Small steps, big improvements
The Uelzena Group has established a process for dialogue and improvement, which is based on the data collected for the sustainability module milk. In this way, the company intends to work together with farmers to continuously optimise performance in sustainable milk production.
The Thünen Institute has compiled a report that details the results of the first project phase “Sustainability module milk” for all participating dairies. These reports give information to the dairies about the performance of their milk producers’ scores for all of the 84 criteria on sustainable milk production. The goal: The new findings shall enable dairies to enter into a dialogue with their milk producers in order to jointly develop improvement measures. Uelzena has also received the results from its milk producers.
In order to improve its own performance in sustainable milk production, the Uelzena Group is now using a basic quality management method and has established a Continuous Improvement Process (CIP). This CIP follows an evolutionary way of thinking: It does not envisage one major innovation or measure, but rather ongoing development with many small steps.
One central part of the CIP at Uelzena is the “Advisory Board sustainability module milk” which comprises four farmers and three Uelzena representatives. The Board has a control function and furthers ongoing improvements in a defined process while following the proven PDCA cycle developed in the USA. PDCA stands for the different steps of the improvement process: Plan, Do, Check, Adjust.
Based on these steps, the Uelzena Group has developed its own approach:
- Survey: Data collection within the scope of the sustainability module.
- Analysis and identification: Analysis of the data together with the member dairies and the Advisory Board and identification of possible improvements.
- Prioritisation: The aspects identified that are to be improved are sorted according to urgency.
- Action plan: Development of targets and improvement measures, which are coordinated with the member cooperatives.
- Implementation: The measures shall be implemented at the farms, for example through the transfer of knowledge in the form of training or through information desks at agricultural events and network meetings.
- Control: Finally the improvements are reviewed. Targets and measures can be adjusted, if needed.
Initial topics and measures
Uelzena had already identified the first topics for improvement in 2019. In the next stage, targets will be defined and prioritised for these criteria and measures derived at farm level. The following gives three examples:
- Antibiotics: The prophylactic administration of antibiotics to cows is to be reduced. Uelzena wants to work with farmers to find ways of reducing the use of antibiotics while avoiding economic losses. Information events with experts are planned to introduce effective alternatives to the prophylactic administration of antibiotics by the farmers.
- Workload: The dissatisfaction of many farm managers (42 percent) because of their heavy workload is considered to be a risk in terms of farm succession. Based on this background, measures have been discussed which could make milk production a more attractive occupational field, especially for young people. The idea is to develop positive communication on the topic, to find good existing solutions and to present them to the group of milk producers.
- Climate protection: Although many milk suppliers of the Uelzena Group (58 percent) already contribute to climate protection by generating renewable energies, the company has identified the natural methane emissions of cows as an important field that requires improvement. As a promising improvement measure for climate protection, it has been discussed that cows can be supplied with a newly developed feed additive that allows the methane emissions from enterogenic fermentation (the digestion process) to be reduced by 30 percent. Currently this type of feed additive is still going through the approval process.
Progress in the set-up of the CIP
The milk producers also received an evaluation of their data, which they can use to compare their performance to other farms and to independently identify and implement optimisation possibilities. A second series of surveys and evaluations is scheduled to begin in mid-2020. The PDCA process will be reviewed, according to plan in 2021, and adapted if necessary. The aim is to establish a stable, efficient and continuous improvement process for sustainable milk production by that time. In this way, Uelzena and the farmers can increase their sustainability performance in the long term - and maintain the high acceptance of milk production amongst customers, consumers and politics in the future.