Ladies and gentlemen, I cannot begin to tell you what an enormous pleasure it is to be here today, finally, to launch the Dairy Wagon. It has been a long wait for the last two years, since we had our original meeting. I see this as the second leg of my efforts, such as they are, to help the farmers of this remarkably special part of the country.
This morning I launched “Peak Choice”, which resulted from the visit I paid to the Manifold Valley some two years ago. That project is designed to help livestock farmers and I am delighted that our hosts today, Mr and Mrs Stone, are members of that new co-operative. But on that same day in February 2005, I also visited Beechenhill Farm and met two remarkable people, Sue and Terry Prince.
Amongst many other things, not least that Sue is a human dynamo, I learned of a project which she had been desperately trying to get off the ground to help the struggling dairy farmers of the area. When she told me about it, I thought the Dairy Wagon sounded ingenious and a wonderfully innovative idea. A mobile training unit to help dairy farmers learn new skills so that they could add value to the liquid milk they produce and increase the price they receive, perhaps by turning it into cheese, or making it into ice-cream and yoghurt.
As President of Business in the Community, I happened to bring with me on that visit a group of business leaders, in order to show them how they could perhaps help regenerate rural communities. Sue told me what she needed was help with the business plan so that the project could apply for the right sort of grants, and also a vehicle to tow this amazing piece of equipment, which had been brilliantly designed by Reaseheath College.
There were two people there that day to whom I owe a real debt of gratitude. Firstly, my secret weapon, Christine Larson, who runs the Rural Action Programme at Business in the Community. She worked hand in glove with Sue Prince to produce the business plan, which resulted in most generous support from the East Midlands Development Agency and the Derby and Derbyshire Economic Partnership. The second hero of the hour was the remarkable George Hassall of Land Rover. He fortunately immediately saw the point of what we were trying to do and generously donated a Land Rover to pull the Dairy Wagon.
Of course this initiative could not have happened without a considerable amount of support from the businesses who are represented here today, particularly The Co-operative Trust for generously funding the technician. I really am enormously grateful to each one of you for making this innovative idea a reality.
And so, after many years of struggle, but ceaseless determination by John Stone, Tina Bowler, Angus Dalton - who sadly is unable to be with us today - Sue Prince and other founding members of the co-operative, I am delighted today to launch formally the Dairy Wagon Company.
I only hope that it might help to give dairy farmers in the Peak District what they need to make their businesses sustainable for the future and, to give new hope to future generations. To me it is almost unthinkable that milk has now become cheaper than bottled water and I do just want to take this opportunity to congratulate all those retailers who are genuinely endeavouring to give dairy farmers a fair price for their milk, not least Booths.
And I particularly want to say how much I admire the Waitrose/Country Living campaign, ingeniously entitled “No cows – no countryside”, which highlights the enormous public benefit that dairy farmers bring to the countryside. All I can say is all power to your jolly old elbows! Meanwhile, let us hope that the Dairy Wagon can begin to make a difference right here and right now.