A couple of weeks ago I was at a press briefing before a Northern Irish farmers conference. Those sitting in the packed room ready to answer questions from journalists included Sir Henry van der Heyden the chairman of Fonterra, the largest processor of milk in the world and John Maloney, managing director of Glanbia, the global cheese and nutrition group. Maloney and van der Heyden were no doubt waiting for questions on their company strategy or what other people could learn from their successes.
However, the first question was very succinct: 'What's wrong with the UK dairy industry?'
Unfortunately that's a question we hear a lot in the UK and the answer given of course depends very much on who’s in the room and who's asking the question. However, I can guarantee you something. As people in the UK chew over the question, inevitably some people in the UK dairy industry, or some trade association or some part of the supply chain will get the blame for the current situation.
And that’s where the Dairy2020 project differs. At the workshops we have had there are a whole range of people in the room including farmers, processors, Government, NGOs, retailers, trade associations and food manufacturers. We could easily sit around all day and talk about the areas where we disagree. But that would be a waste of time. So we are focusing on the key drivers for the industry, what we think the industry may look like over the next decade and the short-, medium- and long-term objectives that each part of the supply chain need to do if we are to have a successful dairy industry in this country.
And there’s a whole lot of positives for us in the UK. Contrast us with New Zealand, a small country of four million people in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Ask any reasonable observer and they would say that clearly we in the UK have been dealt a better hand. However, through vision, determination and delivery they have built a dairy industry that works towards shared goals and now produces over 16 billion litres of milk. The Kiwis have never sat and wallowed in the many negatives that they faced, they have got out there and made markets for themselves that suit their circumstances.
The way forward for us in the UK will be built on some innovative thinking. We need bright people to build on each other's ideas and that's part of what the Dairy2020 project is all about. Of course we have to recognise the challenges that the industry faces, but we must be prepared to shape our future and not get knocked off course by those who simply don’t like change.
Robert Kennedy summed up that mind-set best when he said, 'There are those who look at things the way they are and ask why ... I dream of things that never were and ask why not?'
For me, Dairy 2020 is about dreaming a bit and then grounding those dreams in hard actions that create a fantastic dairy industry that is sustainable for all of us.
Dairy2020 is a collaborative project facilitated by Forum for the Future that brings together the high-profile leaders who can effect change in the UK dairy industry. It is using a futures approach to create a strong sense of momentum and focus in the industry, resulting in tangible short, medium and long-term collaborative actions for sustainability. You can find out more about the project by visiting the dedicated website: www.dairy2020.com