Neil Darwent Founder – The Free Range Dairy Network
Since graduating from Harper Adams Agricultural College in 1986, Neil has run a number of diverse dairy farming businesses in the UK.
In 1998 he was awarded a Nuffield Farming Scholarship and travelled to both Australia and the USA, where he explored how dairy farm businesses attempted to achieve economies of scale and looked at the challenges of managing large dairy herds.
The journey Neil has taken in milking and managing dairy herds has led him to question the benefits of a relentless pursuit of higher volumes of milk from cows and farms. He is acutely aware of the pressure on dairy farmers to adopt increasing intensification, fuelled by those selling science and technology and he has witnessed at first hand, the damage caused by the growing industrialisation of milk production amongst UK herds. He firmly believes that the adoption of robust dairy breeds and improved grassland management, offers farmers the opportunity to develop a sustainable farming system and create real value in milk.
Neil is founder and director of The Free Range Dairy Network, a Community Interest Company (CIC) established in 2014 that works to promote traditional family farms, where cows are free to graze in fields. Farmers supplying the milk are required to graze their cows for a minimum of 180 days and nights a year. The company seeks to win recognition for a clearly defined system of ‘free range’ milk production that rewards farmers for keeping cows in fields, by promoting milk sold under the Pasture Promise label.
In May 2014 Neil was voted BBC Food & Farming Awards Outstanding Farmer of the Year. Today he divides his time between running Free Range Dairy and managing farms in Somerset.