Arguably the greatest challenges facing UK agriculture in the last few years have come from Brexit uncertainty, changing consumer trends, and added pressure to farm in more sustainable ways. To overcome this as an industry, we need clear vision and leadership, with everyone working together across the whole supply chain towards a common goal.

Due to the tricky times ahead, industry events like Dairy-Tech have become essential to share knowledge and debate the issues. This year’s event was no exception, as hundreds of delegates descended on Stoneleigh Park for another jam-packed event.

The industry resilience was very much in evidence. Overall the atmosphere at Dairy-Tech was positive, with sector leaders encouraging people to see the challenges as opportunities to become world leaders in dairy.

With an array of expert speakers throughout the day, discussions suggested there are three main areas which could provide the greatest opportunities for UK dairy.

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Dairy-Tech hub

Sustainability

Setting the scene with the first seminar of the day Stuart Roberts, NFU vice-president, told the room that, “UK agriculture has a huge opportunity to be part of the solution to climate change.” With advancing technology, and by improving efficiency, farms can reduce their environmental impact alongside boosting productivity.

Farmers have already come a long way in tackling their environmental footprint, and although more needs to be done, Stuart explained that accurate on-farm emissions recording needs to be a priority for government so that areas of improvement on-farm can be easily identified.

Dairy foods

Consumer insights

Despite a rise in the popularity of plant-based diets, Nicola Spalding from Morrisons said that 90% of people who buy dairy alternatives also purchase dairy products, with cheese being the most popular. This provides a great opportunity for dairy businesses to create other markets for liquid milk by moving towards added-value products, including cheese, butter and drinks.

In general, consumers now want greater transparency about animal welfare, and throughout the supply chain – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The industry can use this as an opportunity to connect with the consumer, by providing accurate information on the industry and relaying the positive messages about dairy products and animal welfare. This also encourages retailers to be more transparent, and carefully consider whether they are giving fair returns to farmers.

As seen at Dairy-Tech, several dairy processors and businesses are already embarking on campaigns this year which will tackle misinformation given to consumers and focus on the true facts about dairy.

Future trade

The UK’s trade relationship with the EU may be unclear, but post-Brexit we now do have the opportunity to form meaningful relationships with other countries. In places like the Far East, demand for dairy continues to grow, and provides a huge opportunity for the UK’s high-quality dairy products.

As a country we have become a nation of snackers, so many retailers are driving innovation to support these consumer trends. Dairy is well placed to increase its market share in ‘on the go’ products, and trending food and drink items such as protein drinks and snacks.