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Sustainable Dairy, Sustainable Future

By Donna Ahern
Sustainable Dairy, Sustainable Future

Zoe Kavanagh, CEO of the National Dairy Council, explains some of the work being undertaken by Irish dairy farmers as part of Sustainable Dairy in Europe, a three-year EU funded campaign launched by the European Milk Forum

Irish dairy farmers and producers are committed to a sustainable dairy industry that continues to provide the highest quality produce for Irish families and our indigenous food industry, while also delivering the highest environmental standards and protecting our biodiversity.

Sustainable development and climate change are some of the greatest challenges facing humanity and taking concrete action must be a priority for everyone. From the farm gate through to the shop floor, we need to act to protect our environment, while continuing to provide the high quality, nutritional produce that Irish families and consumers expect.

Irish dairy farmers and producers are committed to being part of the solution, supplementing our efficient and low-intensity dairy farming methods with innovative, science-based approaches, so that dairy farming is undertaken in more sustainable ways.

Working as part of the Sustainable Dairy in Europe campaign, we are sharing best practice and information with our counterparts in Northern Ireland, Denmark, France, Belgium, and The Netherlands.

Ireland already has the most efficient production system in Europe, with low levels of carbon emissions, due to our grass-based and family farming systems. In comparison to other countries, we have a low- intensity farming system, with an average milk yield of about 5,500 litres per cow. Grass provides two and a half times more consumable protein than grain for the Irish herd, and with a much smaller carbon footprint.

However, we know that there is still much work to be done, and we are taking positive actions to further develop our industry’s sustainability credentials. Across the country, farmers are reducing emissions from soil management, incorporating clover into their grass management - to act as a natural fertiliser - and utilising lime to increase soil PH.

Sustainability experts are working with farmers to improve water quality, looking at preventing surface run-off, safe water management and control of nutrient loss.

Energy Usage Reduction 

And farmers themselves are also doing a lot on-farm in terms of reducing their energy usage. Almost every dairy farmer in Ireland has been certified under the Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme in Ireland (Origin Green) for taking important steps towards improving sustainability.

Looking beyond the farm gate, carbon capture and the methane cycle are key issues that could provide significant climate and industry benefits into the future.

Our grasslands and hedgerows are carbon sinks, but we have not yet attributed a value to the carbon capture of our grasslands. Research is still ongoing, but it is becoming clear that we may need to differentiate the methane cycle, which is around 10 years, from the fossil fuel cycle, which is a 200-year cycle.

New Zealand – a global leader on climate action and where agriculture is key to the economy as it is in Ireland – has already separated out its methane emissions from its overall climate targets. The European Milk Forum and the National Dairy Council are conducting ongoing research into these areas.

Finally, we need to continually get the message out to Irish consumers and policymakers that family farmers and our indigenous local dairy industry are making significant strides in improving sustainability, and in reducing emissions.

Now more than ever, we are committed to protecting one of Ireland’s important sectors, which delivers sustainable, locally produced, and high-quality milk and dairy products that Irish families and food businesses expect and enjoy.

To learn more about the Sustainable Dairy in Europe campaign, visit or

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