Outgoing Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS) president James O’Donnell has acknowledged the Irish dairy industry's remarkable growth and highlighted the sector’s capability to meet upcoming challenges.

In his outgoing speech at the 128th AGM of ICOS on Thursday in Portlaoise, he said co-operatives have played a crucially important and innovative role in bringing the highest-quality dairy foods and nutritional products to global markets, underpinning the sustainability of our farm families and rural communities nationwide.

“From a modest and restricted base, since the lifting of milk quotas, the Irish dairy industry has nearly doubled its production, meeting all required targets and projections set down for the agri economy in successive government plans.

"This has been driven primarily by the entrepreneurship, skills and resilience of family farms and the power of the co-operative model of organisation and governance,” he said.

Slowing expansion

As the pace of dairy expansion now slows, he said Ireland needs to promote even greater resilience, progress and innovation throughout the co-operative movement.

“New environmental and animal welfare challenges, including the need to decarbonise supply chains and reduce chemical fertiliser use, are expected.

"[The] ICOS is confident in the capability of the Irish dairy industry to address our sustainability priorities,” he said.


He said it must be acknowledged that significant progress is currently being achieved across a range of areas, related to greenhouse gas emissions, water quality, ammonia and biodiversity.

“I believe that reason and practicality must prevail in creating sustainable solutions for the future.

"Rather than stakeholders and commentators seeking to create a ‘cliff-edge’ moment for agriculture, there can be an orderly, managed and continuous evolution towards further enhanced sustainability, in line with decarbonisation objectives,” he said.

O’Donnell is retiring from the ICOS rural business committee by rotation and, thereby, retiring from the board and as ICOS president.

He was first elected on to the rural business committee 14 years ago, the ICOS board eight years ago and became president in June 2022 having also served as vice-president for four years.

A new president is to be elected in the coming weeks.