DAIRY, DERBYSHIRE: Rob is the third generation of his family to farm their 320-acre (130 hectare) farm in the Peak District National Park. His grandfather started it as a poultry farm, then his father added a dairy unit in 1952. In 1978 Rob's father decided to concentrate just on dairy.
Rob joined his dad on the farm in 1990, having studied agriculture at college and done dairy farming placements in France, New Zealand and elsewhere in the UK. He decided to cross the farm's pedigree Holstein cows with New Zealand Jerseys, to produce a high-quality milk that was high in fat and protein and could therefore command a good price. He sells it in bulk to Arla, a farmer-owned cooperative.
Another advantage of the crossbred cows is that they are highly fertile, so can be calved in one go in early spring, which makes the best use of the farm's grass.
Rob now has a herd of 280 cows. They are reared on pasture all year round except between end of November and late February when the ground is too wet, so the cattle are kept indoors and fed silage that's contract-grown on a neighbouring farm.
The pasture's nutritional content is boosted by sowing it with herbal leys (clovers, herbs and grasses), which means fewer chemical fertilisers are needed. The cows are grazed rotationally to preserve the structure of the soil and enhance biodiversity.
Rob also supports wildlife in other ways, such as erecting owl and kestrel boxes, and planting native-species trees. He's also established a hay meadow which is a blaze of colour in summer and is home to endangered birds such as lapwings and curlews.
In 2013, Rob won a Nuffield fellowship which took him to France, Netherlands, USA, Canada, New Zealand, and UK in search of ideas to improve the sustainability of pasture-based dairying, with a focus on reducing artificial inputs.
Contrary to what's often conveyed in the press, Rob believes cattle are actually beneficial to the climate (see Talking Point below). "Cows are highly sustainable as they can survive purely on grass, without fossil fuels, and convert that into nutrient rich milk and meat, while at the same time preserving the land's rich biodiversity," says Rob.
"Cows and their products are frequently portrayed as being bad for the planet, yet this is so far from the truth. While cows do emit methane, this is part of a biological cycle.
Plants grow using photosynthesis, the most powerful carbon sequestration process on the planet, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turning it into various carbohydrates. A grazing cow produces gases as it breaks down plant materials in its unique digestive system. The resultant gases return to the atmosphere, including the much maligned methane which breaks down into carbon dioxide and water, where they continue in the cycle, to be reabsorbed by new plants. So a cow can spend its entire life at pasture, just like deer for example, with no assistance or inputs from humans. And this is often compared to driving and flying, with all the associated fossil fuel emissions, let alone the associated infrastructures. Have you ever seen a cow in a filling station? The incomplete science will catch up and prove (to those that cannot see the obvious) that cows are not contributing to global warming. Their ability to restore life and carbon in depleted soils actually makes them part of the solution.
The current method of carbon footprinting attributes a higher footprint for a litre of cows milk compared to a litre of plant juice. This is false because the cycled methane should not be counted, as opposed to gases released from fossil fuel activities which are cumulative. But even if you use this method, because cows milk is more nutritious than plant juice, the carbon footprint is lower to achieve the same level of nutrition.
And then there is leather, which is renewable, biodegradable and microplastic free.
Focusing on cows distracts from the real issues contributing to climate change, and so this view, and the actions that precipitate from it, is actually damaging to the planet."
Member, and regional milk rep, of National Farmers Union; member Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF); NFU Mutual county board member; co-owner and elected rep of Arla.
Local and national radio, press, national TV.