A food vision dairy group, which will include dairy farmers and co-ops, has been formed by Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue.
The group’s first task will be to stabilise emissions by producing a “detailed plan” by the second quarter of 2022 to “manage the sustainable environmental footprint of the dairy sector”.
Minister McConalogue made the announcement on Friday following a meeting with dairy stakeholders to discuss the challenging climate targets for agriculture under the Climate Action Plan.
The new group will be chaired by former Teagasc director Professor Gerry Boyle and will include representatives from the farming organisations, the dairy industry, the Department of Agriculture and relevant agencies.
The group is set to have its first meeting in early February. A similar group for the beef sector, with the aim of achieving emissions reductions, is also in the works, the Irish Farmers Journal understands.
It is also understood that the group will allow for flexibility for new entrants to the sector and it will not prevent new entrants to dairying, will allow farmers who already have expansion plans in place to execute those plans and will protect the family farm model.
Announcing the group, Minister McConalogue said: “We have to think about how we ensure that there is space for generational renewal and new entrants to the sector, or for those with marginal enterprises to improve viability, and space to encourage innovation and value addition.”
The group’s formation is “in line with a priority action in the Food Vision 2030 strategy”, according to Minister McConalogue.
Minister McConalogue said he is confident that “working together, we can stabilise and then reduce emissions from the dairy sector” and position “Ireland as a world leader in sustainable food systems”.
Responding to the formation of the group, the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) expressed concern at the expected timeline for the release of the sustainability group’s first report.
IFA dairy chair Stephen Arthur said that the quarter two 2022 deadline for this report would be too soon, given the seriousness of the matter.
The organisation’s president Tim Cullinan stated that no output restrictions should be imposed on any farming sector.
“We cannot let knee-jerk reactions determine the future viability of Irish agriculture. Farmers fully understand the need to reduce emissions, but we have a target for 2030, not 2023.
“I am confident that we can achieve our 2030 targets by using technology to reduce methane and nitrous oxide output per animal,” he said.
This message was echoed by the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) after Friday’s meeting.
ICMSA president Pat McCormack said that no cap on production was acceptable for Irish farmers.
Such a move would be economically disastrous for dairy farmers, McCormack argued.
“Effectively, the most dynamic farming and agri-food sector we have will be driven up a cul de sac from which we will never be able to reverse.
“The Teagasc MACC curve and new technologies are already showing how agriculture can meet its climate commitments – and new technologies will accelerate that progress.
“The Government ignored the further potential in that area in the CAP Strategic Plan they submitted, and will now compound that mistake by effectively proposing caps on our most valuable production,” he said.
McCormack also went on to question whether players in other industries, such as airlines, face no such limits on expansion.