Tesco dairy farmers providing ‘safe haven’ for migrating birds as supermarket lifts milk payments

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT

Tesco dairy farmers support biodiversity initiative, but margin squeeze pressures on-farm profitability / Pic: Jako van Gorsel
Tesco dairy farmers support biodiversity initiative, but margin squeeze pressures on-farm profitability / Pic: Jako van Gorsel

Related tags Tesco Farmgate milk price Biodiversity

Five hundred farmers in Tesco’s Sustainable Dairy Group (TSDG) are being encouraged to install 5,000 nesting boxes to support migratory birds like swifts, swallows and house martins.

These species, which fly around 6,000 miles to between Europe and Africa, have seen populations dwindle in recent years due to habitat loss and climate change. The new project aims to provide a ‘safe haven’ for them, boosting on-farm biodiversity.

“We're installing nest boxes across the farm, focusing on areas where we've spotted swifts, swallows and martins before, so they can return to a place that's familiar,”​ explained Nina Sigley, who has a herd of 130 cows in Staffordshire.

“We have lots of large hedgerows and corridors dividing our fields where nature can thrive, creating the perfect environment for these protected birds… All three species feed off small insects, so we're also making changes to enhance biodiversity. This benefits our cows too by creating a more natural environment with lots of trees and hedges offering plenty of shade.”

The TSGD has worked alongside WWF to promote initiatives that support biodiversity and reduce carbon emissions, including providing funding for farmers to plant herbal leys in their cow pastures.

“We want to ensure we’re doing all we can to continue to support our farmers and help make our dairy farms some of the most sustainable in the world. That's why we’re striving to increase biodiversity through initiatives like the swifts, swallows and house martins project,”​ Tesco Agriculture Manager Tom Atkins explained.

But will pressured margins hit sustainability efforts?

Collectively, the UK dairy industry is working towards the goal of net zero emissions by 2050. This ambition has been laid out in the UK Dairy Roadmap initiative, which is backed by Dairy UK, the National Farmers Union, and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board.

Last month, the initiative acknowledged that climate action could be forced to take a backseat in the current climate​ as farmers grapple with rising production costs.

The Roadmap noted that spiking on-farm expenses ‘can make it difficult to think about anything other than overheads’. “Reducing our carbon footprint might, understandably, be falling down the agenda for many farmers,” the body conceded in a statement.

For its part, Tesco said members of its Sustainable Dairy Group benefits from ‘long-term contracts’ that provide ‘the financial security they need to invest in making their farms more sustainable’.

The supermarket giant has announced that its 500 dairy farmer suppliers will receive a ‘much-needed boost’ when it raises the price it pays for fresh milk at the beginning of next month. Tesco will increase milk payments from 41.59ppl to 46ppl. “It is hoped the rise will help to address the current unprecedented levels of on-farm inflation,”​ the company said.

However, it would seem that this price increase is somewhat lagging broader pricing trends in UK dairy.

Milk prices across Europe have been forced up by rising on-farm costs for things like energy and fuel as well as constrained milk volumes and an expected dryer, hotter, summer. According to data released by the European Commission, the average farm gate milk prices in April 2022 was 46.0 c/kg, up +5.7% compared to March 2022 and +29% compared to April 2021. The EC said the estimated price for May 2022 is 47.4 c/kg, an increase of +3%.

First Milk recently revealed it is raising the price per litre to 43.45ppl from July 1, and 46.50ppl from August 1, including the member premium. The dairy cooperative cited its own pricing lag issues for the failure to raise prices more quickly. Vice chairman Robert Craig said last week: “We recognise that the rate of increase in our milk price may be slower than some others.”

This month in the UK Arla, for instance, lifted its farmgate milk price for the standard manufacturing litre by 4.49 pence per litre to 47.79 ppl for conventional and 54.34 ppl for organic milk.

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