Stephen Cadogan: Investment offers prospect of Irish dairy innovation

With up to 2.5 billion extra litres of milk to process in 2020, the Irish dairy industry will need as many processing outlets for that milk as possible, says Stephen Cadogan.
Stephen Cadogan: Investment offers prospect of Irish dairy innovation

And the technology for handling it, from farm to consumer, will have to move with the times.

That’s why this week’s announcement of a €35 million investment in Irish dairy processing innovation is so welcome.

It holds out the exciting prospect of Irish researchers coming up with the kind of dairy breakthroughs which can on their own have a significant effect across the industry.

But it also ensures that Ireland is better placed to keep pace with its many competitors in the race to win a share of the global market for dairy products.

To do that, we need ever more efficient processes, better products and ingredients, and technological capabilities.

At farm level, Ireland is well placed in its adoption of genomics for breeding better dairy cattle.

And the investment announced this week gives us a better chance to gain similar advantages throughout the production chain “from farm to fork”.

This latest announcement is encouraging for those in the industry, from farmers up, who are apprehensive about the prospects of much reduced market returns in 2015.

Well done to the 10 dairy companies who are bankrolling the investment in innovation — Arrabawn, Aurivo, Carbery, Dairygold, Glanbia, Kerry, Lakeland Dairies, North Cork Co-op, and Tipperary Co-Op.

The Department of Jobs, through Enterprise Ireland, also supports the €25m investment in the Dairy Processing Technology Centre (DPTC), which will be hosted by the University of Limerick.

And Teagasc also takes part in the €10m investment in the expansion of the Moorepark Technology Ltd (MTL) pilot plant facility at Fermoy, Co Cork.

The DPTC also involves nine research providing organisations: with the University of Limerick hosting, along with Teagasc, UCC, UCD, TCBB at NUIG, DCU, TCD, DIT, ITT and CIT.

The recently appointed CEO of the DPTC, Padraig McPhillips, said it is a collaborative model in which the best research talent in Ireland, relevant to industry needs, is brought together to solve the strategic research and innovation needs of the sector.

DPTC knowledge and people will be absorbed by the industry, and used to deliver more efficient processes and better products and ingredients.

Teagasc Director Gerry Boyle said the investment of €10 million by its shareholders will ensure MTL’s relevance to all its customers, national and international, and support the ambitions of the Irish dairy Industry to produce value added foods and ingredients for international markets.

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said investing in product and process innovation adds value to high quality raw materials in Ireland, maximises dairy employment, boosts the Irish economy, improves competitiveness, and helps to mitigate the impact of volatility. It can also boost inward investment in the Irish food industry by major global players.

It is good to hear that the two initiatives announced are complementary, with an upgraded and expanded MTL pilot plant doing commercial scale testing of innovations from DPTC, and helping to transfer successful innovations to the industry.

ICMSA had congratulated UL on grasping the potential of the dairy sector, and noted that UL and other third level institutions can go further, by introducing specialist undergraduate and postgraduate courses in agri-economics and other agri-related disciplines needed by the next generation of industry leaders.

Meanwhile, the challenge was well summed up by Dr Keith O’Neill of Enterprise Ireland, “With the anticipated increase of 50% in the Irish milk pool to 2020, dairy processors need to be supported to deal with the challenges presented, including technological capabilities and human resources capacities to develop a product mix that can increase dairy exports, while maximising the efficiencies of processing operations.

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