Arla was looking to be proactive, not reactive, with the launch of a new set of standards as there continues to be global volatility, increased consumer misunderstanding and polarised levels of support for UK farmers.
The cooperative has launched its Arla 360 scheme which focuses on animal welfare, people, the environment and natural resourses, community, economic resilience and reinvestment and research and development to lead the dairy agenda.
Seventy nine dairy farmers have been piloting the Arla 360 scheme since the beginning of 2018.
Arla UK head of agriculture Graham Wilkinson said the programme had been designed around consumer research and driven by its farmers, identifying six key areas including animal health and welfare and the environment.
“Consumers were really keen on animal welfare,” he said.
The scheme would be pushed forward by retailers and food service customers, with supermarket Aldi the first retailer to sign up, creating a new Aldi Dairy Farm Partnership.
Farmers on the scheme will receive a premium, recognising the additional efforts and will have to undergo a final audit process to ensure they can meet the requirements.
“Once we have more customers come on board, more farmers can be involved," said Mr Wilkinson.
Fritz Walleczek, managing director of corporate responsibility at Aldi UK, said: “We have an excellent working relationship with Arla and are pleased to support this scheme through our new Aldi Dairy Farm Partnership.
“We will be working with our dedicated Arla farmers to continue to enhance animal welfare and farm management through the 360 programme.
“This builds on our longstanding commitment to support British farmers and suppliers.”
One of the areas to be tackled was the issue of bull calves, with the scheme not allowing healthy male calves to be shot or exported and Mr Wilkinson said Arla was working with breeding companies to encourage the use of sexed semen and better genetics for beef to ‘try and close the loop’.
It was also looking at working with meat purchasers to ensure there was a market for animals from the dairy herd.
“It is not about shifting the problem onto the meat industry, it is about working together,” he added.
Other areas the scheme will look to tackle include cow behavioural studies, waste reduction and reuse along with data driven leadership.
Johnny Burridge, an Arla farmer owner who took part in the Arla 360 trial, said it had been ‘eye opening’.
“You won’t meet a farmer who is not driving forward standards on their farm in at least one area and, of course, Arla already has its Arlagården programme, which has really helped drive consistency of standards.
“But to bring these areas all together has really made me challenge how I think about my farming practice.
“The current retailer support is great if you are one of the farmers fortunate to be on a retailer aligned programme, but to bring farmers together in one programme and in doing so address some of the more challenging areas farmers face could be game changing for everyone.”