Quality milk production

Project director: Rodics Gergely
Pictures © Barbara Knowles and Rodics Gergely

Milk provides over 90% of cash income for many village families in Transylvania. Their livelihoods are threatened by EU regulations and low milk prices. Many farmers are selling their cows and young people are leaving the villages.

If too many families sell their cows, the entire landscape and ecology of the area is also at risk. There is much we should learn from the sustainable system of traditional farming and forestry which has supported the people and ecology of this area for hundreds of years. The patchwork of hay meadows and pastures which are so characteristic of this area, and which support its rich biodiversity and ecotourism potential, rely on cows farmed on a small scale in the traditional manner.

We have several initiatives to help small-scale farming families and communities to add value to milk and milk products, providing practical support for the rural economy.
We are working in two regions:
•    Pogány-havas region (Gyimes and Csik, Eastern Carpathians) (2008 onwards).
•    Tarvana Mare, southern Transylvania (2008-2009), directed by Nat Page, Adept Foundation

1. Encouraging and supporting village farmers with cows to establish farmers’ associations that can manage milk collection, storage, cooling, microbiological and quality testing; bargain better prices with processing companies; and comply with EU regulations. An advantage is that the equipment is owned by the farmers (the association), not the milk companies. This lets the farmers measure and control the quality of their milk, ensuring that one farmer with a sick cow or another who waters down his milk don’t contaminate the supply and reduce its value for everyone.

2. Training farmers and families to make mature cheese. The traditional cheeses here aren’t matured and must be sold and eaten quickly. Mature cheeses are more profitable and practical.

3. Organising study tours for farmers to share ideas and make contacts.

We gained support from an encouraging number of farmers and the mayors of several villages to build milk collection points and seek funding at county level for the equipment.

In Delne, the first village to open its own collection point, the villagers achieved in 2008 more than double the price for milk than before the association was active. The quality of the milk improved significantly. In 2009, low milk prices resurfaced, not only here but across Europe. This issue is not a simple one. But the milk unit now sells directly to consumers in town at a good price from a special vending machine.
In 2009 we helped to create five new milk collection points (three in the Pogány-havas region, two in Tarvana Mare), have supplied equipment to allow monitoring and improvement of milk quality in compliance with new hygiene regulations, and organised cheese making and milk hygiene courses for farmers. Our pilot project in Tarvana Mare led to a successful grant application to Innovation Norway to open eight new milk collection points.
Our cheese making training courses are very popular, as are cheese tastings. A measure of our success is that the County Council began to support cheese making courses and that the monthly farmers market now features many cheeses from our trainees.

Some villages have opened food units where larger quantities of cheese can be made from local milk.

© Barbara Knowles 2010