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Strengthening dairy sustainability


The Irish dairy industry has established a new initiative to promote and encourage sustainable dairy farming, writes Matt O’Keeffe

The new initiative, named Dairy Sustainability Ireland, is committed to assisting the country’s dairy farmers to improve productivity and profitability while, at the same time, meeting increasingly stringent environmental requirements.
Established under the Dairy Industry Ireland umbrella, Dairy Sustainability Ireland incorporates a partnership between the dairy sector and Government. Membership includes Bord Bia; the milk processors; the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; the farmfar organisations (Irish Co-operative Organisation Society, Irish Farmers’ Association, Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association and Macra na Feirme); the National Dairy Council; and Teagasc.
Dairy Industry Ireland director, Conor Mulvihill, outlines the rationale for the initiative: “Ireland’s grass-fed dairy production has an excellent reputation worldwide. Maintaining and strengthening that reputation in the years ahead is imperative, especially with post-quota dairy expansion, and for the 17,000 dairy farming families whose livelihoods depend on milk production. The initiative is supported by Teagasc.”

Targeted fertiliser use
Dairy Sustainability Ireland is rolling out a pilot programme with Aurivo, Carbery, Dairygold, Glanbia, Kerry and Lakeland. This involves engaging with 180 dairy farms across the country to promote economic and environmental sustainability at farm level. The programme includes the publication of a guidebook for dairy farmers, entitled Improving Soil Fertility and Protecting Water Quality. It will be used to drive awareness of best environmental farming practice, particularly in relation to the targeted use of fertilisers, good farmyard management and the protection of water courses from potential farm pollution impacts.
Conor explains the emphasis being placed on fertiliser usage: “Targeted fertiliser planning is a priority for dairy farmers in terms of reducing cost, reducing environmental footprint and improving farm incomes. Studies confirm that better grass growth can be achieved at lower fertiliser cost in a ‘less is often more’ approach. Only 10 per cent of Irish soils are at an optimal fertility standard. If the right steps are taken to improve suboptimal soil fertility and pH, using targeted fertiliser application and spreading lime, an average 35-hectare grassland dairy farm could generate up to €42,175 in additional farm income over a five-year period.”

A passion for production
The Dairy Industry Ireland director concludes: “Farmers have a passion for the land and for quality food production. In launching the initiative, the dairy industry is committed to sustainable dairy expansion by improving environmental best practice on-farm and helping farmers apply the principles of sustainable food production. Our key focus in Dairy Sustainability Ireland is on the twin achievements of environmental and economic sustainability grounded in best practice farming, to ensure quality food production in an environmentally sustainable manner. ”

Profitable sustainability
The case for sustainable food production often gets lost in the perceived costs and lack of benefits in adopting best sustainable production practices. Initiatives such as this, being promoted as a cross-sectoral cooperation, have the potential to gain the goodwill of producers. A key aspect of sustainability is that it raises production efficiencies.
Practical sustainability programmes must prioritise the financial sustainability of food production through sustainable food prices at the farmgate. This is now being increasingly acknowledged both at national and EU levels. The Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan, has stated clearly that a reordering of the food chain is necessary and he has committed to taking action to achieve that reordering. Time will tell as to whether that commitment can deliver results that ensure more of the profits from food production get into the pockets of the primary producers. It cannot be all about the producer taking actions to cut costs and increase efficiency and scale merely to ensure that others along the chain can maintain or increase their profits.

Tags: Teagasc Glanbia Ingredients Ireland dairy Bord Bia IFA EU Agriculture Commissioner sustainability Macra na Feirme Kerry Group National Dairy Council Carbery Irish Co-operative Organisation Society Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Dairy Industry Ireland Lakeland Glanbia Aurivo Improving Soil Fertility and Protecting Water Quality