In excess of 100 senior representatives from the Irish dairy industry gathered in Dublin today for the launch of Bord Bia’s national Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme (SDAS).

Delegates heard how the new dairy scheme is fundamental to Bord Bia’s plans to invest almost €3.5m next year in a new targeted marketing campaign, under the Origin Green banner, to promote Ireland as a source of world-class sustainably produced food and drink.

Today’s launch follows 18 months of planning by Bord Bia in conjunction with a stakeholder group, comprising of producers, milk processors and regulatory authorities, appointed to develop the scheme on behalf of milk producers nationwide.

Speaking at the event, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney TD referred to the key role of a sustainable dairy sector in employment, exports and economic recovery.

“The Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme is not just about maintaining high standards and improving the environment. It also makes good business sense. It is about driving the development of an industry worth almost €3bn in exports and maximising the contribution of dramatically expanding dairy production to the Irish economy.

“This programme positions Irish producers and processors as ‘best in class’ and is a perfect fit with the corporate responsibility strategies that inform procurement policies in multinational purchasers of Irish dairy products and ingredients across the globe.

“There is also a perfect synergy between the measures needed to improve environmental performance and those required to reduce input costs and improve profitability at farm level. Ireland is already starting from a position of strength when it comes to high quality and sustainability. The launch of this programme is another key milestone in the Irish dairy story, and capitalises on our natural assets in a way that creates a real point of differentiation with our current and prospective customers.”

In addition to containing the necessary criteria to produce quality milk, the new scheme has been designed to provide a uniform mechanism of recording and monitoring the sustainability of Irish dairying at farm level.

According to Bord Bia it is the first national dairy scheme of its type anywhere in the world – a rigorous, independently verified and internationally accredited programme that not only sets out the requirements for best practice in Irish dairy farms but provides a means of measuring and improving the performance of every participating farmer.

Bord Bia’s goal is for all dairy farms in Ireland to be signed up and participating in SDAS by 2016.

Opening the event today, Bord Bia Chairman Michael Carey said: “Sustainability continues to grow in importance as a strategic business issue among leading customers for dairy products globally. The majority of leading multinational customers (including Unilever, Nestle, Danone and Kraft) have set out long term-targets to enhance the sustainability of their supply chain. Critically, many are still seeking solutions to help them achieve these targets and increasingly recognise the role that their suppliers will play in their delivery.”

In 2012, the value of Irish dairy exports was almost 30 per cent higher than 2006 levels, valued at more than €2.6bn, with further growth evident in 2013.

As a result, the sector accounts for almost 30 per cent of Ireland’s total food and drink exports. Aidan Cotter, chief executive of Bord Bia commented: “Ireland currently has a supply base of almost 18,000 farmers who between them produce more than five billion litres of milk annually. With the ending of dairy quotas in 2015, an increase of 50 per cent is anticipated in milk output by 2020. Such a transformation in output levels presents an unprecedented need for the Irish dairy industry to ensure that it secures a market position in both developed and emerging markets that can optimise returns to the sector.

“This will require the sector to be able to credibly convince and leverage a wide ranging customer portfolio of the uniqueness of its offer. To this end, the Irish dairy industry has committed to providing an annual fund of €1m to Bord Bia for a dedicated trade communications programme to promote the credentials of the Irish dairy sector as a source of high-quality, sustainably produced dairy products. This will complement a further €2.5m to be invested by Bord Bia for the Origin Green programme on behalf of the wider food industry” he continued.

“Research is at an advanced stage across a range of international and emerging markets to assist in the most efficient and effective allocation of these dairy funded resources over the coming year and beyond.”

Roll out

The roll out of the new scheme will begin in January 2014.

Dairy farmers can apply directly to Bord Bia, however it is expected the majority of the applications will come through milk purchasers and local co-ops who will fund the scheme and coordinate applications on the ground.

Once a producer expresses an interest in the scheme, an SDAS pack will be sent out. This will contain the Standard, the Bord Bia Farm Book and an application form.

Upon receipt of the completed application form the farm will be assigned to an auditor who will arrange the farm visit in consultation with the farmer. Upon certification, farmers will become members of the Origin Green programme, a Bord Bia programme that seeks to position Ireland as a world leader in sustainability.

Cotter added: “As the industry soon begins to enter its final year with quotas, the investment the industry is now committing in establishing its credentials, in the launch of this scheme and in communicating and differentiating itself for the period post-quotas, could hardly be more timely but also could arguably hardly be more urgent.”

Additional supports

In addition to the new scheme, Bord Bia will continue to support the dairy sector through the work of its Consumer Insight Team, the Marketing Fellowship, customised services and its international office network, while the opening of a new Bord Bia office in Dubai next month will add to the support available to the industry in the important Middle East region.

Co-funded by Bord Bia and industry, 10 Origin Green ambassadors recruited in September are currently completing their induction at the Smurfit Graduate School of Business and on farms and factories.

The ambassadors will begin their placements with major international food businesses around the world from January, spreading the vision and the message of Origin Green.

Meanwhile, in 2014, Bord Bia will promote Ireland’s sustainable food and drink industry through its participation in some 15 trade exhibitions, which will attract in excess of 800,000 business executives in Europe, Russia, the Middle East and Asia.

More reports to follow