Written by Alison Bellamy
Longley Farm, the dairy business home-grown in the Holme Valley of West Yorkshire, which produces best-selling cottage cheese, cream and yogurt, is marking 75 years of trade.
Since launching in 1948, with just 30 acres and ten cows on land in Holmfirth, the firm now has 120 staff and is a proud multinational organisation, with a small farm in Uruguay and a successful operation in Australia, which supplies the Far East.
In a competitive market, where huge companies compete for fridge space, the instantly recognisable and familiar branding, remains a firm favourite for many.
Longley Farm might be considered small when vying against the big boys of retail, but it is a perfectly formed, truly home-grown, yet international company. It also takes milk from around 30 other British dairy farms, much of it from Jersey cows, needed for its high protein content.
Items such as cottage cheese, yogurt, cream and cream cheese sell well across the board: from farm shops to stately homes, such as Windsor and Chatsworth, through to the more humble corner shop, with supermarkets also being major customers.
The farm has pioneered many industry ‘firsts’ including the region’s first pasteurised milk and in 1954, when rationing ended, Longley Farm was one of the first to return to making cream, with sales “sky-rocketing” after a 15-year hiatus.
Founders Joseph (left) & Edgar (right) Dickinson loading bottles of cream onto a delivery van, at Upper Longley Farm in 1960.
They put up the first commercial wind power turbine generator in the country in 1986 in Holmfirth. The farm also became the first dairy in Europe to produce cottage cheese on a commercial scale in 1973.
Conservative Chairman Kenneth Baker and Joseph Dickinson in front of the Longley Farm wind turbine 1990
Currently in charge of the business, Jimmy Dickinson, whose father Joseph and uncle Edgar co-founded the farm, has taken his place at the helm, and is hands on when it comes to overseeing the daily operation.
He said: “Not many businesses today make 75 years. There have only been two generations of our family running Longley Farm. I was born into it, so my entire life has been involved with it. Making the century is now the next challenge.
“Farming and agriculture go way back in the family. As far back as I can go with the family tree, there's always been a farm. I suppose it's part of our DNA.”
His father’s parents started a milking business before the Second World War. They sold Tuberculosis Tested milk, known as TT Milk.
Jimmy said: “After the Second World War, my father Joseph came out as a Royal Navy engineering officer and my Uncle Edgar carried on in engineering in Huddersfield.
“One thing which stuck with him was seeing cottage cheese for the first time. He was in the Pacific Campaign on HMS Lothian and the British sailors had very little to eat, just minimal rations.
“They worked closely with the Americans and saw they had all sorts to eat and drink, like pork chops, ice cream, frozen orange juice and cottage cheese.”
Then their great uncle Jonas Hinchliffe died and left the farm to his father and uncle: “He left them 30 acres and ten cows. They started farming by milking cows and had pigs and silage making, which was a brand-new concept at the time. They were into innovations such as ploughing and reseeding.”
Joseph (left) and Edgar (right) Dickinson in front of the grass dryer, 1954
By 1948 they were working differently to other farms. Jimmy said: “They were trailblazers, if you like. They were combining engineering and farming to create pasteurised milk. Even after the war, rationing did not stop until 1954, when they started making cream.
“Fresh cream had not been on the market since 1939 and demand was high as people hadn't eaten it for 15 years. They couldn’t get enough of it.
Vera Jessop packing cream by hand in 1960
Longley farm became the first in the UK to make cottage cheese on a commercial scale, inspired by the experience of Joseph, in the middle of the Pacific, on the ships.
Joseph later visited the US in 1964 and he saw how Americans were turning cottage cheese into a best-seller. Early attempts saw him use a tin bath, before a small vat stirred with clean hay rakes.
Cottage cheese was first made in 1972 to Jimmy’s father's recipe and it became the standard recipe in the UK for cottage cheese. By 1973 it was being sold on a commercial scale.
Jimmy said: “There was a time in the early days when anyone making cottage cheese in this country had come via Longley farm.
“Cottage cheese is a best seller; plain or plain fat free is popular with bodybuilders as it's pure protein and has no additives, apart from salt.
Deborah Armitage tasting Longley Farm Cottage Cheese, 1986
“We did not invent yogurt as such but we were very early into the yogurt scene at the back end of the 1960s.”
“The fruit we use for the yogurts is carefully selected and we get as much of it from the UK as we can.”
As the yogurt business developed, it became clear that the best product came from high protein milk and it was decided to switch to Jerseys, with the Holmfirth Herd being founded in the early 1970s. An opportunity came up in 1973 to buy Tyers Hall Farm near Barnsley and both the dairy and pig units were gradually transferred.
The farm has grown to 830 acres, of which 350 acres are down to grazing and silage. About 15% of the land contributes to biodiversity (wetland, woods and hedges) and herbal leys have been successfully introduced. Remaining land is in a three-crop rotation, alongside fodder beet, maize and winter beans. The growing Jersey herd currently numbers 300, of which 150 are cows in milk. A group of 60 Red Polls act as land managers in a regenerative system. Last year, with so few buyers and no viable market, it was decided to turn the page on pig farming.
Since 1996, there have been three overseas ventures: processing businesses in Australia and Estonia and a farm in Uruguay. In its own modest way, this makes Longley Farm the country’s leading British-owned multi-national dairy business!
Longley Farm celebrated 75 years of trade with a party for staff, family and friends of the Longley, where long service awards were presented. Everyone at Longley Farm received a commemorative cheeseboard made by Malfie Wood Designs.
Photo by Robling Photography
Recipients of the long-service awards at Longley Farm's 75th Anniversary party, 2023. Photo by Robling Photography
Recent accolades include success at the International Cheese and Dairy Awards, with a raft of awards including Gold Awards for cottage cheese and chives, natural yogurt, soured cream, Jersey extra rich cream and for four yogurts – banana, blackcurrant, raspberry and lemon.
And at this year’s Great Yorkshire Show, Longley Farm secured more awards including the esteemed David Hartley Supreme Champion Dairy Product Trophy for its Blackcurrant yogurt.
As Longley Farm celebrates its anniversary, a lot of thought is going into delivering a successful future: “The one thing we know is that there will always be change. By all pulling together, we’ve made it this far and if we can carry on with the same formula , there’s no reason why we can’t keep up the momentum. In a world full of hype and spin, the values of honesty, loyalty, quality and fairness are in short supply. Sticking close to these values is where we have a place; that’s where we fit in. We are all in it together, from people here at the farm to the Jersey milk suppliers."
Jimmy Dickinson at the 75th Anniversary Party. Photo by Robling Photography