As agriculture steadily moves towards a more sustainable future, dairy farming has become one of the sectors most under pressure.

The issue of methane emissions has been well publicised, despite the fact that methane is only a small percentage of a dairy cow’s total carbon emission and that the scientific debate on how to best measure methane’s impact has far from concluded. But other significant issues add to the complexity and include animal welfare issues such as the adoption of calf at foot systems, which avoid early weaning, as well as a move to more sustainable production systems. The dairy farmer faces a considerable conundrum, in that an expanding world population requires increased supplies of quality protein while changes to systems reduce economic production and increase costs.

A recent report regarding the responsibility to support this transition concludes that all food stakeholders have a role in supporting a farmer’s journey and further identifies that some have a larger role than others. The report, a 36 page document produced by the Food Ethics Council (1), is the result of several years discussion between farmers and producers and is focussed on issues faced by the dairy industry in the United Kingdom. The report attempts to identify both farmer aspirations to change, and the barriers they face. The UK dairy industry, unlike some in other parts of the world, is trapped in a historically biassed system which primarily rewards volume rather than quality of production. In contrast, for example, New Zealand farmers are paid by kilogram of milk solids delivered. Long-term investments in infrastructure to support high volume production, and low profit margins, make transformational change very difficult. Incentivisation of change, to a more sustainable form of production, is an action in which milk processors and the consumer must play an important role. And with milk being sold as a loss leading product in most supermarkets, the consumer perception of the value of milk and milk products has been broken. Improving communication between milk processors and producers will be essential to driving change.




The innate conservatism of many established farmers is also an issue, it appears. Internal family pressures to farm in a certain, more established way, can also be significant. And the delay in producing a new voluntary code and the lack of a statutory code are further barriers to change: an increased role for government is identified as essential. One thing that does strongly emerge is the role of people in the industry and the vital role they will play, no matter what sector of the value chain they work.

From a VetSalus perspective, it is disappointing to find that the word “Vet” appears nowhere in the document other than in the final paragraph! Vets did not feature in the discussion. VetSalus firmly believes that vets and their teams have a significant role in supporting clients on this demanding journey.

As the report concludes, the willingness and the ability of farmers to change are two different matters and both will require ongoing support from a range of stakeholders if the required level of change is to follow.

VetSalus offers multiple training courses and resources designed to aid vets and the wider veterinary team in undertaking these discussions with their clients. Including:





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