Or con­sumers could quit milk

Irish Independent - Farming - - FINANCE -

as 4cm from ground level. But if we can’t make grass prof­itable, the al­ter­na­tive is to keep the cow in­doors for 12 months of the year — is that bet­ter?

Yes, large herds are rarely pure fam­ily op­er­a­tions, but it’s the in­volve­ment of ad­vi­sors and ex­perts that in­creases the pro­fes­sion­al­ism th­ese op­er­a­tions. So big herds do pose a big pol­lu­tion risk if some­thing goes wrong, but is the risk of pol­lu­tion higher from one pro­fes­sion­ally run large herd or from 10 small units that may be part-time op­er­a­tions?

As a mem­ber of the dairy in­dus­try I feel that we have to ac­cept that there are harsh re­al­i­ties to sur­viv­ing and thriv­ing in this sec­tor. But there is also a good rea­son for each and every one of them.

Ex­pect­ing the sec­tor to avoid scru­tiny by don­ning a big Ori­gin Green cloak that has been cre­ated by skilled mar­ke­teers won’t be enough. With­out each in­di­vid­ual farmer be­ing able to ar­gue the ra­tio­nale be­hind every el­e­ment of the sec­tor, the in­dus­try will find that the same con­sumers that make their sec­tor so prof­itable will sim­ply walk away from milk.

Dairy won’t win this ar­gu­ment by shout­ing louder than the crit­ics. Rather it needs to be skilled enough to prove to its cus­tomers that it re­ally is a busi­ness that cares about an­i­mal wel­fare, the en­vi­ron­ment and the fu­ture.

In some ways the ad­di­tion of 400,000 cows and the sale of ex­tra Ir­ish dairy pow­der and com­modi­ties over the last five years has been the easy bit. Be­ing able to keep con­sumers’ faith while the sec­tor in­dus­tri­alises will be a much big­ger ask.

Just look at how much our own fam­i­lies’ and neigh­bours’ at­ti­tudes are evolv­ing — how many farm­ers re­alised 20 years ago that so many of their chil­dren would elect to be veg­e­tar­i­ans and ve­g­ans in their teens and twen­ties?

The re­cent Ci­ti­zens As­sem­bly vote in favour of curb­ing green­house gas emis­sions from agri­cul­ture is also proof that farm­ers won’t be get­ting a free ride on this is­sue just be­cause Ire­land is more ru­ral than most.

As we put our feet up this Christ­mas, Ire­land’s dairy sec­tor needs think hard about how to keep the good times going.

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