Brexit - Bryce Cunningham (Dairy farmer, Mauchline, Scotland)
Bryce Cunningham came back to the family farm from a job at Mercedes when his father became sick in 2015. That same year the milk price collapsed. Bryce decided to redesign the entire farm, to become more resilient and future proof. The farm went from 120 cows to 60, producing organic milk. He also started processing dairy on site, focussing on taste and selling directly to customers and shops in Scotland. Today Mossgiel farm is processing about 3000 liters of organic milk a day, coming from the 60 Ayrshire cows in its own herd, and from 200 cows with other farmers in the area. One month ago Mossgiel farm became the first dairy farm in the UK to be 100% single use plastic free.
Has the prospect of Brexit affected your business?
“It’s affected the inputs for our business, I would say that our costs are going up because of Brexit. We don’t have a feed issue, because we’re 100% grass fed, but we do use diesel for our deliveries, we use electricity which went up 30% in a year. And other costs have risen quite dramatically as well. Our sales are not particularly affected because we’re not an international business yet. British organic milk has quite a large market in Europe. The British organic dairy farmers who are supplying to the European market are quite worried that they’ll lose their European certification due to Brexit.”
What is your relationship with the EU as a dairy farmer in Scotland?
“I felt at the time of the referendum we as a nation really needed to do things a bit differently. Our European way of working wasn’t really tying up. There was frustration around the dairy and the EU when the referendum was held. We have a massive trade deficit for dairy in the UK. Dairy farmers in the UK have been paid a pittance for their milk, as have a lot of dairy farmers around the world. At the time of the referendum we had the milk price collapse. We saw the free trade agreements pummelling the milk and dairy producers in the UK, we do not get the opportunity to get self sufficient because of this. But the European Parliament will say ‘you get subsidies, you make a loss but that subsidy will keep you alive’. That is no way to run a business, I feel. We should be able to stand on our own two feet, speak directly to our consumers the way we want to and become a self sufficient country.”
Has Brexit changed the way you make decisions about the future of your farm?
“We lost a lot of money with that price collapse, I nearly lost my farm because of that. So in 2016 we decided to go organic, only grass fed, keeping calf with cow and pasteurising in a different way to create more taste.”
That sounds like a big investment, a bit of a gamble
“Aye, and it still is, haha. We’re tenant farmers here, so we don’t own the land, but we did own other land about 40 acres, not to far away. So we had to sell that, we had to sell half our herd, and we had to make up payment plans with all our creditors, some of which we’re still paying back. We managed to scrape together enough to build a processing plant here, which I pretty much built myself. I used to work for Mercedes Benz, so I have a slight amount of engineering background, which gave me enough knowledge to make a design and start building.”
How is it going now?
“It’s quite exciting, though not easy. On the organic side of things, we struggle to grow grass. We’re in a very good grass growing area for the cows, but the problem is at the moment there is no money to re-invest, so my fields are beginning to get ‘tired grass’ on it, there’s not enough energy in there, so we’re trying to use real organic thinking to try and turn the soil over with the cows, put dung back on it, compost everything we can, and just do everything we can to grow grass, that’s the biggest challenge we have. We’re constantly chasing grass, trying to keep the cows fed. Especially now we’re a 100% grass fed farm, we don’t have the joys of buying concentrates.”
“I’ve done a lot of research on how modern agriculture is affecting the environment and how crop growth is causing soil loss and how mono-cropping is killing off a lot of the fungi and bacteria in the ground. I just felt like we could do things slightly different. So instead of mining the land, if you like, and then piling inputs back onto it and creating a cycle of issues, I feel we could work with nature and do a ‘no-plough’ system, where we could afford to reseed we’ve been overseeding, so putting the seeds directly on the ground. And we’re following a holistic management system for the cattle grazing, so we’re trying to move the cattle as often as the environment would allow, based on the ideas of Allan Savory, trying to drive carbon back into the soils and trying to keep long grass.”
How do you see your farm 10 years from now?
“I want to remain the same size we are now, but holistically manage the farm, be a 100% self sustaining through grass and compost management. Cows outside all year round, I want to help convert more farms in the area to organic, I want to help more farms convert to the system of keeping calves and cows together, and create a different brand for that so customers will be able to choose for a more ethical dairy, and that will be packaged separately. We’ll be giving farmers recognition for what they’re doing, in stead of buying milk and putting it in a massive tank, we’ll be giving farmers separate recognition for their product. From the selling point of things, what I'd like to do is bring back milk to people in local towns. So we’ll go into towns, drop it in a certain location, and someone in that town who is self-employed will be distributing the milk for us, so that way the money that we’re spending stays in that local economy. And I’d really like to start working across the public, with schools and nursing homes for instance. I really feel our product is something completely different from anything else out there in the market, it’s a better flavour, it’s a more natural product, there’s no chemicals coming in through the cows, the cows are happier, I think everything works better as an holistic vision. And then the final thing I would like to do is drive down carbon emissions, we’re absolutely desperate to find a renewable source of energy.