Dale Farm chief executive Nick Whelan believes that the scope to increase annual milk output in Northern Ireland still exists.

But this can’t happen, he said, until “the milk sector demonstrates that it is actively addressing the issue of climate change”.

“And this is not about increasing cow numbers,” the chief executive continued.

“We already know that an investment in better genetics plus improved feeding and grassland management systems will get us there.”

Whelan also believes that the dairy sector in Northern Ireland has a tremendously positive story to tell.

This will be the core message that his management team and board representatives will be communicating to farm members of the co-op coming on the Dale Farm stand at Balmoral Show 2023.

“But all of this has got to be told in the right way,” Whelan continued.

“And this means drilling down into the figures and working through the criteria that relate to sustainability right across the dairy supply chain from farm to factory and everything in between.

“We have gone beyond the time when platitudes and nice imagery meet the need of legislation and the food retailers, who need to see real data and real figures on how the dairy sector stacks up from a sustainability point of view.”

According to Whelan, Dale Farm will be expecting its farmer-suppliers to assist on this journey by sourcing and supplying performance data, relating to every aspect of their businesses.

“The next two years will be particularly important,” he said.

“But the co-op will be working with its members every step of the way, helping to make this happen in a totally coordinated manner.”

Climate targets

To this end, Dale Farm will set ambitious climate targets in line with the criteria of the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi).

The SBTi is a partnership involving the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), the United Nations’ Global Compact, World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Its role will be to assess and review Dale Farm’s plans to ensure they provide a credible,  effective pathway for the milk processor and its farmer-suppliers to reduce their levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

“We also need to demonstrate progress against these targets and SBTi requires us to publicly report our progress in terms GHG emissions annually, following a defined recognised protocol,” Whelan explained. 

“This rigour is critically important to ensure the credibility of our actions.”

The Dale Farm chief executive believes that improvements in efficiency will be central in helping drive the progress required to allow Dale Farm members meet their climate change targets.