From sustainable intensification to integrated farm management systems, Irish agriculture has made leaps and bounds over the past generation, and now that the Climate Action Bill is poised to put Ireland on the legally binding path to net zero emissions by 2050, more changes are yet to come.
Speaking about how agriculture in Ireland is placed for future change, Zoe Kavanagh, CEO of the National Dairy Council, said: “I think it is perfectly placed because of the three Bs – Booming, Better, Best. ”
Zoe Kavanagh explained: “Booming as global demand for dairy products is booming and growing. Better, because Ireland produces dairy better than anywhere else in Europe, and better, because the best way to tackle global emissions is to meet demand in the country that has the best production system,” Zoe said.
A good starting point Having a good starting point is another aspect that sets Irish agriculture apart from other places because ‘our emissions are half the world average’.
As for meeting the criteria of the Climate Bill – “dairy will do it,” she said.
Zoe is particularly encouraged when she looks around Irish dairy farming families: “They are all very clear that what they are doing on the farm today will be different in 5 to 10 years, the Farmers have already started to incorporate this change into their practices, so I think our grass-based family farm model positions Ireland very well against the 3bs and I’m encouraged by the future rather worried.
Agriculture and the Irish economy There are currently 18,000 family dairy farms in Ireland, producing milk of exceptional quality from over 1.2 million dairy cows and one in forty jobs in Ireland is directly linked to dairy sector. Dairy has a total employment of over 60,000 jobs.
Irish agriculture also has a very important export component. Irish dairy products are found in 120 countries every year. The economic importance of agriculture in Ireland is enormous, in terms of employment and subsistence within the rural economy.
“Our Irish dairy farmers have demonstrated in the past that they are both resilient and adaptable. It is a €5.2 billion sector that generates huge benefits for local economies – 85% is reinvested in local and rural economies.
“We have a thriving sector and we are doing it better than most other parts of the world, we are going to have to improve further and there is an action plan. It is important that we have economic sustainability and livelihoods that can last and thrive even in this time of change.
While the mood is one of resilience, learning, knowledge and skill building, according to Zoe, there is a natural sense of trepidation stemming from the fact that “there seems to be this demand for a product cheap food and yet to provide a high quality product while ensuring that it is balanced with environmental considerations, which is likely to increase the cost of food production.
“I think farmers are worried about being caught up in absorbing this extra cost. In the short to medium term there will be a cost to the transition, in the long term you will find that there will likely be an economic benefit. »
The Irish grazing model is typically outdoors for nine months of the year, which is better for animal welfare and feed inputs, as grass makes up over 85% of the feed.
99% of Ireland’s water here in Ireland is rain; “We should be grateful for that in some ways. We have a great grass growing season,” said Zoe.
“Dairy farmers are ultimately the stewards of the land, they know so much about the land, the ways, the waterways, most of them are trying to make sure that they’re going to pass this farming system on to the next generation in better condition from the moment they reached it.
“We are very aligned with mother nature, we do not irrigate or house our animals for long months each year and we do not feed them a lot of food that comes from abroad. A combination of grass and legacy of our family farming model – we still remain true to that family farm model and grass-based system.
Zoe thinks this all presents itself as a new opportunity within global dairy farming.