The launch followed 18 months of planning by the Irish food board 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.
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 sign up and participate in SDAS by 2016.
Welcoming the news, a spokeswoman for the Irish Dairy Board said it was proud to support the SDAS.
Speaking to AgriLand, she said: “Sustainability is at the heart of Irish dairying, be it our grass-based system, our family farm model, our animal welfare standards or how we manage our land. Bord Bia’s SDAS enables us to prove our natural sustainability to our customers and consumers around the world. It gives us the opportunity to set ourselves apart from our global competitors and showcase what we do naturally. As our industry prepares for the post-quota environment, the marketing of the premium attributes of Irish dairy products has never been more important, and the SDAS will play a critical role in supporting the great farming story we have to tell our customers around the world.”
The Irish Co-Operative Society (ICOS) also welcomed the world-class programme.
Speaking to AgriLand, an ICOS spokesman said: “The launch of the Bord Bia Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme is the culmination of almost two years of hard work by all concerned, starting with the minister, and carried on by Bord Bia, the dairy co-ops, statutory bodies and farmer representatives.
“The resultant scheme will allow Irish farmers to demonstrate and prove the sustainability and quality of their milk, and will allow processors and the Irish Dairy Board to access newer markets, for expanded supply, and strengthen their position with current customers.”
In addition the ICOS spokesman emphasised the importance of adequate consultation with co-ops right throughout its development.
“While the scheme will ultimately deliver real value to co-ops and their members, it will also place a significant cost and administrative burden on co-ops, and will require some effort by farmers to ensure that their farming enterprises reach the required standard.”
Meanwhile the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) stressed the value to farmers of the new scheme must be adequately communicated.
IFA national dairy committee chairman Kevin Kiersey said there was now a major onus on the Irish dairy industry and Bord Bia to communicate to dairy farmers the value of the scheme, including its marketing and financial benefits.
“IFA fully understands the importance of quality assurance schemes in protecting our ability to market our products, and we are strong believers that the good story we have to tell on sustainability can provide our dairy sector with a unique competitive edge on the world market in the context of our expansion ambitions.
“IFA’s contribution to the design of the scheme by the Bord Bia technical advisory committee has focused on achieving a realistic compliance procedure and ensuring that the requirements farmers have to fulfil are reasonable and representative of normal good practice on Irish dairy farms.
In conclusion he stressed: “A significant job of communication is now required by industry to convince dairy farmers that it is worth their while volunteering themselves for the scrutiny of the audits.”
The ICMSA also welcomed the scheme. Speaking to AgriLand, its president John Comer said despite initial misgivings two years ago at the planning stage, he is confident uptake of the scheme will be high across Ireland’s 18,000 dairy farmers.
“We are glad at the way it has got industry buy-in from all stakeholders. It is going to work. Two years ago it was at a very critical stage but the minister did listen to us and has come back with a great scheme that will serve the farming community well.
“Consumers are demanding standards and these audits are reasonable. There may be some teething problems, especially with inspections. Also a key requirement is the dissemination of the information to farmers. But we are in this for the long haul. We will be recommending the scheme to our members. A balance has been struck and it is not too much of an imposition for farmers.”