Or consumers could quit milk
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.