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Food & Agriculture

Agri-tech: a solution to challenges facing milk production


Professor Donagh Berry

Principal Investigator in Quantitative Genetics, Teagasc

Dairy production is facing challenges globally. What is Ireland’s role in meeting the demand?

Globally, agriculture is undergoing seismic disruptions due to the competing challenges of food security, the environment, and societal needs. The dairy sector is not exempt from this disruption as it faces challenges, such as the rapidly expanding global demand for dairy products, the growing concern for the impact of cattle production on climate change, and the long-term volatility of global dairy markets.

Fortunately, the solutions to these challenges are emerging from a parallel revolution in smart and precision agriculture. Though still at an early stage, recent advances in precision agriculture, linking novel sensors, networking, and data analytics technologies suggest that successful solutions are imminent.

Irish dairy farmers can exploit their competitive advantage

For Ireland, this disruption presents major threats and opportunities as traditional dairy production needs to quickly transform itself using these new technologies. Since the abolition of EU milk quotas in 2015, Irish dairy farmers can, for the first time in 30 years, exploit Ireland’s international competitive advantage in milk production from low-cost grazed grass. However, the abolition of milk quotas also exposes the sector to global volatility in milk prices, creating a competitive environment necessitating improved farm efficiency, improved processor efficiency and a strategic transition to higher value-added products.

A pressing need to expand the national herd

The increased production in the Irish dairy sector will be achieved through expanding the national herd (currently growing at 3% per annum) but also through the development and deployment of new knowledge, technologies and decision support tools to maximise the efficiency and effectiveness of the entire production chain.

The agri-food and drink sectors account for 7.6% of Ireland’s economy-wide gross-value output, 12.3% of Ireland’s exports, and 8.6% of total employment. A new SFI Research Centre is due to launch in late 2018, which aims to be an agent of growth for the Irish dairy industry. The centre aim to be a world leader in fundamental and translational research for precision pasture-based dairying.

Positively impacting consumers, the environment and animal wellbeing

Internationally, the advances developed in the centre will apply to dairy systems in many countries and will be a catalyst for global growth in the agri-tech sector. This represents a unique collaboration between agri-food and ICT research institutes and leading Irish/multinational food and ICT companies. Ireland is placed to be a world leader in the agri-food technology sector through innovation and enhanced sustainability across the dairy supply chain, positively impacting the environment, animal wellbeing and the health of consumers.

This will be achieved by greatly improving the soil-to-gut supply chain connectivity; thereby improving resource efficiency, better meeting consumers’ expectations and improving profitability and resilience. The opportunities that arise at the interface between agri-food and ICT will be the basis for our competitive advantage and international reputation.

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