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The Ecologist revealed how public money could be used to fund the controversial super dairy at Nocton

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RESPONSE: Why Nocton 'super-dairy' offers a sustainable model for food production

David Alvis

9th November, 2010

With the second planning application for the controversial 'super dairy' at Nocton in Lincolnshire about to be submitted, agribusiness consultant David Alvis hits back at The Ecologist's recent coverage of the issue

Prof Sir John Beddington, the UK government’s Chief scientific advisor, warned in 2009 of a ‘perfect storm’ of events facing the world’s food system. The combination of population growth, climate change, rising energy costs and depletion of the earth’s natural resources presents a significant and growing challenge to global food security.

As a nation we require practical, innovative solutions to sustainably feed a projected population of 70 million by 2030 without unnecessarily compromising our quality of life or that of the animals we depend on for our food. 

Allowing ourselves to be sidetracked by emotive arguments such as those expressed in ‘Super-dairy' may only meet 'minimum' welfare standards’ that, however well intentioned, simply do not stand up to close examination, only exacerbates the problem

Nocton Dairies offers a genuinely sustainable model for future food production. Integrating the dairy with its exclusively crop growing neighbours combines the fundamental sustainability of a traditional mixed farming system, with production efficiencies and levels of investment in welfare and environmental management that can only be achieved on this scale.

Together this partnership has the potential to provide levels of economic resilience, security of supply and environmental sustainability, not only for the dairy itself, but also for potentially 20,000+ acres of nearby farmland, needed to address the real challenges facing those responsible for providing the nation’s food in the years ahead.

The Ecologist questions the justification of using ‘public money’ to support the development of the dairy. The ‘public money’ in question would come from the Rural Development Programme for England, jointly funded by the EU and DEFRA to fund the development of rural businesses and support the creation of employment and sustainable economic growth in rural areas. EMDA, the regional body responsible for the allocation of RDPE grants in Lincolnshire, states in its guidance for applicants that:

  • 'Renewable energy is a key priority activity in the region and there are a range of opportunities available for small scale renewable energy projects [including Anaerobic Digestion] in the East Midlands through RDPE.'
  • 'Other types of projects might include the development of innovative nutrient and slurry management systems that could be examples of best practice for the industry.'
  • 'Support is available for training opportunities for agricultural, livestock, food and forestry businesses.'    

 

Seeking to deny a business that would create over 80 rural jobs and employ the most advanced environmental and animal welfare management practices in the industry access to grant aid specifically aimed at supporting this kind of venture, on the basis that it is an ‘inappropriate use of public money’, exposes a fundamental lack of understanding of the bigger picture.

This is further compounded by The Ecologist's assertion that the serious issues facing the dairy industry in the central valley of California represent a vision of the future for  the British countryside if Nocton Dairies goes ahead.

For those who doubt the claims of the directors of Nocton Dairies, they should take comfort in the fact that the UK’s planning, environmental, and welfare regulations are among the most stringent in the world. These alone will ensure that Nocton Dairies will be subject to far greater regulatory, not to mention media, scrutiny in the design, construction and operation of its facilities than any other dairy, anywhere on the planet.

On the issue of dairy cow welfare, few people, whose knowledge of the subject extends beyond that gained from the rash of biased and factually inaccurate articles that have appeared in our national media recently, question Nocton Dairies’ ability to deliver the standards of welfare claimed for this unit. 

The farmers behind the Nocton project are among the most professional dairymen in the UK, who care every bit as much about the welfare of their cows as they do the welfare of their balance sheets...because they, better than anyone, understand that the latter is unarguably contingent on the former.

It is interesting to note that Fair Oaks Farms (www.fofarms.com), probably the best example of large scale dairying anywhere in the world, and the business that Nocton Dairies is modelled on, is absent from The Ecologist and, for that matter, every other analysis of US dairying that has been used to try and undermine the Nocton proposal.

Anyone who has visited Fair Oaks, me included, will understand why. Fair Oaks Farms has, for the last 6 years, opened the doors of its exemplary operation to public scrutiny on a daily basis, welcoming over 300,000 visitors a year to its purpose built visitor centre and providing guided tours of one of the nine identical dairies that between them milk over 28,000 cows every day. 

Nocton Dairies intends to use the bulk of any public funding it is able to secure, to build a similar facility to inform and educate the public, openly and objectively about what makes what they intend to do, the most efficient, environmentally sound and welfare friendly way to produce safe, nutritious and affordable milk at a time when the we are importing an ever increasing proportion of the dairy produce we consume.

It is perhaps this that most worries the anti-Nocton Dairies lobby: the realisation that, if the project goes ahead then their subjective, ideologically motivated arguments will be exposed as just that... this must be a real concern for them and consequently is forcing them to resort to ever more desperate measures to stop it.

David Alvis is a Nuffield Scholar and independent consultant with over 20 years experience in the Agri-food sector. His company, Winstone Agribusiness Consulting Ltd, provides strategic advice and project management services to private and public sector clients in agriculture and land based industries.

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INVESTIGATION
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