Are you ready for Februdairy?

Graham Young, North West Dairy Board Chairman, savours a pint of milk
Graham Young, North West Dairy Board Chairman, savours a pint of milk
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Move over Veganuary there’s a new campaign competing for attention....Februdairy. Fiona Finch reports on how the county’s dairy industry is taking up the challenge to promote matters milk.

When you order a pint it’s normally the amber nectar which springs to mind.

Gelato from Brooks Gelato

Gelato from Brooks Gelato

But this month north west dairy farmers are hoping you will choose another beverage and down a pint of milk.

Graham Young is a three to four pint a day man. As Chairman of the NFU (National Farmers Union) North West Dairy Board he speaks not just for himself but for dairy farmers across Lancashire, Cumbria and Cheshire as he welcomes Februdairy as a way “just to keep people focused on the benefits of milk”.

He continued: “It’s honest food. It’s the one product where you get all the nourishment you need.”

The month was first designated last year as dairy lovers and producers decided to shout out for milk products, hot on the heels of the dairy-shunning Veganuary, which promotes a vegan (animal product free) diet.

Laura Barnes, Technical Manager  at Dewlay

Laura Barnes, Technical Manager at Dewlay

In 2018 it was mostly an online campaign on Twitter to celebrate the dairy industry.

Graham believes now is a good time to turn the spotlight on that industry.

While the number of dairy farms has dropped dramatically in recent years, and beef and dairy farming comes in for criticism for adding to greenhouse gases, Graham is optimistic about his industry’s future.

Speaking at his farm at Samlesbury, near Preston, where he milks 140 dairy cows, he said: “When you look at the statistics there’s still 97 per cent of the baskets in supermarkets contain milk.”

Making cheese at Dewlay

Making cheese at Dewlay

He sees the month as a way to”engage people to drink milk and tell them about the health benefits of milk”.

He continued: “It’s one of the things that’s understated the health benefits of milk.”

Calcium, protein and carotene come top of his list of positives and he is also keen to dispel what he believes are misunderstandings about the fat content of milk: “Full fat milk is only four per cent fat. In a lot of supermarkets it’s 3.5 per cent. If you actually drink a litre of milk there’s less fat there than if I ate a Mars bar. Semi skimmed is 1.9 per cent fat and skimmed milk is .8 per cent fat.”

He acknowledges that the dairy sector has had to cope with enormous changes in recent years.

Phillip Berry making gelato

Phillip Berry making gelato

He said: “I was at Myerscough College in 1984 and there were 30,000 dairy farms in the UK. Now there are 9,500.”

Turning his attention to cheese Graham, who lists his favourite as Tasty Lancashire, points out that Lancashire is also renowned for its county cheese. He said: “For a small county we’re talking about a big reputation. Lancashire has a fantastic group of cheesemakers - we’re world renowned.”

As for welfare he notes the Red Tractor accreditation unique to Britain where farms seeking it have to pass rigorous animal welfare standards.

His passion for dairy does not extend to criticising Veganuary. He said: “Everyone has got their own opinions in life. If someone chooses to become vegan there’s another farmer growing something for them to eat. It’s great that people have got choice.”

His choice is, however, unwavering: “I wouldn’t want to do anything else. I love working with cows Every day is different - a different challenge and you get a satisfaction.”

The cheese industry is a significant local employer says Laura Barnes, Technical manager at Dewlay Cheese at Garstang and also flying the flag for Februdairy.

Graham Young tends a new born calf

Graham Young tends a new born calf

Dewlay, home of Beacon Fell Traditional Lancashire cheese, Garstang Blue and a range of other cheeses, employs 90 staff and sources milk from 10 local farms.

Laura said: “ Anything that promotes dairy is something we get behind. When it comes to cheesemaking we’ve the perfect climate - sunshine and rain. All you need to do is look at the green grass - it’s perfect for dairy.”

Februdairy fits perfectly with the company’s ambition to share its knowledge of cheesemaking said Laura.

Visitors to the Dewlay shop and factory can witness cheese being made and Laura said: “We’re very much keen to promote and educate about the dairy industry and cheese making in particular in this area. We’ll certainly be doing some activity in February to promote dairy and cheese.”

While the new interest in veganism shows tastes do change, the dairy industry is also aware that younger customers may have a different shopping list too,

Rebecca Miah, Head of Dairy Marketing at ADHT (Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board), said: “There’s been very little change in the volume of milk sold per person, however the products which host milk and dairy are changing. Younger people are drinking fewer hot drinks, so there’s less chance to add milk to a cuppa and although there’s been some growth in alternatives, shoppers are not replacing dairy. While they might be having an almond latte, they’re having a cheddar cheese panini alongside – habits are changing, and we can stay abreast of that.”

Last year the AHDB teamed up with Dairy UK to remind consumers to think dairy.

Rebecca said: “To remind millennials and young parents of their love of dairy, Dairy UK and AHDB’s recent campaign used humour and fun, with the ‘The Department of Dairy Related Scrumptious Affairs’ to disrupt and emotionally engage. This resulted in an 11 per cent drop in those considering a switch to dairy alternatives and notched up 19 million interactions on social media, we reached a further 14 million people through advertising. We’re planning more for the future, so watch this space.”

At 24 Clare Lawson is one of that youth market. She comes from a farming family, is vice chair of the Vale of Lune Young Farmers and a calf specialist for agricultural suppliers Carrs Billington. She is poised to tweet her support during Februdairy: “I believe it’s a good thing to be doing to promote our industry and promote the health benefits of dairy. I do think we need to up our game to promote dairy more and educate people on where their food comes from.”

She added: “We need livestock to produce fertiliser for crops...it’s a circle.”

Some dairy farmers give added value to their milk by producing yoghurt or ice cream. At Barton Brook Dairy at Station Lane at Barton Phillip Berry and parents David and Sara have three routes to market. They sell to a dairy which supplies milk to Merseyside schools, they sell raw milk at the farm and, as of last year, they have their own range of gelato ice cream, Brooks Gelato, made with their own raw milk.

Raw milk is not pasteurised. The milk is tested daily and, says Phillip, is valued by customers including and some who find it helpful for cases of eczema in young people and for those with a previous lactose intolerance.

He said: “We’ve been doing raw milk for the best part of three years. We wanted to take control of the price we sell our milk for. Raw whole milk is probably one of the most nutritious drinks you can have. People come to the farm, They can see the fact our cows are high welfare , there are brand new buildings, they are looked after properly. It’s transparent. People know where the food’s coming from.”

Their small coffee shop and ice cream parlour is closed for winter, but will be opening at February half term.

Phillip said: “I think Februdairy is great. It’s a brilliant initiative. because at the end of Veganuary for January it’s just their voice being heard. Why not put the shoe on the other foot and hear the voice of the producer.”