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The new Minister for Agriculture, Charlie McConalogue will chair a meeting of the Dairy Forum on Wednesday, 30th September. ICOS will be represented by its President, Jerry Long and Dairy Committee Chairman, John O’Gorman.

The return of the Dairy Forum is a commitment contained in the new Programme for Government.  It was convened first at the height of the market downturn in 2015-16 but has not met for a number of years.  The agenda will include a discussion on dairy markets, the new agri-food 2030 strategy, access to finance and Brexit.

The dairy industry has proved to be remarkably resilient since the ending of milk quotas in 2015, navigating choppy waters such as the Russian embargo, weather extremes, Brexit uncertainty and most recently the COVID-19 pandemic.

As one of Ireland’s largest indigenous industries, the sector supports over 60,000 jobs including 18,000 family farms. In 2019, the dairy sector exported product to over 192 countries valued at €4.4 billion. Notably, every €1 of dairy sector exports, represents a 90 cent spend in the Irish economy. In contrast, to the multinational sector, which has a corresponding figure of 10 cent spend in the Irish economy for every €1 exported.  

The challenge facing the incoming Government will be to protect the jobs and economic growth generated by the dairy industry, as we enter into a period of great uncertainty. We know that the UK will leave the Single Market and Customs Union in a matter of months, but the pathway to a smooth future trading arrangement with our nearest neighbour is still very unclear at this late stage. The prospect of a difficult Brexit is coinciding with the enormous economic implications of the COVID-19 pandemic and the severity of the recession and its impact on dairy consumption is unknown.

At the same time, the dairy industry is facing increasing environmental challenges associated with climate change, water quality, air quality and biodiversity. The industry throughout its supply chain is ready to respond to these challenges and has already done so but a clear roadmap by Government is needed to chart the future direction of the industry within its Agri-Food 2030 strategy and Ag Climatise Policy.

By Eamonn Farrell, Agri-Food Policy Executive