Major changes have been announced to the UK dairy industry's flagship award, the Gold Cup.

For 2017, the royal Association of British Dairy Farmers and National Milk Records have broadened the routes to entry to include the wider range of dairy units now more typical in today's UK dairy sector.

The changes have been made to ensure herds across the whole range of management systems can compete in the annual competition with equal footing.

The is the first major overhaul in almost 100 years of the popular contest, which has enjoyed six winners from the South West in the past 10 years.

While the traditional entry route focusing on milk production, somatic cell count and genetic merit data from official milk records remains, the Spring calving index that also appears on milk records will be considered where applicable.

In addition, herds can be nominated through regional and national discussion groups and specialised grazing groups.

While official milk recording will not be a prerequisite in these nominated herds, judges will expect to see recording protocols in place.

Herds that qualify or are nominated for entry will be invited to complete an online application form asking for background on the dairy business including production, management and financial details, environmental schemes and future plans.

These will be reviewed by a judging panel which includes producers with expertise in a range of dairy systems, as well as representatives from banking, education and consultancy.

A shortlist of finalists will be drawn up to go on to the next round, involving a farm inspection in September by three of the Gold Cup judges.

Mike King, from RABDF, said: “The award has been the most coveted in dairy farming since its beginnings in 1920 and these latest changes will ensure it remains the most prestigious accolade possible for a dairy business.

"We will continue to review the criteria for entry and judging to make sure it best reflects the UK dairy industry and showcases the top herds as examples of good management.

"These dairy businesses have always been, and will continue to be, an inspiration to other producers.”

Jonathan Davies, NMR director, said: “The Gold Cup remit is to highlight producers who are achieving good performance within their farm parameters and under their particular management system, and who have commitment to the industry with a clear strategy for the future that maximises their skills and farm resources.

“These latest changes will ensure that more extensive grass and forage-based businesses can compete alongside the housed and higher input herds.

"But we will remain focused on herds, whatever their system, that demonstrate high standards in the parameters, which include herd health and fertility.”

Neil Baker, 2015 Gold Cup winner, said: “It is positive to see the Gold Cup acknowledging the changing industry and recognising the wide range of dairy farming systems in use.

"It’s vital to keep the competition fresh and relevant, and important to have a national award recognising best practice and success in our industry.”

While criteria for the Gold Cup are changing, other awards associated, such as the Chris May Memorial Salver, will continue as before.

Qualifying and nominated herds will be invited to enter the 2017 Gold Cup by the end of April.

Entries must be received by June 26, and those short-listed will be notified by the end of July.

Judging of the finalists will take place during September 2017.

The NMR/RABDF Gold Cup and the NMR Silver Salver award to the runner up will be presented on February 7, at Dairy-Tech, Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire.