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New dairy will protect the island's rural character and heritage

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Monday 02 March 2020

Guernsey Dairy requires major investment if it is to continue helping to safeguard the island's distinctive rural character and its iconic Guernsey Cattle Breed.

The States' Trading Supervisory Board (STSB) has published a Future Guernsey Dairy policy letter, proposing either a major refurbishment at the current site, or a brand new facility elsewhere in the island.

This will address the condition of the current ageing facility and equipment, and enable a more efficient operation. The dairy has operated from its St Andrew's site for nearly 70 years, and the last major refurbishment was more than 30 years ago.

STSB estimates the construction cost for either option is likely to be around £25 million, and could be completed in 2024. The potential efficiency savings, compared to the current dairy, could be more than £½ million a year.  

STSB President, Deputy Peter Ferbrache, said dairy farming was part of the island's rich heritage, and investment was now required for it to be sustained for future generations.

"There is no more iconic image of the island than a Guernsey Cow in a Guernsey field. If we want to retain that, then we need to ensure the dairy industry remains viable and sustainable, and Guernsey Dairy is key to that," he said.

"The current premises are no longer fit for purpose, so major investment is needed to provide a modern facility that is more efficient and meets the highest food production standards."

The dairy currently operates seven days a week, to produce Guernsey milk, butter, cream, cheese and ice cream. Due to the huge complexity around maintaining current operations while carrying out a major refurbishment - even for a reduced product range - a redevelopment on the existing site is currently not the preferred option.

However if States Members agree to the current proposals, further work would be carried out to assess all the viable options before a final plan is presented to the States.

The project is also considering other features to promote the Guernsey cow, the island's centuries-old farming traditions, and local produce.

For example, creating a heritage centre alongside a new dairy would provide a tourist attraction and focus for education, to showcase the iconic cattle breed and local farming.

Another addition could be to encourage micro-dairies, run by third parties, which would be supplied with milk to produce speciality local dairy products. Similar businesses already exist, producing local cheeses, ice-cream and yoghurt.

Guernsey Dairy would still retain a monopoly on supply of liquid cow's milk - something the States has previously agreed and is key to the viability of its operations and to local farming.

Although sales have declined in recent years, with an increase in plant-based alternatives, nine out of 10 local households still regularly buy Guernsey Dairy milk.

The policy letter highlights the important role the dairy plays in ensuring the continuation of the Guernsey Cattle Breed and local agriculture.

The dairy industry has shaped the local landscape, with small scale, non-intensive farming making a positive contribution to the management of the countryside and environment. Guernsey's small fields provide hundreds of miles of hedgerows and earth banks, which are important habitats and sanctuary for wildlife and support biodiversity.

Local farmers are also required to have a biodiversity action plan, and promote animal welfare, and unlike most of the island's food supplies, local produce is not transported over long distances, which is more sustainable and reduces the carbon impact.

Guernsey Dairy has a continuous maintenance and improvement programme to ensure it continues to meet regulatory and quality standards. However the condition of the building and equipment, many of which are nearing the end of their operational life, are poor. Maintaining the current facility is increasingly costly and problematic.

Dairy processing technology has also moved on significantly in the last 30 years. However the lack of space within the dairy and site footprint is an obstacle to introducing modern and efficient equipment.  The production facilities are also badly configured for modern processing methods, limiting the scope for efficiency improvement. 

If these issues are not addressed, there is a risk production capacity will reduce and no longer meet demand, resulting in milk having to be imported. That would further undermine the dairy's financial sustainability and that of island's 14 dairy farms, most of which would cease operating. 

Without support to the dairy industry, there would probably still be Guernsey cows in Guernsey, but the Guernsey Cattle Breed would likely go into permanent decline.

Further details can be found at www.gov.gg/futuredairy

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