For many people in Scotland’s food and drink industry an early start to the day is nothing unusual. Bakers are up working in the early hours and fishermen bring their catch back to harbour before dawn. For dairy farmers, their 365 day working year might begin at 4am with the first milking of the day. So, if you’re a dairyman (or dairy lady), it doesn’t matter what the weather is like, whether is Christmas Day or your birthday, the cows need milked. So, as the Year of Food and Drink moves into August, it is time to celebrate the work and effort that goes into producing Scotland’s fantastic dairy products.
Scotland is a country well-suited to dairy production. We have a long tradition of it, we have some of the most efficient dairy farmers in Europe and we’re awfully good at growing grass for our dairy herd.
However, it is a sector that has huge challenges, particularly at the farmgate. The number of dairy farms in Scotland has been halving every decade since the 60s. There are now less than a thousand dairy farms left in Scotland.
That said, they are still producing over one billion litres of milk every year. About 40% of that milk will go into fresh cartons, sold to us to add to our cornflakes and coffees. About 40% of it will be made into cheese and the remaining 20% will go into the production of butter, yoghurt and other dairy products.
There is a lot of focus on developing a new phase for our dairy sector. In 2013, I wrote a report for Government Ministers on what was needed to be done to improve the fortunes of the sector. The report emphasised the need to build better brands, sell more product overseas and improve support available for farmers to develop their own businesses.
Since then, a new umbrella export brand for Scottish dairy has been launched by the First Minister and a new Scottish Dairy Hub has been set up to provide independent advice and support for farmers. Farmers too are making their own unique impact. The Milk Must Have a Future campaign has seen farmers and their wives take to the airwaves, raising awareness of the importance of dairy to Scotland through song! Take a look at their Facebook page, it is well worth it.
But whilst we move into a new phase of dairy exports, we need to embrace and celebrate Scottish dairy products at home too. So, in August, we celebrate Delicious Dairy and shine a light on the amazing products we have and the incredible work that goes into producing them by farmers and processors.
A new Scottish cheese trail has just been launched too, allowing you to eat your way round Scotland and see behind the scenes of dairy production. Another great way for our tourists to enjoy Scotland and our produce at the same time – exactly what the year of food and drink is all about.
So, let’s all do our bit to support Scottish dairy products. And next time you wake up at 4am and try to get back to sleep, spare a thought for the dairy farmer near you who’s already up to ensure you can enjoy your cereal when you eventually surface!
By James Withers, Chief Executive of Scotland Food & Drink