An acclaimed Cumbrian dairy farmer will sit on the new member council of a critical player in the county’s economy. 

Ainstable producer Robert Craig is one of seven people to be appointed to the council as part of a leadership shake-up by farmers’ co-operative First Milk.

Mr Craig, dairy farmer of the year in 2014, was among a group of pioneering farmers to adopt the New Zealand approach to extended grazing when it gained popularity in the UK more than 10 years ago.

The seven-member council of First Milk members will represent farmer owners and oversee the strategy of the business.

On his appointment, Mr Craig, said it was “extremely” important to have a voice in Cumbria.

“We will be building on the milk field around the creamery. There will be recruitment, but it will be longer-term as investment takes place, and will depend where the milk is coming from, as the co-operative is making pick-up runs more efficient.”

The activation of the new member council follows the announcement of a new, smaller, First Milk board, and is part of a raft of governance changes since chief executive Mike Gallacher arrived last year.

Mr Craig is a partner in two dairy farms, with a total of more than 1,000 cows, growing from 80 cows 20 years ago.

He is a former National Farmers’ Union county chairman and a Nuffield Scholar.

In 2012, he became chairman of Penrith and the Border Conservative Association.

The farm supplies milk to the Lake District Creamery at Aspatria as members of First Milk. Mr Craig is also a member of the dedicated group of dairy farmers supplying Nestle at Dalston.

Just two weeks ago, Mr Craig was singled out as being at the forefront of the campaign to champion British Food and Farming by Defra secretary, Liz Truss.

Ms Truss told a gathering of 1,400 farmers at the National Farmers’ Union conference in Birmingham that Mr Craig was helping to promote the industry in the UK and across the world.

The dairy co-operative last year had been haemorrhaging eye-watering amounts of money as the wider milk industry became overwhelmed by problems.

But First Milk’s half year results to September 30, announced last November, showed a £1.1m operating profit, and a significant reduction in net debt.

But the company announced a further cut in farmer returns for March, pointing to weak market conditions, and the plentiful supply of milk.

Speaking about the new member council, Mr Gallacher said the move concluded a ’key milestone’ in developing a professional governance structure which would deliver for members.

“First Milk has moved fast over the last 10 months and the pace of change will continue as we address the fundamentals of the business and work to improve our returns to members,” he said.

The appointments were scrutinised independently in a process chaired by non-executive director Carl Ravenhall.

He said the company had achieved a good balance between experience and fresh ideas.

He said: “We have significantly strengthened the governance of this business, with a smaller board which has greater commercial skills and a new member council with clearly defined powers and responsibilities.”

The other six members are Christine Kelsall, Lancashire; Mike Smith, Pembrokeshire; Scott Calderwood, Dumbartonshire; Wendy Radley, Cheshire; Willie Campbell, Ayrshire; and Willie Purdie, Dumfries.