From the beginning of 2021, all 4,300 Valio dairy farms commit to Valio’s sustainability criteria. Every dairy farm supplying milk to Valio is now paid a sustainability bonus of two cents per litre. In order to receive the bonus, the farm must practice preventive animal healthcare and systematic monitoring of animal welfare.
Since 2018 Valio has paid a sustainability bonus to those dairy farms committed to taking voluntary actions to improve animal welfare. About 98 per cent of the milk Valio received in 2020 came from farms receiving a sustainability bonus. Since the beginning of 2021, all dairy farms supplying milk to Valio meet the sustainability criteria.
“Dairy farms have persistently worked to improve animal welfare. Three years ago we set a target of all Valio dairy farms committing to the actions required for the sustainability bonus by the beginning of 2021 to improve animal welfare. We have now reached our target,” says Ilkka Pohjamo, SVP, primary production at Valio.
The sustainability programme requires farms to take measures to improve the welfare of cows beyond what is required by the Animal Welfare Act. A veterinarian makes a healthcare visit to the farm at least once a year to assess the animal welfare and practices at the farm, and to set goals for the farm for the upcoming year. The goals and corrective measures are recorded in Naseva, the Centralised Health Care Register for Finnish Cattle Herds. Other requirements for receiving the sustainability bonus include regular hoof treatment, and the use of anaesthetics, sedation and pain relief during disbudding, i.e. the removal of a calf’s horn buds. The sustainability criteria also require that any new barns built at the dairy farm must be freestall barns, which allow the cows to move about freely.
“Animal welfare is a prerequisite for our business – both ethically and from the perspective of financial profitability. Cows that are well cared for are healthier and more productive, and they produce high-quality milk,” says Pohjamo.
Dairy farmers own Valio through cooperatives. Milk producers are pleased that all farms are now part of the shared sustainability programme.
“Taking care of animal welfare is the most important thing and a matter of course for us dairy farmers. With the sustainability programme, all farms are now on a more level playing field with each other with everyone committed to the common way of operating and to an independent, impartial veterinarian continuously monitoring the welfare of cows and reporting the results to Naseva,” notes Kati Montonen, a milk producer from Pertunmaa, Southern Finland. The Montonens have invested in giving cows daily, year-round outdoor access and in the gentle weaning of calves.
Development of Valio’s sustainability programme continues
Developing the sustainability of milk production is an ongoing and goal-oriented effort at Valio. Along with animal welfare, the core of the sustainability programme development includes zeroing carbon emissions from milk production.
“Going forward, our focus will be on increasing grazing and year-round outdoor activity. Currently, grazing of one or more animal groups occurs at some 70 per cent of farms. We will also continue efforts to reduce climate emissions from milk production with many farm-specific measures, like carbon farming and biogas production from cattle manure. The measures to be taken at Valio’s dairy farms will have a big impact on the sustainability of Finland’s milk production; about 80 per cent of Finnish milk is produced at Valio’s dairy farms. That’s why our efforts are so impactful,” says Pohjamo.