The value of professional accreditation for specialist milking equipment engineers and an expansion of the industry’s accreditation scheme came under the spotlight at a high profile conference held at Reaseheath College in Cheshire.
Members of the Milking Equipment Association (MEA) travelled from all points of the UK for their annual conference, where they heard key speakers share their knowledge and expertise, and learned about the rebrand and expansion of their technical accreditation scheme
Formerly known as Parloursafe, the accreditation scheme now known as Milking Systems Technician Accreditation (MSTA) has been extended to offer Category 4 MSTA (Master Technician level). The new name reflects that the accreditation is to cover all brands and types of milking systems, from traditional and semi automated to fully automated robotics.
Reaseheath has close links with the agricultural engineering and dairy industries and is the only college in the country to deliver Category 3 and the new Category 4 MSTA, which is the highest professional level achievable.
Engineers who are accredited at Category 3 can now apply for Category 4 status, which requires an extensive portfolio of evidence of expertise and career experience plus an in-depth assessment by a panel of industry specialists. Four candidates have already successfully gained the new accreditation.
Delegates also heard that Category 3 MSTA will contain an element of online learning to allow for a more flexible and accessible programme.
The rebrand and expansion have been driven by a growing demand for the services of technically skilled dairy engineers, particularly as milking equipment becomes more sophisticated. There is also increasing understanding that regular annual maintenance can help to avoid costly breakdowns and dips in profit margins.
As well as discussing the rebrand, the 75 delegates heard from Phil Scott, Retail Group Manager at Muller, who spoke about the importance of traceability and accountability, and from Ian Ohnstad, Director of The Dairy Group, who was among the first cohort to achieve Category 4 MSTA.
Ian pointed out that the national trend was for larger enterprises with larger herds producing larger yields per cow, with a resulting increase in milking frequency. He said that milking technicians played an essential role in maintaining and rectifying faults on milking machines, and that farmers should view regular annual servicing as an investment rather than as a cost, as it ensured that the machines were operating at optimum efficiency.
Other speakers included Robert Craig, who oversees three dairy farm businesses in the north of England, farming 750 hectares and milking 1500 cows. He is also Vice Chair and Farmer Board Director of the Dairy Co-Op First Milk, Chair of the Farmer Forum and a board member at Dairy UK and Vice Chair of the Royal Society of Dairy Farmers.
Speaking from a farmer’s perspective, Robert said he also believed that the industry needed to refocus its attention on equipment efficiency to maintain profit margins rather than focus on the volume of product. He emphasised that the main qualities that farmers required from their milking technicians was an excellent service and a professional mindset.
Robert was followed by Jemma Holden, Technical Manager at Red Tractor, who discussed meeting consumer demands for demonstrable farm animal welfare standards, and by Christopher Smart, Senior Policy Advisor Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, who outlined the latest legislation for UKCA (UK Conformity Assessed) marking.
Stephen Howarth, Agricultural Economist for the Agricultural Engineers Association (AEA), the MEA’s parent body, gave an economic update and the conference concluded with a tour of Reaseheath’s robotic milking parlour.
John Baines, the MEA’s Technical Advisor and Independent Chair, who also holds Category 4 MSTA accreditation, said: “Reaseheath College is one of the association’s few approved deliverers of its Milking Systems Technician Accreditation courses. The college proved to be an ideal venue for the meeting of milking machine manufacturers, suppliers, installers and others involved in the industry. In addition to hosting the meeting in a manner befitting a professional trade association, this provided a superb opportunity for the college to showcase its teaching and milk production facilities.”
Ruth Bailey Chief Executive of the AEA and MEA said: “We were delighted to welcome so many MEA members to the conference. Feedback has been excellent, with delegates indicating that they found it both informative and enjoyable. I’d like to thank our speakers for their invaluable input, and Reaseheath College for hosting such a successful event.”
Reaseheath Course Manager Mike Cullen said: “I am delighted that the college could host the event, and I look forward to continuing to work closely with the MEA, particularly in its efforts to elevate and benchmark industry standards. There is an exciting future ahead for the industry.”
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