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Brades Farm Commitment to Sustainibility and Providing a Product the Customer Wants

Brades Farm Commitment to Sustainibility and Providing a Product the Customer Wants

Brades Farm commitment to sustainability and providing what the customer wants

For the Towers family who have farmed at Brades Farm in Farleton in the Lune Valley of Lancashire since 1960 and been farmers for fourteen generations there is an overwhelming desire to make a difference through their farming methods and ethos – this is being achieved in two fundamental ways – in producing a milk product that is specifically sought by the market it supplies and then by embracing a route to reducing methane emissions, that has resulted in the farm being the first dairy farm globally to generate carbon credits, Sarah Liddle spent the day with them finding out more.

The Barista coffee journey

John Tower’s whose son Ed now manage the family business started processing milk on farm in the 1980’s selling milk within a thirty mile radius of the farm, initially delivering it to local milkmen in the family car, before growing the business across the Lancaster district in processing and retail. However, with these markets dwindling and exposed to the pressures of supermarkets wars alongside spot market price crashes and fluctuations the family decided they wanted to secure a less volatile and all being well more stable milk price for their product. This led John’s sons Joe and Ed to develop the first barista milk – specifically designed to be poured into coffee – and which many experts in the coffee field now acknowledge is the base for making a great coffee once the other elements are added including of course the coffee.

To achieve what is considered the perfect ‘microfoam’ on coffee the milk needs a consistently high level of milk protein, and this meant that introducing Jerseys to the dairy farm at Brades was a logical innovation to realise the goal of producing barista milk. In November 2015 a wagon load of in calf Danish pedigree Jerseys arrived on farm and began calving in, initially the small numbers were housed alongside the Black and Whites, before their numbers grew sufficiently for them to be housed in a separate shed, two milk tanks also saw the herd milked in three groups, a fresh group of cows, followed by the Jerseys and then the main Holsteins, with a total herd size of 400 milking all year round. Jersey numbers have grown so that the two milk tanks on farm, which once were switched between to divert milk from the Holsteins and Jersey mix once a 3.6% protein balance was reached, now sees the herd numbering 150 Jerseys and 250 Holsteins in equilibrium at the desirable protein and fat for the barista milk. The milk is then cooled before being collected and taken to Manchester where it is processed, before going on to distributors in London, Manchester, Birmingham, and Leeds who deliver it into predominantly independent urban based coffee shops.

For many of those coffee shops and customers of Brades Farm Barista milk the story of the milk is fundamental, and the team are both proud of and welcoming to those that want to come and see the farm. Joe, John’s eldest son was awarded a Nuffield Scholarship in the mid 2010’s looking at reducing methane through feeding Asparagopsis Taxiformis (a seaweed) to the dairy herd, and after their paths crossing in 2013, Kim Howard joined the Brades Farm team to jointly oversee the marketing, promotion, brand creation and sales of the product. They soon found that the customer has four major concerns or issues when it comes to the milk produced, namely do the Towers and their team care about the animals and herd, are they doing the best job they can, does everyone have integrity and do as they say honestly and openly and can the product be bough cheaper elsewhere – in response the farm has embraced many practises as it has evolved to ensure animal welfare is at the heart of everything they do – sand bedding for example is a fixture, all be in one that can require a robust physical solution when three of the four rings on the slurry store are taken up by sand Ed explains but one that ensures cows are comfortable, cell counts are minimised and cows slipping is virtually alleviated. 

Over 30% reduction in methane from the cows

Kim’s non farming background gives the business a unique perspective to bridge the ‘urban gap’ while moving forward is all about trying to read market trends seen in the capital which is the largest market for the Brades Farm Barista milk. – Ed says “consumers like transparency and we listen to their concerns and ensure we are producing a product they want in the way they want it, it’s about education,plant based alternatives have done a great job marketing themselves and representing themselves to their target market, we’ve learnt a lot from how they do that. Environmental factors clearly come into play with this and rather than bury our heads in the sand with this we’ve found ways we can reduce our impact and compete in that space. while Kim goes onto say that the plastic crisis is another area of concern with no good solution as moving from plastic at packaging level only moves the problem elsewhere in the whole chain.

The Towers are keen to spread the word on how they are reducing on farm methane production –they feel they have a commitment to influence what they produce and hope others will see the same need, while farming is responsible for 14% of methane production globally and 8% of this is due to livestock we can do something at farm level to reduce this. While feeding seaweed was not the answer it appears a naturally produced feed supplement is – one which is produced in pelleted form, added at the rate of 8kg per day in the TMR via a bucket and scales and now sees the farm producing carbon credits which can offset the cost of the product. The pellet form of Mootral means it can be stored easily, is protected and yet easily activated once in the cow’s rumen, while been stable as a pellet. It is not yet fed in the dry cow ration. While using seaweed at the time to reduce carbon emissions was not a viable solution, the farm hasn’t ruled out its use in the future as things develop, so the team started looking at alternatives and other forms of supplement where they discovered a company called Mootral with a supplement called Mootral Ruminant. The two businesses had a lot of synergies and started working together in 2016 beginning a trial as a showcase farm in working conditions. From the trial the farm reduced their emissions in total by 30 percent (interestingly seeing a greater reduction in methane from theJerseys than from the Holsteins).

The feed is natural (a mix of stabilized garlic and citrus), and the emission reduction occurs after a very short time - between 24-48 hours after feeding. It has no impact on the taste or quality of the milk. With this reduction Brades Farm are the first dairy farm globally to generate carbon credits because of this reduction. The carbon credits were introduced when looking at scaling up the Mootral technology it was thought the cost could be carried throughout the supply chain, however everyone is consciously aware that what the consumer says and does can be volatile and it was agreed a stronger solution was needed. This is where the carbon credits came in, helping make scale up financially viable. The methodology is accredited by VERRA and Mootral have begun their scale up phase getting a further 5000 plus cows fed with Mootral. Ed also explains other benefits in terms of reduced fly problems which has been a huge benefit as well as increases in yield and the cows are in good health.

For Ed Towers and father John the farm is very much a labour of love but one they embrace together with a mentality to do better by the cows and the environment – they believe that doing their part to reduce carbon emission is critical and strongly believe sharing their success with others may help the bigger picture – because of the nature of their business and selling direct there is no control or dictating by others, they can be leaders in new things as their business model allows agility, practises can be tried without impacting anyone else and this approach comes with risk but also an element of freedom – Covid without doubt was a challenge with enforced closure of all the Blades Farm Barista Milk end customers, plans A to F were initiated to grasp at survival – however takeaway coffee was ultimately the saviour and in the end sales were 60% of pre pandemic levels – while now all milk from the farm is now sold for the barista milk. The method of selling milk means the family are very close to their community and having a story to tell and telling it is also imperative to success. The Towers family do not aspire to milk many more cows on this central Lancashire village location, but they have invested time, money and unrivalled passion into their product and are leading the curve on sustainable dairy farming in this country and beyond. This is just a mere snapshot of what they do, focusing on their drive to find a unique market for their milk that is more stable in pricing than some other more conventional means and also reducing methane and the farms carbon footprint in the process. . While on the direct sales side it is hoped that barista coffee will perform as a ‘lipstick’ commodity during the current cost of living crisis – while bigger spends maybe curtailed, lipstick is still a feel good purchase that people still spend money on to feel good – just like a great coffee made with Brades Farm Barista milk.