Moorepark Animal & Grassland Research and Innovation Centre has played a pivotal role in the development of the Irish dairy industry. Since its establishment by the Irish Government in 1959, Moorepark has evolved to become the focal point of research on milk production in Ireland. As the National Dairy Research Centre, Moorepark is responsible for all aspects of dairy production research. The removal of EU dairy quotas represents a major opportunity for the Irish dairy industry and provides the basis for a 50% increase in milk output as set out in the Food Harvest 2020 report. The achievement of the FH2020 targets will require milk deliveries to increase from an average of 5.1 billion litres over the 2007 to 2009 period to 7.66 billion litres by 2020. The expansion in Irish milk production will increase the profitability of Irish dairy farms, create valuable new jobs within the national dairy industry and combined with value add at processing level; will be worth in excess of €1.5 billion in additional revenue to the Irish agri-economy in the next decade. Additionally, Food Wise 2025 projects that the value of Irish agri-food exports to increase to €19 billion by 2025, creating an additional 23,000 jobs in the agri-food sector.
Objectives of the Animal & Grassland Research and Innovation Programme
- To increase the profitability and competitiveness of Irish livestock production
- Increase the environmental sustainability of Irish livestock systems in terms of nutrient use efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions
- Enhance the quality and safety of Irish meat and dairy products
- Assist in the delivery of new technology to key stakeholders
- To become a leading international science authority on technologies for pasture-based animal production
Mission and Vision of the Animal & Grassland Research and Innovation Programme
Mission: Generate new science and innovation to increase the efficiency and competitiveness of the Irish Agri-food industry.
Vision: An internationally known and recognised Animal & Grassland Research and Innovation Centre which produces new leading edge technology and models to drive the Irish Agri-food industries.
Key challenges and opportunities in dairy industry
Over the coming decades, population growth, urbanisation and income growth, especially in developing countries, will result in a significant increase in demand for milk. World population has risen from less than 3 billion in 1950 to 7 billion today; is projected to increase to 9.3 billion by 2050, and 10 billion by the end of the century. Medium term prospects for milk and dairy products appear favourable. The next few decades will see unprecedented urban growth, particularly in Africa, Asia and China; as well as increasing food demand will significantly change patterns in food consumption by stimulating the use of perishable goods. In the future, economic growth in developing countries is expected to be significantly higher than in developed countries. As income grows in developing countries, so also does expenditure on livestock products. However, with these opportunities come a number of challenges:
- The abolition of milk quotas on the 1st of April 2015 has created both exciting and challenging opportunities for the Irish dairy industry. For the first time in 31-years, Ireland can now plan to exploit our competitive advantage in milk production within a truly global marketplace fuelled by expansion on existing dairy farms and the entry of youthful new entrants to dairying. However, as herd sizes increase on many dairy farms, this will place added pressure on the management capability of dairy farmers. While delivering long term financial gains, dairy farm expansion is initially precarious as additional capital investment is required and farm performance is frequently sub-optimal during the immediate expansion phase. In the future, dairy farmers will need a broader range of skills and an increased understanding of both technical (grassland and stock management), people (staff supervision, communication and management) and business (cash flow, business planning and goal setting) skills to successfully develop their farming operations in this increasingly uncertain environment. The expansion in output will also exert challenges to both the processing and marketing sectors to process the increased milk supply and market increased volumes of dairy products.
- In recent years, milk prices have become much more turbulent because of the tight world supply/demand conditions on global markets. During the last decade, and against a backdrop of a modestly increasing annual milk price trend, the variation in annual milk price has increased fourfold (from +/- 2 to +/- 8 cents/litre). While the abolition of quotas will facilitate opportunities for expansion on many dairy farms; increased investment requirements at farm level within a volatile milk price environment pose challenges. Consequently, strict cost control will be even more important at farm level in the future and necessitates the development of more resilient farming systems. Key components of the dairy systems post milk quotas will be the use of high EBI genetics and the realisation of increased grass production and utilisation per hectare. These businesses need to be technically and financially efficient, generate surplus cash, consistently achieve financial expectations and are simple to operate. In Ireland, resilient dairy farm systems must have a low cost base to insulate the business from price shocks and allow family based farms to generate sufficient funds in higher milk price times to meet family commitments and finance expansion. Additionally, a resilient dairy farming system must have sufficient tactical flexibility to overcome unanticipated events that can lower short term profitability (e.g. cold wet spring etc.).
- Systems of milk production in Ireland are competitive because they are grass based systems. Recent studies have shown that cash costs as a per cent of output are relatively low in Ireland (68%) compared to Holland (75%) and Denmark (88%). However, the level of specialisation in milk production in Ireland is low by international standards because the Irish dairy industry was at a different level of dairy specialisation when milk quotas were introduced in 1984 compounded by milk quota policy implemented since their introduction. This low level of specialisation in dairy production means that there is significant capacity to increase cow numbers on existing dairy farms. National Farm Survey data show that on average just 56% of livestock on dairy farms are dairy cows and when replacement heifers are included this increases to 67% of all animals. At present, only 25% of grassland in Ireland is being farmed by specialised dairy farmers. Consequently, there is significant potential for expansion.
- Irish grass-based systems of milk production are also more sustainable than most other milk production systems throughout the world. A recent study has shown that Irish milk production is the most efficient in terms of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU. Additionally Irish grass-based systems are superior in terms of animal health and welfare, milk composition, biodiversity and water quality. We must ensure that our post quota systems of production continue to set the highest international standards for food safety and quality, animal welfare and environmentally sustainability in this new environment. Moreover, Irish dairy farmers must be prepared to adjust production systems and practices in the future to meet the changing requirements of discerning international customers.
- The next generation of dairy farmers will require additional education and training and experiential learning in advance of taking control of these large dairy units. Already, there is an increasing demand for technically skilled farm managers to meet the skills gap on expanding dairy farms. To meet this growing demand for suitably skilled and experienced managers, Teagasc, in conjunction with UCD and industry stakeholders, has developed the Professional Diploma in Dairy Farm Management, and it is hoped that more farm families will avail of this programme in the coming years to provide suitably skilled and experienced dairy farmers and managers with the best possible start in their farming careers New business structures (e.g. share farming) will also be required to encourage land conversion into milk production, creating a progression pathway that will attract new people to a career in dairy farming.
This website provides just a flavour of the extensive range of research in which our staff is engaged. Feel free to contact us for further information on our work.
Dr. Pat Dillon
Head of Animal & Grassland Research and Innovation Programme