Sustainability was the topic of the 6th Dairy Solutions Symposium "Optimizing production efficiencies, lowering environmental impact," co-hosted by University College Dublin (UCD) and Alltech. With discussions directed by leading industry experts, academics and nutritionists, the conclusion was unanimous: sustainability is the key to safeguarding the future and it needs to start now.
"Procrastination is the enemy of a sustainable world," said Michael Hamell, head of the agriculture unit at the European Commission. "The route proposed needs difficult choices – if not taken, the margin for manoeuvre will get smaller in future."
This sentiment was echoed throughout the Dairy Solutions Symposium, which took place in UCD June 20-21.
Dr. Tim McAllister of the Lethbridge Research Centre in Canada emphasised that there is no "magic bullet" to dramatically reduce methane production, and he stated that the best business approach to emissions management is via maximizing production efficiency, potentially through a greater understanding of microbial ecology of methane production.
Keynote speaker Padraig Brennan, senior business analyst from Bord Bia, reiterated Michael Hamell's earlier point noting that, "impacts that are acceptable with seven billion people will not be with nine; we need to use less to produce more from less."
He backed up this assertion with research on the growing awareness of consumers in the area of sustainability and environmental issues, showing 62 percent agreeing that they are more conscious of environmental when choosing products, and 55 percent stating that they would rather buy from companies who are also aware of these environmental issues.
Thursday's panel discussion offered some practical advice on sustainability with Philip Wilkinson of Assured Food Standards stating, "We need to understand what sustainability means. If you grow an animal more slowly for alleged welfare reasons, you change feed conversion rates, so that wheat, which could possibly feed under-nourished people, feeds animals instead. We need to find a balance with nine billion people to feed in the future."
Ronald Luijkx, manager dairy chain innovation at FrieslandCampina, had some positive advice on integrating sustainability.
"Sustainability doesn't have to increase cost, it is a win-win if we are proactive and don't wait on regulations, then we can influence the agenda," he said. "If you wait for regulations, then it costs because changes need to happen instantaneously. The direction comes from the market. We need to work on elements that work on both sides, and then sustainability brings us money and a better impact, as long as we act first."
Agreeing with the other panellists, Sean Molloy of Glanbia Dairy Ingredients said that, "We recognize that the sustainability concept has a great benefit for Ireland and for the Irish dairy exporters. When we started looking at it initially we were being prompted by our customers, but when we examined the full concept we realised that it presented us some fantastic opportunities. In Glanbia's view, however, there has to be an economic case for sustainability to justify investment by the various stakeholders."
From a farming perspective, Alan Jagoe, dairy farmer and president of Macra na Feirme, explained sustainability as, "handing on your farm better than you got it to the next generation." He said that, "There is a fear that sustainability will add more cost but in the long run I don't think it has. We are at the start of a journey."
The 2012 Dairy Solutions Symposium was closed by Alltech's vice president for Europe, Patrick Charlton. "The world has changed a lot in the last 20 years. Look at the accelerated consumption and prosperity in recent times, and disparate nature of this. Look at how this relates to the availability of affordable food, with 1.3 billion people having inadequate access. Resource scarcity, and in particular, water scarcity was also touched on his week, and is an issue affecting us all. Lastly is ecological decline of our stocks, be it animal, vegetable or mineral stocks," he said. "In addition to this, one thing that has also changed in the last 20 years is that the spotlight is now on our industry and that spotlight will remain here. It is our job to now communicate how we as an industry will address that and address the sustainability concerns in the market."