Connecting dairy producers and customers

Exploring the varying information, behaviour and values associated with two production systems and their selling routes

The situation

After completing a BSc (Hons) Agriculture degree at Hartpury University, Elle Vercoe-Gibson returned to undertake her PhD, focusing on One Welfare stakeholder interplay in the dairy sector.

She explains: “In a changing culture, and the agricultural industry’s concern with the future of farming, food security and animal welfare, it is ever more important to consider habits, behaviours and perceptions of those involved in the production and consumption of dairy and how these impact the future of dairy cattle welfare and the mental wellbeing of farmers."

Hartpury is at the forefront of discovering new ways to support mental health in the farming community, building on Farmers Weekly’s Fit2Farm campaign, which demonstrated many routes to resilience. The agricultural challenges faced in the post-Brexit era put this on the agenda for students and staff.

The facilities

Hartpury’s campus is home to a unique complex of purpose-built facilities, playing a key role in the national agrifood agenda. As well as our Agri-Tech Centre, our government-backed Digital Innovation Farm project means we’re a leading national voice in agri-science.

Students have access to our successful commercial farm, a working facility which supplies household names including Müller and Marks and Spencer. Our smart farming professionals are carving out sustainable ways of working across the entire supply chain, improving productivity, as well as animal and farmer health and wellbeing.

Students regularly collaborate with Gloucestershire’s farmers and agri-businesses to drive forward new agricultural strategies and activities that will protect and preserve environmental integrity in farming.

Working together in welfare

We work with a wide range of animal and agriculture experts and organisations who share our vision, from animal charities to farming bodies at grassroots, national and international levels. Our animal and agricultural expertise often intersect, for example, new farming technologies are utilised in our animal science research, and animal welfare insights are applied and developed on our livestock farm.

Our performance, health and wellbeing specialisms include:

  • Health and welfare
  • Human-animal relationships
  • Breeding and nutrition
  • Behaviour and training
  • Legislation and policy
  • Biodiversity and conservation
  • Animal-assisted therapy
  • Canine and equine sport
  • Sustainable agrifood enterprise
  • Food provenance
  • Digital farming innovation
  • Veterinary physiotherapy

The process

Elle’s research focused on the three identified key stakeholders – the public, dairy producers and dairy cows – across the South West.

“From my undergraduate experience, I knew Hartpury would treat me as an individual and that I would be supported to mould my research to complement my own experiences and values.”

She explored the nuances between behaviours and perceptions associated with the two selling routes: a traditional supermarket/milk processor model and one that sells dairy products directly to consumers.

The impact

“By providing evidence as to what consumers are thinking, we can help align policy making values as to where we take dairy industry in the future, given it's such a key and crucial time in its change with environmental and sustainability issues.” adds Elle.

“The impact of the research, establishing the benefit for farming groups to have regular communication with their customers, can help form a more productive and welfare-friendly dairy system.”

“In showing that enabling more positive connections between farmers and their customers can impact dairy cow welfare and farmer wellbeing, our hope is that more attention will be paid to that area to help generate a sustainable dairy model and establish what it might look like.”

A Hartpury first

Elle was subsequently awarded  the Three Counties Agricultural Society Bursary, which was used to fund new equipment, and Hartpury’s first-ever John Oldacre Research Scholarship.

The charity generously gifted Hartpury University a £1 million endowment to support student research and participation on its agricultural courses at both university and college level.

As part of the grant, two Hartpury College students progressing from a diploma to an undergraduate degree in agriculture at Hartpury University were each awarded a John Oldacre Bursary of £500 for each academic year of their study.

Find out more

Research at Hartpury

Research is central to life at Hartpury. Every year we support projects across a wide range of subject areas that help drive positive change. All research activity at Hartpury either directly or indirectly informs not only current industry practice but also the curriculum.

With expertise and experience spanning all areas of agriculture, animal, sport, equine and veterinary nursing, our academics are actively involved in research and knowledge exchange. Studies undertaken here are often embedded in larger scale research projects.

Our research centres