Understanding patterns of innovation within the UK milk production sector

Thomas, James (2020) Understanding patterns of innovation within the UK milk production sector. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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This thesis examines patterns of technological change in the UK dairy farming sector between 1994 and 2016. It aims to illuminate the extent to which, and ways in which, powerful buyers, such as supermarkets, have influenced observed trends of market concentration and production intensification in dairy farming within value chains for liquid milk.

By applying an evolutionary perspective, the thesis considers both the rate and the direction of technological change. Dairy farms are regarded as ‘socio-technical systems’ that can be ‘reproduced’ in a ‘dynamically stable’ manner. Positive feedbacks resulting from interactions between systems’ components serve to stabilise reproduction, while interactions between different groups of actors present opportunities for disruption of the process of reproduction. The analysis draws upon conceptual tools from the literatures on value chain analysis (‘sanctions’ and ‘trust’) and the social construction of technology (‘framings’) in order to permit an exploration of reproduction as an inherently-contested process of ‘negotiation’. This analytical approach may have wider application within other agricultural and non-agricultural value chains, characterised by powerful – or oligopolistic – buyers.

Through an in depth case study analysis of 16 UK dairy farms – and a quantitative analysis of a broader dataset of over 350 UK dairy farms – key patterns of technological change are revealed. The intensification and homogenisation of production amongst farms that supply supermarkets directly is attributed to: the degree of price variation within the market (with supermarkets paying considerably higher, more stable prices than other buyers); the higher degree of ‘trust’ that exists within supermarket value chains, resulting in longer, more collaborative relationships (compared with the value chains of other buyers); and the practice of benchmarking within supermarket supplier pools (often undertaken by reference to production costs). Significantly, these factors have both a direct influence upon the production approaches of farms that supply supermarkets, and an indirect influence on other farms, suggesting that the influence of supermarket power may be more pervasive than implied by previous analyses.

Furthermore, the findings also call into question the long-run sustainability of supermarket value chains, as currently constituted, in the face of biological and economic shocks and stresses.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: University of Sussex Business School > SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labour > HD9000 Special industries and trades > HD9000.9 Agricultural industries > HD1925 Dairy products > HD9282 Milk
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 20 Mar 2020 12:54
Last Modified: 20 Mar 2020 12:54
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/90406

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