Farmer and National Dairy Council (NDC) ambassador Eamon Sheehan from Bawnlusk, Co Kilkenny, was awarded the top accolade at this year’s Good Food Ireland Awards.

The Kilkenny man received the outstanding contribution to food production award on Monday 17 April at the K Club in Co Kildare.

This honorary award from Good Food Ireland is to recognise the thousands of dairy farmers all over Ireland who provide primary ingredients for menus and what we eat and drink every day.

"The farmers who send their milk to the co-ops, who never engage directly with consumers and really are, as we see it, the unsung heroes of our food industry," managing director of Good Food Ireland Margaret Jeffares said.

Generational legacy

Farming, she added, is a generational legacy and offers an immense cultural contribution to Irish tourism and the wider community.

Returning for the first time since pre-COVID, the awards were opened by Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Simon Coveney and attended by some 300 guests, including business owners, Irish and international chefs, buyers, food and drink writers, media and industry leaders.

Farmers are the driving force behind quality products that people want to purchase

Commenting on the new award, NDC CEO Zoë Kavanagh said: “Farmers are the driving force behind quality products that people want to purchase and are a key part of a healthy, modern lifestyle - the demand for which just keeps increasing – and yet, as an industry, what we are doing in the area of sustainability simply is not being recognised."

Ireland's dairy produce is exported to 191 countries from 17,500 Irish dairy farms and is worth €6.2bn to the economy.

'Celebrate excellence'

NDC farm ambassador Eamon Sheehan said: “I am really proud to accept this award on behalf of Ireland’s dairy farmers.

"There has never been a more valuable time to celebrate excellence in dairy farming and highlight the hard work and dedication of some of Ireland’s top dairy food producers.

"Our climate and land produces dairy with one of the lowest carbon footprints internationally, primarily due to the unique Irish grass-fed, family-farmed system, which is extremely efficient.

"During challenging times, people need to have trust in what they know - dairy is nutritious, accessible and affordable and is recognised as a vital part of people’s diet and general health across the life stages, indispensable to Ireland’s social and economic well-being.”