Synlait’s Lead with Pride programme offers its suppliers financial and personal incentives. Anne Lee spoke with national milk supply manager David Williams to find out more.

By the end of this year Synlait expects about 70% of its suppliers will be certified in its Lead with Pride programme which it launched eight years ago.

The company has two tiers of the programme – Gold Plus and Gold Elite.

Working towards attaining Gold Plus status within three years is now a requirement of any new suppliers.

Each tier offers several incentive payments for specific actions or meeting specific criteria with up to 25c/kg milksolids (MS) available for Gold Elite and up to 20c/kg MS available for Gold Plus.

To gain certification, farms must achieve more than 85 points in the certification process covering four pillars – environment, animal health and welfare, social responsibility and milk quality.

Synlait national milk supply manager David Williams says the programme was developed as a way to show farmer suppliers the pathway to achieving best practice goals within its four pillars.

“We (Synlait) had been a dairy farmer ourselves almost up until that time and we knew the efficiencies you could get out of doing things right in those four areas.

“At the same time, there were people doing good things without getting recognition.”

David says the company wanted people to stop being so focused on getting over the compliance line and start thinking about best practice.

“Once you get into that mindset then compliance happens by default because you’ve lifted the bar enough and put resilience into your own system.”

David says that while a big part of Lead with Pride is about helping farmers be more efficient through best practice, there’s also an element of both “staying in the game” in terms of meeting increasing customer expectations and being able to return value.

“It creates opportunities for us – there is a value there and our vision is to extract more of that value.

“There are some things customers expect and our focus is very much on giving the customers what they need so they will pay more for what we are making.”

The company also offers special milk contracts. Synlait’s ability to isolate specific milk streams from the farm right through to a consumer product means it’s well set up to offer that to both customers and farmers.

David says Lead with Pride has made the Synlait team very connected behind the farmgate with its farmers.

There’s a lot of support such as one-on-one advice on the programme as well as training and workshops.

“The standard operating procedures (SOP’s) farmers develop really get them thinking about what the best possible way is for them to do a task and once it’s standardised, they’ll have people onfarm doing that task in a similar way so they’ll have consistency and that’s all going to bring good outcomes.

“Once farmers are certified, they’re telling us the process has ‘helped me’ in my farm operation.

“That’s why it’s been successful in getting uptake – sure there are incentives there but I think the ‘it helped me’ part – that’s important.”

‘Once farmers are certified, they’re telling us the process has ‘helped me’ in my farm operation. That’s why it’s been successful in getting uptake. Sure, there are incentives there but I think the ‘it helped me’ part – that’s important.’

There’s a lot of work in becoming certified with a slew of actions and tasks required from weighing calves, blood testing sample groups to ensure high-quality colostrum, having independent certification for effluent system warrant of fitness, having systems to prove staff stay above minimum wage, body condition scoring cows and having plans in place for minimising bobbies.

Annual audits are carried out by AsureQuality. However, the company also has visibility into what’s going on behind the farm gate through its FarmIQ system.

Synlait’s Farm IQ package has been developed specifically for it, providing farmers with a user-friendly system for recording information, plans, documents and evidence for audits.

It can also stop the dreaded double up for farmers of collecting and sharing data.

For instance, Lead with Pride doubles as an accredited farm environment plan for Canterbury’s regional council.

“We’re looking at what else we can do with the FarmIQ system now – how we can add even more value for farmers – things like benchmarking.”

It’s also a great way to tell a very good story through to customers, he says.

It’s unlikely consumers understand the details of what goes on behind the farm gate but be assured dairy company customers know – they make it their business to know to protect their brands and extract value too, he says.

There have been changes to the standards required in Lead with Pride over time.

David says the aim is to go through a consultation period and introduce changes early in the year so there’s time to discuss, finalise and give farmers a chance to start implementing them. For example, suggested changes this year have included minimum weights for calves sent off-farm and a more stringent requirement on irrigation system testing.

Changes come about for a variety of reasons – some come from farmers themselves, some from regulation changes such as the 190kg nitrogen cap and if existing requirements aren’t achieving the outcomes the company wants.

Synlait’s greenhouse gas tool and incentive payments have also been brought in this year. Initially, farmers were given information on where GHG emissions could be mitigated and asked to come up with their own plan for reductions as a way to get them thinking.

While the company has been giving suppliers their GHG emissions number since 2018, the new tool is about focusing on what they are doing and what they can be doing rather than just the number itself.

Nothing is compulsory in the toolbox of mitigations and farmers may be doing many of them already but each one is allocated points.

The incentive payment, up to 3c/kg MS, is based on where they sit in terms of points.

If the focus is solely on bringing down a number, people who are already efficient and made investments that mitigate GHG emissions can be penalised.

While methane reduction can be difficult, there are plenty of actions farmers can take now to lower their GHG footprint for other gases so there’s no reason to not get on with it, he says.

“There’s some robust discussions about some of it but that’s because some it (the actions) is a stretch.”

Building understanding is key and farmers themselves can be the best ones to come up with innovations once they understand the problem, he says.