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A newsletter brought to you by Free Range Dairy Network
Volume 1, Issue 2
February 2016

Editor’s Comment

Dear All,

Firstly, my apologies; this newsletter is long overdue.

Whilst farmers are often criticised for not working together – not wishing to throw their milk down the drain for a week, for fear that neighbours won’t follow suit, or sitting back and hoping the Milk Marketing Board will be reinstated (that’s not going to happen) – we have been pulled apart by those seeking to profit from milk on its journey between farm and fridge. Today we have a clear divide between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ and that divide can pretty much be drawn as a line between those on aligned contracts and those who are left to feed off the scraps that the global commodity market has to offer. But, I am not here to knock those who have secured cost of production contracts, my point is that there is no single solution for everyone and those in the ‘have nots’ camp need to start thinking differently.
I started Free Range Dairy because I was fed up with the lack of value not only in the milk we supply, but also in the way we farm and the role that farmers play in British society. Unfortunately, we have lost our way, failed to engage and, in some instances, resigned ourselves to the fact that our milk will never be anything more than a cheap commodity. But dairy farmers have not devalued milk – they have and by “they” I mean the milk buyers, wholesalers and retailers, who have pooled milk from farms all over into huge vats and rendered it nothing more than white water. Today, Free Range Dairy Network CIC is all about changing that, putting farmers, cows and consumers first, wresting back power and some degree of control over our destiny and that means differentiation of milk and the way we farm, to define value at the farm gate.
So much for all the hot air and bluster, it’s time tell you a bit about what we have been doing to try and bring about this change that is so desperately needed.

Best wishes,
Neil Darwent
Director, Free Range Dairy Network CIC


In this issue

1. Launching Free Range Milk in London
2. The Power of Social Media
3. Grazing towards Sustainability
4. The Segregation Game
5. Will my milk ever be sold as Free Range?

Launching in Free Range Milk in London

You may have picked up in the press that we made a significant breakthrough in getting milk to market last week, launching Free Range Milk, under the Pasture Promise label, into London hotels and restaurants. I have copied in below the blog post from our website telling people all about it.
This week sees Free Range Dairy CIC take another big step towards offering consumers a more informed choice when they buy milk, as the first Free Range Milk is launched in London. Once again, collaboration with partners in the supply chain, who share our values, is key to helping us keep cows in fields and return farmers a fair price for their milk.

We are delighted to be working with Cotteswold Dairy, winners of the 2015 Food & Farming Industry Awards, Family Business of the Year. They are now collecting and processing Free Range Milk from selected, local farms, under the Pasture Promise label. The farms are all located within 30 miles of the dairy in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire. Founded by Harry Workman in 1938, the company prides itself on providing real service to the customer and top quality products.

The next link in the chain are family owned dairy merchants, Foodspeed, who were awarded a Royal Warrant to Her Majesty the Queen in 2012 as suppliers of fresh milk and dairy products. They are now delivering Free Range Milk to some of London’s leading chefs. As a 100% carbon neutral company, Foodspeed are rightly proud to be the only dairy supplier currently approved by the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA).
We have received valuable support from the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) who work with chefs in all kinds of restaurants and food outlets, to demonstrate that good food can be produced sustainably, no matter what style of venue. The SRA have been working with us to promote high welfare milk and dairy products from sustainable farms as part of their Food Made Good movement.

We are really pleased to find more ‘can do’ people in the food and farming industry, who are committed to promoting a better understanding of the true value of British food and farming. The Pasture Promise label represents a clearly defined farming system that can deliver what farmers, cows and consumers need. In a world where people are increasingly concerned about how food is produced and the life that farm animals are afforded, Free Range Dairy CIC offers a chance for us all to consume milk responsibly.

The collaboration we have established with Cotteswold Dairy and Foodspeed, gives farmers an alternative to the mass production of commodity milk from intensive farming and supports traditional, British dairy farms in the current crisis. Free Range Dairy wants to enrich rural communities and safeguard our beautiful countryside. By working with independent, family businesses to deliver free range milk, we can offer an alternative to industrial dairy and ensure a sustainable supply of healthy milk is there for generations to come.  

We have been very pleased with the response to the London launch and the uptake by some well repsected chefs like Nitin Padwal at the Cavendish Hotel and Duncan Cruickshanks at the Hospital Club. Social media has also played a big part in promoting our messages to the world and getting others to share them. We are particularly lucky to have afriend in  Deborah Meaden, who ability to influence opinion is worth a lot to us. 

The Power of Social Media

Whilst we don’t have an advertising budget, we are able to get our messages out to the world via the powers of social media – Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. This enables us to be part of a bigger ‘conversation’ about milk and dairy and we win support through followers, some of whom pass on our messages to a much wider audience, like Deborah Meaden.

If you use any of the social media platforms please help us to spread the word
@freerangedairy  Free Range Dairy  freerangedairy_cic

Twitter (following launch of free range milk into London):
Deborah Meaden: “Great step forward for cows and humans… Brilliant work all those involved @freerangedairy #freerangedairy #support

You might feel remote and cut off from the world at times, but social media is a great way to get in touch with the wider world and build a campaign for change. This is only the start and we still have a lot to do, but we have clear signals that there is an appetite for an ethical and sustainable milk label that gives consumers a clear message. Help us to get everyone talking about Free Range Dairy and cows in fields.

Grazing towards Sustainability

In January I attended the first Global Farm Platform Conference ‘Steps to Sustainable Livestock’, held in Bristol.

The event was promoted as a ‘go to’ event for academics, researchers, NGO’s, policymakers and livestock producers working toward sustainability of ruminant systems. Presentations by researchers from all over the world covered themes including Consumption of Human Food by Livestock, Feeding animals optimally and Husbandry systems appropriate for local environment, culture and economy.

I was delighted to be credited as co-author of a paper given by Professor Michael Lee, Chair in Sustainable Livestock Systems and Food Security at Bristol University. Professor Lee’s presentation ‘Grazing towards sustainability’ referenced work I have done in evaluating the economics of robust dairy cow breeds on a simple, pasture-based system against high output cows managed on a more intensive regime. Whilst my own contribution was very small, it was really rewarding to be part of a conference that sought to forge closer links between researchers and farmers.

As the conference themes mentioned above suggest, the event delivered a holistic approach to the production of meat and milk, looking much wider than the usual themes of most farming industry conferences.  This is something that Free Range Dairy has been promoting for some time, urging farmers to look at the value they deliver from their farms, rather than simply the volume they produce. As Professor Lee pointed out in his paper, the sustainability of any farming system needs to meet the needs of:
  1. Society – providing a valuable, healthy product that consumers want to purchase
  2. Economy – providing the healthy food within a profitable business
  3. Environment – ensuring the farming practices minimise emissions and maintain other ecosystem services
We believe that pasture-based dairy farming can deliver on all of these points can also give dairy cows the kind of life they deserve too. Conference speakers repeated concerns about increasing competition for human-edible protein, as additional feed is required for the projected increase in demand for animal products across the globe. However, ruminant livestock have the ability to produce high quality human food from feedstuffs of little or no value for human food, like grass. That’s why Free Range Dairy is pleased to be forging close links with researchers in the UK to help farmers graze towards sustainability. Another good reason for consumers to support us and keep Britain’s dairy cows in fields!

The Segregation Game

Why isn’t everyone buying free range milk? Answer: because they can’t.
We have no doubt that given the choice a large number of consumers would choose milk that comes from cows that enjoy the freedom to graze in fields. The challenge for us is persuading those that stand between farmers and British households that Free Range Milk is a viable proposition.
As you will be well aware, the milk market is a ‘blood bath’ right now, with some processors literally being forced to dump milk at any price to find a home for it. Further up the supply chain, food wholesalers and buying teams in retail, catering and hospitality continue to drive prices down as milk ouput continues to exceed demand. It is not only supermarkets that use milk as a ‘loss leader’ – I hear of fruit & veg wholesalers in the cities virtually giving milk away, simply to get more vegetables through the doors of hotels and restaurants.
So how can we address this and wrest back some of that power that I mentioned ealier? The answer lies in offering people something of tangible value, helping consumers to understand that not all milk is the same and clear labelling of its provenance. But with big milk processors pooling up to 250,000 litres in a single vat on arrival at the plant, how can we begin to take the milk from traditional, seasonally grazed dairy herds and separate it from that produced by 1,000 cow herd that is housed all year round? That’s the segregation game.
Segregation is a true to cost to dairy companies. It begins with dedicated collection from farms; sending a dedicated tanker to collect milk from selected farms rather than calling at every farm on a simple route. Then, as I have just highlighted above, when the milk arrives at the plant, unless there is sufficient quantity to fill a vat, storage capacity will be under utilised, thereby creating more cost as additional vats or silos are required to accommodate this segregated milk. There are also additional tasks associated with processing different lines of milk that reduce the operating efficiency of the plant – lines need to be purged before a different milk is put through, labels need to be changed and there are losses and waste associated with this additionial workload throughout. At the very least, most dairies process nine lines – whole milk, semi-skimmed and skimmed, each in 1 pint, 1 litre and 2 litres containers. But most then add pergals (3 gallons) and third pint packs for schools, process organic or other lines, make cream and so on, all reducing the throughput of the plant. So life would be so much easier for processors if all milk was the same.
The segregation of milk and the additional costs that this incurs, means that it is difficult to return a premium to the farmers for Free Range Milk in the early stages. When we ask processors to pay a premium, it might not sound like much. But, when you add in these costs and a small margin for others taking a risk it means that the retail price has to be perhaps 15 to 20 pence a litre higher than that of standard milk. In a world where prices are currently being cut to ribbons this is hard to swallow for customers and bear in mind the benchmark for the trade is the price of 2 litres, so the additional cost might be more like 30 or 40 pence on 2 litres. However, we have been fortunate to get everyone we work with to pay a bonus, based on the number of litres sold under the Pasture Promise label, from the outset. In time, as volumes grow, segregation costs will come down and there will be more money to pass back to the farmers. Beyond that, it is very much about returning more money from the marketplace, by achieving a sustainable price on the shelf. 
Segregation has been one of the biggest challenges to getting Free Range Milk off the ground. But we are making inroads thanks to a small number of forward thinking people, like Chris Stephenson of Stephenson’s Food & Dairy in Lancashire, Dales Dairies in Yorkshire, Cotteswold Dairy in Gloucestershire and London dairy wholesaler Foodspeed. These people, all with years of experience in the processing and distribution of milk, have seen what’s happening in the dairy industry and started to look at ways to add value to milk, rather than simply continue to squeeze margins and compete on price. For that reason we have been able to start to segregate Free Range Milk and get the product out there for people to try. Although start volumes have been small, this is a huge step forward in turning an idea into a product people can buy.

Will my milk ever be sold as Free Range?

Launching any new product carries risk and requires investment, time and trust amongst all parties involved. That’s why openness, honesty and collaboration is the only way we will deliver a viable proposition for everyone and finding the right partners is key. Everyone has to accept that there is no ‘quick buck’ to be made from the venture, nor any assurance of long term success, but it is that willingness to give it a go that at least gets us off on the right foot.
Much of the milk currently sold under the Pasture Promise label is going into hospitality and catering, because the two major processors, Muller and Arla, have tied up so much of the liquid business with major retailers, who now sell around 78% of the liquid milk bought by British households. These large operators are reluctant to consider segregation, not only because of the costs but, also, through fear of devaluing their standard milk, which limits opportunities for their suppliers to sell their milk as free range.
So how can we open up more opportunities for others to sell their milk as free range and receive a price that reflects the true value of their milk? Like charity, innovation starts at home, which means farmers taking the initiative to tell their story and promote the values in the way they farm. We cannot grow the market for Free Range Milk if we cannot deliver it and processors are unwilling to segregate and label it if there is no market. This kind of Catch-22 situation threatens to trap farmers in a position of ‘price taker’, unless we can do something to break it. By working together, helping people to understand the value we deliver in terms of the quality of our product, the kind of life our cows are afforded and the way we care for the countryside, we can instil value in a clearly defined farming system. It is then up to us to demonstrate to milk buyers and retailers that we can add value to their milk at the farm gate.
It is important to remember that it is commodity milk that is in oversupply right now – not healthy, affordable milk from traditional, seasonally grazed herds. Help us to identify your milk as something more than a cheap commodity and move farmers from ‘price takers’ to ‘price makers’. It appears no one else is going to speak for farmers or help them. Whilst we cannot represent everyone in the British dairy industry, we can promote hundreds, if not thousands, who are committed to keeping cows in fields. But, this is a numbers game – we need you, and many more farmers like you, to make our voice heard. Please don’t leave this to someone else, get involved now, tell others about us and reclaim the value of your milk before it’s too late!
If you are not already a member of Free Range Dairy CIC, click here ( to find out how you can join us.

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