Sustainability, what does this mean for agriculture?

Annabelle Staveley reports back on the issues raised at the 2020 Women in Dairy Conference with sustainability being at the top of the agenda.

Sustainability, what does this mean for agriculture?

Each year the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers organises  the "Women in Dairy Conference" aiming to bring people together from across the industry, sharing knowledge and experiences to encourage innovative thinking to move farms forward. This year the annual conference was held on Zoom due to the ongoing pandemic.

The conference was based around the key issue of Sustainability, a huge topic within our industry.  It's reported that sustainability is one of the top priorities for leading companies and with 82% of consumers willing to pay more for sustainable and environmentally friendly products, it is important too that it's at the forefront of farmers minds.

All the speakers were very passionate about the major topics ongoing within our industry. Laura Higham was one such speaker.  A Veterinary Consultant in sustainable agriculture, she talked about what was being overlooked due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. One topic was anti-microbial usage and although this topic has been around for many years, Laura described it as a "slow pandemic", stressing that by 2050, 10 million people could die because of it. Creating a sustainable future should be a priority in everything we do stated Laura and she challenged the conference attendees asking the questions, “What outcomes are you seeing? And what would you like to see?”

Last year Mary Quicke, the managing director of award-winning Quickes Cheese won the Dairy Industry Woman of the Year Award and she was invited back to speak this year. Her biggest tip and take home from the conference was, to be willing to take a chance, learn and try something new. She also suggested that it was important to get support from successful people - starting with getting into touch with any of the speakers at the conference.  She talked about the need to also trust your gut and know when to stop if it is unprofitable or simply not working for you. Mary went on to say explore all the different options for a good income as within the industry there are so many, from different environmental schemes to diversifying and making cheese, like Mary did. She predicts in future years the “new world” will be much more environmentally friendly and essentially that will be where the money is.

This year the board narrowed down three finalists as all being proactive, passionate, and successful women in agriculture:

Karen Halton
Karen works alongside her husband Tom, together they run a 530 all-year round calving herd in Cheshire. In 2018 they became an AHDB strategic dairy farm.  Karen talked about their goal to become one of the top one percent of profitable dairy farms in the country.

Abi Reader
Abi manages the 200 a dairy enterprise compromising 100 Holstein Friesians and 100 Dairy Shorthorns. Abi is a third-generation farmer who works alongside her parents and uncle on a 750-acre mixed Farm. Abi has won various certificates and is very proud to regularly take part in the Open Farm Sunday host and Co-Founder of Cows On Tour – A variety of farmers that travel around schools educating the children about food and farming.

Hannah Lawrence
Hannah is very passionate about showing people the ins and outs of dairy farming. Hannah has an Instagram account attracting over 1500 followers and has also provided farm tours attracting over 600 visitors. Her farm consists of 240 milking cows as well as a flock of 200 commercial and Suffolk ewes.

All three of the finalists Karen, Abi and Hannah Competing for Dairy Women of the Year Award demonstrated the different skills and brilliance women have right across the dairy sector. However, in the end the decision had to be made and Karen Halton was delighted as she was announced the winner.

Myself and Liz Newman, our Calf Specialist attended the conference, we both agreed everyone that spoke had something valuable we could take away and use throughout our agricultural business and on farm. We both agree the most valuable quote from the day is to “Think big, start small, act fast.”

Sustainability is essential to drive productivity and your cow’s performance forward long term.


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