Why has dairying become so complicated, asks Robert Craig

Grass-based milk production isn’t and hasn’t been a new idea for some time, but every now and then I get a sharp reminder of how far our strategic thinking has drifted from the current convention within dairying. Twice recently I have found myself speaking to an audience alongside other speakers who have seemingly complicated dairy farming and I’m struggling to understand why such complexity has become the norm, regardless of area, and what’s driving milk production in this direction.

Leaving aside the pros and cons of any system, the underling driver of any business strategy should be the level and robustness of its profitability. In my view the main risk of overcomplication is that a business with marginal profitability becomes rapidly unprofitable when faced with volatility, as we now see with both milk price and production costs.

Few would argue that future profitability of food production is anything but uncertain, so why build or even expand a business with wafer-thin margins that is already unsustainable? So, where is the drive coming from?

Calving is now well under way at Dolphenby and the milking herd should be grazing at least during the day by the time this is printed. Calving won’t start until later in the month back at home, so hopefully spring will be well on its way by then. The wonderful start we had to March last year seems a long time ago, I suppose it’s too much to ask for another early spring for at least 10 years. I’ll be heading off on the second leg of my Nuffield travels, visiting Chile, Peru and Brazil. You can follow me on Twitter @robertcraignfu

Robert Craig, 41, farms a 440ha of almost all grass, split between two units in north-east Cumbria. A passionate grassland farmer, Robert is a 2012 Nuffield scholar and former Cumbria NFU chairman.

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