As with most sectors of agriculture, the dairy industry has had more than its fair share of problems over the past couple of years.
Weather events, increased activism, pandemic supply chain issues and HGV driver shortages have presented huge challenges, and all the while the number of milk alternatives continue to grow.
It might, therefore, come as a surprise that I believe the next 10 years hold some of the biggest opportunities for the dairy industry.
About the author
Graham Wilkinson is senior director for members and agri-commercial activities with dairy co-op Arla Foods. Here he sets out why he thinks the next 10 years will be the “decade for dairy”.
See also: Are Arla producers ready for new rules on calves?
Decade for dairy
So, why are we entering this “decade for dairy”?
Firstly, we’ve risen to all of the challenges and learned great lessons that will increase our future resilience.
One-off weather events are happening too frequently for farmers to ignore, and this focuses the mind on sustainable, efficient farming and building contingency into business plans.
Likewise, the pandemic and HGV driver shortages have forced the logistics and production teams across the supply chain to plan for every scenario, making us stronger in the long term.
But alongside dealing with these pretty major issues, we’ve been doing something even more important – listening to consumers and understanding what makes (or stops) them buy our products.
It’s not just the colour of a milk bottle top that says something about a shopper, it’s the brand of milk or dairy alternative they buy that defines their values.
The rise of branded products is a real positive for our industry – it allows us to decouple milk from being a commodity product and it gives us a golden opportunity to develop brands that re-engage shoppers with the story of British farming.
Transparency in all areas of our industry, from welfare to emissions, is crucial to tell dairy’s story
We know that consumers place high value on good animal welfare, provenance, environmental stewardship and nutrient-rich, healthy food.
The work that dairy farmers do every day aligns closely with these values.
Quite simply, we need to ensure we do not give consumers a single reason not to buy dairy. Through listening to consumer concerns, we have made huge progress over the past few years.
For starters, we are quickly moving away from the long-standing reputational threat of routine bull calf euthanasia – completely banned on Arla UK farms and now being phased out across the industry as part of Red Tractor.
Secondly, we are starting to counter the claims about dairy products being unsustainable in terms of emissions.
This is where we really start to make a difference to consumer perception. Up until now, in the absence of robust UK data, the industry has struggled to define its environmental impact.
But this is changing fast as we gather meaningful data on dairy emissions, both at Arla via our Climate Check programme, and as a wider industry.
This science-based data is what will reassure consumers that they can buy milk products with confidence.
What’s more, gathering data allows us to measure and find further opportunities to reduce our effect – we all need to play our part in addressing the climate change crisis.
Transparency in all areas of our industry, from welfare to emissions, is crucial to tell dairy’s story and reassure consumers that we are part of the solution, not the problem.
As a co-operative, our farmer-owners know that success relies on them farming in a way that aligns to customer values.
By working together, we can provide context and credibility to the wider picture of UK dairy farming.
So, when you get that next reminder about uploading your farm data, I urge you to look ahead and see the bigger picture… we’ve got a great story to tell.