Milk output could fall again in 2024, unless greater clarity on environmental issues such as the nitrates derogation is provided by the Irish Government and Brussels, Dairy Industry Ireland (DII) has claimed.

Milk intake by Irish dairies plummeted in 2023, falling by a massive 365.5m litres or 4.1%. This was the first significant drop in output for more than 15 years.

Total intakes by creameries and liquid milk plants hit 8.5bn litres last year, back from 8.865bn litres in 2022.

Peak milk

There are differing views on whether Ireland has tipped over ‘peak milk’ and is now entering a period of supply stagnation.

While most processors forecast that supplies will rebound this year, DII director Conor Mulvihill cautioned that this was not a given.

“While [milk] price and weather were obvious factors on Irish supply decline in 2023, there is no doubt whatsoever that policy incoherence is the main driver,” Mulvihill said.

“Unless clarity is delivered on national and EU policy in a manner that is just for farmers and industry, the prospect for a further decline in output, and the consequent knock-on damage for the Irish national economy, is very high,” he maintained.

Professor Karina Pierce of UCD said farmer sentiment is a key consideration in relation to milk output this year.

“Uncertainty about the future, particularly around changing environmental regulations, means that sentiment on farms is more negative than it has been since milk quota abolition, and this will impact on milk production for the next few years,” Pierce maintained.

However, she said stronger milk prices and reduced input costs should be reflected in increased output in 2024.

Key determinant

Joe Patton of Teagasc maintained that milk price will be the key determinant of output this year.

“We wouldn’t want to over-react to this drop. Three-hundred-and-sixty-five million litres sounds like a big figure, but it equates to 1.6l/cow/day from late summer onwards,” he pointed out.

“Almost collectively, farmers appeared to say last year that this is not worth it, and they just let supplies slide.

“But if the weather conditions are right and milk price recovers, then I believe output will bounce back,” Patton said.