Northern Ireland continues to decarbonise its milk sector and greater strides to this effect can be expected.

This was one of the main themes addressed at the fourth annual EU Sustainable Dairy Symposium earlier this week.

The event was hosted by the Dairy Council for Northern Ireland, in conjunction with the European Milk Forum.

Three of Northern Ireland’s dairy processing companies gave an insight into actions and investments made in areas such as energy efficiency, packaging, and other sustainability initiatives.

Milk sector

Chris McAlinden spoke of how Dale Farm has achieved a 25% carbon reduction since 2017 and reduced water use by 40%.

The company’s 37ac solar farm at Dunmanbridge, Cookstown supplies 25% of on-site electricity demand, and investing in gas boilers in 2019 has reduced reliance on heavy fuel oils and reduced its heating emissions by a quarter.

Ben Williams from Glanbia Cheese spoke about its Magheralin site reducing gas use per unit of product by over 68% in the last five years, and the importance it places on improving on-farm sustainability to help deliver a net zero carbon future.

Dermot Farrell from Lakeland Dairies spoke of automation, smart logistics, and how a swathe of waste reduction initiatives it has implemented, have meant it has sent zero waste to landfill since 2015.

Lakeland was the first dairy processor to have its own anaerobic digestor, which provides renewable biogas to generate enough electricity and heat to meet 40-60% of its daily energy needs at its Ballyrashane site in north Co. Antrim.

Farming with nature

Challenging the sector to ‘farm with nature’, John Martin from the RSPB, spoke of the many ways farmers can, and are, farming in a nature friendly way to protect and nurture wildlife habitats and improve biodiversity.

Alan Galbraith from College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) spoke about the importance of environmental benchmarking to improve both production and environment.

He also outlined how the CAFRE estates are being managed to improve sustainability and the role that feed, grazing, genetics, land, herd and nutrient management play in achieving that.

Dairy Council chief executive, Dr. Mike Johnston, commented:

“Northern Ireland’s dairy sector has been engaging with local scientists and government agencies, adapting the latest science-based evidence as well as investing in new technologies to help tackle climate change, but we know we still have a way to go.

“This is the fourth year of holding this event and it’s timely that this year’s symposium coincides with the recent COP26 gathering held in Glasgow.

“A global problem calls for a global solution, and we have benefitted from taking part in this programme with other European nations, exchanging knowledge and experiences. There’s a lot of hard work to be done and I know we can get there.

“It’s important to celebrate the strides that have been made already and the important role that dairy plays in a balanced nutritious diet,” he concluded.