Milk producers in Northern Ireland are already well down the road of responding to the challenge of climate change, according to Dairy UK’s Dr. Mike Johnston. He was speaking at a College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE)-hosted webinar this week that explored the issue of securing the future sustainability of the dairy sector.

“Farmers have succeeded in reducing the carbon intensity of the milk they produce by one third over the past two decades,” he said.

“And investment with the industry continues, all geared towards driving up efficiency levels and lowering the carbon footprint of individual farming businesses.

“But our journey still has a long, long way to go.”

In mapping out the journey required for the milk sector to reduce its carbon footprint dramatically over the next 30 years, he said that Northern Ireland’s politicians must put in place climate-change legislation which meets this need without severely clamping the potential of the agri sectors to produce food.

According to the Dairy UK representative, customers of the milk-processing sector are also taking a very real interest in climate change and the need to produce food sustainably.

He commented:

“These drivers are pulling dairy suppliers in a range of different directions. And they are coming into play at a time when there is a legislative vacuum here in Northern Ireland.

Johnston also referenced the steps being taken in other countries to align their dairy sectors with very strong, climate change-focussed development strategies, adding:

“We need to make sure that our own development strategies are as competitive and, going beyond this, we need to identify critically important areas of environmental advantage.

“But the dairy sector cannot do all of this own its own.  We need to partner up strongly with government and research.

“Only in this way can we create the knowledge that we need to reduce emissions, and develop the dairy industry as a centre of excellence.”

Johnston pointed out that the farming industry is used to change.

He said:

“The years since the ending of the Second World War have seen staggering change impact the agricultural industry.

“These developments were driven by improvements in technology, the impact of research plus the need to improve efficiency and productivity.

“Not only is the pace of change likely to decrease. But the language around farming is also changing.

“Terms such as carbon sequestration, carbon calculators and biogenic emissions are now used in common parlance.

“The era of sustainable farming is with us. But this is not a principle that milk  producers should be afraid of, rather, they should embrace it,” he told the CAFRE event.