their herds ahead of an anticipated industry switch from volume-to constituent-based payment models.

By 1 January 2018, Arla Foods intends to have transitioned all 3,000 of its UK supplier owners to its manufacturing schedule, which is calculated with a “greater emphasis” on butterfat and protein than its volume-based liquid schedule.

Since 1 January 2016, Arla producers in the UK have also been paid per kilogramme of milk rather than per litre – bringing them in line with their counterparts in Denmark, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

See also: How one farmer is using genetics to increase milk solids

Arla said the changes would bring in the right sort of milk for its increasingly diverse domestic and international product portfolios.

Tony Evans, partner and head of dairy business consultancy at the Anderson Centre, believes it is only a matter of time before Britain’s other major processor committed to a similar transition.

The simplest way for farmers to increase the fat and protein content of their milk was to focus on the genetics of their herds, he says.

Citing research carried out in the Netherlands and Ireland, Mr Evans said the constituent quality of milk was derived 60-70% from genetics, with nutrition and management responsible for the remaining 30% or so.

Andy Dodd, technical extension officer for dairy breeding and fertility at AHDB, agreed, saying farmers should be making genetic changes to their herds sooner rather than later.

AHDB updated its breeding index in 2014, putting greater emphasis on milk quality. These changes, Mr Dodd said, were geared towards where the market was going.