NMR was formed in 1943 in response to a report published in the previous year titled "Proposals for extension and development of Milk Recording in England and Wales under the auspices of the Milk Marketing Board (MMB)". The aims and objectives were to "assist and encourage milk producers to record milk yields of cows in their herds in order that the management and performance of the dairy herds shall be improved for increased milk production in war time and thereafter". Prior to 1943 milk recording in England and Wales was carried out by a loose confederation of milk recording societies based in each county. Each society had its own chairman, secretary, recorders, committee, fee raising structure and office, some counties had up to three societies. Central government involvement was not involved although some limited financial assistance was provided by the Ministry of Fisheries of Food (MAFF). The membership of the milk recording societies was small, some had only 25 herds; however, their members were enthusiastic and progressive.
1943 to 1963
On the formation of NMR some branches saw a three-fold increase in membership with NMR recording 25 per cent of all dairy cows from 16% of herds in England and Wales. 2.7 million samples were tested nationally at many sites including dairies. By 1963, NMR had increased the number of recorded herds to 17,409.
1963 to 1983
NMR continued to develop and increase its commercial awareness such that by the end of 1972 the MMB's financial support represented only 35% of NMR's costs with the farmers paying the majority of the cost. The work was carried out at seven laboratories and 11 offices throughout England and Wales. Infra red analysis had been introduced and 7.2 million samples were tested annually. By 1983, NMR was operating with a field technician workforce of 2,288 and all milk samples they collected were tested for fat and protein - lactose analysis was an option until the following year. Financial support from MMB only represented 26% of NMR's costs. 1983 was the peak of NMR's output.
In 1984 milk quotas were introduced and the number of cows being milk recorded by NMR dropped to 1,242,716 as the number of cows in the UK dropped. NMR worked hard to reduce its costs and restructured with financial support from MMB at 24%. Genetic information started to become available and NMR introduced the Cow Production Index, the first "mass index" for all recorded cattle, and financial value to statements.
The Wilson Committee was formed in 1989. Professor Peter Wilson and his committee were charged to bring forward recommendations which would unite the areas of milk recording, breed societies and genetic evaluation and reduce duplication of effort and cost with recommendations that were practicable, equitable and acceptable to the industry as a whole.
Many of the 12 recommendations were acted upon:
- The formation of a truly independent Genetic Evaluation unit to provide genetic evaluations to the UK under an independent chairman, John Moffitt. This role is now the responsibility of the levy body, Dairy Co.
- Milk recording organisations to be self financing. NMR, has been financially independent and 100% funded by farmer customers since 1 April 1993.
- The reduction of duplication of paperwork - with the wholehearted co-operation of most breed societies, systems like Calflink have reduced costs and effort to all. NMR is also co-operating with breed societies in joint ventures and planning others to the benefit of members in England and Wales.
1980 to 2003
June 1990 saw the introduction of somatic cell counting as an NMR service and within two and a half years over 65 per cent of all samples were tested for cell count. During the late 1990's NMR developed an expertise in software development for farmers' own PCs and automated parlours by the formation of Agrisoft with specialist software development and support resource. This initiative follows NMR core competence of collating and processing individual cow data to produce management information to allow dairy farmers to make informed management decisions at individual cow and herd level.
In 2003 NMR formed a new subsidiary business called National Milk Laboratories (NML) which operates in the bulk milk quality testing sector. This was a new area for NMR which utilises the same laboratory and transport equipment as NMR. NML tests bulk milk samples on behalf of milk buyers to determine the level of components such as % fat and protein and therefore determine the payment to be made to the farmer. NML also tests for food safety issues such as antibiotics and animal health issues such as levels of infectious disease.
2017 was transformed from a corporate perspective. NMR achieved a negotiated settlement with the Trustee of the Milk Pension Fund and Genus plc (the principal employer) to exit the final salary scheme associated with the original Milk Marketing Board. Subsequently the High Court approved a Capital Reorganisation which enabled NMR to simplify its over complicated Group structure and allows investors to review a single balance sheet.
In August 2023 AB Agri completed the acquisition of NMR. This acquisition helps NMR accelerate the pursuit of its development strategy that focuses on the delivery of services that help to build a sustainable, efficient and profitable dairy industry in the UK. While the acquisition brings NMR into the AB Agri family the business continues to trade independently as a limited company.
NMR today is an integrated service provider working for both farmers and milk buyers as well as an independent source of data for advisors such as vets, farm consultants and breed societies. Milk recording data is used to provide the phenotypic database for UK genetic evaluation and the milk recording database is also used to provide the basis of food provenance schemes run by major retailers such as Tesco, Sainsbury's and Marks & Spencer.
NMR currently tests 10 million samples of milk annually. This involves processing a bulk milk sample from 97% of UK farmers with every collection of milk made from the farmer. We also process a monthly individual milk sample from c. 50% of the individual cows in the UK. NMR is represented directly in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
NMR has launched a number of new services to help farmers know the issues within the herd which affect efficiency and animal health. New services include a suite of tests for infectious disease such as Johne's; a service to identify mastitis organisms using DNA and software to record health events such as lameness. The latest addition to NMR’s suite of tests is GeneEze which is an innovative genomic testing service which allows farmers to quantify the DNA of newborn calves to assess their future productivity and value. In 2022 NMR acquired the exclusive license for GenoCells in the UK and the US. We believe GenoCells will prove to be the most disruptive technology in the milk recording sector since the adoption of Somatic Cell Count (SCC) Testing in 1990. The new GenoCells service was launched in the UK in September 2023.