Pasture and genetics key for sustainable dairy amid significant expansion

Pasture and genetics key for sustainable dairy amid significant expansion
With milk production 15- 20% ahead of 2018, and expected to exceed 8bn litres for the first time in 2019, how the industry can grow sustainably will be the theme of next Wednesday’s national dairy open day at Moorepark. Left, at the event launch, from left: Tom O’Dwyer (Teagasc), Ann Marie Butler (Ulster Bank), Pat Dillon (Teagasc), Philip Cocoman (Ornua), Liam Herlihy (Teagasc Chairman), Ailish Byrne (Ulster Bank), Michael Berkery (FBD) and Frank O’Mara (Teagasc).

A national open Day will take place in Teagasc Moorepark next Wednesday, July 3, writes Dr Pat Dillon, Head of Programme, Animal & Grassland Research and Innovation Centre, Moorepark.

All dairy farmers and dairy industry stakeholders are invited to attend.

This is an ideal opportunity to see at first-hand the results of the comprehensive research programme at Moorepark, and to meet Teagasc research, advisory and education staff.

The Irish dairy industry has been transformed since the abolition of milk quotas in 2015. At the core of this success story are 18,000 family-owned dairy farms, producing approximately 7.6 billion litres of milk and supporting 60,000 jobs across the rural economy.

Economic activity in the sector produces a far greater multiplier effect than other traded sectors. Every €1 of additional dairy exports corresponds to an additional €0.90 spend in the wider domestic economy.

The corresponding figure for the multinational sector is for every €1 in additional exports, €0.10 cent is spent in the Irish economy.

The unique nutritional quality and character of pasture-fed dairy products has been a cornerstone of the growing demand for Irish dairy products in 110 premium markets worldwide.

The value of Irish dairy exports exceeded €4 billion for the first time in 2018, and accounted for 35% of total food and drink exports.

Of equal importance, the expansion has improved the profitability of family farms and brought more money into the rural economy.

With current production running 15 to 20% ahead of 2018, total production is expected to exceed 8bn litres for the first time in 2019, resulting in additional jobs, investment and export earnings.

New challenges in relation to climate change, water quality and availability of an adequate supply of skilled labour, however, are now facing the dairy industry.

Sustainable growth requires that dairy farming systems are financially profitable, environmentally friendly and socially acceptable.

The dairy industry is committed to meeting Ireland’s climate change goals through identifying and implementing strategies to reduce or offset greenhouse gas emissions from dairy farming, as outlined in the government Climate Action Plan 2019.

Likewise, the dairy industry is committed to working collaboratively with government, regional and local councils to protect and nurture the environment.

All dairy farm businesses need to implement best employment practices and provide a safe working environment. Additionally, there is a shared consensus that the highest standards of animal welfare are critical to the on-going success of the dairy sector. In line with these objectives, the theme of next Wednesday’s Moorepark event is ‘Growing Sustainably’.

Success in the past doesn’t automatically mean success in the future. Most dairy farmers have expanded significantly in recent years; now is the time to re-evaluate their farming system.

Dairy farm systems can continue to grow sustainably, based on feeding a predominantly pasture diet to genetically elite dairy cattle.

Considerable gains in both farm profitability and environmental efficiency can be achieved through incorporation of white clover into grassland swards, coupled with the use of protected urea fertilisers and low emissions slurry application.

From an animal breeding standpoint, significant improvements can be obtained from extending the lifespan of each animal, which reduces the requirement for replacements, and increases individual animal performance from grazed pasture.

Greater uptake of the EBI and PastureBase Ireland will greatly facilitate this.

It’s important that we learn from the extreme weather events in recent years.

All farmers need a reserve of silage available for unexpected contingencies.

Dairy farming must be a desirable job, in order to attract and retain young people. The farming system needs to be labour efficient, and it needs to eliminate wasteful and often physically demanding tasks and long working days.

There will be seven Open Day villages — Putting Grazing Management into Practice; Sustainable Milk Production Systems; Healthy Cow-Healthy Milk; Next Generation Breeding and Reproduction; People Farming Smarter; Dairy Farm Infrastructure; and Keeping You & Your Family Safe on the Farm.

The village format allows dairy farmers to choose areas that they feel are most important to them, and will allow one-to-one contact with Teagasc researchers and advisers.

Demonstrations on grazing management, reseeding, slurry application methods, nitrogen fertiliser type, farm infrastructure, dairy beef, high EBI genetics, and health and safety will take place throughout the day.

There will be workshops on non-chlorine protocols for cleaning milking equipment, selective dry cow therapy, pathways into dairy farming and labour management.

A number of national experts have accepted invitations to participate in the workshops.

Starting at 3 pm, there will be a farm forum on ‘Meeting the Challenges and Opportunities of Continued Expansion’ facilitated by Sharon Ní Bheoláin from RTÉ News.

The panel discussion will include Ciaran Fitzgerald (Food Economist), and will address ‘Benefit of the dairy industry to the Irish economy including the recent expansion with the abolition of milk quotas’.

Matt Crowe (Director of the Office of Evidence and Assessment in the Environmental Protection Agency) will address ‘Challenges in relation to climate change and water quality’.

Orla Walsh (Food Dietitian) will address the ‘Nutritional benefits of dairy’.

John Jordan (CEO of Ornua) will address ‘Dairy future markets’.

Finally, Michael and Marguerite Crowley, Skibbereen, will provide a dairy farmer’s view on ‘Future dairy expansion’. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine, Michael Creed, will also contribute to this discussion,

Industry experts from ICBF, AHI, DAFM, Ornua, Bord Bia, NDC, HSA, and Agri Aware, will be present to answer individual farmer queries.

This makes Teagasc Moorepark '19 a day not to be missed by anyone with an interest in the Irish dairy industry.

Financial support for our research programme from state grants and Dairy Levy Research Funds is gratefully acknowledged.

Additionally, we acknowledge FBD Insurance as the overall sponsor of Moorepark’19, with additional support from Ulster Bank and Ornua.

The open day runs from 8.30 am to 5pm. A comprehensive booklet will be provided.

Admission and parking are free.

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