£21 million digital dairy project to create 600 jobs

A digital dairy project aiming to create 600 new jobs in south-west Scotland and Cumbria has been awarded more than £21 million of funding.

Led by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), it is expected the Digital Dairy Value-Chain could generate an additional £60 million a year for the region which produces nearly two billion litres of milk a year.

Globally, the industry produces around 3% of greenhouse gases related to human activity. As well as helping to decarbonise the region’s dairy industry, the project will help to develop and retain a skilled and innovative workforce in the area to create new products and new ways of working.

These will be special to the region but also globally relevant in best practices and changing the perception of dairy as a high-value product.

Working with partners operating in the region, including the University of Strathclyde, the University of the West of Scotland, CENSIS, First Milk, Lactalis UK & Ireland, Kendal Nutricare, Cows & Co Group, National Milk Records and SmartSTEMS, the project will provide a platform for research and business innovation in advanced, sustainable, high-value production and processing.

The project team will work with the dairy industry to develop and implement technologies for sensing and data handling, as well as infrastructure to support innovation and growth for local businesses, nurturing young entrepreneurs and teaching and training of new skills and capabilities.

It will deliver advanced manufacturing processes to create a fully integrated and traceable supply chain as well as help businesses to develop new products and explore new markets.

At one end of the chain, farmers are increasingly able to monitor their cows and feeds, their environment and the milking process, while there are also possibilities for sensing and use of data in smart factories producing more and better dairy products.

After receiving £21.3 million from the UKRI Strength in Places fund, the project will be based at SRUC’s Barony campus near Dumfries, as well as at sites in Cumbria and across South-West Scotland.

Prof. Wayne Powell, principal and chief executive of SRUC, said: “This funding is wonderful news for the dairy industry in Cumbria and South-West Scotland, as well as for the renewal and decarbonisation of the industry as a whole.

“It will provide a world-class platform for business innovation in advanced, sustainable, high-value dairy production and processing. SRUC and our partners are excited to be moving to the next phase of this fantastic project.”

South of Scotland Enterprise (SOSE) is a partner in the project. Chair of the region’s economic and community development agency, Prof. Russel Griggs added: “SOSE is determined to work with our partners to help the South of Scotland maximise the economic opportunities available as we transition to net-zero, and this digital dairy project is a fantastic example of this collaborative approach.

“Dumfries and Galloway is often referred to as the heartland for dairy farming in Scotland, accounting for almost half of the country’s dairy herd. The investment through this initiative and 600 new jobs it aims to create are potentially game-changing for the industry.

“SOSE is delighted to be involved and look forward to continuing to work closely with our partners on this innovative project, with the aim of helping dairy farming become a sustainable and thriving industry.”

Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership (CLEP) chief executive Jo Lappin said: “The dairy industry is an important part of Cumbria’s economy and we are therefore delighted that SRUC has received £21 million to support the sector here and in South West Scotland.

“Digital Dairy Value-Chain will help to deliver more jobs in the sector, alongside stimulating research and innovation to support our farmers to develop their businesses. Importantly, it will also help to decarbonise the industry.”

‘A kick-start for the industry’

NFU Scotland’s dairy policy expert Stuart Martin, who manages the Scottish Dairy Hub signposting service, said the investment was welcome news not only for the region but to the entire industry in Scotland.

“[The] dairy sector in Scotland that has experienced a malaise in this type of forward-looking activity and investment in the past few years,” he said.

“Recent figures highlight the huge importance of the dairy sector to the rural economy in Scotland and those who milk cows are continually asked to play an increasing role in delivering efficiency on-farm and showing adaptability to climate change.

“So, it is, therefore, great to hear that ambitious projects like this will work with the primary producer and dairy supply chain in Scotland to the benefit for all.

“While we understand the benefits in a cross border initiative, it is very encouraging to see the project directly linking with so many dairy stakeholders who are based in Scotland.

“We hope this is a kickstart to further inward investment across the dairy sector in other regions of Scotland.”