Don’t milk it

December 2010

The hot topic in the supermarket business at the moment is the proposed ‘mega-dairy’ in Nocton – the Lincolnshire location for a new dairy that’s designed to milk cows on a scale as yet unseen in the UK. For the past three months I’ve been talking to campaigners behind the scenes about the project, so I think it’s time I spoke up.

Nocton Dairies is fronted by two farmers – Peter Wiles and David Barnes. If new plans are approved, it will house 3,770 cows, making it twice the size of Britain’s biggest existing dairy farm and 30 times the size of the average UK herd. The multi-million pound operation would milk its stock around the clock, taking around 58 pints per cow, per day.

As well as the obvious welfare issues, there are very real environmental concerns about potential risk to local groundwater supplies, and how the dairy would dispose of an estimated 180,000 tonnes of slurry created each year. The original plans for Nocton Dairies would have seen it house over 8,000 cows, before local residents and animal welfare opposition forced a re-draft this spring.

Wiles and Barnes, claim that bigger farms are necessary to ensure a future for British milk. The UK is, they say, importing more milk than ever before because smaller farms are going out of business. But the concerns about animal welfare haven’t eased and, in truth, a development like this may well pave the way for further UK ‘mega-dairies’ and a climate in which smaller farms have even less opportunity to compete.

Many supermarkets have already written to Parliament, expressing their opposition to the plans. Mark Price, Managing Director of our valued partner Waitrose, said, “a dairy farm of the size proposed would not fit with the Waitrose way of doing business (and I have to say that I am anxious that it represents the first step along the way towards a highly-industrialised, US approach to farming).”

Like our friends at Waitrose, we stand by the provenance and quality of the produce we sell. It is this dedication to quality in all things, and our respect for the environment, that drives our pioneering service. We have no desire to shift on these principles. Rest assured, Ocado will not be milking it with Nocton.

Jason Gissing
Ocado Co-Founder