Free Range Dairy initiative aims to gain national foothold
HUNDREDS of farmers across the country have shown an interest in an initiative to promote the value of grazing cows, according to the farmer behind the project.
Somerset dairy farmer Neil Darwent has spent much of the past 18 months drumming up support for his Free Range Dairy initiative, which he is now to turn into a formal body, possibly in the form of a producer organisation (PO).
At the Parliamentary agroecology event, Mr Darwent said: “About 75 farmers have taken our pasture pledge, committing them to grazing their cows. Another 400 farmers have expressed an interest so it is an ongoing process of signing up farmers and explaining what we are about.
“We are now in the process of looking at how we come together as a formal organisation and a PO would be a really good thing to look at.”
Mr Darwent’s ultimate aim is to represent dairy farmers across the UK who graze their cows for 180 days (160 days in Scotland) and establish a brand for ‘free-range milk’.
“I am looking to bring regional producers together to market their milk through local processors or even bigger national schemes, acting as a certification body and putting farmers in touch with processors who want to source free range dairy products.
“It is not about creating a unique market for a handful of people. It is trying to make people think when they go and buy their milk what kind of life the cow has had, what kind of return is going to the farmer and what it is doing to the countryside.
“There is a lot of talk about farmers needing to get bigger or get out. I am trying to counter some of this pressure by making people realise there is real value in grazing cows. It is about trying to instill values.
“The message I am trying to get across is there is real value in dairy herds today. We haven’t got many left, but those which are following a more traditional system of seasonal grazing their cows aren’t yesterday’s herds, they are actually tomorrow’s men.”