Dairy farmers will have to significantly reduce their greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), while also maintaining their high animal welfare standards if they are to survive and thrive in the next 10 years.

That was the warning from Kite Consulting’s John Allen, who told delegates attending last week’s DairyTech event at Stoneleigh Park, that the industry can reduce its emissions by 30% by 2030 by focussing on environmentally efficient animals and production systems.

He said that Brexit could well see the importation of food that is not produced under the same environmental control as in this country. However, if UK producers could produce milk to higher standards and in a more environmentally friendly way, they would be better placed to market it’s products both at home and abroad.

“Pressure has already started to come from consumers to change the way we farm and political pressure is increasing,” he told producers.

“We need to rapidly and proactively address this challenge to avoid a situation where there is a paradigm shift in consumer demand for dairy or where legislation makes dairy farming difficult in the UK.”

He added that increasing yield per animal and reducing the number of livestock would be cornerstone to achieving this reduction.

“Our model looks at increasing the average yield per cow from 7968ECM litres in 2019 to 11,080ECM litres by 2030, and we are expecting improved genetics, management and feed efficiency to increase yield per cow across all systems.”

This he said would remove more than 520,000 animals from dairy production in the UK, removing a similar number of calves from the industry.

In turn, this would allow – in some instances – land to be available to offer the public for environmental options with a payment being made to the farmer for such. The reduction in herd numbers would contribute to global cooling as cow numbers fall and methane emissions are reduced.

Improved nitrogen fertiliser, slurry and manure management, both inside and outside buildings would also play and important role in hitting the 30% reduction aim.

“We have the ability, the requirement from our consumers, and the desire as an industry, to farm in a more environmentally-friendly way.

“In our vision there is nothing to stop the UK becoming an exporter of dairy products to the world, based on the value of our provenance and our environmental credentials,” said Mr Allen.

But, while milk products remain extremely popular in the UK, consumers have nevertheless changed the way they consume their dairy.

According to the Defra Family Food Survey, some 98.5% of households still buy liquid (drinking) milk, but, per capita consumption has dropped by just under 50% since 1974. That year, average per capita consumption was 140 litres per year (2.7 litres per week), whereas average per capita consumption in 2018 was 70 litres per year (1.4 litres per week).

Since then, overall consumption of liquid milk has declined marginally, with total retail sales volumes of cow’s milk in 2019 down 1.5% compared to 2015. This is a small reduction when compared to the drop in per capita consumption as population growth has helped to boost overall sales.

In contrast to trends in liquid milk, consumption of value-added dairy products like cheese are enjoying growth. This has influenced how processors are using raw milk delivered off farms. In the 10 years to 2019, the volume of raw milk going for liquid manufacture has dropped by 720m litres, while the volume going into cheese has risen by 1.09bn litres.

These shifts in dairy consumption will require changes in the supply chain and in processing capacity to ensure the right products are manufactured to meet demand. Some processors have already adapted their pricing mechanisms for milk, shifting their focus towards milk constituents rather than volumes.