Bute’s dairy farmers to go ‘free range’

Dairy cattle grazing on the grassy slopes at the south end of Bute.
Dairy cattle grazing on the grassy slopes at the south end of Bute.

Dairy farmers on Bute have taken the decision to further enhance the provenance of their milk by agreeing to sign up with the ‘Free Range Dairy Pasture Promise’ label.

The move follows the continued decline of the milk price being received by the island’s farmers, whose farm gate price from First Milk is now 50 per cent lower than it was a year ago - at around just 17 pence a litre after capital contributions.

At a series of dairy meetings hosted by the Bute Estate and dairy consultants Promar International last week, Carol Lever and Neil Darwent of the Pasture Promise label confirmed the case for Free Range Dairy, and gained strong support from the island’s dairy farmers present.

The key requirement to qualify for the ‘Free Range Dairy’ label is a guarantee that dairy cows are grazed outdoors for at least six months every year.

Bob Baines, Bute Estate’s factor, said: “This is about gold plating the island’s milk which already ticks so many boxes the consumer is looking for.

“The island can boast strong provenance in its product, after all we are a fertile island with cows that already graze outside for the best part of the year.

“Committing to a full six months of grazing the cows outdoors formalises what is virtually established practice here.

“Consumer research has shown that there is significant confusion amongst consumers about how milk is produced but you only have to look at the 42 per cent that the free range egg market occupies to see that a significant section of the public want know the cows that produce their dairy products have the ability to free range.”

Mr Darwent, who established the Pasture Promise label and promotes Free Range Dairy with fellow director Carol Lever, confirmed: “Free Range Dairy is a community interest company (CIC) working to promote the value of pasture-based milk production on British dairy farms for the benefit of farmers, cows and consumers.

“It is the only label that guarantees dairy cows are grazed for a minimum of six months a year.

“Our standards form a top-up to the recognised Red Tractor Standards and for ease can form part of the same inspection.

“Free Range is far from a gimmick - our farmers must be committed to our core requirements including the cows grazing outside for six months.”

Bute dairy farmer Aleck Nairn, who chairs the island branch of NFU Scotland, said: “As an island we already offer a great level milk supply of 15 million litres a year.

“We haven’t missed a delivery in the five years our milk’s been processed off island. My milk can be on the M8 on the outskirts of Glasgow in under an hour.

“The public seem to want their dairy products to be come from cows that are able to live the type of life on a farm that in this part of Scotland we are able to give them.

“For me the commitment to Free Range Dairy is about building on what we already have - which is a great product.

“However, we do need to receive a fair price for it. The price we are currently receiving is well below the cost of producing it, and without a significant increase in the price over the next few months I will be forced to sell the cows.”

David Cooke of Promar International added: “Put simply, the farmers on the island want to see their milk go into dairy products where quality and provenance is valued where they receive a fair price.

“We have looked at the added value Free Range might bring by scenario testing it with some of the large processors. Our research shows significant public interest but we will need a supermarket and processor to take it to market on a large scale.

“This part of Scotland is good at growing grass and there is strong demand worldwide for Scottish products. This initiative aligns perfectly with the Scottish Government’s recent dairy strategy and its declared promotion of added value and I am hopeful it will gain its support.”