Strict regulations around the sale and distribution of raw milk have stifled sales for a small-scale Canterbury farmer who calls her cows by name.
Laura Beck is the woman behind Laura’s Dairy, a farm in Charteris Bay’s Orton Bradley Park in Lyttelton Harbour, about 45 minutes from central Christchurch.
She runs 10 cows on 22 hectares she leases from the board of the popular tourist park, considered a gem of Banks Peninsula. Most of her milk is bought by members of the local Lyttelton Harbour community.
“I don’t really feel like I’m farming cows, I’m really trying to farm soil and the microbiology in the soil,” Beck said.
“When you’re working from that basis, and working with a living system, it’s a more holistic picture of farming.”
That holistic approach defines Beck’s business, now in its fifth year. Her cows all have names and their 14 calves get a significant share of the 140 litres of milk they can produce each day.
Before raw milk regulations changed in March 2016, Beck trucked her milk to several fridges in the city where customers who pre-ordered it could pick it up. She also sold bottles from the farm gate.
Changes to the Raw Milk for Sale to Consumers Regulations 2015 meant Beck was forced to sell only from her farm gate, or deliver directly to individual city customers.
Her sales were cut in half overnight and last year she lost $22,000. The 2018 season is make or break for the farm.
Beck’s knowledge of environmental issues was sharpened while working at Environment Canterbury.
A qualified lawyer, she was a regional facilitator of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy before leaving office life behind for an organic dairy apprenticeship.
“My frustration is that, yes, there are food safety risks with raw milk, but we’re mitigating those as much as possible. The same could be said for shellfish, chicken, eggs and all those other things,” Beck said.
“If you are a raw milk producer, you ensure that you’re milking really healthy animals in a really sanitary condition and everything is immaculate.”
The “real sorrow” from the changes was that raw milk farmers were generally small scale and linked in with their community and the environment, she said.
“I think they are producing milk in a way that is mitigating some of the issues that industrial farming is exacerbating.
“It is frustrating that the Government is putting us out of businesss given the regional context and the implications of industrial farming on our environment and on our community. We have some of the answers and we are getting shut down.”
By: JACK FLETCHER