‘Enormous’ changes to Nocton Dairies plans promised
ONE of the farmers behind the Nocton Dairies project has revealed that ‘enormous changes’ have been made to the plans in response to local and national concerns.
The company, which withdrew plans for an 8,100-cow unit in Lincolnshire earlier in April, is expected to resubmit a much-changed application imminently.
Nocton director Peter Willes has urged critics of the project to hold fire until they have seen the revised plans.
“We originally withdrew the application to address various environmental aspects,” Mr Willes, a Devon farmer, said.
“What we didn’t realise was that it would take quite so long to finalise all the details – but that’s testament to how hard the Environment Agency, the council’s environmental health department and other consultees have worked on examining our work, and everyone should gain confidence from their attention to detail.
“We stress that we’ve taken on board people’s concerns – particularly those of local residents, some of whom have taken up invitations to visit our farms and discuss the issues in detail.
“As a result this plan has changed enormously from the original.”
In a thinly veiled attack on pressure groups opposed to the project, Mr Willes added:
“When it’s resubmitted in the near future, we hope everyone will take a detailed look at it and weigh it up on its own merits rather take the word of single issue pressure groups, who seem to be basing their arguments on the old application and fairly radical assumptions.”
He said the revised application would include a focus on welfare outcomes, reduced carbon footprint and improved sustainability.
“This is why it’s important that arguments for or against the dairy aren’t based on fiction, but are founded on the facts and objective, not selective, science,” he said.
The company has already revealed some changes to the original plans, including the provision of loafing areas to give cattle outside access for parts of the year, deploying the anaerobic digester from the start and measures to reduce the risk of local water pollution.
Concerns about the project were raised a number of times during Defra questions in the Commons on Thursday (November 4).
Labour MP Nic Dakin challenged Farming Minister Jim Paice to ‘urgently review’ the welfare code for UK dairy cows to ensure new dairies, like Nocton, ‘do not compromise cow welfare’. This was in light of research indicating that genetic selection to produce high yields was ‘the major factor causing poor welfare in dairy cows’.
Tory MP Zac Goldsmith asked Mr Paice if he shared the concern of small farmers that ‘plans to build a mega-dairy in Nocton will fatally undermine the viability of a great number of small and family farms’.
Mr Paice said Defra ‘puts welfare at the top of our agenda’ and would be ‘guided by science’, including the results of a three-year study in Scotland on intensive dairy farming, and work at Harper Adams University College on the same issue.
He pointed out that the Farm Animal Welfare Council had advised Defra ‘clearly that welfare is a function more of management than of scale’.
He said it was ‘good news that somebody thinks that the dairy industry is worth investing in, given that so many dairy farmers have given up over the past few years’. “I genuinely believe that there is huge scope for reclaiming much of our domestic market, which has been lost to imported dairy products. If through expansion and greater efficiencies we can do that, there will be room in the industry for both large and small producers,” he said.