Irish consumers are backing dairy farmers as they work to put sustainability front and centre on their farms, take action to respond to climate change and provide sustainable, and locally produced food from rural communities.

That’s the finding of a research survey of over 1,500 Irish adults, published in advance of the European Milk Forum (EMF) and Glanbia Ireland farm walk, spotlighting the challenges and opportunities of a changing climate for Ireland’s dairy farmers.

The event today (Thursday, October 21) will showcase sustainability initiatives implemented by Kildare dairy farmer, Shane O’Loughlin.

It will be followed by a panel discussion with representatives from the EMF, Glanbia Ireland, Teagasc and Bord Bia on how dairy farmers are responding to the challenge of climate change and meeting the evolving needs of consumers.

Zoe Kavanagh, spokesperson for the EMF in Ireland and chief executive of the National Dairy Council (NDC) said:

“Dairy farmers the length and breadth of Ireland are working hard to produce fresh and nutritious products in a sustainable manner.

“They are adopting new innovations and technologies, for sustainable food production and focusing on ensuring that the land is preserved and cared for properly, to leave it in a better state for the next generation.”

EMF chair Zoe Kavanagh dairy consumers
Chief executive of the National Dairy Council, Zoe Kavanagh

Dairy impact and consumers

The survey revealed that consumers feel that dairy is critical to local communities, both from an economic point of view to underpin vibrant rural communities, and also from a sustainable food production point of view.

Kavanagh continued:

“In the context of environmental sustainability, Ireland is regarded as the most carbon efficient producer of dairy in the European Union, owing to our grass-based system.

“However, we are not resting on our laurels and are acutely conscious of our role in combatting climate change. The dairy sector is fully committed to being a major part of solutions to meet this challenge.”

The NDC chief indicated that seven out of 10 consumers feel that farmers produce products with “low air miles”, in essence products produced locally and with very little travel time taken to get to kitchen tables.

“What is also clear is the valuable, social and economic contribution dairy farmers make within their local regions. Over 87% of respondents highlighted that for them dairy is both sustainable and economically important for society,” she added.

John Murphy, Glanbia Ireland chairman added: “Irish farmers are among the best in the world and are determined to adapt to the requirement for science-based climate action.

“Delivery of proposed carbon budgets will be extremely challenging, however, farmers have proven their willingness to adapt and change many times.”

He said that co-ops and farmers and state agencies such as Teagasc are intent on delivering the key measures in Teagasc’s climate roadmap or MACC curve, as it is known.

“But achieving our targets and delivering on our promises will require state support in areas such as biomethane and research,” Murphy contended.