Confirmation that NI’s largest dairy co-op, Lakeland Dairies, is to move all its NI suppliers to a payment system principally based on milk solids, is a positive step for the dairy industry in NI. The A+B-C model pays farmers for a kg of protein (A) and kg of butterfat (B), with an adjustment made for volume (C).

While changing the payment system won’t transform the industry overnight, it is important to recognise this is a long-term play, designed to increase the overall value of the NI milk pool and the efficiency of how we process milk.

The current payment model still used by most milk processors sends the wrong signal to farmers. At present, a 7,000l cow producing the same kilos of milk solids as an 8,000l cow probably generates at least £130 less in income. So the message is clear – prioritise litres over butterfat and protein.

However, this water in milk must be carted around the countryside in tankers and then dried off in processing, so there is both a financial and environmental cost. Maintaining the current payment model into the future is not tenable.

But at the same time, with Lakeland retaining its volume bonuses and extending the 3p/l winter bonus into January and February, there is a recognition of the importance of larger scale producers and the value of winter milk from NI.

The last thing the co-op wants is to upset the calving profile in NI and that fear of encouraging farmers into low-cost spring systems is probably one of the main reasons why an A+B-C model hasn’t been widely implemented before now.

But the reality is that won’t happen in NI – many farmers have built up excellent autumn and all-year-round calving systems based on what suits their farm.

These farmers also shouldn’t make any rash decisions around cow type. Instead, they should aim for steady progress in fat and protein by focusing on feeding and breeding.