To say the past few months have proved a testing time for the North’s dairy farmers would be something of an understatement.
With farmgate milk prices slashed to what many regard as unsustainable levels, while costs continue to rise, the NFU has predicted a mass exodus from the sector should current trends continue.
But throughout the region and further afield the industry continues to attract passionate commitment and high levels of skill - both of which will be showcased at the UK’s largest dedicated show of dairy cattle, due to take place in Carlisle next weekend.
A highlight on the British dairy breeding calender, Borderway UK Dairy Expo 2015 has already attracted entries from all four UK nations and looks set to draw in the region of 7,000 visitors from across the globe.
Entrants will compete for a share of a £15,000 prize fund, while local exhibitors will include Northumbrian consigners Richard Baynes from Slaley, and D A Howie and Sons from Acklington.
Others will be travelling from the length and breadth of the UK, with one key attraction likely to be the renowned Shorthorn, Jersey and Ayrshire herds of McLean’s of Priestland, near Bushmills in Northern Ireland.
Mr Baynes said: “This show has very quickly become one of the leading dairy shows in the country. We have quality cattle that produce milk, half of which we bottle and sell direct to consumers.
“So an event such as this is an important showcase for our cattle and it helps to further promote our Northumbrian Pedigree Milk.”
David Pritchard, event organiser and operations director for Harrison and Hetherington, said: “The dairy industry is facing many challenges at this current time. However, the level of interest and support we have received from exhibitors and organisations involved in the industry is tremendous.
“This demonstrates that there is a positive outlook for the dairy industry and that events such as this are important in helping its future sustainability.”
New to this year’s event is the Total Dairy Expo Conference to be held on Friday at Carlisle Race Course.
This is a practical conference designed to give dairy producers the opportunity to learn from international dairy experts who will be providing advice on nutrition, cow health and people management.
The all-breed show itself, meanwhile, has already drawn in around 400 entries and will be appraised by an international line-up of top judges: Master Judge Hank Van Exel, from the US, will handle the Holstein, Dairy Shorthorn, Brown Swiss and British Friesian categories while Stephen Borland, from Canada, will officiate for the Ayrshire, Jersey and Red & White breeds. Claire Swale of Heavenly Genetics in Lancashire, meanwhile, will assess the showmanship competitions.
Exhibitor Jonny Lochhead, from Beyond the Burn Farm in Mouswald, near Dumfries, last year took the Brown Swiss Champion title and will be holding a reduction sale of some Organic Brown Swiss cattle in April.
He said: “This is a very important event for the industry - not only does it keep you abreast of what is happening, it is an important platform for breeders to promote their cattle.
“With the pressure for farmers to become more resourceful, Borderway UK Dairy Expo gives dairy farmers the opportunity to see stock in the flesh and learn from the experts ways in which we can improve genetics and maximise efficiency on the farm.”
The expo will also feature the John Dennison Lifetime Achievement Award, now one of the dairy industry’s most important accolades, presented last year to John Gribbon.
This year’s winner will be announced during the Holstein Show on the Saturday afternoon.
Mr Pritchard added: “There is a broad cross section of trade stands including a number of breed societies, and a number of new companies.
“These demonstrate breeding genetics, cutting edge technology and developments from research, products and innovation, and some which explore what it takes to stay ahead of the game.”
Dairy Expo also plays a key role in encouraging the next generation of breeders and exhibitors through the Dairy Showmanship Youth Championships, due to be contested by young breeders from across the UK and Europe on the Friday evening.
Including entrants from France, Holland and the UK, the events are set to attract young people who are passionate about the dairy industry and keen to develop their skills while demonstrating the dedication required to succeed in the sector today.
“The Dairy Showmanship Youth Championship also provides a foundation for professional and social skills, and many of those who have excelled in the past as Youth Champions are leaders in the dairy industry today,” Mr Pritchard said.
Once again, the expo is being supported by a number of mainline sponsors: Holstein UK, CIS, Clydesdale Bank, Norbrook, Farmers Guardian, Carrs Billington and, for the first time, beef exporter Pickstock Telford.
The Pickstock Family has over 25 years’ experience in the meat sector, earning a reputation for a particularly rigorous approach to animal welfare and quality assurance.
Alan Jarvis, from the company, said: “Pickstock Telford has been a supporter of the dairy industry in the area for over 10 years, sourcing cattle from local farmers and markets.
“As the procurement buyer and representative of the company in the Northern area, this enables ourselves to build a close relationship with the farmers.
“With the brand new facilities in Telford we can offer an even higher quality of service to all new and existing customers. We will look forward to supporting this event.”
The expo will conclude with a number of special Holstein Awards to be presented at an ‘All Britain Awards’ dinner on the Saturday evening.
Eachwick farmer Dennis Gibb, who has represented the North East on the NFU’s Dairy Board board for around 10 years, said: “The expo is good event in many respects.
“Firstly, it brings dairy farmers together, secondly it is good for those keen on the showing side of things and thirdly there are a huge number of trade stands there.
“As far as the current dairy situation is concerned, every farm is different and what suits one person may not suit another.
“However, it is a great thing at events like this to talk with other farmers and share views - often that can lead to some good ideas.”
He added that it was still uncertain when the UK sector might see significant boost in prices.
However, some reassurance could be found in the fact that world auction prices had improved slightly.
“We have also had notification from Arla that they are holding their February prices, so that’s a little bit of good news,” Mr Gibb said.<p/> <p/> <p/>
12:30pm: Total Dairy Expo - 12.30pm - Carlisle Racecourse
An afternoon of internationally renowned dairy industry speakers to provide practical advice for progressive dairy farmers
Event to be followed by a drinks reception and dinner
2.30pm - Showmanship Competition
4.00pm - Showmanship Championship
4.30pm - Heifer Show – Coloured Breed classes
6.30pm - Heifer Show – Holstein classes
8.30pm - Junior Championship<p/>
8.00am - UK Dairy Expo opens
9.00am - Milking classes - Coloured breeds
12.00pm - Break for lunch/visit trade stands
1.00pm - Milking classes – Holsteins
3.00pm - John Dennison Achievement Award Presentation
4.00pm - Supreme Championship Presentations
Closing Ceremonies: 7.30pm - HUKI All Britain Awards, Dinner & Dance at Shepherds Inn, Carlisle<p/> <p/> <p/>