Huge uncertainty awaits British agriculture without a favourable trade deal, but if both sides are on a level playing field, there is massive potential for the dairy industry to compete on the global stage.

According to Grosvenor Farms managing director, Mark Roach, who is behind the Cheshire-based business' 2500-cow unit and largest milk supplier to Tesco, the UK dairy sector could replicate Ireland's huge expansion under a favourable Brexit.

Speaking at an Oxford Farming Conference webinar, he said: "UK dairy in the right regulatory trading framework, I feel, can be globally competitive. But we need to have a reasonable level playing field.

"The UK dairy sector could go further and match Ireland's doubling of its dairy output, but it needs to avoid a supply chain only expansion, that could see a price crash."

As a result, he stressed the need for a joined up approach to expansion featuring all home nations to include dairy farmers and milk processors.

"There is a possibility in the future that the four parts of the UK could have a totally different, fragmented agriculture policy and I think that would be to the detriment of the industry in terms of its growth and share of markets going forward. We need a co-ordinated approach across the industry to displace imports and grow exports.”

When Mark first started working at Grosvenor Farms in 1998, there were 800 cows split between seven herds. However, when the business looked to expand in 2012, they concentrated on four separate units specialising in various age groups.

Hence the milking herd is on one and housed in several new open air cubicle sheds; dry cows and calving cows are on another farm and youngstock is on another separate unit. The fourth farm is the feed and arable store. By concentrating solely on the needs and requirements of the stock on each unit, rather than attend to animals of all ages and all stages of milking, not only have cow numbers been increased to 2500, milk yields have also improved.

"In the space of four years, our milk output has doubled," said Mark. "Fixed costs are down 25% and cow yields are up 25% by having all our milking cows in the one unit and concentrating more on cow health and welfare and cow comfort."

Such has been the expansion, that this 6000-acre grass and arable unit which is part of the Wheatsheaf Group, produces 90,000litres of milk per day.

Although the herd is commercially run, all female replacement calves are genomically tested at birth, with the top 30% genetically served with Ultra 4M sexed semen to calve at two years of age. The remainder are served to an Angus. This has eliminated the number of unwanted black and white male dairy calves born whilst also increasing the genetic selection pressure and getting females born from our best animals, thereby significantly increasing genetic progress.

Cows are milked three times a day through a 60-point Boumatic rotary parlour. Nutrition is simple – one diet for all milking animals and one diet for all dry cows – see below.

All the new sheds are of the same design with head-to-head cubicles with no forward lunging restriction on the cows. Locking yokes running the length of the sides of the buildings are an essential part of day to day management.

Beds are of deep sand and the wide passageways are scraped by tractor. There are five sheds of milking cows with the groups determined largely by age although there is also one shed for transition cows receiving close attention post-calving for about three weeks.

Sheds are arranged in pairs end-to-end, totalling some 350m in length with slight fall to the mid-point slurry channel.

"As with everything here, despite the size of the herd, we aim to keep it simple and that is perfectly achievable,” said Mark.

By using sand rather mattresses and paying attention to hygiene at all times, antibiotic use has been reduced by 60%.

Artificial fertiliser costs have been virtually eliminated too by relying on a manure separator which has also helped to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, while also improving the amount of carbon in the soil.

Feed ration

Kg/day Milkers Dry

Maize silage 20 –

Grass silage 20 –

Wholecrop silage – 22

Straw – 4

Trafford Gold 5 –

Bread 5 –

Rapemeal 5 2

Water – 7

Fat 0.3 –

Barley 3.0 –

Molasses 1 –

Lime/minerals/urea 0.51 0.39

Herd health

2014 2020

Milk fever (%) 2 1

Retained placentas (%) 10 3

Displaced abomasums (%) 1 1

Metritis (%) 9 2

Locomotion (% 0-100) 81 96

Preg rate (%) 19 28

Mastitis (%) 35 10

Herd performance

Rolling Av 2014 2020 Target

Cows in herd 1400 1984 2800

Milk yield 10,920 12,455 14,000

Milk price 33.9 30.3 29.7

Feed costs (ppl) 10.1 7.6 7.1

MOPF (£/cow) 2606 2332 3164

BF% 3.71 3.91 4.00

P% 3.34 3.49 3.30

SCC 190 163 140

Bactoscans 21 15 15

Culling rate (%) 34 24 25