'Mega' Dairy Resubmits Revised Application

UK - An ambitious planning application for Britain’s largest dairy farm, resubmitted today (18 November), reveals significant changes including 45 per cent of the original cow numbers, a complete redesign of the farm layout, rigorous measures to protect the environment and more space for animals
calendar icon 18 November 2010
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But despite the smaller scale, the plans show the farm stands to deliver significant sustainability benefits in milk production, including carbon savings equivalent to taking over 9,000 cars off the UK’s roads.

The proposal, which was originally submitted in December 2009 for 8,100 cows but withdrawn in April 2010 to address environmental concerns, is now for 3,770 cows. The accommodation, similar to that in which most British dairy herds live in for the six month winter period, will now include five per cent more ‘loose stall’ beds than there are animals which reflects industry best practice. As before, cows will be free to eat, drink, rest and socialise when they like, but will now also be able to access outdoor loafing paddocks in the summer months, weather permitting.

The two farmers behind the plan, David Barnes from Lancashire and Peter Willes from Devon, admit they have been taken aback by the public reaction to what is essentially a larger scale version of many existing top class British farms, but have listened and tried to respond to all valid concerns – particularly those of local people – which is one of the reasons the application has taken so long to resubmit.

“We aim to demonstrate the farm, once operational, will cause little local impact and work well from an environmental and welfare perspective; this is before we consider any expansion, which would have to be the subject of a brand new planning application,” says David, who currently farms 2,000 cows near Clitheroe in Lancashire.

“We’re very conscious of concerns about water, public health, smell, traffic and welfare, and need to prove that this farming model is sustainable in that particular location. The advantage is we’ve got a brand new site and we can design all this in from the start rather than having to adapt an older farm to deal with modern requirements – which is always a challenge for any farmer.”

Both say that while there have been a number of concerns to address, there are also some huge environmental benefits coming from the proposal. Just one is the predicted carbon footprint of Nocton Dairies’ milk which, on the supermarket shelf, is likely to be two thirds of the average footprint for milk sold in Western Europe.

Peter, who farms in Devon and produces Westcountry farmhouse cheddar, explains that the predicted footprint is so low because the farm uses resources very efficiently, the cows are where their feed is grown and their welfare will be high.

“All dairy herds, whether based on grazing or not, still need extra feed. This farm will make use of local feeds and arable by-products that might have otherwise gone to waste. We won’t use soya, but other plant-based protein, and all other forages and grains will be produced in the county if not locally. A large part of the forage will be lucerne, a crop that needs little nitrogen fertiliser to grow.”

He says that while the anaerobic digester isn’t part of the carbon calculation, the cow manure it processes will eventually produce enough renewable energy to power 830 homes. “The ‘digestate’ manure will also save the equivalent of 1,500 tonnes of CO2 each year from reducing use of artificial nitrogen fertiliser on neighbours’ land and it will supply potash and phosphate for high value potato and sugar beet crops.

“Finally, dairy farms can only be efficient if welfare is good. Cows need to live long lives and be healthy to deliver the best results for the farm, so it really is in our best interests to ensure cows are physically and mentally at their peak.”

Neighbouring arable farmer Robert Howard, who has supported the project from the start, says his industry needs to look at how it can minimise use of fossil fuel-based and mined fertilisers, and re-introducing integrated farming systems on a modern scale addresses a number of critical issues.

“Our soils in Lincolnshire suffer badly from lack of organic matter, and restoring it through animal-based fertilisers and growing break crops for the dairy helps water retention, fertility and soil structure,” he explains. “Reducing reliance on artificial fertiliser is also critical as we are being increasingly affected by rising prices in the world’s fuel markets and reducing access to phosphate and potash supplies.”

The planning application documents can now be found on www.noctondairies.co.uk and will have the reference 10/0831/FUL once posted by North Kesteven District Council on their website www.n-kesteven.gov.uk. Once the planning application has been validated it will enter a consultation period of approximately 13 to 14 weeks before the outcome is determined.

A factsheet is being delivered to 5,000 local residents in the area to make them aware of the resubmitted plans and their content, and parish councils from the six nearest villages are being approached to ask what form of open meetings and exhibitions their residents would like over the initial four week period post-submission.

TheCattleSite News Desk

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