At the edge of the Atlantic, Ireland’s climate is responsible for painting a landscape with an abundance of green grass that is the secret to making Ireland’s dairy industry one of the most sustainable in the world.
In Ireland two-thirds of the land is used for agriculture and as much as 80% of this land is used to grow grass. This abundance of grass, coupled with natural irrigation creates the perfect environment for sustainable dairy farming and Irish dairy farmers have been working in harmony with these natural resources for generations. Irish cows traditionally calve in Spring-time, when the grass is starting to grow. This means that peak milk production coincides with peak grass growth. It is this partnership with nature that has made Ireland the most carbon efficient milk producer in the EU.
Sustainability has been part of the story of Irish dairy through the ages. For centuries Irish farmers have been practicing a sustainable ethos, endeavouring to preserve and enrich the land for the next generation. On average, an Irish farm changes hands outside of a family just once every 550 years. Irish farms tend to be small, with a small number of cows and this means that Irish farms are family run enterprises with an emphasis on animal health and welfare and employing long-term, sustainable farming practices. Indeed the Irish Dairy Board (IDB) supports the continuing traditions of quality in Irish dairy farming by sponsoring the Quality Milk Awards, which recognise and foster excellence in Irish dairy farming.
The Irish Dairy Board was established not just to sell milk but to promote the premium status of Irish dairy produce world-wide. Today the IDB is Ireland’s largest dairy exporter and, with global brands like Kerrygold and Dubliner, is responsible for delivering Irish dairy products to over 100 countries around the world. Recognised as Ireland’s iconic global food brand, Kerrygold is increasingly valued by consumers as offering quality beyond the norm.
As a farmer-owned co-operative the IDB works with all the stakeholders in our supply chain to ensure that sustainability is embedded in every aspect of what we do. At a farm level we are supported by the Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme, a national, independently accredited, sustainability and quality assurance scheme. The scheme is administered by Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, and involves on-farm dairy audits at 18 month intervals. These audits incorporate areas such as the environment, biodiversity and animal health and welfare.
At a company level, the Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme is complemented by Origin Green, the Irish Food Board’s sustainable development programme for the food and drinks industry in Ireland. The programme requires Irish Food and Drink companies to set targets in areas such as water usage, waste management, energy efficiency, supply chain integrity and social sustainability. The Irish Dairy Board is proud to have been the first dairy company to be accredited with Origin Green status and we are endeavouring to build upon this achievement, year after year.
Sustainability allows the IDB and our Irish dairy farmers to differentiate Irish dairy produce in a world where food has become commoditised. This is an approach which is resonating with our customers and consumers right around the world.
While quality remains the key driver for consumers, sustainability and traceability are becoming more and more significant. Consumers want to know where their food comes from and how it is made. As markets become more globalised, being able to tell the story of a food’s origin is becoming ever more important.
The unique nature of the Irish climate has provided Irish farmers with advantageous resources for sustainable farming. The commitment of the industry at all levels to the importance of sustainability, matched by a willingness to invest in both technology and traceability systems, has ensured that Ireland is a world leader in meeting consumer demands and that Kerrygold is recognised as a premium, quality brand in stores all around the world.
Padraig Ryan, Sustainability Manager, Irish Dairy Board