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The British dairy industry needs to look beyond its national market if it is to succeed in the current conditions.
Speaking following his award of the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers’ Princess Royal Award, Somerset farmer John Alvis said he could not remember “such a dire outlook” for the sector.
However, he said that much of the fate of the industry rests outside the UK sector’s control.
He said that many dairy farmers had made massive investments in their farms and production and they needed to get the consumers onside in the UK to buy British products rather than foreign.
He said his own company Lye Cross Farm in Somerset is already working hard in the export market, exporting about 40 per cent of its produce to 30 different counties – a move he made sometime the current crisis in the sector.
He said the choice has been to either sell to the supermarkets in the UK or find new markets for added value products, such as cheese, abroad.
Mr Alvis said he was concerned about the margins that were being made by the supermarkets on dairy products and that some margin needs to come back to the producer.
“Only those organisations with sufficient fat on their backs will be able to come through this crisis,” Mr Alvis said.
“In two to three years our dairy industry will be about 70 per cent of what it is now.”
He said that much of the future prosperity of the sector relies on China coming back into the market and buying again and the embargo imposed by Russia being lifted.
“But the best thing we can say to the British people is ‘Support British products’. We need more loyalty from the British public,” he said.
He warned that the British sector could not compete with some of the prices from other countries, such as Ireland producing milk at around 25 Euro cents a litre.
Mr Alvis received the RABDF Princess Royal Award by Her Royal Highness at Buckingham Palace for his outstanding services to the UK dairy industry.
He is a director of Lye Cross Farm which combines his family’s farming and specialist organic and farmhouse cheese making business based at Redhill, Somerset. An integrated cycle featuring grass, cows, milk, cheese, whey, pigs and manure has underpinned the business’s development which he overseen for over 50 years.
When John joined the business in 1960, his father, John and uncle, Sam farmed 300 cows, 400 acres and managed a cheese production facility primarily making Caerphilly cheese.
Today, together with his brother, Michael and his sons, Johnny and Peter he farms 4,000 acres comprising 1,700 acres arable, a 1,200 cow dairy enterprise including 250 cows farmed in an organic system, 18,000 pigs finished annually and 600 beef cattle, of which a portion are finished for sale through the Alvis’s Lye Cross Farm Shop.
Since 2002, the business has also operated a limited liability partnership specialising in agricultural contracting and contract farm management. Lye Cross Farm annually produces 4,000 tonnes of West Country Farmhouse Cheddar retailed to high street multiples and exported to 35 countries. Milk is sourced from its own three herds as well as from 30 local herds. Organic makes up one third of annual production.
John was the driving force behind the FarmLink education programme established in 2000 to bridge urban and rural communities through curriculum based farm visits for school children. He was instrumental in establishing FarmLink as a Company Limited by guarantee with charitable status, which has since evolved, in partnership with a number of other organisations, to annually cater for over 30,000 school children.
He is a past president of RABDF and IAGrM, former chairman of the Nuffield Farming Scholarship Trust and a Nuffield Farming Scholar, whilst he continues to be an active member of a number of industry organisations including current non-executive director of the Royal Bath and West of England Society, Grosvenor Farms and Cogent Breeding and a Governor of Bridgwater College.
John’s industry achievements have already been recognised; he is a recipient of the RASE Excellence in Practice Award and in 2005 he received an MBE for Services to Agriculture in the South West.
RABDF chairman, Mike King said: “John Alvis has made an enormous contribution to the dairy sector for over 50 years, he is highly respected and a great exemplar. John has always been ahead of the curve pioneering farming practices, whilst at the same time he has built a prestigious cheese brand both in the UK and international marketplace.
“His huge passion for the industry is reflected in his commitment to the next generation working with schools and the local community. Above all, John is always willing to engage. I believe he is a worthy winner of this award.”