Nocton Dairies: Two sides to the question

We all want electricity, but no one wants a nuclear power station next door.  We all want mobile phones, but no one wants a phone mast nearby.  We all want cheap holidays on the Mediterranean, but no one wants a new airport.  And we all want cheap milk (so the supermarkets tell us), but it seems we don’t like dairies either.
I always and instinctively sympathise with constituents who are concerned about proposed new industrial or housing developments near their homes – perhaps not least because a wind farm company was recently granted planning permission for a site within a mile of my Leicestershire home, and frankly I’m hopping mad about it.  So when I received some letters from concerned folk in the villages of Nocton and Potter Hanworth in Lincolnshire regarding a proposed new dairy farm, I knew I had to pay attention, and I made an appointment to visit Nocton Dairies Ltd on the proposed site.
The company is applying for planning permission for an 8000 cow unit.  That’s exceptionally big for the UK, and quite large by global standards, though there are a number of similar sized dairy farms in the US.  So I quite understand the worries of the local residents, which include visual intrusion, smell, traffic levels and animal welfare.
The company has around 2500 acres for its project, but is forming agreements with neighbouring farmers for supply of animal feed and the spreading of manure.  In many ways this is a text-book example of sustainability and recycling.  The feed will literally come from adjacent fields, with the absolute minimum of transport.  Effluent from the cows will go straight into an anaerobic digester on-site, generating renewable energy, and the residue, or “digestate”, will then be piped – not trucked – straight back to the same fields as fertiliser.  The company is also looking at a photovoltaic installation on the extensive roof areas.
On the visual intrusion question, I stood on the proposed site and could not see the villages, so it does not seem a major problem.  The anaerobic digester should solve any potential odour problem – the digestate has little odour.  And the local cattle-feed supplies, and piping of digestate to adjacent fields, will minimise traffic.  There will of course be some additional traffic, notably of milk in tankers, but this is estimated to increase traffic on the nearest main road, the B1190, by only around 1%.  There is particular concern about possible traffic through the villages themselves.  But both villages lie to the south of the B1190, while the dairy will be to the north, so no dairy traffic will need to pass through the villages at all.
Then there is the question of animal welfare.  It is true that in very large dairy units in the USA, while there are examples of best practice, there are also some rather poor older operations.  The company has been studying large units in the US, and insists (perhaps not surprisingly) that it is determined to emulate best practice. 
There are complaints that the cows will spend a lot of time indoors.  But this applies to all dairy farms.  You see very few cows in the fields in the winter, because there’s no grass for them.  A recent report for the RSPCA, by John Avizienius was entitled: “Why big dairies are not necessarily bad” – although it is fair to say that he attracted the opprobrium of the ideologues at the RSPCA, who regard all large-scale farming as evil in principle.
All industries are looking for economies of scale, and this applies equally to the dairy industry.  If we want a successful agricultural sector in Britain, we have to let our farmers compete, or even more of our food will be imported.
Of course in talking to the company, I may have heard only one side of the story, and I remain open to the arguments of objectors.  But we have here a project which will invest £50 million in the local economy, and will employ 80 people full-time.  Lincolnshire – and Britain – needs jobs and investment.  So subject to all the usual caveats about planning and environmental standards, I believe that this proposal deserves careful and positive consideration.

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39 Responses to Nocton Dairies: Two sides to the question

  1. Geoff Hall says:

    My my, Roger… how easily led are you? If you are going to publish an article and comment on such an important farming issue as this, please please do your research first… and at least hear both sides of the argument before contributing. It does not give me much faith in the ability of our MEPs to fully consider the pros and cons of the agri-industrial units that may begin to dominate the UK countryside, if this intensive dairy is given the green light. As a start, you could begin by visiting the residents campaign site: and the local village blog

  2. paula west says:

    Why are you moderating non-abusive, non-threatening comments relating to the oppostion of Nocton Dairy? Is it simply because they are not in agreement with your own.

  3. paula west says:

    Thankyou, I see Mr Hall’s comments have returned, let’s be kind and put the initial vanishing of his comments down to a silly computer error.

    • Blog Editor says:

      The comments never vanished. When a coment is left it may appear to have been published by the person who has left it – but all comments on this blog go into a moderation queue and are therefore not seen by the public until they have been approved, something I know has been explained you in an email.

      No conspiracy theory, no vanishing, they have finally been approved. Of course the way blogs work is that sometimes whne you have your comments approved they then no longer have to go through the same procedure – although put several links in comments also flags it up for moderation.

      Given the thousands of spam comments aimed at blogs such as this I am sure you can appreciate the need for such a process and put down your initial comment due to an eagerness to see them published.

      • paula west says:

        I hope Roger is just as ‘eager’ to consider the wide spread public disgust of Nocton Dairies proposal.

  4. sue says:

    Well Roger as your title says,I am going to give you some straight talking!! You might have stood on Nocton Heath on a balmy evening with the members of the consortium persuading you with their distorted facts and figures (which conveniently change depending on who they are talking to)listening to the birds twittering and the bees buzzing. Imagine a scene in a years time with the smell of 10,000 cows (8100 plus those waiting to go to the dairy), the overflowing slurry lagoons (the bio-digesters will not be built for 2 years – or did you miss that comment), the flies swarming around, the lorries taking short cuts through our villages because it’s cheaper and let’s face it there will be no-one to police what they are doing, people’s health suffering because of the chemicals used on the slurry and polluted water…..and where will you be – oh yes on the Brussels gravy train – you surely won’t be sitting in my back garden – oh sorry nor will I!!! This is not about ‘not in my back yard’. Wake up and smell the coffee (or slurry would be more appropriate) – like you these people aren’t even going to live hear their ‘experiment’ apart from Mr Howard who now appears to be an expert in dairy farming depsite having a previous career in the financial sector! You have been easily taken in. We’ve listened to Willes, been laughed at by Barnes and Mr Howard said ‘bollocks’ over a comment a member of the public made at a meeting for the communities. Very savoury characters – this is a money making operation pure and simple – oh yes and 80 jobs locally is far off the mark – Willes admitted most of these jobs would not be local as there is very little dairy farming expertise in Lincolnshire and didn’t deny that foreign workers would be employed. I think YOU need to get your facts straight,

    Oh, yes and please live up to the word ‘freedom’ on you slogan and leave my comment on your website, unlike poor Geoff!

    • Blog Editor says:

      Sue I refer you to the answer about comment moderation I gave earlier in this thread.

      Geoffs comment was never published, deleted and then republished. All comments have to be manually approved in order to stop spam appearing. Moderation does not take place 24hrs a day so your patience is appreciated.

    • Thanks Sue. I understand that the bio-digesters will be built to start with, and I would hope that will be a condition of planning consent. As for short cuts, check the map — they’d in fact be the long way round. No need for trucks to come south of the B1190

      • Julie says:

        Suggest you try entering the details into your SatNav – where will the lorries go when heading to the cattle markets, etc – right through local villages.

  5. paula west says:

    You seem a most polite and convivial editor so could I ask a small favour. I note Roger comments on Nocton Dairies using the American ‘best practice’caffo’s as the benchmark for the proposed development, but try as I might I can find no such places. I have tried putting all sorts of configureations into google, but all I seem to get back are accredited scientists outlining the enviromental disaster these units have had on American society. So if I could have the gold award winning, 10,000 plus indoor housed cattle, using a non illegal workforce, non water polluting, within 2 miles of an occupied home farm website I would be most grateful.

  6. paula west says:

    P.S please pass on my sympathy to Roger regarding his wind problem, I agree it can render one ‘hopping mad’.

  7. Julie says:

    I tell you what Mr Velmer, why don’t you pop yourself back to Lincolnshire and hold a meeting with the locals – then you can hear the other side of the argument. None of us knew you had been here – why is that?
    Also, can I point out that no-one has ever asked the consumer whether they want cheap milk. I, for one, don’t. This is a myth perpetrated by NoctonDairies – the supermarkets seem to want cheap milk. It is they who hold all the cards, not the consumer.

    • Consumers will always tell you that they’d pay a little more for a T-shirt made in the UK by British workers, rather than one made by poorly-paid workers in third-world conditions. But put them in Primark, and they’ll buy it because it’s cheap. Just like those who say they’d support a penny on income tax for health or education. But they’ll actually vote for lower taxes (and rightly so).

      • Julie says:

        Well, this consumer is telling you that she’s never set foot in Primary & nor will she. Also, I’d happily pay more tax for the benefit of health & education.
        “Consumers” seem to tell you a lot, Mr Helmer – when do they get chance to talk to you?
        You cannot keep throwing cheap commodities at us and telling us this is what we want.
        A lot of us don’t.
        By the way, I gather even Primark are now trying to improve their image regarding working conditions. Public pressure does make a difference, you know.

      • Julie says:

        Sorry, a bit quick to submit my comment – I notice you only replied to half of my comment. No mention of a public debate about Nocton Dairies then.
        What a surprise!

  8. paula west says:

    sorry to be a pain but if you have had any luck with getting me the name of the ‘best practice’ farm you referred to I would be most grateful. I understand Nocton Dairies have now employed a rather high profile P.R company so perhaps if you have no luck with your farming freinds they may be helpful. Hope you are well and brussel’s isn’t exacerbating the wind dilemma.
    Kindest regards from one of your most recent-and hopefully keenest followers.
    Paula West.

    P.S. I am having a few problems with emails so if you could post any reply’s on this blog It would be a great help.

  9. paula west says:

    Thought the name of the person handling Nocton Dairies PR may help, though I hope the fact oxtale public relations pride themselves on representing wind farms won’t cause conflict. Amy Jackson-managing director- is the one you need to speak to.
    Good luck with finding that dashed allusive ‘best practice’ American confined dairy operative. I don’t know talk about hiding your light under a bushel, when I passed my cycling profficiency test I shouted it from the rooftops, and here are these beacons of the dairy industry not even having a blooming website.

  10. paula west says:

    Off work today so I am all yours. I have walked the dog and am now back at my desk. I must seem like a terrible worry wart, but Roger only seemed to have time to reply to one of the comments posted on this blog, I do hope things are o.k in Brussels. Further to the reply he left for Sue I think if you read Andrew Wasley’s article in the ecologist Mr Willes has stipulated that without tax payer funding, waste removal could revolve around lorry based movement and spreading of untreated slurry. I doubt this activity would take place on the B1190

  11. paula west says:

    Have just been reading some sweet tweets by Amy Jackson (oxtale), her lovely husband seemingly served her organic eggs from her own chicks. Aaaah, I hope they will taste as yummy when accompanied by peter’s factory farmed frothy milk. Yum Yum Amy.
    You really must try and contact her Roger, if she as super lovely as her tweets would suggest I am sure she would be thrilled to help with our problem of finding the American Dairy Peter Willes referred too.

  12. paula west says:

    I feel so at home on this blog Roger, chatting away to myself, so much so I have popped you on as my screen saver. You must let me know where things are with Peter, David and Robert. Do you all keep in touch? Or was it one of those brief encounters that end almost as soon as they begin? I understand the new planning application is imminent so if you want to hear both sides you really should get over to Nocton to meet local residents ASAP. I am more than happy to find accomodation/pop in a pie or organise transport (the buses are not very frequent). Let me know when you will be arriving.
    Best wishes Paula.

  13. paula west says:

    Gosh, that took longer than expected, but the spare room is now shipshape, tiptop and ready for guests. Now I realise from your upset over the News of The World going public about your penchant for a scallop supper, that expenditure is a key issue, and heavens to Betsy anyone would use dirty tactics to stop your visit to Nocton, so I have taken matters into my own hands and decided you can stay here for free. My sister has kindly offered her caravan (a rather super contessa) but I am sure you will be more than comfortable here. Now I would like to know as soon as poss when you are coming, as the kitchen bonkette needs more than just a wipe over with a J cloth, in fact I will have to give the whole place a good bottoming, believe me the lounge tumpty is well past its best.
    I am feeling quite continental corresponding with our man in Brussels, and got rather giddy in the coop, no bangers for us…for tonight the west’s shall be dining on chorizo. Speak soon

  14. paula west says:

    Mmm, I’m not sure, it looked o.k but the juices made the onion gravy a funny colour. Anyhoo enough of chorizo and back to the new european West’s. The teenage son can now order his copy of nuts magazine in 3 languages..noix s’il vous plait. Watch out Roger at this rate I will be after your seat, well you have made it clear you don’t want to be in europe, and I am getting quite a taste for it. Now back to the dairy, have Amy or Peter managed to get back to you yet regardez the outstanding ‘best practice’ American unit? I can’t believe they didn’t have loads of piccies to show after their trip, even if it was only Robert in his speedo’s. Oh well I’m sure you will here back soon. Looking forward to welcoming you to our home.
    Au revoir Paula. (did you know in Italian my name is poala).

  15. Bored says:

    Crikey…. Seven comments in a row from one person. Some people would suggest there is an obsessive on your blog Mr Helmer. I have lost the will to read their rantings. Sounds like another Nimby though. Happy for others to have something in their back yard but too selfish to have it in their as it might upset the Pimms parties.

  16. Odile Travers says:

    Does Mr Helmer realise that all the research carried out in the United State shows an impoverishment of the area once a CAFO has been built. Please Mr Helmer, dig a little deeper.

  17. So,at last, the new Nocton Dairies PR spin machine swings somewhat creakily into action by getting an amazingly gullible MEP to read from their crib sheet. This at least is an improvement on the previous PR efforts of Mr Willes who memorably described this factory dairy as a “Five Star Hotel” whilst asserting that “Cows do not live in fields”.My current favourite is his description of the miserable, poached gaps between his sheds as “loafing areas” for cows (very pipe and slippers that one!)
    However you present this scheme the facts remain the same. It is a battery farm placed far too close to local villages which will adversely affect the environment with toxic fumes,smells,flies,traffic,noise,light pollution and,worst of all,risks damaging the public water supply. An added irony is now we learn that the tax payer may well be asked to contribute towards this factory.
    We rely on our public representatives to give factual information,not to fall victim to spin.

  18. Sue says:

    Well…have things changed all of a sudden or are you being told what you want to hear? You might ‘understand’ that the bio-digesters will be built at the beginning but at a public meeting Willes made it clear they wouldn’t be. The reason being that there would not be enough cows initially and the bio-digesters need a certain amount of s**t to work!! (Excuse my lack of technical vocabulary but like Mr Howard I am not a dairy farmer). We therefore seem to be receiving entirely different information which goes back to my comment about unsavoury (and untrustworthy) characters!! This development was a PR disaster from the start and your friend Mr Howard (nice photo, by the way, of him looking very ‘farmer-Giles like’ accompanying your well-written pro Nocton Dairy PR letter in the Lincoln Echo dated 25th September) is the biggest PR disaster of the lot. His arrogant manner, along with that of Barnes, does not give me a warm glow!! This is about TRUST as (as Willes so succinctly put it) this is an ‘experiment’. For an intelligent man like yourself, I am surprised at your naivety – I would have expected at least a call for a public enquiry and a meeting with the local people to really ascertain their feelings on this matter (where do you live by the way – I would hazard a guess that it is not within 8 miles of Nocton Heath!!!)Your seeming support for this money-making venture makes me feel distinctly queasy especially as you are syupposed to be our EU representative- why all of a sudden? This has been going on for months. Why start the PR process just before the application is re-submitted?

    My opinion of British MPs is low and as for MEPs – well we are now in negative numbers. So I say again – hold a local meeting yourself – go on be brave and see for yourself what we think – we are not a bunch of ‘antis’ as Willes degradingly calls us but represent an enormous cross-section of the community that you should be representing. So instead of cosying up to big business dig out the truth – it may be a lot murkier than you think.

    Oh, and in answer to your second response to my first e-mail, maybe you would also like to do a traffic survey of HGV lorries that travel through Nocton who constantly take short cuts – I was not talking about the plans, Roger – we all know what those are – I am talking about what happens in practise. I am afraid it is you who is being naive. Your faith in this venture and this consortium is astonishing – my question to you is why?

  19. Julie says:

    How interesting that there isn’t a single comment in favour of this monstrosity. I wonder how you’re going to manage to “spin” that back in your favour.
    You must rue the day that you ever got involved with Messrs Willes, Barnes & Howard – until then, you’d gone about your business unnoticed in these parts.
    Not now though, eh?
    When are you next up for election by the way?

  20. paula west says:

    Roger, could you please update your diary, at the moment it only shows your whereabouts up to march. I would like to know when you visited Nocton, if this was a private or public funded trip, and also where you were representing us in july.

  21. Martyn Long says:

    I am appaled at your ignorance. If you knew anything about dairy farming you would oppose this kind of factory farming. This is a Concentration camp for cows.

    I speak as a retiured Dairy Farmer . Ask questions of some who know how you should look after cows.

    Martyn Long
    Septemebr 26th

    • paula west says:

      If Roger asked questions of someone who knew the industry – but was not in line to make a fast buck on the back of this factory – he would not be towing the Nocton Dairy PR party line. Every response from Mr Helmer is from the same script given to all the profiteers of this disgrace.
      The so called fact finding mission to the USA consisted of how to combat bad PR, how to all say the same reply to media/public concerns, and how to manage a campaign whatever the public concerns are.

    • paula west says:

      Also Martyn could I point out the ‘CONSTITUENT’ Mr helmer was contacted by to discuss his help in backing the factory is NOT and has never been a dairy farmer. In fact to qoute the man himself, ‘I know nothing about cows’. The people behind the proposal are from Devon and Lancashire, Mr Howard, when asked if he will be part of the board, merely put his head down rocked from side to side and groaned ‘god no’,so much for local representation.

    • Lord Wiggin says:

      Interesting anology “concentration camp”. A well known lawyer in Switzerland has had his house set on fire for daring to suggest cows could be kept in better conditions than thsoe offer by dairy factories. I am sure though such behaviour would not occure to Peter Willes and co?

  22. Three points:

    1 I very much resent the suggestion that my job is to represent the Nocton protesters, and that I am failing to do so. My job is to represent the people of the East Midlands, all 4.2 million of them, and to be concerned for the interests of my country. I have weighed the local impacts (which I think protesters have exaggerated) against the broader interests of the local economy and the national economy, and I conclude that on balance the project deserves consideration.

    2 “If I had asked someone who knew the industry”. I have now talked to four smaller-scale dairy farmers, from different counties, expecting them to oppose very large units (if only for the competition they create). But they were universally in favour, insisting that this is the only way that the industry can compete in future, and that welfare standards on these large units, with 24 hour vet cover, is substantially better than in smaller units.

    3 There are complaints that I have failed to talk to local people. But as soon as I received an invitation to do so, I accepted it. I’ll bring my tin hat.

  23. Lord Wiggin says:

    Really interesting reading. I have not carried out any research, at least no published, but have 1st hand experience of “organic” and “conventional” dairy farms here in Switzerland. The organic cows have horns, better digestion, all year freedom and lots of winter hair, calves?, a bull to play with and our horses for company. The poor conventionally kept milk maschines limp, cry, bleed, have constant digestive problems resulting in excess methane, are fixed in place with neck and tail ropes, die giving birth in the milking stall and and and. On the rare ocassions they make it into egh sunshine the gamble like foals but have no stamina to play out for long. But it is not the ignorant “farmer” fault. It is ours for buying the crap. I am ashamed

  24. jonathan Bray says:

    Dear Mr Helmer,You have not written much on animal welfare with regard to the cows. All animals suffer from stress; can you imagine being confined indoors with 800 people and then imagine that you really do not get on with even a small percentage of those people. Cows like all forms of life also have a right(if they could defend it)to basic life resources ie fresh air. We ask enough from these animals already we should not squeeze them any further.

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