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Adding Value to Organic Dairy

Ian Sharman talks about soil structure and the importance of clover on his farm

Ian, Steph and Tom Sharman kindly hosted a farm walk organised by Hi Peak Feeds and the Soil Association. There were 28 people altogether, with many of the farmers travelling for a long distance. One farmer came from South West Scotland, and at least 4 came from the Welsh borders.

It was a highly successful day, with everybody enjoying and engaging with all the talks.

  1. Liz Bowles gave a presentation on the organic market,
  2. Liam Healy talked about cross-breeding,
  3. Tom Tolputt talked about making dairy farms more efficient and
  4. Jasmine Black explained what Innovative Farmers is.

There were a few farmers who were conventional but were thinking about converting, so they found Ian’s setup very interesting. Ian’s farm became fully organic on June 1st, 2017, and they supply milk to ARLA.

The Organic Market

Liz Bowles (Head of Farming at the Soil Association) gave a talk about the organic market and where it is at now. She mentioned there is a growing demand for the organic produce with 86% of shoppers buying at least one food item that is organic per year. The organic retail market was worth just over £2 billion in 2016 which is up 7.1% from 2015. Interestingly organic bananas are the food that people buy most in the organic sector, although the reason is not really known; it could be due to bananas having more shelf space. Organic milk sales are increasing by 3.4% year on year, with dairy overall increasing by 2.4%. Young people are buying more organic produce and healthy eating as well as where the food comes from is becoming very important in people’s minds.

An important subject is bull calves; what can we do to reduce the slaughter of bull calves and make them more efficient on farm, and also improve public perception of the farm? The public doesn’t like to think of young stock being killed and this issue does fuel a negative viewpoint of farming. Since 2010 the Soil Association and other certification bodies have made it clear to their farmers that they must have a plan to end the culling of new born male calves through fattening for beef, rose veal production or selling to beef producers.

McDonald’s was also discussed in the talk due to the fact they only use organic milk. Is this due to a long-term approach to sustainability or to increase public positivity on their products?

Cross breeding – Is the Holstein a good breed for crossbreeding

Liam Healy from Genus next spoke about cross-breeding in the herd. He pointed out that crossbreeding is not a one size fits all approach – it very much depends on the individual farm.

The Holstein breed caused a debate. Many of the farmers thought the Holstein had had a negative effect on the dairy industry, due to over-breeding. The Holstein is a good breed and is very important to producing the higher yield. The Friesian and Norwegian Red cow are popular choices to cross breed with. Liam also talked to the farmers about hybrid vigour.

Improving efficiencies in dairy farming

Tom Tolputt from Southwest Farm Consultants talked about how to make dairy farming more efficient. He promoted buying concentrates on quality and not on price, and to offer the young stock a high-quality feed to promote growth and give them the best start in life. He also pointed out a lot of water troughs on farms were not clean enough and that they could easily make calves sick. If the calves have scour then take a water sample and see what bacteria are growing in the water trough.

Tom said that he was never worried about cows which were fat close to calving, as it meant they had lots of energy. He said that as long as they were fit and fat that being fat is ok for a pre-calver. His last point was how important it was to analyse and measure on the farm. This includes soil and water analysis. From here, the farmer can manage the soil or water better.

Innovative Farmers

Jasmine Black from Innovative Farmers gave a quick talk explaining what the programme is. It is a research programme but it puts the farmers in the driving seat. If the farmers have ideas, they put them forward to the innovation programme and they explore whether an experiment can be conducted on farm.

Jasmine talked about an on-farm mastitis experiment where the farmer cultivated the mastitis to see whether it was gram positive or gram negative. They could then tailor the antibiotics to the individual mastitis case and from this, they decreased antibiotic use by 24%.

Farm Walk

Ian Sharman then took everybody for a farm walk. The visit to the small self-service, shop which works on an honesty box system, created a lot of attention and people were very interested in the milk dispenser. We then walked through the cows where we discussed yields, once-a-day milking, and soil quality. We also saw a crop of spring barley and a field full of white clover. Back at the farm yard, we walked through a barn, where the cubicles had been removed as they were going to have a loose cow system with straw bedding instead.

It was a very successful day, and everyone got ideas and their questions answered. It also gave the farmers lots to think about, with a lot of farmers staying after the tour to have a discussion with each other.

Many thanks to Ian, Steph and Tom Sharman who worked hard to make the day such a success.