Irish Dairy & the Sustainability of Rural Ireland

The dairy renaissance

Conor Mulvihill15/01/2020

Irish dairy is currently going through a renaissance period.

It is currently seen as a ‘tiger’ economy in the global dairy industry, with one of the fastest growth rates on the planet. Since the lifting of the EU quota regime on 2015 the industry has flourished, jumping from producing just over 5 billion litres of milk in 2015 to surpassing 8 billion litres today.

The dairy industry in 2019 will deliver over €2.6 billion in milk cheque payments alone into parishes around Ireland and is the driver of investment in farms and factories ‘outside the toll roads’ on the island. This raw milk in turn supports a myriad of factories and businesses dotted around the island with 2017 economic reports putting the employment of the Irish dairy Industry at 32,000 direct jobs in Ireland. Indirect jobs are harder to gauge, but between services to the industry like vets, advisors, contractors, dairy equipment sellers, jobs in dairy beef, economic reports from the likes of the Cork Institute of Technology estimate that a further 30,000 jobs across Ireland are dependent on Irish dairy.

With over 90% of our produce going for export, this in turn brings in €4.7 billion of dairy export revenue according to Bord Bia’s 2017/18 Export performance report- our best performing sector across food and drink.

But with all this positivity and our reliance on export markets for our products, we must be fully aware of both threats and opportunities for dairy.

Quality employment in difficult areas

In 2018 Teagasc released figures showing the average Irish Dairy farm made a profit of €88,829. This was multiples of what peer agricultural sectors in Ireland are making. Once has just to look at recent difficulties and despair in the beef sector to see the real value of the delivery of dairy for rural people.

In fact, figures show that Ireland is the only advanced dairy economy on the planet that has seen an increase in numbers of dairy farmers, something almost unheard of in modern western societies. Why is this? Sustainable incomes.

A growing footprint

Irish dairy is not blind to the impact growth has on our environment and our people. We are fully cognisant that true sustainability means we have to not only address the economic and social sustainability strands we currently are making major strides on, we also have to be fully aware and strive for major improvement on the key pillar of environmental sustainability.

Our reputation as a dairy exporting nation is inextricably linked with our environmental credentials.

To this end the Irish dairy industry has been the first on the planet to have all 17,500 of our farmers regularly audited under the Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme.

We are also are the first country in the world to take a whole of government/whole of sector approach to grasping the many challenges we have on the matter with the set up of the Dairy Sustainability Ireland initiative. Working with the Environmental Protection Agency- industry, farmers and the arms of the state such as the Department of Agriculture, Local Authorities, Teagasc, the Department of Housing and Bord Bia have come together in a collaborative manner to address challenges such as water and soil quality, Biodiversity and energy to name but a few.


In terms of the recently published Climate Action Plan- Agriculture is actually the only sector which has a roadmap for improvement with Teagasc publishing an mitigation abatement curve for the various sectors of the industry to follow.

We recognise completely that there is a long journey left to travel, as we marry growth and improving our environmental performance, but we are up for this task.

The bottom line is, the likes of Kerry group, Danone & Aurivo are the Facebook, Apple and Google of towns like Kanturk, Ballaghderreen and Virginia.

Macro Trends

Three macro trends have emerged that present challenges to Irish dairy. For us, these are the developments around the sustainability of dairy, the nutritional story of dairy, and finally the animal welfare story of the Irish dairy industry. The industry and farmers are looking to meet the opportunities and the challenges presented by these trends head on, and deliver science based, metric driven improvements on these issues from farm to fork.

Dairy Industry Ireland is also teaming up with Bord Bia, the ICMSA, the IFA, Meat Industry Ireland and the NDC to form an initiative called ‘Meat & Dairy Facts’ to tell our story and explain the vital role of meat and dairy in a balanced diet and to demonstrate why exactly Irish meat and dairy ranks among the world’s best in terms of quality, sustainability and animal care.

Tagged with: indigenousindustry

Mr. Conor Mulvihill

Dairy Industry Ireland represents primary and secondary dairy manufacturers including the specialised nutrition sector in Ireland. It is affiliated to Ibec.



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