The European Dairy Farmers (EDF) conference was held in Cork last week. The Positive Farmers Dairy Conference (PFDC) took place on two of the same days and Nuffield Ireland also held a function. There’s a serious message there!

I was at the EDF conference as I was invited to chair a session. It was most informative and enjoyable. The speakers were drawn from all sections of the dairy industry. There was strong agreement on climate change challenges and many concurred on the solutions required.

Emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) have to be reduced and, biodiversity has to be encouraged and protected on farms.

Not since the abolition of quotas and the planning of dairy expansion have I witnessed such passion and cohesion of argument. Yet, we are in a strange place with expansion achieved for most dairy farmers and the matching processing capacity realised combined with a good milk price and, overall, less farmer debt in the banks.

Research and advice from Teagasc on dairying is amongst the best in the world. Our markets are secure due to the trojan work done by Bord Bia and Ornua. Our co-ops are thriving and yet there is uncertainty about the next steps and how they will play out.

Everything about dairying is successful, not least the fact that it is the most profitable type of farming. It is also an extremely satisfying career: working with animals, soil and grass and often with your nearest and dearest, who have your back.

Climate change is real, and our individual responses to it at farm level are important. Collectively, we will do the right thing and make the decisions necessary to protect the planet. The focus is on sustainable growth. My impression is that the thinking is focused on how we can reduce emissions from dairying rather than reducing cow numbers.

In human life, we focus on a baby’s diet but leave the rest of ‘Life Stage Nutrition’ to chance

Profitability has to be protected. All sections of the industry are working on the sustainability question. It can seem complicated and difficult to satisfy all the requirements of producing milk sustainably while protecting the environment and reducing GHG emissions.

That is until Dr Patrick Wall, Professor of Public Health in UCD takes to the podium. His presentation focused us on the message that we deliver to the public.

There were 300 registered participants from 20 countries at the conference, and to hear them all laugh together when Paddy was speaking was magic! Zoe Kavanagh, CEO of the NDC (National Dairy Council), Brian Rushe, Deputy President of the IFA and Dr Frank Mitloehner from the University of California were also strong on this point.

Tell a good story

Each of us needs to tell our own story of dairy farming. We need to bring our consumers on a journey with us and not allow certain “verbiage to get traction,” said Dr Wall. “Your most valuable asset is your health. There are two priorities for people, and they are health and food. Farmers are a huge part of food security. Put simply, if you stop eating you will be dead!”

Dr Wall urged us to focus on Life Stage Nutrition. He used the analogy of the pig that goes through nine different diets in 150 days of its short life. The micro and macro nutrients are carefully honed for each stage. In human life, we focus on a baby’s diet but leave the rest of ‘Life Stage Nutrition’ to chance.

Each stage of life demands us to eat differently to be properly nourished. Bone mass is a key determinant of fracture risk.

“Preventing Sarcopenia (the loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength as a result of ageing) is hugely important and this word, ‘Sarcopenia’ is four aces for a dairy farmer,” said Dr Wall. We keep ourselves healthy by good nutrition and exercise. As we age we need bio-available protein to slow down the ageing process. Whey is ideal and we dairy farmers have it!

He stressed that “dairy farmers need to reframe the narrative,” adding, “you farmers are holding up the world. We need to move away from the problem and manage it and become the solution. We need to stop being on the defensive and instead be out there saying, ‘without us, you have no food.’”

So when we describe what we do, let’s say, “we are in the human health business.” Let’s commit to getting the public on board with us.

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