Over seven in 10 Irish people now trust Irish dairy farmers to take care of the environment, new data from the National Dairy Council (NDC) shows.

The results - which are up 6% on May 2023 and 1% on February 2024 - imply a greater public recognition of farmers’ actions to achieve environmental targets.

This recognition, the NDC added, is supported by Wednesday’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) figures showing a 4.6% reduction in agricultural emissions in 2023.

NDC interim CEO Mark Keller believes the figures are an indicator of genuine public support for the Irish dairy industry, its 17,500 family farms, the 55,000 jobs it supports and the €6.3bn export revenues it delivers to the Irish economy each year.

“Ireland’s dairy farmers are committed to improving their environmental sustainability and are employing new farming practices and technologies - such as soil sampling, low-emissions fertilisers and GPS-guided fertiliser spreading - to achieve those goals.

"That the measures are having an effect is demonstrated by the reduction in agricultural emissions seen from [Tuesday's] EPA report," he said.

Healthy diet

At the same time - and against a background of heightened interest in, and awareness of, plant-based alternatives - 83% of Irish people believe that dairy products are part of a healthy, balanced diet - tallying with the Irish Government’s recommendation of three servings of milk, cheese or yogurt a day. This figure is 4% up on May 2023 and 2% on February 2024.

Another 80% of Irish people believe that dairy products can be part of a sustainable diet. This number has grown - despite increasingly vocal anti-meat and -dairy sentiment - by 4% since May 2023 and 3% since February 2024.

“Ireland is an agricultural nation and dairying is a part of our heritage, with a history in Ireland of some 6,000 years. Like every sector, however, it is facing unprecedented challenges when it comes to its impact on the environment and it has clear targets to meet.

“Sometimes, however, it feels as if more attention is paid to how we describe our efforts, rather than to what we’re actually doing," Keller said.

Technically, he added, the Irish dairy production system is not wholly sustainable - alongside most other industrial sectors - but our farmers’ efforts to improve environmental performance while delivering consistently high-quality food should be applauded, not glibly dismissed as "greenwashing”.