Chris Webb

Dairy Academy: walking the supply chain

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Farming 2012-12-22

This post is one of a series featured in Farmers Guardian while I took part in the Fresh Start Dairy Academy, a farm business training and mentoring course for new entrants into dairy farming.

A grey mid-November morning found the Dairy Academy crew making off with a minibus from Reaseheath, out on a trip to the Wiseman factory at Droitwich.

Our visit began with a detailed presentation from the factory manager, explaining the route milk takes from the point it’s collected at the farm, through processing and bottling, before being dispatched to retailers. He described the elaborate quality testing that follows it through the process, and how specialist milk and various aligned pools are segregated.

After this we donned fetching red hair-nets for our tour of the plant and headed out to see it for ourselves.

Wiseman Droitwich

My overall impression was of huge scale and spotless gleaming stainless steel. The raw milk silos in particular towered over us, and at one point I realised I was standing next to a tank containing the same a2 milk I’d milked and seen collected the day before. I wonder what the cows would make of it all?

The whole plant was computer-controlled, and we saw how the operators can monitor the tank levels and route the milk through the system as it comes in from the tankers into the silos, passes through stages of processing, and then finally heads out to be bottled. The fail-safes built into the system are impressive, presumably because any mistakes would be disastrously expensive!

The bottling plant was probably the most spectacular sight. Armies of white plastic bottles marched along in neat lines into the machines to be filled and capped, before trundling off again in their thousands to begin their onward journey.

After the tour, we had an opportunity for questions, followed by a lively discussion amongst ourselves over lunch, encouraged by Reaseheath College’s head of agriculture, Martyn East, and RABDF council member, Derrick Davies.

Many of us had hoped to raise the dire state of farm-gate pricing, but our hosts were probably not the right people to corner about that. When it came to the role of the processors in the current crisis, opinion amongst the group was divided. Are they villains exploiting farmers or themselves victims of rapacious retailers? Either way, we’d had a dramatic demonstration of the size of their operation and the high hygiene and quality standards to which they have to work.

Many thanks to Wiseman Dairies for making us welcome and giving us an excellent presentation and tour.