One of Yorkshire’s best known dairies is launching a new initiative to help British farmers earn more money for their milk.
Dales Dairies in Grassington is launching a new free-range milk, with farmers having to commit to grazing their cows outside for at least 180 days a year.
As a result, the dairy pays the farmers a premium over their standard litre price. And to dairy farmers in Yorkshire, facing a turbulent time in industry, this is a big step forward.
“It’s a matter of survival,” said Baildon farmer Stephen Coates, one of the first to sign up to the scheme. “It’s up there at the top of the tree. We need to do this to survive.
“We’re never going to be a massive farm. We will never have hundreds of cows. We just don’t have the land, or the buildings.
“This is perhaps a niche market – it won’t suit everyone. How big it will grow, we don’t know. But we will certainly give it a go.”
The Free Range Dairy initiative, set up as a social enterprise partnership in 2014, aims to promote the value of British farmers.
It’s standard, the Pasture Promise, guarantees to consumers that cows are free range – and they have been grazed outdoors for at least 180 days a year.
Dales Dairies is one of the first in England to sign up, launching a Dales free range milk. And Mr Coates, who runs Low Springs Farm, Baildon, is one of the first farmers.
“They gave us the guidelines and we fit the criteria,” he said. “We’ve always grazed our cows out to grass through the spring, summer and autumn months. We fit the bill.
“We haven’t had to change anything. We are just a normal family farm, very fortunate to have a reasonably dry and sheltered farm.”
This is Mr Coates’ third year with Dales Dairies, and his sixth year running the tenanted second-generation family dairy farm.
Working in partnership with his father, he farms 160 acres of grassland, with a herd of 865 pedigree Holsteins cows and a few Jerseys. They produce around 8,500 litres per cow per year.
It’s a family farm, and he’s helped out by wife Rachel, son Ben, 19, and daughter Zoe, 21, while their eldest daughter Felicity, in keeping with farming tradition, is a lecturer in livestock management at Hartpury College.
But, as he says, it’s a small farm with a small herd. And with dairy prices devastatingly low, they needed to diversify. “We’re what the public perceives as being a traditional dairy farm,” he said. “But it’s farming the way that we’re comfortable with.
“The financial return isn’t as great as we would like it to be, no, but it’s a big difference.”
Mr Coates opened the doors at Low Springs Farm on Tuesday to parties interested in the initiative.
There was huge interest, and it came from unexpected places – universities, coffee shops and restaurants all sent representatives, while there were milkmen wanting to find out more.
“Whether people are prepared to pay that little bit extra for it, time will tell,” said Mr Coates.
“But times are changing. People want a better lifestyle, they want to be healthy. Hopefully it can grow.”