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In your field: Rachel Coates - 'How is it right that milk is being poured away?'

Firstly, I would like to start by acknowledging the fantastic job Christine Ryder has done writing this column for the past five years. She is truly a hard act to follow.

It is quite fitting, then, that I am picking up the baton from her as her family farmed this farm before my father in law took on the tenancy in 1974.

 

So let me introduce you to the team here. My husband Stephen and I farm in partnership with Stephen’s parents, Geoffrey and Margaret.

 

Our son, Ben, works full time for us, while our youngest daughter Zoe helps out and also does a lot of our marketing, including designing our logo.

 

Our eldest daughter, Felicity, lives in the South West and is also very helpful on the marketing and social media side of things.

 

Last summer, when we finally decided to go for it in regards to setting up a milk vending business, I do not expect we could have imagined what an eventful three months we would have had so far.

 

We had discussed a vending machine several times in the last few years. Farming on the urban fringe, we always hoped there would be the demand for one.

 

We received a lot of help and advice from friends that have already taken the plunge and we are more than happy to pay the favour forward. If anyone else would like advice, just ask.


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We opened on February 6 - a lovely sunny day which was followed by the start of Storm Ciara. On our first Sunday of opening we had to close as the little beck in front of our yard became a large beck through the farm yard.

 

After the tidy up we settled into a steady pattern, gaining new customers daily, more followers on social media, customers mastering the self-serve machines and finally getting a cashless payment system working.

 

Then, in the middle of March with the apparent shortage of milk in local shops, we had a sudden influx of new customers arriving with 6 litre containers to fill up. We sold out on a couple of occasions when we misjudged the amount we needed to pasteurise.

 

Things have calmed down since then and we have kept a few of those customers. They all seem to appreciate not only the milk, but being able to buy it in a safe environment, away from massive queues in the larger shops.

 

Not that we don’t have queues, but the view is infinitely better than from a supermarket car park.

 

How, when vending machines, milkmen and shops are selling out of milk, is it right that other dairy farmers are pouring away milk that doesn’t have a route to market? I hope that people more important than me will be making sure this situation doesn’t happen again in future.

 

Elsewhere on the farm, we turned the milking herd out to graze in mid-April. We have in the past made this an event and local people have come to watch, but it wasn’t appropriate this year.

 

At the time of writing, lockdown restrictions are still in place but the footpaths that cross the farm are thronging with plenty of, shall we say, new to the countryside walkers.

 

Where time and social distancing has allowed it has been a great opportunity to have conversations about farming, food and the countryside with a new audience.

Farm life

Rachel and husband Stephen farm 66ha (163 acres), mainly tenanted, at Baildon, West Yorkshire. They milk 85 pedigree Holsteins and Jerseys, calving all year round. They recently set up a milk vending business on farm with the majority of their milk sold to Meadow Foods. Rachel is also a director of the local farmers’ market.

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