An ambitious plan that would see Scotland’s dairy sector increase in size by 50% by 2025 was unveiled yesterday by James Withers, who claimed it was not only entirely possible but that Scotland was an ideal location for a dynamic dairy industry.
Mr Withers, who is chief executive of Scotland Food and Drink, had been charged by the Scottish Government to look at the future of an industry which has had more than its fair share of price squabbles in recent times.
Speaking at the Yester Mains dairy farm at Gifford which is owned by Simon and Jackie McCreery, Mr Withers said his prediction of a Scottish industry producing 1.6 billion litres by the mid-2020s as compared with the current annual production of 1.1 billion litres from Scottish dairy farms was entirely possible.
But he warned it was not a quick fix and for it to happen producers, processors and government would all have to buy into the plan.
The first priority was not the production of more milk but the opening of new markets for value added dairy products.
On the world stage, he saw opportunities in a number of areas including Europe, China and North America.
Pointing out that more than nine-tenths of current UK milk production is consumed within these shores, he said the development of an export policy was crucial.
It would need sales people on the ground and it would cost money to develop, he admitted, but the initial cost of doing it would soon be repaid.
He wanted to see an umbrella Scottish brand on all export milk products, believing this branding would be beneficial.
“It would also allow producers in the more peripheral areas of Scotland to benefit, he claimed.
At home, producers would have to sharpen up their production, he said, pointing out that the top 25% of dairy farmers have costs of production around 24 pence per litre while those at the other end of the efficiency scale were only breaking even at 34 pence per litre.
He has proposed the setting up of a dairy bureau to which farmers could go to receive independent advice on cow husbandry and feed regimes.
Those applying for outside financial help should only be considered if they were using the bureau, he said.
In his analysis of the present situation in the industry, Mr Withers was critical of the quality of leadership since the demise of the statutory marketing boards and said the industry needed the quality of business person found in the whisky industry to provide the right type of leadership.
Listening to this analysis of the situation and the future prospects for the dairy sector was the man who commissioned the review, Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead.
He said it proved there was huge potential for Scotland’s dairy industry to become a global leader and what was needed now was a look to explore any avenue and opportunity that was open.
He was reluctant to list any immediate Scottish Government actions arising from the review, saying: “It is now important that we look at this report and formulate a plan to help support further growth of Scotland’s dairy sector, and I plan to do this in the next few weeks.”
The review was received positively by NFU Scotland with milk committee chairman Gary Mitchell commenting the timing was good as milk quotas across Europe were timed to end in 2015.
“Other dairying nations are already gearing up to tap into rising global demand for milk and dairy products and Scotland’s dairy farmers want to be part of that.
“We have a climate that suits milk production; there are core strengths amongst our farmers and processing base, we retain a strong home demand for fresh milk and dairy products and there is a terrific opportunity to build on added value markets both at home and abroad.”
One of Scotland leading milk retailers, Robert Graham, the managing director of Graham’s the Family Dairy, also praised the ambition of the review.
He said: “In the UK, we’re convinced import substitution has a huge role to play.”