A survey compiled by KW Feeds has revealed that dairy producers are keen to prioritise sustainability within their business, but it also highlighted a lack of clarity across the industry.
98% of the dairy farmers questioned said that sustainability was important and 84% already audit their farm, although most of those (79%) are doing so because of pressure from retailers or processors.
Concern was raised within the survey about the different audits returning a wide range of results. One respondent questioned the reliability of the auditing process, concerned it was ‘making a mockery’ of what they feel is ‘an already dubious sustainability agenda, making farming the scapegoat’.
Despite this, Charlotte Ward, ruminant technical manager at KW Feeds says the survey shows a positive approach to more sustainable farming activities, including the associated operational costs, as long as milk prices reflect the changes, and consumers are prepared to pay for it.
She said: “The majority of farmers we spoke to are optimistic about the benefits of operating in a more sustainable way, even if the costs may be higher now. Many felt that in reality, these changes will be self-funding due to improving efficiencies. Essentially there is a short-term cost for a longer-term gain, for the benefit of us all.”
96% of those surveyed felt that using UK feed options were either important or semi-important, not just down to cost, but also from a sustainability perspective (69%).
It was felt home-grown options would support the British farmer, reduce potential supply chain and foreign exchange risk, while also helping support sustainability. The importance of good rationing is also seen as key to getting the full sustainability potential from UK feed.
Mrs Ward said: “Accurate rationing formulation, for example only feeding the required amount of protein throughout the housing and grazing periods, was one key area highlighted, and this relies on reliable feed and nutritional advice, supply and support.”
The survey also looked at manure management. Of those questioned, 57% had considered changing manure management methods through a variety of means including the use of dribble bars, using additives to cut emissions or covering slurry stores.
However, none of the respondents mentioned livestock management measures, and only 13% had looked at using products to reduce methane emissions in the herd.
“Our survey shows that farmers are wanting to be more sustainable,” said Ms Ward. “There is increased recognition that this is important to the consumer, and if UK producers expect the public to eat and buy locally, they should be doing likewise with their own sourcing.
“While there is clearly a nervousness around hitting the balance between sustainability and profitability, and the lack of a standard across the industry, dairy farmers remain positive they are making a difference for the long-term.”