Nocton Dairies: Farmers plan to press ahead with 8,000-cow dairy
THE directors of Nocton Dairies have boldly stated their intention to press ahead with an 8,000-cow dairy in Lincolnshire, despite unveiling substantially reduced plans.
The two farmers behind the controversial project, Peter Willes and David Barnes, submitted a planning application for a 3,770-cow unit near the villages of Nocton and Dunston to North Kesteven District Council today (Thursday, November 18).
Mr Willes said the numbers had been ‘slashed’ from the original plan for 8,100 cows in response to local planning concerns, particularly over the spreading of digestate, and wider public unease over the welfare implications of such a large unit. But he made it clear the ultimate aim remained the same.
“We see this as a starting point. While we are backing down on the 8,000 cows we will aim to go there in future,” he said.
The directors believe the decision on the application could be made by February 2011. If successful, they expect to be in a position to milk the first cows by the end of next year.
The decision on whether to expand further, which will require a brand new planning application, would then be made once they had gauged the success of the initial £34 million unit, commercially and in terms of the wider issues surrounding it.
“We are confident that this system can work very well. If it does, we will consider future expansion,” Mr Willes, a Devon farmer, said.
Various other changes have been made to improve the application’s chances of success and the project’s public image, including the provision of outside access for cows and measures to address local concerns over water pollution, smell and traffic.
Speaking to journalists on Wednesday, Mr Willes made a passionate case for the plans, in the face of the massive public backlash thrown up by the original proposal.
He emphasised its long term ‘sustainability’ in terms of its contribution to UK food security and reversing the decline in UK milk production, its animal welfare credentials, the boost it will give to the local economy and its ‘huge’ environmental benefits, including a carbon footprint way below average UK and EU levels.
However, there no signs of any let up in the campaigning against the project by animal welfare environmental organisations.
The Soil Association released a report on Wednesday that it it said showed new scientific evidence from the US suggesting ‘the so-called super dairy model is not so super – with far worse environmental and animal welfare impact than organic systems’.
Viva!, which campaigns for a vegetarian lifestyle, described the reduced numbers as a ‘victory of sorts’ but said it would continue to oppose the project because of the link between intensive farming and ‘bad animal welfare’.
NFU chief dairy adviser Hayley Campbell-Gibbons described the plan as an ‘imaginative and positive step in an industry that has been massively underinvested for over a decade’. She said it would be a ‘test-case’ for the British dairy sector.