UK dairy sector 'could replicate Ireland's huge expansion'

Originally working over four key units, Grosvenor Farms started the expansion of their dairy unit in 2012
Originally working over four key units, Grosvenor Farms started the expansion of their dairy unit in 2012

The UK dairy sector could replicate Ireland's huge expansion following a favourable Brexit, according to two dairy farmers who recently expanded.

Farm expansion, animal welfare, and the future for small-scale producers was the focus of the recent Oxford Farming Conference’s (OFC) webinar held on 6 August.

Mark Roach and Charlie Steer, Managing Director and Arable Manager respectively of Grosvenor Farms, joined the panel with OFC Director Tom Levitt.

The panellists detailed how the business, which produces 90,000 litres of fresh milk daily and grow 6000-acres of crops, expanded to the size and scale that it is currently with more than 2,500 cows.

Originally working over four key units, Grosvenor Farms started the expansion of their dairy unit in 2012.

With work now complete, they have now doubled their output during this period and established themselves as Tesco’s single largest milk supplier.

Steer said: "Expansion of the dairy has allowed us to look at the farm with fresh eyes. We have developed-out a world-class farming system and we've done that using resource-efficient farming."

Although there are those in government, according to Roach, who believe agriculture is an inefficient industry, reliant on subsidy and a drain on the public purse, with a favourable Brexit, he believes that the future is positive for UK dairy.

"UK dairy in the right regulatory trading framework, I feel, can be globally competitive. But we need to have a reasonably level playing field," he said.

The UK dairy sector could go further and match Ireland's doubling of its dairy output, but it needs to avoid a supply chain only expansion that could see a price crash.

Roach added: "There is a possibility in the future that the four parts of the UK could have a totally different, fragmented agriculture policy and I think that would be to the detriment of the industry in terms of its growth and share of markets going forward.

"We need a coordinated approach across the industry to displace imports and grow exports.”

Contrary to general public perception, he said expansion of the farm had enabled them to invest in animal welfare benefits.

“We’ve seen a significant step up in all our animal health and welfare metrics we’re measuring," he noted.

"Fertility has risen 10%, mastitis rates are now below 10%, and we no longer use antibiotics for dry cows.

"We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to build a brand-new dairy unit and we put a huge amount of research into how we were going to build the farm.

"You do not get high performance without high standards,” he said.

However, expansion was not the only way forward for the industry and that smaller farms could be viable in the future too.

“I think it is more a case of how well you manage your farm, rather than scale. There are opportunities for all sizes to thrive going forward," Roach added.

"It will be a competitive environment and we have to be good at what we do to develop our businesses."

The 2021 OFC will be hosted as a digital one-day conference on 7 January 2021.