A better financial return for their high quality milk is being sought by a group of dairy farmers with the support of the Supply Chain Development programme.

Administered by Countryside Services, the programme will help these producers identify niche products with the potential to boost farmgate milk prices. Using this rural development support funding the farmers and their processor initially aim to assess markets for products such as Triple Cream Brie, USA Style Cream Cheese and Premium Cheddar Truckles.

The Tullyvalley Cream Products group consists of William Graham, Drumgoon Manor, Maguiresbridge, fellow Fermanagh milkman Leslie O'Malley of Brookeborough, Richard Fulton, Seskinore and Richard Pollock, Ballymoney along with Maimie Hamilton, Farm Liaison Officer at Fivemiletown Creamery.

All four producers are suppliers of this highly successful producer owned and controlled co-op selling 95% of output outside NI. Once a market with a premium margin has been identified by Tullyvalley Cream Products it will be produced and taken to market through Fivemiletown Creamery.

"All four of us have long been breeding and feeding to produce milk high in protein and butterfat with low SCC, "William Graham explained.

"However, to get the return on this on-going investment we need to both develop new products and get closer to the end user. A costly operation, but by coming together in a Supply Chain Development group we access expertise and dramatically reduce the risks involved in getting quality dairy products profitably onto shelves in premium outlets.

"Working with Martin Reel at Countryside Services Ltd, we formed Tullyvalley Cream Products using the professional expertise of Omagh based mentor Jody Wilson from Matrix Business Services.

"Now that the application he helped prepare to join the Supply Chain Development Programme has been successful, Jody will be the group facilitator. This role involves investigating the market and likely return for high end dairy products manufactured in Fivemiletown using our high quality milk." Commenting, Maimie Hamilton Farm Liaison Officer at Fivemiletown Creamery said that, "Fivemiletown creamery is delighted to be working alongside this group of farmers with the support of the Supply Chain Development Programme to help them develop additional niche dairy products.

"The Creamery has been making premium dairy products with high quality milk for over 100 years and is always looking for new and innovative products that will not only be attractive to the consumer, but will also add value to milk. This project is a perfect match for both the farmer suppliers and the processor." Aside from having the paid professional services of a mentor and facilitator for 50 days, groups in the Supply Chain Development programme can receive funding for training as well as business tools such as web based promotion. Part funding is also offered for other expenditure such as study tours, legal advice, drafting contracts and production protocols.

Commenting, Tullyvalley Cream Products facilitator Jody Wilson revealed that within two years the group aim to have developed at least two branded premium products and taken them to market via a formal supply chain aided by the expertise within Fivemiletown Creamery "These producers are closely linked to Fivemiletown Creamery, one of the most innovative and profitable milk processors in the British Isles. I have no doubt their initiative in forming Tullyvalley Cream Products will boost their milk margins and bring forward new niche products for this co-operative creamery in Fivemiletown.

"In today's dairy business standing still either side of the farm gate is not an option. The only way forward is on-going innovation, be it better herd management or bringing a premium product to UK mainland retailers ranging from quirky one-off delis to stores such as Harrods and Waitrose.

For Martin Reel at UFU owned Countryside Services the new group is another example of how farmers are helping to help themselves to extra income via the Supply Chain Development Programme.

"Over 30 such groups have been established with many already taking rural businesses forward by building better links to better markets and better margins. Products ranging from vegetables to wild venison have been taken down the supply chain closer to the consumer thus bringing more money back into our vital rural economy." For free advice on how the Supply Chain Development programme can help the bottom line of your rural business ph; (028) 8778 9130, e mail supplychain@countrysiderural.co.uk, or visit www.countrysiderural.co.uk