2013-10-18  facebook twitter rss

World Dairy Forum 2013 Summary

On 27 September 2013, EDA organised its annual World Dairy Forum in Cologne, Germany. This year’s forum was entirely dedicated to dairy sustainability and its economic, social and environmental aspects.

Michel Nalet, President of the
European Dairy Association, opened the session and said he hoped to gain answers to three important questions:

First, ‘How should we measure and communicate about sustainability?’; second, ‘What are the economic, social and environmental aspects of a sustainable dairy?’; and last, ‘What qualifies as dairy sustainability?’.

World Dairy Forum 2013

World Dairy Forum 2013

Session 1: General considerations on sustainability in relation to dairy production and consumption.

Working from the mission of the World Wide Fund for Nature “to conserve nature and reduce the most pressing threats to the diversity of life on Earth”, Mr. Bryan Weech focused his presentation on the need to feed in the future 9 billion people while not increasing, and possibly even decreasing, the global food-footprint. Agriculture is essential for food production while simultaneously being the biggest threat to the world eco-system: more from less is needed. Aspects to be considered are, amongst others, land and water. Production has to be intensified and resource efficiency needs to be improved. For WWF, dairy is considered to be among the priority commodities.

Together, with many stakeholders, WWF wants to look at the possibilities of how to move more sustainable commodities from niche to norm. For many product categories, round tables have shown to be an adequate approach. Mr. Weech advised the dairy sector to learn from the experiences out of these round tables.

The second speaker, Donald Moore (Global Dairy Platform), presented the answer of the dairy sector on the challenge set by Mr. Weech: the Dairy Sustainability Framework. The Framework shall give structure and guidance to work on sustainability in the dairy sector. It presents a reference to be used in communication on dairy sustainability. The Framework is not a standard but a living document that accommodates the work on sustainability in the highly diverse dairy sector. The initial document, published in May 2013, is based on work with a broad range of stakeholders; it is foreseen to include the various stakeholders also in the governance of the implementation and further development of the Framework. Essential is the presence of both global and regional dimensions. A vision, strategic intents for 11 global issues, together with a set of enablers, shall accommodate the broad range of existing and upcoming initiatives on improved sustainability in the dairy sector. The Framework aligns regional initiatives with global ambitions and connects a broad range of existing activities while mapping the options for future work and opportunities for development with new and existing activities. The official launch of the Framework will be at the IDF World Dairy Summit in Yokohama.

In the lively debate closing this first session, Mr. Weech recognised the high relevance of the Dairy Sustainability Framework, especially mentioning the importance of the concept of align/connect/progress. Further, Items such as GMOs and the use of renewable energy were discussed as topics of importance when looking at sustainability.

Session 2: The economic aspects of sustainability in the dairy chain

The second session of the day focused on the economic aspects of sustainability. Mr Torsten Hemme from the International Farm Comparison Network (IFCN)/ University of Kiel offered a global perspective of sustainability in milk production. The IFCN is a global dairy network of researchers, companies and other stakeholders who are active in the dairy chain. It is their mission to create a better understanding of milk production worldwide. IFCN expects over the next 10 years an increase of milk production of around 2.3% globally but main growth will be seen in a limited number of areas (India, Africa, South America). In the dairy chain, milk production represents 70 to 80% of the costs, the people employed, the resources used and emissions created and, consequently, the political challenges. No farming system can be viable without economic sustainability and economic sustainability is of course linked to the ratio between costs and prices. Where there is no clear relation between profit and price, the statistics of IFCN clearly show that costs are a determining factor for profit (and hence economic sustainability) at dairy farms. Costs of milk production differ strongly over the world; in general, costs are nearly everywhere above $0.30 per litre.

Also, development of costs differ strongly from country to country, e.g. China has had a strong increase of costs over the last 10 years. Economic sustainability is a must have and, as it can be measured, it can be improved. IFCN is working on benchmarking ideas for dairy development; a tool to define future farming systems and cost cutting potentials. They also started to measure indicators like C02, H20 footprint, nitrogen efficiency, etc. as combining efforts to improve farming is a huge opportunity with both environmental and economic results.

Next was Ms Susanne Clausen who focused on a European perspective of sustainable milk production. She stated that, in order to be economically sustainable in the longer term, a business or an industry must be both environmentally and socially sustainable.

For the dairy sector to be economically sustainable, dairy farmers should be competitive with other types of farmers and with alternative use of resources from non-agriculture purposes. The production conditions for dairy farming are changing as production is based on the market terms and environmental, animal welfare and social conditions have to be taken into account. Yet, in order to be economically sustainable, the dairy sector has to adapt to these changing conditions. Increasing competition and decreasing economic support calls for structural development and investments, facilitating young farmers’ investment in farming, improving farmers’ skills, product innovation, value adding, and closer cooperation in the chain. Volatility in prices calls for higher solvency ratios on farms in some areas, more flexibility in farm structure and close cooperation between the parties within the chain. To remain economically sustainable also the EU farmer has to develop and adapt to changing conditions.

Questions from the audience mainly focused on the Quality Policy (important in less-favoured areas) and the need to solve the risk issue of larger dairy farms. As it is impossible to disconnect EU dairy production from the world milk price ‘rollercoaster’, the speakers pointed out that there should be an overall gain from the globalisation trend.

Session 3: The social aspects of sustainability in the dairy chain

Mr Herbert Dorfmann, MEP-EPP, spoke about maintaining milk production in mountain areas, disadvantaged areas and outermost regions after the expiry of the milk quota. He clarified some proposals for the CAP reform to support these regions.

Under the first CAP pillar, he spoke about how producer organizations should be given the opportunity of promoting market development, quality control, product innovation and advertising initiatives, particularly in respect of the new ‘mountain product’ designation and protected designations of origin. He also called on the Commission and Member States to implement the EU school milk programme more efficiently and in particular allow invitations to tender to refer specifically to milk from mountain areas designated as a ‘mountain product’.

Under the second CAP pillar, he stressed the need for provisions to focus on small farms in these areas, given that they are structurally more labour intensive and make a valuable contribution to sustained employment levels and rural development. Second pillar measures such as compensatory allowances, agro environmental premiums or investment aids are of great importance for sustainable milk production in these areas. He also pointed out that insitu processing and marketing on farms or alpine pastures means greater added value for small holdings and micro farms in mountain areas and enhances the tourist potential of these locations.

The last speaker of this session, Dr. Michel Courat from EuroGroup for Animals, spoke about animal wellbeing. Although dairy farming still has a good image, there are on-going and emerging concerns that exist with regards to animal welfare and sustainability as there is no existing legislation and there are limited controls on the farm by competent authorities. Dr Courat drew attention to points such as the reduction of stress for dairy cows (which can lead to lameness and mastitis), the importance of pastures and balanced diets, the risk of using antibiotics and, finally, the issue of transport towards the slaughterhouse. He urged the audience to work together. Dairy producers can no longer ignore animal welfare, and animal welfare NGOs will not stay inactive, so the time to act is now.

Session 4: The environment aspects of sustainability in the dairy chain

In the last session, Mr. Joseph McMahan from the US Dairy Innovation Center spoke about how they are currently implementing a sustainability strategy in the US. After a first “sustainability summit” in 2008, with 250 stakeholders from across the supply chain, an industry-wide commitment towards sustainability was made. The Innovation Center for US Dairy was then founded as a way to help the dairy industry work together on issues and opportunities that affect the entire industry but are too big for any one company or segment of the supply chain to tackle alone. One of the notable outputs of the Center is the “Life Cycle Assessment for milk and cheese” that charts the current challenges and risks. As a result of this report, a sustainability commitment for the industry was launched: reduce greenhouse gas emissions of a gallon of milk by 25 % by the year 2020. Mr McMahan then went deeper into some of the studies and initiatives, such as Dairy Plant SmartTM and Farm SmartTM.

Mr Richard Laxton from Arla Foods presented the progress of the Dairy Roadmap, a sustainability strategy in the UK. The Dairy Roadmap is intended to be a ‘living’ document that can change as required and is a solution that allows the industry to grow sustainably. It defines the challenges of the industry, sets out a vision and a course of action. In 2013, the third update report and website were launched and Mr Laxton recounted some of the highlights of the report. The next steps for the Dairy Roadmap are to look at more concrete delivery plans to back up key targets, to involve the retailers and to take account of new international initiatives such as Global Dairy Platform’s Sustainability Framework.

The final speaker of the day was Mr. Piet Boer from FrieslandCampina who delved into sustainability initiatives in the Netherlands. The Sustainable Dairy Chain is an initiative of NZO and LTO Nederland. The initiative has laid out clear targets in relation to climate and energy, animal welfare, grazing and biodiversity. Concrete measures are the energy scan, developed by FrieslandCampina and made available to dairy farmers by all processors, a pact to maintain the current level of outdoor grazing, and the Life Cycle Tool for farmers to optimise the use of manure & minerals.

Closing the World Dairy Forum 2013, Mr. Nalet thanked all speakers for their compelling contributions and the audience for their lively debate. The speakers and discussion participants have made very clear that sustainability is essential for the EU dairy sector but also what sustainability can deliver to this sector.


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