Organic dairy co-op Omsco celebrates 25th anniversary

The co-op saluted the success of its international partnerships and set out its future strategy for sustainable food production

Omsco, the UK’s largest farmer-owned and run organic dairy co-operative, marked 25 years at its annual conference last week.

The celebration welcomed a record number of members and key business partners from around the world, reflecting on the past quarter-century and looking ahead to future market opportunities.

“We started with just five farmers selling liquid milk to three large customers in 1994,” said chair Nicholas Saphir. “Twenty-five years on we have 250 members, producing over 50% of the country’s organic milk supply and are exporting added-value organic dairy products and specialist ingredients globally.

“It’s a complex business, balancing sales across these markets and products. Going forward into the next 25 years, our future success and returns to members will be determined by finding new markets for all of our milk constituents.”

Members were told that strategic supply chain partnerships are key to this strategy. Representatives from Organic Valley co-op in the US and dairy business Bellamy’s in Australia discussed future markets for added value products they had made in partnership with Omsco.

The company’s joint membership with Organic Valley, the world’s largest organic milk pool, has opened a significant export market for butterfats, with initial orders establishing Omsco as the UK’s biggest exporter of butterfats to the US, and solid growth in organic demand offering long term growth prospects.

Also present were Wyke Farms, with whom the co-op partners to make USDA certified, award-winning organic cheese from its milk. Together they supply 75% of the UK’s organic cheddar sales and 10% of the UK’s cheddar exports to the States.

“We’re dedicated to ensuring the best possible return for our members, and it is through forming meaningful, international partnerships that we’re able to achieve this,” added Mr Saphir.

Looking to the future, Omsco said it would focus on animal health and welfare, reduced antibiotic use and promoting self-sufficiency in feed.

Henry Dimbleby, non-executive director of Defra who is leading the development of a National Food Strategy, recognised Omsco and its members as paving the way in sustainable farming and food production.

“The future success of the UK food and farming industry is vital for the UK economy, and to secure this we need to build a resilient food system,” he said.

“Omsco farmers have been at the forefront of sustainable farming from an environmental perspective, through their continued efforts to protect soils, retain carbon and restore biodiversity.”

Paying further tribute to the relationships formed over the last 25 years, Omsco honoured Yeo Valley with an award in recognition of their longstanding and ongoing partnership, which sees the two businesses selling more organic dairy than anyone else in the UK.