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Conference: Dairy sector is ‘delivering’ on emissions action – Agriland.ie

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One of the main messages from a conference on sustaibability in dairy this week was that the dairy sector is “delivering” when it comes to emissions reductions.

The ‘Sustainability in Dairy’ event was opened yesterday (Monday, December 4) by Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Simon Coveney.

The conference was jointly organised by the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS), University College Cork (UCC Food Industry Training Unit), ICOS Skillnet and The Plunkett Institute.

Dairy industry leaders, experts, and stakeholders gathered at UCC for the two-day conference, discussing a sustainable, profitable path for Ireland’s dairy industry amid pressing environmental, economic, and regulatory challenges.

ICOS president Edward Carr said: “We gather at a time when Irish agriculture is facing very significant economic and environmental challenges.

the ICOS conference on A Sustainable Dairy Future held in University College Cork. Image source: Alf Harvey

“The opportunity for the cooperative movement is to show positivity, leadership and direction, so that there is a sustainable and profitable pathway for our members within the dairy industry, from the primary food producer to the cooperative processors who contribute to dairy exports of €6.8 billion annually and a total of €17 billion in value to the rural communities of the country.

“These challenges are coming at a time when we’re trying to encourage young people to get involved in the dairy industry.

Generational renewal is a common issue all over Europe, and it is on a par with sustainability as a priority,” he added.

Carr explained that genuine questions are now being asked, as to where is the next generation of food producers is going to come from.

“Gender equality is also high on the agenda of the cooperative movement. In the past year we have seen some welcome developments with the adoption of the ICOS Gender Equality Charter and already we are seeing the fruits of this initiative at co-op level,” he continued.

“As a consequence of the reduction in the maximum stocking rate, huge question marks hang over the future of the next generation of dairy farmers.

“I attended the recent meeting in Dublin with the European Commissioner. His decision not to provide even a small degree of flexibility is bitterly disappointing,” Carr added.

The ICOS president said that it is very “unfortunate” that the European Commission is unwilling to give the range of new measures, which he said are designed to improve water quality under Ireland’s current derogation, the time to be implemented, and their impact on water quality assessed.

The ICOS conference on A Sustainable Dairy Future held at UCC. Image source: Alf Harvey

“Farmers affected by this decision are deeply frustrated, and rightly so. The message from the commissioner is that water quality needs to stabilise and improve. If this can happen, the derogation can be protected in the medium to long-term,” Carr stated.

“I believe there are some grounds for optimism. The latest EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] reporting on water quality does demonstrate stability, and water quality is improving in the Priority Areas for Action where the ASSAP [Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme ] programme is active.

“The aim of improving soil fertility and reducing chemical fertiliser has been to the fore for all farmers in recent years,” he said.

Emissions

Carr said that while farmers have made huge investments at farm level to improve the management of slurry, they need to continue to make these improvements, despite the uncertainty over the future of the derogation.

“The return from these investments will provide farmers with the options to make better use of their nutrients and also ensure that these nutrients are applied at the most appropriate time,” he said.

“However, farmers are fearful of investing in new slurry storage capacity, in case of a further reduction to the derogation. The government and EU must provide certainty to allow farmers to continue to invest and improve their farm facilities.

“Important progress has been made by the dairy and wider agriculture sector in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I personally don’t know any farmer that has not adopted environmentally friendly practices on their farm in recent years.

“I strongly believe that the environment is in the DNA of the Irish family farm. My message is that the dairy sector is taking its responsibilities seriously and is delivering. There is no other economic sector as engaged and focused on the environment,” Carr concluded.

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