ORNUA The O'Sullivan Farm Cork.jpg

 From risk to reward 

Article appeared in issue 2, 2022

Irish farmers’ generational guardianship of the land is sustainability in practice,

says Eva Griffin, Ornua sustainability and CSR specialist

Sustainability is important in Irish dairy farming because climate risk has now become a business risk, according

to Eva Griffin, Ornua sustainability and CSR specialist. “This is because changing weather patterns present

challenges to Ireland’s seasonal, grassbased system of farming,” she says. “In addition, consumers’ increasing

awareness of climate issues is linked to the food they eat. Both of these issues could lead to a reduced demand for

dairy in the long term.”

Leading dairy exporter Ornua is wellplaced, however, to deal with challenges presented by environmental issues and their impact on the market, thanks to its cooperative and sustainable ethos. “On a cooperative level, we aim to add value to Irish dairy and return that shared value to the community of farming families that it represents,” says Eva. “At Ornua, the ethos of sustainability is to use growth as a force for good in the world,” she adds. “Good

growth is sustainable growth, nourishing a growing global population, protecting our animals, building prosperous communities, and supporting our people.”

Irish dairy farming is already in a strong position with regard to sustainability due to its carbon-efficient dairy production system. “As farmers adopt new practices to further reduce emissions over time, Irish dairy can retain a market-leading position,” says Eva. She points out that Ireland’s grass-fed system of production is important in this respect. “Our temperate climate and regular rainfall create the perfect weather for growing grass,” she says. “Butter from grass-fed cows is golden in colour due to high levels of beta carotene in the grass. It contains relatively high levels of Omega 3 and Omega 6.” 

The nature of Irish farming, with dairy farms being passed down from generation to generation, plays a part in this. “This generational guardianship of the land, leaving it in a better condition than how it was received, is

sustainability in practice,” says Eva.


Ambitious targets 

Ornua has set ambitious sustainability targets to reduce emissions, transition to circular packaging, increase animal welfare standards and protect the grass-fed family farming system. Ornua members are encouraged to adopt sustainable practices through incentives.

“Our member suppliers are incentivised to meet key sustainability requirements in compliance with our Kerrygold

standard,” says Eva. “This standard represents 14,000 Irish family farm producers who work with us to add

value to their quality milk to ensure a sustainable income. Through the Kerrygold brand and by maximising,

as a co-operative, the market return to our members, this sustainable income for our rural communities harmonises with the practices we have put in place to meet our environmental and animal welfare standards.”

Ornua’s business model is anchored  in sustainable, profitable growth. “Our focus is on premiumisation and adding value to volume,” she says. “Building on this business model is Ornua’s sustainability strategy, ‘Growing for

Good, Sustainably’, focusing on three core areas: caring for our environment, our animals, and our community.”


Renewable resources 

Last year was a good year for milk coops in Ireland. “Milk supply grew and demand

was solid with global commodity prices above average,” says Eva. “In turn, coops have been able to pay strong milk prices to farmers throughout the year.”  But both Covid-19 and rising input costs around the world have put a strain on the Irish dairy sector. “Covid-19 has impacted the industry sector, with supplychain bottlenecks affecting dairy coops and their ability to ship product in a costeffective and timely manner,” says Eva.

“Rising energy costs also pushed up the   of processing milk and tightened the margins as last year progressed.”

These issues have highlighted the need for coops to gradually transition towards renewable energy sources. “For example, several Irish dairy cooperatives are part of Project Clover which aims to develop a large-scale network of on-farm anaerobic digestors across Ireland to supply bio-gas as a domestic gas supply,” says Eva.

Origin Green

Origin Green, Bord Bia’s (the Irish Food Board) pioneering food and drink sustainability programme, plays a vital

role, promoting Irish dairy produce abroad as a sustainably produced premium product. “It provides a framework and independently verified proof point of the food industry’s sustainability ambitions and achievements,” explains Eva. “What’s more, it’s globally recognised as a first-ofits- kind initiative, due to measuring and reporting on sustainability targets from farm to fork.”

Optimistic outlook

All of these initiatives mean that the dairy industry here is ahead of many other countries with regard to  sustainability. Ireland currently has the lowest carbon footprint of milk in the northern hemisphere at 0.99 kg Co2e/kg of milk (fat and protein corrected) which demonstrates the impact of collaboration right across the industry. The outlook is largely positive for Irish dairy farming. While the growth of milk here has eased, supply is expected to increase in the next few years, driven by higher yield per cow. Global commodity prices are also strong against a backdrop of weaker milk flows elsewhere and solid global demand. However, there are challenges facing the industry, too. “In the short-term, rising input costs (feed, fertiliser, and fuel) may affect supply and margins, while long-term, environmental constraints may limit the scope for further expansion,” says Eva.