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Jo Mackenzie: Milk price high comes as input costs rocket

Jo with a bottle of the milk they produce at Rootfield Farm.
Jo with a bottle of the milk they produce at Rootfield Farm.

It’s ironic that finally dairy farmers are being paid a fair price for their milk.

At almost 40p per litre (for some), the milk price is at an unprecedented high; unfortunately, so too are all the costs involved in producing that milk.

Fuel, feed and electricity costs have doubled while fertiliser costs have trebled.

As forecast by experts, the economic impact of the Ukraine crisis is having a ripple effect around the world.

On a micro level, what does this mean for agricultural businesses like us?

Jo and Nick Mackenzie of Rootfield Farm.

Here at Rootfield, in common with businesses up and down the country, we have been forced to look again at how we run things, particularly on the processing side of the farm.

Rising costs across the board mean Nick and I are taking stock of the products we make, how we’re producing them and who our customers are as well as the critical health and productivity of the herd.

In short, we need to see how we can operate more efficiently with the resources we have.

On the farming side, we need to increase cow numbers while on the processing side, we need to balance our trade accounts against our retail business with direct farmgate sales obviously garnering better margins as well as potentially, a greener footprint.

Centralising and simplifying

First port of call has been our fresh food distributor, Williamsons, who already deliver to several smaller shops across the Highlands for us and are now gearing up to deliver all our wholesale milk and yoghurt.

Some of the ice cream produced at Rootfield.

Centralising this function will enable us to significantly cut down on our daily delivery costs in terms of fuel and time as well as simplifying the trade orders coming into the office.

We are very grateful to Williamsons and our trade clients for being on board with this change and our decision has propelled one client (my brother John and his business partner Peter) to trial milk vending from one of their three artisan coffee bars in central Inverness – more on this next time.

Customers will be able to enjoy produce at the farm

Meanwhile, further improvements are afoot for our on-farm retail offering.

Inspired by our friends at Farm Ness whose farm shop featured on the recent BBC series of This Farming Life, we are building a timber ‘porch’ onto the front of our revamped ice cream container-shop.

Once constructed, it will house two of our larger vending machines – one dispensing milk, the other a variety of artisan local, Scottish and fairtrade products – so that all our produce is under one roof.

We have set up a few picnic benches, too, so customers can enjoy a soft drink, snack or ice cream at the farm: the cows grazing in the green fields below, Ben Wyvis a glorious backdrop.

All these small changes are possible because the combined farm and processing team is finally back to full strength, giving Nick and I some headspace to plan, improve and develop the business.

Pipers in action at the Moy Highland Field Sports Fair.

We are particularly delighted that new family Craig, Amy and their girls – Daisy and Mollie are thrilled to have playmates next door – have settled into their roles so swiftly and ably, with Craig as cattleman and Amy in production with parlour manager Katie.

Plenty in store for the summer

Improving temperatures and the welcome sunshine means new fruity summer flavours are in development and will be on sale very soon.

It’s lovely, too, to see in-person events back on the calendar, from the iconic Royal Highland Show next month to Turriff and Nairn Farmers’ Shows at the end of July and our local Black Isle Show and Highland Field Sports Fair (Moy) in August.

We are excited to take a stall at Moy again this summer and have also signed up to attend the Strathnairn Agricultural Vintage Tractor Rally in October, hosted in the beautiful grounds of Daviot Estate near Inverness, which is open for exhibitor bookings now.

Jo lives at Rootfield Farm in the Black Isle with husband Nick, daughters Daisy and Mollie, and 120 dairy cows. They run the Black Isle Dairy.

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