Opinion: AHDB needs to be more like QMS for dairy farmers

This year has placed an enormous strain on the 862 remaining Scottish dairy producers, of which I am one. This pressure is not because of the current pandemic, but due to the systemic failure of joined-up government.

We are suffering from the hangover caused from the indulgent Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP) grants that were introduced 16 years ago.

Yes, they increased efficiency and animal welfare, and reduced environmental impacts. But they also raised production without consideration for processing capacity or even the level of demand needed to consume our outputs.

See also: National dairy campaign sparks rise in sales

This is not an attack on ambitious businesses, or indeed pointing the blame at expansion. But it highlights what happens when the whole supply chain is not considered when driving investment and innovation.  

The Scottish dairy sector is at a crossroads. Only 82% of the 1.5bn litres of milk produced in Scotland is processed here. The reliance on capacity south of the border is increasing, adding logistical costs.

More worrying is the loss of farms due to the unviability of moving milk south and the pressure being exerted on farmgate prices.

Furthermore, as a share of business turnover, CAP support is significantly lower on Scottish dairy farms compared with other sectors. So, while we are not reliant on the “free cash”, the importance of help to ensure the market is secure and the rewards are fair is vital to our sustainability.

The form this help takes need not be financial. The recent dairy contract consultation, and hopefully the resulting actions, will go some way to ensuring security and fairness for producers.

The real crisis here, though, is the lack of real investment in processing, which has left Scotland behind in both volume and innovation. More value could and should be added locally.

The Scottish government is yet to set out how it intends to structure agricultural support after leaving the EU. But the ability to create a new, market-focused approach is not outwith its means, encouraging primary producers to invest alongside processors and the government to increase capacity and value.

The double win here would be creating co-operation, shared risk and shared responsibility between farmers, buyers and our consumers.

The dairy sector directly employs 3,600 skilled staff and contributes £400m to the economy. There is room for growth, though the consumer is key to adding value.

The Scottish brand is a feather in our cap which is yet to be fully leveraged. Our environmental credentials will be the driver to future brand growth.

To fully capitalise on this, we must work together to measure, record, market and change where necessary, to align our production more closely with what the market demands.

We must also be mindful that consumer trends are rapidly changing and, as such, we must have a dedicated body that can help guide and influence buying habits. As yet, I don’t feel there is a body that truly supports and represents Scottish dairy farmers.

While AHDB has achieved much for the dairy sector at a national level, it lacks regional focus and does not truly understand the importance of dedicated Scottish messaging.

It has never been more important than now to focus on what is on our doorstep and build campaigns that can drive demand here at home. Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) has done it for the red meat sector. Why can’t AHDB do it for dairy?

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