Our Dairy Project is facilitating a shift to fairer, more ethical dairy systems. We’re working with farmers and others across the supply chain to identify a number of key changes needed for better dairy systems, and will be supporting farmers, processors and retailers to overcome barriers and implement these changes.

Much of UK dairy production has intensified. Since 1995, average herd sizes have doubled and milk yield per cow has increased from 5,500 litres per year to a staggering 8,150 litres per year. Soaring input costs alongside limited increases in farmgate milk prices have pushed many small-scale farms out of production, whilst others have been forced onto a treadmill of volume-based production over value-based products. This has major knock-on effects for animal welfare, the environment and the physical and mental health of farmers.

There is real appetite for things to change. Farmers want to shift to systems that are better for their animals, their livelihoods and their own wellbeing. There is growing pressure from Government for the sector to reach net zero and reduce its environmental impact. Meanwhile, citizens are demanding to know more about the sustainability and ethics of the products they consume.  

Importantly, in order to make dairy better for animals and the planet, we first need to ensure that farmers themselves have a fair deal. Farmers are currently stuck on a ‘dairy treadmill’, which is impacting their wellbeing and ability to make changes.

How can we step off the dairy treadmill and do dairy differently?

Throughout 2021 and 2020, we held a series of workshops and conversations with over 40 farmers and farm workers, representing key dairy regions across the UK and a variety of dairy systems, sizes and experiences. We collected farmers’ aspirations for a fairer, more ethical dairy system, as well as their perceived barriers to change. Key aspirations included reconnecting with the public, improving the transparency and fairness of milk contracts, and having a better work-life balance.

You can read our Farmers’ Insights report in full here.

Throughout the project, other activities have included:

  • At the Oxford Real Farming Conference 2022, we put dairy regulations ‘in the dock’, bringing together experts and a jury to ask whether current regulations are fit for delivering fairer, more ethical dairy systems. Watch the recording here.
  • The experiences shared at ORFC 2022 led us to write a number of press releases surrounding unfairness in milk contracts. See Farmers Guardian: Abusive and ‘bullying’ processor practices must end 
  • At the Oxford Real Farming Conference 2023, we hosted an interactive workshop to a packed room of participants. Our aim was to begin collectively unblocking some of the barriers to change. We curated a panel of expert speakers to inspire the session – farmers who have taken major steps to transition toward better dairy. Listen to the session here.
  • In April 2023, we coordinated a joint open letter urging Defra to publish a thorough, robust and properly enforced dairy Code of Conduct, as was promised back in 2021.
  • In June 2022, we held a meeting with milk buyers, processors, retailers and foodservice companies to understand the role they can play in enabling fairer, more ethical dairy supply chains. We shared farmers’ insights with them from the first half of the project. Read the report here.
Developing collective asks

In 2023 we have worked to develop a set of key ‘asks’ for the sector, based off the knowledge and insights collected from people across the sector so far. You can read our final report from the project ‘What needs to change in the UK dairy?’ HERE.


Insights & Opinion