Hats off to Maple Field Milk!

June 16 2015

Tracy Jones has been awarded an MSc in Organic Farming. Many prolonged congratulations to her. I, in turn, have awarded myself an MSc in Applied Agriculture on the small scale (MScAAsc). In 2003 I first wrote of my hope and belief that it would be possible to milk dairy cows; process and bottle their milk; and provide the immediate village and surrounding community with fresh, local milk.

In 2004 I founded a community farm with my friends and fellow believers – believers in a modern, community led provision of fresh food from land within the Parish. It is called Futurefarms-Martin Ltd.(www.futurefarms.org.uk)

In 2010 we built the first buildings on Maple Field Farm, Martin. We renamed the four acre field. It used to be called ‘Plot Known as 4 Acres’. This was the name given to it at the time of its enclosure in 1832. Maple Field comes from the row of Norway Maples planted on the verge at the time of the Jubilee in 1978.

We started bottling other people’s milk in June 2013. Now……yesterday, I negotiated permission to occupy 37 acres of beautiful meadow grazing land. Great thanks to our new farmer landlord who has made this possible. We can now go dairy farming.

I took the final permission to rent the 37 acres of land as the ‘finals’ in my MSc. This is the result of 12 years of work and research. We have persuaded a very successful farmer in our own Parish that our modern dairy business model with 20 cows is viable and worthwhile. How exciting is that?

Micro–breweries now number 1000+ in Britain. Near us there are four. My friend Greg Pilley (Community Supported Agriculture expert) founded Stroud Brewery and his bottled beer turns up in Andover. The movement arose from the Campaign for Real Ale in 1976. The brewery system then was much the same as the dairy system now. A handful of mighty brewers mass producing watery, homogenous Watneys Red Barrel beer; pumped and fizzed and wanting in taste and cheap of course. CAMRA uprooted the industry by rallying customers for action. They gave us micros and pop-ups and back-to-pub brewers. Most industrial estates have at least one shed full of yeasts and tanks and shiny pipes with towering stacks of metal casks outside. Downton (Wilts) has two.

The Dairy Industry in Britain has shrunk to two major processors –Arla and Muhler-Wiseman, with secondaries like Dairy Crest and OMSCO (an organic milk cooperative). So how is this competitive? Does the free market ultimately eat its own leg? Why have we ended up with a duopoly? It must benefit the few not the many. Do the end customers actually notice all this rock bottom cheapness? Most when asked do not know the retail price of fresh milk.

People who buy milk (everyone) do not automatically also buy bottled water. A comparison of prices for bottled water and for fresh milk is completely pointless.

We need Customers for Action. We need Ray Winston dressed as a modern dairy farmer on a big wind-bendy poster at the entrance to the super market car park. Inside  the super cathedral to consumption I want the tannoy system to frequently describe the need for FAIR TRADE DAIRYING ending each line with Ray Winston … ‘you’re avin a laugh’.  That should fix it.

The worry is that while concentrating on and listening to the geo-political position and all its underbrush of complexity; while glancing down at the GPS (Global Positioning System) on the tractor dash; while searching the folds of the world map for potential markets for our produce beyond the horizon – we may lose sight of the soil.

This morning on Farming Today Charlotte Smith was talking about dairy. This week it is dairy week on the programme. The CEO of OMSCO was very excited about selling organic cheddar to the USA.  Well there’s an idea. The USA has more clever cheese makers from more walks of life than you could shake a cheer leader’s pom-pom at. What a waste of time.  Giving penniless Devon farmers false hopes of great financial returns. Oh…..and if you look at your world map for a minute, there is Ireland between Devon and the USA. Might that make a difference once the Irish get wind?

I know someone who has just sold their herd of 100 cows. She was being paid 20p a litre by her trusted processor. Her business failed. Perhaps she could have sold 50 cows for £50,000 and kept the remainder? With the £50,000 she could buy a processing plant and commission it. With the remaining 50 cows having their output sold onto the doorstep of her nearest town, she could continue in the dairy business. Just a thought.

Nick Snelgar

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