Jane King welcomes

Published 31 March 15

In October 2014, I had the pleasure of speaking at the DairyLeaders forum. Little did I know that a few months later I would be appointed to lead AHDB. Given the difficulties many levy payers face across a number of our sectors, I do not underestimate the challenges that lie ahead.

I have the utmost respect for those who are running farm businesses, often relying on their families and a few loyal staff. The demands include producing delicious and nutritious food, caring for the countryside and maintaining high standards of animal health and welfare, as well as developing the future of the business, being an effective day-to-day manager and making a living. This is truly multitasking – to the ‘nth’ degree. 

Right now, as we are well aware, for many dairy farmers milk prices are worryingly low and many say they are unable to cover their costs.

In the last six months, I witnessed a change in mood among dairy farmers, from one of palpable optimism to genuine concern. The crucial thing now is how to deal with the uncertainty of global markets and the supply and demand imbalance which drives price volatility. In December 2014, DairyCo commissioned the latest Farmer Intentions Survey, which highlighted the understandable dip in short term confidence alongside positive views of long term future prospects.

We need to equip farmers with the tools and skills to deal with market volatility as it is likely to continue. Some of this will come from improved competitiveness (a core DairyCo activity in terms of technical and business Knowledge Transfer) and some from new tools like futures markets and hedging.   

The media has given acres of space in print and broadcasts (see Amanda Ball and Luke Crossman’s comments elsewhere in this edition) to the ‘dairy crisis’. Politicians, critics of farming, experts, farmers and commentators have all waded into the discussions.

The media will always look to simplify the arguments and DairyCo has a role to play in bringing clarity and much-needed balance by providing the facts.

Back in September 2014, following the dairy industry response to a grossly misleading article in the Daily Mail, I emphasized in an article published in Farmers Weekly the importance of challenging inaccuracies in the media about agriculture.

I went on to say that it was right that DairyCo stepped up and led this challenge. I really believe this and even now during this period of extreme pressure, some have chosen to muddy the waters. Debates around the validity of different farming systems have resurfaced and at times suggestions made that animal health and welfare will be compromised as farmers’ margins are squeezed.

DairyCo works on behalf of levy payers with journalists and programme researchers for TV and radio on many fronts to inform the debates and influence the coverage – as former editor of Farmers Weekly, I experienced this first-hand! Levy payers are also helping to spread the word by welcoming the media to their farms and showing the ‘real story’. I wholeheartedly support the approach DairyCo, dairy farmers and the wider industry have adopted to promote long-term understanding through communication, transparency and education.  

Times are tough and it is a challenge for everyone trying to get positive messages covered by the media, as good news doesn’t always sell!  But it is the right thing to do. Alongside the work that DairyCo does, we also need you, our dairy farmers, to be proactive. You must be well informed to enable you to give clear messages to the public and the influential media. The messages come best from you – the dairy farmer – and we can help you be an ambassador for your industry. The vital job done in providing healthy food, sustaining rural communities and looking after the land, is a stance that, with the support of DairyCo, we should all take pride in proclaiming. Contact DairyCo on 024 7647 8696 to see how you can help.

Jane King joined AHDB as chief executive in February 2015.