The Dairy Council for Northern Ireland has published an EU Sustainable Dairy fact book, which details the key research and knowledge transfer initiatives pioneered in the Northern Ireland dairy sector.
The fact book is an EU-funded resource developed in collaboration with the European Milk Forum.
The first edition looks at how the sector is working to improve its emissions and mitigate against climate change, with specific reference to Greenhouse Gas emissions.
At each stage in the dairy supply chain the sector has been, and continues to make significant progress to reduce its environmental footprint.
In a number of key areas – emission of greenhouse gases, waste, pollutants and energy efficiency – significant improvements have been made on our journey of continuing to improve our environmental sustainability.
Dairy Council CEO Dr Mike Johnston MBE said, “The emissions most associated with agriculture (methane, nitrous oxide and ammonia, which causes nitrogen deposition) are the outputs of complex natural processes. The agri-food sector is taking firm action to minimise emissions and the interaction between farmers, industry leads and applied researchers have resulted in wide-ranging step changes in productivity, efficiency and environmental outcomes.
“The sector has sustained the livelihoods of thousands of farmers who act as the custodians of the land and created large-scale employment in high performing dairy processing plants that produce award-winning food. The dairy sector recognises its responsibility to produce high quality milk and dairy products, from farm to fork, in ways that are efficient and safeguard our environment.
Northern Ireland has already made significant strides in dairy sustainability practices, improving its carbon footprint by 30.7% between 1990 and 2014. Electricity emissions have also been reduced by 68% between 1990 and 2017, whilst manure emissions have reduced by 27% over the same period.
A recent study by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reported that between 2005-2015, global dairy Greenhouse Gas emission intensity dropped by almost 11%.
During that time, milk production increased by 30% and absolute emissions from the dairy sector by 18%. According to FAO, had the dairy sector not made efficiency gains, the emissions would have increased by 38%.
Mike added, “This publication recognises many of the important achievements and positive progress made by the Northern Ireland dairy sector in meeting the evolving environmental challenges. These stand as a testament to the hard work and commitment across the entire supply chain, including government and other partners, in a collective pursuit of improved environmental sustainability of the sector.”
The most effective way for local agriculture to contribute to GHG reduction targets, without cutting or displacing production, is to continue reducing the quantity of carbon it takes to produce each unit of food.
The fact book concludes with a chapter on human nutrition, which explores the latest research on assessing the sustainability of our diets.
Climate change and emission of greenhouse gases cannot be the sole dimension on which we assess the sustainability of foods. There are four dimensions we must consider, the environmental footprint, nutritional value, economy, and food culture.