Saturday, 1 January 2011

A Future Agenda for Grass fed Milk

As the dawn of the year 2011 breaks it's a great time to ponder the next decade & the changes that might occur & how we prepare our businesses to capture those opportunities. UK farmers are currently struggling with the snow & makes every task on the farm 10 times more difficult. Its very hard to produce food when conditions are so extreme. At each meal you should thank a farmer for his/her efforts. Mind you its also easy to think only of the present & not look into the future. As the Aussies say (nothing to do with cricket I might point out) "Its hard to think about draining the swamp when you are up to your neck in crocodiles"
Over Christmas I've started to read a fascinating new book called "Future Agenda"......basically a worldwide think tank sponsored by Vodafone. I'm very impressed! It's really thought provoking & I recommend either the book or the website...

Most aspects of the Future Agenda impact directly on agriculture & farmers. Looking into the next decade food, food security, our health, water scarcity & the implications of economic growth are all massive issues for grass based thinking dairy farmers.
Recent comments in the UK press regarding "Cows no longer belong on pastures" couldnt be further from the truth. This comment of self interest came unbelievably from the chair person of the North Devon Grasslands society???!!??!!.

The world population is forcast to increase from nearly 7 billion (2010) to 7.7billion by 2010, thats an increase of 750million. How are those extra people going to eat? What will they eat? What ability do the world's farmers have of producing enough food???? Serious questions! Especially as most Govt intervention has a negative impact on food supplies eg USA & Europe's push for bio energy.

There will be an accelerating shift in economic power to Asia. Increasing economic growth means people eat more food (especially protein) & they waste more food too. As GDP per capita rises so does water demand. China is already short of clean water. Good water supplies are essential to farmers & food supplies. By 2025 2/3 of the world will be living in water stressed regions. Climate warming predictions include southern England as a water stressed region!!!

Water is often taken for granted in the UK. We are indeed fortunate to currently have adequate water. You only have to visit a country like Australia to realise that both Govt policy & individuals are more conscious of water & strategies to reduce wastage. Agriculture must adapt to lower water use.Water is the key to agriculture & to a healthy nation. China is particularly vulnerable. The price of water does not reflect the true economic value....this distorts our understanding of the importance of water. It is shocking that the UK loses 3.3billion litres of clean water per day thru leakages!
Water scarcity is forcast to have a severe impact during the next decade.
With a rapidly increasing world population who cant feed itself we in Britain & UK grass based dairy farmers have a massive opportunity as we have the soil, the water & the expertise but do we have the research backing or the Govt policy to succeed? Pasture based farmers already have a considerable bank of data backing our system, our cows & our environmental management.
The opportunities might well come from producing protein for the world market or by producing healthy food. Grass fed milk has the potential to deliver "Good for You" Foods. (as discussed in the last blog). Pharma foods (vs Farmer foods) are foods with clinically enhanced properties eg probiotics. The challenge for grass based dairy farmers will be to find "Natural" foods that deliver preventative health benefits without becoming a drug. With obesity becoming a serious health problem in the western world dont be surprised if a "fat" tax is put on unhealthy food.There will be an increasing focus on local food & seasonal foods (not where the supermarkets have been taking us the last few decades!)....the aim will be to better feed more people thru intelligent use of resources such as water, soil, & energy. There is a real opportunity for innovation & new products as well as smart production. We need to significantly increase global research & investment to get the technical break throughs required for the second agricultural green revolution that will enable us to feed the world. The global food security has worsened not improved & represents a serious risk to world peace & stability.
So why is the UK cutting spending on R & D?
Why oh why is DairyCo not at the forefront of R & D for the dairy industry......why the endless delay in starting a productive research program?????
Great leaps forward for tomorrows pasture based dairy farmers will require strong collaboration as innovation rarely occurs in isolation. Both Google & Microsoft have built their business model around Thomas Eddison's very successful "work group" model that produced such amazing technological breakthroughs & innovations eg gramaphone & electric light bulb.
Pasture based dairy farmers need effective onfarm Discussion Groups to push forward & to meet the challenges of the next decade & beyond.

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