A FAMILY-run farm in Frensham has cut out the middle man in a bid to tackle falling milk prices by selling ‘raw’ unpasteurised milk direct to the public from a new vending machine, just metres away from the milking parlour.
Pierrepont Farm, which has been run by the Clear family on behalf of charity the Countryside Restoration Trust since 2006, installed the top-of-the-range Italian-made milk dispenser this summer and has already received a lot of interest from locals.
Mike and Bev Clear, with help from their 16-year-old daughter Zoe and 17-year-old son Patrick, currently milk a herd of around 130 Jersey cows on their 204 acre farm just off The Reeds Road.
However, falling milk prices over the past two years mean the farm’s costs of production currently exceed its return from the farmer’s co-operative Arla, and as a result the family have decided to explore new initiatives to improve their farm’s sustainability.
Mike told The Herald: “Arla buy a lot of milk off us and pay whatever the going rate for the market is, which at the moment is about 25p a litre. But our true cost of production is probably nearer 30p a litre and two years ago we were getting 38p. So it’s quite a big hit.
“We can withstand a period of low milk prices by making efficiencies and watching our costs. But another two years of this and we won’t have any money to invest back into the machinery and equipment that keeps the farm going, so we’ve got to look at the long-term viability of the business.
“Arla is still a very important part of what we do, but the vending machine is a way of adding value to a small proportion of our milk.”
Pierrepont is not the first UK dairy farm to install a raw milk vending machine, and Suffolk-based farmer John Crickmoor first began importing the bespoke refrigerators from the continent in 2010.
The Clear family have drunk raw milk straight from their cows for as long as they can remember and when the crashing milk price forced them into action, they contacted John and put in an order for a brand new ‘DF Italia’ machine to share their prize-winning herd’s raw milk with the public too.
Mike added: “The main attraction of raw milk is the freshness and the taste of it. The milk you buy in the supermarket is collected from lots of different farms and all mixed together.
“They standardise it - taking all of the cream out of it and putting a little bit back in depending on whether it’s skimmed, semi-skimmed or whole milk - then they heat treat it, which kills the bad bugs if there are any, but it also affects the natural enzymes, so a lot of the vitamins are either destroyed or damaged.
“But probably the worst thing they do is homogenise it which breaks the fat up into tiny globules. That means you don’t get the cream line on the milk you buy at the supermarket and it alters the taste.”
Though scientifically unproven, raw milk is also thought to be beneficial to those with a lactose intolerance as it retains a natural enzyme destroyed in the pasteurisation process called lactase, which helps to digest lactose.
According to Mike, Pierrepont Farm has at least one customer who is lactose intolerant but can drink the farm’s raw milk “quite happily”.
The family are also keen to reassure potential customers that their product is safe. Before they were able to sell their unpasteurised milk, Mike and Bev first had to apply for a license from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and conform to an array of strict conditions - including the key requirement that their herd must be healthy and brucellosis and tuberculosis (TB) free.
This licence was awarded in April, allowing the family to sell their product directly from the farm, at farmers’ markets and via a milk round if they choose. In order to retain this licence, their milk must be retested by the FSA quarterly, in addition to regular testing for TB.
Mike continued: “Pasteurisation originally came about in the 1920s when tuberculosis was a big issue, but we’re already in a low-risk area for TB and now we’re selling raw milk the whole herd has to be screened annually, instead of every four years.
“Not every farmer can sell unpasteurised milk, and we’ve had to pass extra hygiene tests with the Food Standards Agency who also come in regularly to test for the bacterial quality of our milk and any levels of dirt.
“The risks are really small and again, if you pasteurise milk yes you kill all the bad bugs, but you also kill the good ones, and very small levels of bad bugs are actually good for your immune system.
“It’s a bit of a unique product and of course most people want to buy their milk from the supermarket for convenience, but if they want a really natural product from really healthy cows and support a local business, this gives them that opportunity.”
At £1.30 for a litre bottle and £2.50 for two litres, Pierrepont’s raw milk is already selling well and some customers visit the farm two or three times a week to get their fix. Mike and Bev have been delighted with this early response and are already considering selling other raw dairy products direct from the farm.
The vending machine is rigorously cleaned and refilled every morning, and is available for the public to help themselves seven days a week between 8am and 6pm. It takes £10 and £5 notes, and all coins except coppers, and gives change. Plastic bottles are included in the price.
• The entrance to Pierrepont Farm is found next to Frensham Garden Centre and opposite the Rural Life Centre in The Reeds Road. For more information call 01252 793559, find ‘Pierrepont Farm Raw Milk’ on Facebook, visit www.rawmilksurrey.co.uk or alternatively email rawmilk