The heart of dairy

It was a rainy/sunny/windy day when I visited the Balmoral Show, Northern Ireland’s largest agricultural show, last week, as a guest of Invest NI. What one is reminded of, when going around looking at all the livestock that is lovingly washed and primped for the ring, and talking with the processors, is that farmers are at the heart of what we do as an industry. They are the owners of many a co-operative globally.

In a way, it is a unique situation, where the processor serves the farmer in being packaging milk and dairy, while the farmer serves the processor with the raw materials for those products. Without them, the whole chain falls to pieces. It is no surprise that the two largest dairy processors, Lakeland and Dale Farm, have dedicated teams for farmer support and communications.

So, it is key that farmers are as happy as they ever will be, and processors help them with all their needs, from meeting sustainability goals to mental health. I have yet to meet one farmer who is completely pleased with their situation (partly because as a farmer, you are responsible for an endless array of tasks that are not always your choice), but who doesn’t love the job they do with the animals and the environment.

It also helps to get the right prices for one’s output. One processor that is looking out for the farmer in France is C’est qui le patron? (Who’s the boss?) It is a co-operative that sells more than 77 million litres of milk per year, along with more than 20 other food items, such as apple compote and frozen pizzas, with an annual turnover of over €100 million, according to The Times (

Its founder, Nicolas Chabanne, started it up when he saw the surge of farmers killing themselves due to falling prices and rising costs and asked, would consumers pay a few cents more to ensure a living wage? The answer is oui, and consumers pay around €1.27 per litre, compared with €1.25 for the average French litre. It is a few cents that make a difference. Little changes can make a big difference.

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