Dairy industry leaders, experts and stakeholders will gather at University College Cork (UCC) next week for a two-day conference to discuss a sustainable and profitable path for Ireland's dairy industry amid pressing environmental and economic challenges.

The Sustainability Event, on 4 and 5 December, will be opened by Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Simon Coveney.

Organised by ICOS, UCC and The Plunkett Institute, the conference will feature sessions on climate change and biodiversity, sustainability in the dairy supply chain, sustainability reporting and the future of Ireland’s nitrates derogation.

Among the speakers are MEP Billy Kelleher; Department of Agriculture chief inspector Bill Callanan; Food Vision dairy group chair Prof Gerry Boyle; New Zealand’s primary industries chief science adviser Dr John Roche; Mary Gurrie of the EPA; as well as Laurence Shalloo, Eddie Burgess, Catherine Keena and Gary Lanigan from Teagasc.

Also addressing the two-day event will be Ornua’s sustainability director Dave Fitzgerald and MaREI director and UCC’s Environmental Research Institute director Brian Ó Gallachóir.

Important timing

ICOS president Edward Carr emphasised the important timing and nature of this event.

"The Sustainability Event is an important opportunity for reflection and foresight for our industry.

"In Ireland, we are uniquely positioned to lead the global dairy sector towards a sustainable future. This conference is our platform to identify and showcase how sustainability can be an engine of growth and resilience for our dairy co-ops," he said.

Professor Paul McSweeney of UCC said: “Irish dairy farmers and their co-operatives are at the forefront of implementing sustainable practices, ensuring that Irish agriculture contributes to addressing the global challenge of climate change.

“The economic contribution of the dairy sector is profound, creating annual value in the order of €17bn, including exports in excess of €6.5bn, extending its benefits to rural communities and consumers across Ireland and contributing to national and international food security.

“We must ensure that this continues on a sustainable basis for the future and I very much welcome this timely event to address these opportunities.”

Conference themes

  • Climate change and biodiversity: this theme will delve into the intricate relationship between dairy farming, biodiversity and climate change, exploring practices that enhance overall balance.
  • Sustainability as a dual imperative and opportunity: the conference will highlight how sustainability is not just an obligation as a social license to operate, but also a business imperative, potentially unlocking new opportunities for competitiveness.
  • Sustainability across the supply chain: discussions will focus on the integration of sustainability at every stage of the supply chain, from farm to table, ensuring a complete and circular approach to environmental responsibility.
  • Sustainability reporting: the conference will examine how transparent and robust sustainability reporting will be an essential tool for accountability and continuous improvement within the industry.
  • The future of Ireland’s nitrates derogation: in light of evolving regulations, continuing initiatives are required to balance productivity with environmental stewardship, particularly in managing nitrates and emissions.