“Mega dairies do not provide a long term sustainable solution – they simply offer a quick fix”. So said dairy farmer, Neil Darwent, at the Parliamentary Reception in London where over 50 MPs heard our concerns over the proposal to build an 8,000 cow industrial dairy farm in Lincolnshire. Neil spoke with such clarity, and from a position of undoubted knowledge, being a farmer of a 400 cow dairy herd in the South West of England. Such was the power of his speech that I am delighted to have his permission to share with you here some of what Neil said.
Addressing fears that cows kept on mega-dairies will be taken out of the fields and denied the ability to graze on grass for most, if not all the time:
“Grass is probably the most incredible plant on the planet. Different species growing all around the globe have been the foundation of livestock farming for centuries. For ruminant animals it provides far more than just freedom – it delivers a complete balanced diet offering energy, protein, minerals and trace elements that can be freely harvested by the animals that graze it and, in turn, these abundant pastures indirectly supply a large portion of our own dietary needs. We don’t just feed cows on grazed grass because it’s good for them – it’s also a very cheap feed and one that grows well throughout the UK.
The western side of our country grows grass and the silty soils of East Anglia are the nation’s vegetable patch and cereal bowl. Displacing one sector of agriculture with another like this is not sustainable – farming evolved where it did for a reason. I find it incredible in a hungry world with more and more people aspiring to eat meat and dairy products, we are ripping up pasture to grow cereals, which will then be fed to our livestock.”
As I said, when I had the privilege to share a platform with Neil at the Westminster event, the bottom line is that cows belong in fields; it’s as simple as that.
But is there a big benefit to the dairy industry to mega-dairies? Neil Darwent again:
“Mega dairies do not provide a long term sustainable solution – they simply offer a quick fix for those trying to maintain margins in the supply chain whilst offering cheap food. The operators of these farms will wield no more power in negotiating milk prices than they do today. Furthermore, the consignment of dairy cows into mega herds will serve to only distance consumers further from the origins of their food. If we are to provide food for future generations from our own shores, we must promote farming systems that create something of real value to us all. ”
What came across at the Parliamentary event, especially when listening to Neil, was that the mega-dairy issue really is one that unites consumers, animal welfarists and the farming community. In my view, mega-dairies will not only alienate consumers and undermine the integrity of milk, it will also turn the screw further on already hard-pressed dairy farmers. I listened particularly closely, therefore, to Neil’s closing remarks on the night:
“We must learn the lessons from other failures in industrialised farming such as battery hens. I am here tonight because I believe farmers have the answers. But if we do not engage directly with everyone who has a stake in our future we will build farms that are wrong for us, wrong for our livestock and wrong for everyone in this country.“
Anyone sharing these concerns can join the campaign to keep cows grazing in our green fields. The future of our cows’ welfare and the family dairy farming community depends on it.