Agriculture is faced with “unprecedented challenges to the way we do business”, according to the president of the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS).

Jerry Long was speaking at the 43rd ICOS National Conference today, Thursday, November 7 – marking the 125th anniversary of co-operative enterprise in Ireland – when he said that it was “essential” that farming’s “social licence” be protected.

“We are increasingly tasked by our customers and other stakeholders to ensure that our production systems reflect the values that they hold dear,” Long argued.

While it may have been tempting for a while to ignore climate change, and to say that our sector didn’t cause it and that we didn’t need to adapt our practices; it’s glaringly obvious now that we have some very heavy lifting to do.

“Indeed, we need to demonstrate that we are a key part of the solution,” the ICOS president highlighted.

Long argued that work done by Teagasc and other groups has shown that “if we embrace new technologies and practices, we can actually improve our efficiency as an industry, while reducing our environmental footprint”.

He went on to highlight the 11 recommendations in ICOS’s report entitled ‘Positive Steps towards a Low Carbon Future for the Irish Dairy Sector’, which includes measures on: grassland management; the inclusion of clover in swards; manure management (including trailing shoe technology); nutrient management planning; and the adaption of protected urea.

He also outlined the challenges faced by agriculture in terms of animal welfare, and groups who advocate for a reduction in meat and dairy consumption.

Publicity campaigns can paint even normal husbandry practices in a bad way, so we must work very hard to ensure that all aspects of our farming operations treat animals with respect and ensure that their welfare is in no way compromised.

“Given the time of year, with calving season approaching, and the backdrop of a very depressed beef market, it is reasonable to be concerned as to the market for dairy bull calves. Indeed, it is possible that some calves, in these market conditions, may be of little or negative economic value,” Long observed.

“We must, however, be conscious of the expectations of our consumers, and we must ensure that every calf is treated in a way that we can stand over,” he added.

Long concluded his remarks by saying: “As our national conference marks 125 years of co-operative enterprise in Ireland this year, we may be deeply proud of our industry, but we must be vigilant to ensure that we will always evolve to meet the challenges.”