Milk solids output to double in the run-up to 2025 – Teagasc

Teagasc is predicting that, by 2025, national milk solids production (kg fat plus protein) will have increased by over 100% compared to the 2007-2009 period.

The forecast is contained within the organisation’s recently published Road Map document for Ireland’s dairy sector.

Also forecast is a 16,500-strong cohort of dairy farms, 1,500 of which will be new entrants to milk production.

Dairy cow numbers will increase to 1.7 million by 2025, while average herd size will increase to over 100 cows.

It is envisaged that average milk deliveries per farm will increase to over 570,000 litres, at almost 3.6% protein and 4.25% butterfat.

The Road Map also predicts a buoyant future for dairy farming in Ireland. However, milk price volatility will continue to be a feature of dairy markets.

Agri-Business

In response to this, there will be increased opportunities to enter into ‘forward contracts’ or to utilise ‘price risk management tools’.

According to Teagasc, Ireland’s grass-based milk production system remains a key, comparative advantage over our international competitors.

Looking ahead, milk of a higher quality will be required for the production of higher value products, including infant milk formula.

But there is the risk of significant reputational damage to the Irish dairy industry in the event of a product failure.

It is believed that Irish dairy farms will become increasingly specialised with many activities outsourced, creating a demand for a larger farm contracting sector.

The Road Map document confirms that alternative models of land use and management are already emerging and will become more popular.

Moreover, there is a requirement for an increased number of young, trained dairy farmers and skilled dairy farm operatives.

Computer, Social Media, young farmer

But overarching all of this, it is the belief of Teagasc strategists that the family farming model for milk production has served Ireland well and should be maintained into the future.

But all of this envisaged growth will have implications from an environmental point of view.

The increased size of the national dairy herd (including replacements), even allowing for the projected increase in stocking rate, will increase the land requirement for Irish dairying.

What’s more, the need to improve sustainability will require a reduction in nutrient loss to water plus a reduction – or at least stabilisation –  of greenhouse gas emissions. An improvement in habitats for biodiversity is also envisaged.

Some key actions to be undertaken, from an environmental point of view, include an improvement in the uptake and usage of nutrient management planning and an increase in the proportion of nitrogen (N) usage as urea, and particularly protected urea.

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Improving N efficiency will help lower methane emissions. In turn, this will reduce the carbon footprint of milk while increasing profitability

Also envisaged by Teagasc is an improvement of soil fertility on dairy land. This will increase N efficiency and reduce losses. From a soil fertility perspective there is a need to significantly increase the proportion of soils with pH >6.3 and stabilising soil phosphorus (P) Index values at around 3.0.

The coming years will also see an increase slurry application using low emissions technologies. Reducing energy costs and emissions by improving the energy efficiency of water heating, milk cooling and milking machines will be critically important for all Irish dairy farmers moving forward.

There will also be an increase in the implementation of appropriately designed ecological measures to halt the decline of biodiversity. According to Teagasc, targeted actions will be required to reduce the  risk of point source (farmyard) and diffuse (land) losses of nutrients to water.

Future Teagasc research priorities for the dairy sector include the development and testing of technologies to increase grass production and utilisation.

National genetic evaluations for health (e.g., tuberculosis) and feed intake will be developed to facilitate the inclusion of these traits in the Economic Breeding Index (EBI). In addition, Teagasc intends developing genome-based mating plans, in association with the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF).

At an advisory and education level Teagasc will promote resilient and sustainable dairy farming systems.

The organisation intends expanding its discussion group network, with a particular emphasis on engaging recent graduates of Teagasc dairy education programmes.

An increased emphasis will be placed on ‘people in dairy’ through the development of short courses and materials around employing and managing people, collaborative farming options and career progression pathways in dairying.