Will Tizzard grew up on his family farm near Sherborne in Dorset. “We’ve been dairy farming for as long as I can remember,” he says, “I grew up around cows and around farming.”
Though Will’s father, Mike, is still involved in the day-to-day running of the business, Will, now 27, is starting to take a lead. “I think my granddad started milking a few cows behind the pub, so you could argue I’m a third-generation dairy farmer,” he says.
From these small beginnings almost 80 years ago, the family now has 600 organic cows on their 220-hectare farm in Lillington, Dorset. They are one of McDonald’s trusted milk producers, supplying milk through the dairy cooperative Arla. Since 2014, the Tizzards have also been part of McDonald’s Flagship Farmers Programme – which aims to promote economic resilience, raise animal welfare standards and encourage environmental improvements through the sharing of sustainable practices with other farmers in McDonald’s supplier network.
Will Tizzard is just one of the 23,000 British and Irish farmers that McDonald’s works with to source quality ingredients. McDonald’s sources the majority of the potatoes for its fries from over 110 British growers. And semi-skimmed, organic milk from UK farms is used in every tea, coffee and Happy Meal milk bottle sold in restaurants up and down the country.
The kind of partnership that the Tizzards have cultivated with McDonald’s has been “particularly good” for organic farmers like him, Will says. Suppliers are paid a good price for quality ingredients, allowing them to invest in the future of their farm. Specific schemes, such as the Dairy Investment Fund, have also been set up to support farmers with funding to improve animal health and welfare, and to reduce the carbon footprint of organic milk production. This work, in association with Arla and McDonald’s Organic Dairy Farmer Network, received a Judges’ Special Award at the industry’s Cream Awards in 2019.
“As well as being paid for our milk,” says Will, “we’ve been awarded grant money by McDonald’s as part of an animal welfare project, allowing us to buy things like foot trimming and bedding equipment, which is super-useful in keeping the cows comfortable when they need to come indoors when it is wet and cold in the winter.”
The symbiotic relationship with McDonald’s has also given the Tizzards access to a valuable network. This year McDonald’s and Arla have supported the 65 famers who are part of the Organic Dairy Farmer Network to continue to meet organic standards. This included making additional improvements on soil health, biodiversity and carbon emissions.
“That’s been a really good thing – seeing other farmers, looking at what other people are doing and sharing best practice,” he says. “Sustainability is a huge part of the industry and of what we do right now… It’s really come to the forefront.”
The Tizzards’ Farm, like many McDonald’s suppliers, has implemented various measures to reduce its environmental impacts and contribute to achieving net zero targets. Will is keen to share his expertise. As dairy farming has come under scrutiny, he says, “it’s really important to show the positive things that farmers are doing. For us, we’ve got really ambitious targets to reduce the carbon footprint of the farm. We’ve got a whole list of different things we’re putting into practice.”
The National Farmers’ Union’s goal is to achieve net zero by 2040, which is in line with McDonald’s own targets across the UK business, as part of its Plan for Change, the business’s sustainability plan. Will adds that the farm is working to enhance the efficiency of its herd by improving the health and longevity of the cows, as well as ensuring feed for cows is higher quality, more protein-efficient, and sustainable.
Homegrown crops are key to the sustainability of feed. “We grow quite a lot of high-protein legumes,” Will continues, “which serves a double function – reducing the need for importing feed as well as being good for both the cows and the soils. We’re looking a lot at our soil quality as well as our contribution to biodiversity by increasing our woodland hedges, installing flower margins, and trying to work out how much carbon we’re capturing on the farm.” This is key for wild birds and pollinators to feed on, and enables biodiversity to thrive.
As well as exchanging ideas and sharing with the farming community, Will’s farm is also open to the general public every year as part of the nationwide event Open Farm Sundays. This gives the Tizzards the chance to showcase their work to the local community and anyone with an interest in seeing modern, British, organic agriculture first-hand. In addition, Will regularly hosts visitors, from local primary school children to college students and McDonald’s employees, enabling them to learn about sustainable agriculture and delve into the workings of the supply chain, from farm to front counter .
Despite the difficult economic climate, and the changes in the sector, the future looks bright for organic dairy farming, Will says. The increasing push for biodiversity, resilience and environmental sustainability leaves him optimistic. Meanwhile, organic and sustainable agriculture have a huge part to play in achieving net zero, as well as boosting animal welfare standards and maintaining the high quality of domestically sourced ingredients.
Continuing to work with McDonald’s to research, invest in and implement sustainable farming will be instrumental for the Tizzards in ensuring they can continue to produce high-quality dairy.
“It’s great seeing big businesses like McDonald’s leading the way on that,” he adds – “because it sets a really high standard for the whole industry.”