Sustainable profits are key to dairy

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Sustainable profits must underpin the future of the dairy sector at farm level, according to leading international analyst Donald Moore.

“And these figures must include the potential for farmers to pay themselves and their staff realistic incomes.”

He added:“Without this foundation the industry will not achieve the targets that must be met when it comes to securing a better global environmental and greater production-focussed efficiencies.”

Moore, who is the Executive Director at Global Dairy Platform and also chairs a United Nations’ Committee on World Food Security (CFS), was the keynote speaker at an EU dairy sustainability conference hosted by the Dairy Council for Northern Ireland at the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprises (CAFRE) Greenmount earlier this week.

He indicated that international supermarkets are aware, for the most part, of the need to help deliver sustainable farm profits within the milk sector.

“Dairy can look forward to a bright future. Consumption levels are growing at around 2% annually, a figure that takes no account of the projected increase in the world’s population over the coming years.”

Moore added: “It’s often overlooked that the world’s dairy industry impacts directly on the working lives of approximately one billion people. This figure includes farmers and those directly employed on farms. As a result, dairy is one of the most important industrial sectors that operates on a truly global basis.”

Delegates attending the conference were told that Northern Ireland has already made significant strides in dairy sustainability practices, improving its carbon footprint by 30.7% between 1990 and 2014. Electricity emissions have also been reduced by 68% between 1990 and 2017, whilst manure emissions have reduced by 27% over the same period.

Innovative evidence-based solutions such as trailing shoe slurry application, soil testing, selective breeding practices, and energy efficiency measures are already being applied on farms across Northern Ireland to reduce the impact that the dairy sector has on the environment and play a key role in improving it.

The United Nations anticipates that resource usage will double by 2050, highlighting the urgent need to radically revise our approach to production and processing.

“For that reason, it’s important that we get the environmental aspects of farming and dairy processing right,” explained Moore.

“This was echoed in the Paris climate agreement in 2015 which set binding commitments to limit global temperature rise and recognised that these efforts must not threaten production and food security.”

Dairy Council CEO Mike Johnston said:

“Today we are acknowledging the work that still needs to be done, and highlighting the significant work already being done to tackle climate change, reduce emissions and take an evidence-based, scientific approach to milk production and processing.

“Not only are farmers and processors taking responsibility for their actions, they are also involved in spearheading and developing the latest sustainable dairy research initiatives.”

DUP Assemblyman William Irwin attended the Greenmount event. He said that farmers routinely face a wide range of challenges such as weather, finance, bureaucracy and the changes that will come with life outside the European Union.

“The conference has been a useful engagement process focusing on the dairy industry in Northern Ireland,” he added.

“Dairy prices are subject to many pressures on a worldwide scale and all sorts of issues can affect pricing either positively or negatively and whilst at this moment in time we have seen a level of stability in prices, prior to this the dairy industry was under extreme pressure here in Northern Ireland.

“As the progress towards our exit from EU intensifies and ultimately concludes there will be extra importance attached to our agri-food industry and food production in Northern Ireland and I believe this will herald many important opportunities for growth. It is important that our industry is prepared for this and moves ahead confidently.”