Many farmers in the area left the sector following Müller Milk and Ingredients decision to ‘exercise its contractual right’ to serve 12-month notice to 14 North-east dairy farmers.
However, three years on, the green shoots of recovery are showing, with two farms in the early stages of putting on a dairy herd. Mr Mackie believed this showed a growing momentum for milk in the area.
He said: “For a number of reasons, I can see a future for milk in Aberdeenshire. Firstly, increasing environmental and welfare legislation will make it more difficult to expand production in areas already highly concentrated with dairy cattle.
“We could be moving to a Dutch, or Danish system for nitrate and phosphate legislation which would make dairy farming in Aberdeenshire more attractive. Whilst we have NVZs here, we have more mixed farms and not the density of cattle in parishes so have the potential for expansion.”
Continued centralisation of the dairy sector is not an option anymore, believed Mr Mackie: “Although the economics of logistics would favour a ring of mega farms surrounding a processor, increasing environmental legislation will not permit ‘a ring of slurry’ around factories with the potential threat to water courses, estuaries and ammonia emissions.
“The processors need to take a bit more responsibility to source milk from a wider geographic area. Dairy farming spread across the country will be good for biodiversity and the local economies.”
“Secondly, with the impact of climate change, production will move northwards. Even this summer, whilst many dairy farms in England were struggling with the dry weather, we were able to make good silage, maybe a little less volume, but great quality. Plus, we have a great tradition of stockmanship in Aberdeenshire which is great place to start building back up from.”
One of the key areas for future dairy success in the area will come from collaboration with arable farmers, according to Mr Mackie. He said: “Home grown protein will become increasingly important to substitute soya in rations for all livestock.
“For dairy farmers, much of the protein will still come from quality silage, but we can’t depend on soya, or palm oil from environmentally sensitive areas of the world such as the Amazon. More forage peas and beans will be grown to meet this demand.
“Further in the future, arable farmers could be looking at treating cereal crops with lower nitrogen and this could include a rotation with clover and grass, with the addition of manure, or slurry from a dairy.
“Dairies can put a lot of goodness back in soils on arable farms and reduce the need to buy in fertiliser. I think a lot of these potential collaborations would fit the needs in the current situation.”
But Mr Mackie recognised that the market place could be an issue for expansion. “Ironically, the production is less than consumption of milk in the region – the problem is that it is mostly processed elsewhere,” he pointed out.
“Whilst the current milk pool is too small to attract an international processor at the moment, we are lucky to have Graham’s The Family Dairy, in Nairn, as well as some really innovative farmer processors.” Mr
Mackie added: “The fact of the matter is, if you look at the triangle from Dundee to Peterhead to Inverness there is a huge area of potential for mixed farming, suitable for including dairy. This is a big opportunity for someone to do it.
“Technology is moving on and robots means that some farmers who previously wouldn’t consider being tied to two milkings a day at unsocial hours, have new options.
“I know a great dairyman who, thanks to robots, can organise his day to go watch the grandchildren play sports, where before he would be tied to the parlour. The potential is all there for dairying to grow in Aberdeenshire.”
Bruce farms 260 Holstein dairy cows at Middleton of Rora with his wife, Jane. The produce organic milk for Graham’s and sell a range of yoghurts using their Rora brand.