The UK's three major dairy co-operatives are involved in a trial that could dramatically improve on-farm and factory efficiency in the cheese supply chain.

Dairy Farmers of Britain in Wales, First Milk in Scotland and Milk Link in the south west of England are taking part in the experiment, in which small groups of farmers are adjusting the nutritional make-up of their cows' feed to increase the protein content of their milk, which in turn increases cheese yields from the factories supplied by those farmers.

The programme, which is also designed to increase milk yields on-farm, is being run by feed nutrition consultants Richard Keenan. The trials have been running in one case for a year and in the other two for four months, and initial results had been encouraging, said chairman Gerard Keenan.

"Enough has been seen in the trials for people to move them on to a larger scale. One of the co-ops involved now wants to extend the concept to its entire supply base for the cheese factory in question." Other major dairy processors were also monitoring the trials with interest, he said.

"This innovation is being encouraged by processors, because their future has got to be about stepping up their competitiveness," he added.

"In processing, there's a huge amount of technology within the process itself, and that's where all the development has taken place. The next real stage of innovation will take place on the farm.

"What has really excited each of these processors is seeing the farmers on these projects actually increasing production in the face of overall volume declines, while also increasing milk quality and year-round consistency of quality."