As the coronavirus pandemic affects lives across the nation, the Farmers Weekly team has been searching for some good news amid the doom and gloom to lift farmers’ spirits.
Here are the stories of two dairy farmers who are adapting to find some small positives at a time of massive pain and uncertainty.
Chance Hall Farm, Cheshire
Run by Tom and Karen Halton, the farm consists of 530 year-round-calving cross-breed cows, achieving 11,300 litres a cow a year, milking three times per day. For Karen this is very much an opportunity grasped.
“It’s very interesting times,” she says. “I know it’s worrying for many people on a personal level but for us, business has been booming and our team is really motivated by recent changes.”
In September 2016 the farm installed a vending machine to sell fresh raw milk to the public, helping to supplement existing contracts.
“It’s provided a steady return and a great opportunity to engage with the public,” Karen says. “It’s amazing how many people are shocked when you tell them whole milk is 96% fat free.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, since the coronavirus outbreak the farm’s vending machine has been extremely busy, with demand more than doubling from 60 litres a day to more than 170.
The health and safety of customers is paramount, explains Karen. “We provide alcohol wipes, hand sanitiser, flash wipes and strong notices by the vending machine to maintain biosecurity.”
There is no crossover between the night staff and the day team and employees maintain a two-metre distance from all visitors.
As the coronavirus crisis escalated, they partnered with the Little Doorstep Dairy to provide pasteurised milk direct from the farm to homes across Cheshire, with an allocation of free milk to people aged over 70 who are living in self-isolation.
“On our first day we cleared 1,400 litres and it’s rising every day. The demand has been phenomenal and it’s great to do our part,” says Karen.
“We are keeping our team upbeat, ensuring they have space to work at distance, regularly handwash and always wear blue gloves.”
She says they have also seen an increase in experienced people returning to the industry looking for jobs.
“We’re a resilient sector, used to dealing with the ups and downs, so I know we’ll all rise to the challenge. For us these times are providing positive opportunity with a clear benefit for the local community.”
Bridge Farm, Somerset
David Cotton owns and operates Bridge Farm in Somerset. His herd is made up of 280 pedigree Holstein Friesians, autumn calving and achieving almost 8,000 litres a cow a year.
Like many farmers, he’s taking a pragmatic approach to maintaining his business as best he can in trying times.
“Right now, it seems like business as usual for us. We are just aware that none of us want to catch anything,” David says.
He is well aware that life may well get trickier in the weeks and months to come.
“Thankfully we are autumn block, so we don’t have much need to see a vet and if we need anything, they have strict rules in place.”
All vets are working from home, while tanker drivers keep a safe distance on farm and are instructed to wash their hands at each site.
David says: “I am being positive and can see some opportunities for us. Lower interest rates and fuel prices will have a significant benefit on our business even if we do see a reduced milk price.
“Rightly or wrongly I have fixed feed prices for the next 12 months and keep them informed about these business decisions.”
Aside from the business finances, David sees these unprecedented times as an opportunity to catch up on some of those unfinished jobs about the farm.
“One suggestion was to walk the local country roads and pick up litter,” he says. “We also have a lot of finger signposts that could do with being repainted, having been neglected for years.”
AHDB coronavirus support
David Cotton and Tom and Karen Halton run AHDB Strategic Dairy Farms. Find out more about the AHDB’s strategic farms and their personal stories on the AHDB website.
The AHDB has also created a dedicated coronavirus web page to provide farmers with the latest market information, frequently asked questions and a wealth of tools and business information.