Calls for a UK strategic plan for dairying to ensure a sustainable, vibrant and profitable sector were made this week by RABDF policy director, Tim Brigstocke.
“The dairying industry desperately needs a common UK policy document which sets out clearly the challenges and opportunities and then provides a strategic set of aims and objectives with clear approaches to implementation, monitoring and evaluation,” he told a briefing in London this evening, Thursday 8 May. “This plan needs to instil in dairy farmers a new spirit of optimism in order to stop the continuing decline in producer numbers.
“Furthermore, there is a real need for such a plan to avoid any distortion of future policy documents and harmonise decisions made by the four constituent parts of the UK. We need to avoid in future, the implications of individual approaches being taken, for example to bTB control and Responsibility and Cost Sharing of Disease, never mind the consequences of the Single Payment Scheme which has clearly placed English farmers at a disadvantage.”
The proposal headed up a list of 42 recommendations which Mr Brigstocke urged the industry to grasp if it was to ‘prosper in an increasingly liberalised environment’, and they formed the conclusions of this year’s RAC/Dairy Crest Annual Fellowship in Dairy Research report which he was invited to compile. The 80 page document identifies the major ‘hurdles’ - the real issues and challenges that are destined to have a major influence on the dairy sector towards CAP Reform in 2013. It includes the following:
Labour and training: The UK is the only EU member state that does not provide specialist help for new entrants. High land values and endless constraints continue to prohibit new blood from entering the industry. Most other states have start up aid, interest rate subsidies and training grants, why can’t we? We need to find new ways of linking those who want to enter with those who want to exit. The Fresh Start Initiative may be one way. Clear policy on training and skills is also needed - the new Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board has a key role to play.
Emerging technologies: There needs to be a more informed and sensible debate on GM technologies and other such new scientific developments including cloning, otherwise the EU dairy sector will be placed at a considerable disadvantage. In addition, the distorting effect of bio-fuels needs to be recognised and amended. It cannot be right for large quantities of useful livestock feed materials being burnt as co-products.
The environment: There is a need to achieve a balance between a profitable dairy sector and an environmentally sound one. This requires policy makers and farmers to work together in an open and constructive way to balance farmers attempting to continue to cut costs and hence improve competitiveness and at the same time having for example new regulations on NVZ’s which could limit their effectiveness and ultimately their competitiveness. In this particular instance, Defra needs to reinstate the Agricultural Building Allowance to help farmers increase their slurry storage.
Quotas: After controlling supply for 24 years, with their likely abolition post 2015 it is inevitable that raw milk contracts will become the vehicle for managing volume. Therefore it begs the question, what will this mean for farmers and their relationship between processors and retailers?
The supply chain: The evolving partnership between farmers, processors and retailers is greatly to be welcomed, however it must be based on mutual understanding and trust. If we negate the previous animosities and engender a new spirit of cooperation, then much greater care needs to be given to communicating with primary producers so that messages are clearly understood and that additional health and environment quality criteria is applied that is realistic and in the best interests of everyone concerned. So far, only 20% to 25% of producers are in dedicated supply arrangements with retailers; the remainder need to seek a similar arrangement to prevent further market volatility.
Added value: The UK needs an export policy for dairy products. During the last four years there has been astonishing innovation, however there is a major growing deficit. The UK sells low value products and buys in value added ones. We need to focus on producing high value products, for example, I think it perfectly possible to develop new innovative lines with the help of different genetics, nutrition and management.
CAP: We are currently involved in the CAP HealthCheck in the run up to 2013 which heralds a new CAP. The debate needs to start now about CAP’s long term purpose and the balance between Pillar 1 and Pillar 2. Furthermore, with food security currently grabbing the headlines, we desperately need a meaningful debate and arrive at a considered and agreed view at both UK and EU level. Those conclusions need to be fed in to a cohesive UK strategic plan for dairying.
Mr Brigstocke added: “The UK dairy industry in 2013 will look very different to what it does today with fewer producers, but with much closer links to the consumer via retailers and much better able to exploit the global market place. Forewarned is forearmed, and provided the industry can understand the hurdles outlined in the report and exploit the subsequent opportunities, then the sector should have a long term and viable future.”
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