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The local Irish Creamery - going backwards into the future

Just how many people in the Irish dairy industry see the end of milk quotas as a major opportunity for small-scale farmers, unencumbered by quota, to produce niche, premium dairy products?

 

The dairy industry’s itinerary has been and remains dictated by 'premiumised'-commodity-export thinking. It is about scaling-up farm production [and farm debt] and reducing costs in an attempt to compete on global ‘premiumised-commodity’ markets. Is this, however, the only way forwards for an Irish dairy-farming industry that is centred upon traditional, family farms? The Foundation’s Creamery project is about finding an alternative, rural-regeneration-focused way forwards.

 

The concept is to create a simple, artisan-style, modular creamery to offer farmers the facilities to create premium dairy products that, as the French say, are rooted to the terroir. This and quality-differentiated milk [it is not all about milk solids] will provide the all-important unique selling points within the market. In so doing, it is about enhancing the market returns to farmers for their milk.

 

Initially, the creamery will be an 'incubator' for start-ups before moving to also operating as a long- term production facility. It will be designed with a multi-dairy-product capability and modular in nature. ‘Artisan’ will be an underlying descriptor the processing techniques, and of all products. ‘Craft-manufacturing’ will be prioritised over automation. Batch production and modular equipment will characterise the creamery.This artisanal approach will also underpin a further objective of the creamery project; to create premium-foods-markets-linked, rural-based and local employment.

 

The objective is not to compete for ‘black-and-white’ milk for processing. The aim is to develop niche market, premium products from a diversity of milk types [as milk quality is influenced by species and breed]. As markets develop some products volumes may be scaled up but the production will remain ‘artisan’ in nature. When milk volumes and supply locations justify it, some production may shift to new creameries. A designated quality and origin scheme will then be established to allow products from the creameries to be consolidated for sale into larger markets.

 

It is envisaged that the Irish Family Farming Foundation’s creamery will also become a skills and knowledge centre for the creation of premium dairy-products using traditional, artisan technology. It will also be linked to a similar capability to demonstrate niche-market milk production on farms.

 

On a wider note and one that will relate to our work on designated-origin products, the Creamery will be seen as an 'incubator' for the development of premium, artisan-made dairy-products with unique-to-Ireland selling points that can, in time, be registered as designated-origin products.

The need to support a network of smaller and local abattoirs

Just how many small, local abattoirs have disappeared in Ireland in the recent past? This situation seems to contrast with, say, France where the local abattoir is still lauded. It is not just about increasing an abattoir’s throughput to reduce costs per unit, it is about the animal welfare benefits of shorter travelling distances and it is about achieving superior meat quality through less stress.

 

Abattoirs are about more than economics and profit as, in their right guise, they can be a key part of the marketing story behind a designated quality and origin, premium meat-product.  Hence, the Foundation will investigate how others in the EU support and/or keep open their local abattoirs?

 

Over-regulation is often cited as the reason for the loss of local abattoirs. It may also be due to a lack of tangible support within an agri-food policy that promotes processor/exporter consolidation. For the farmer, is the consequence a serious lack of competition in their meat's supply-chains?

 

For reasons of animal welfare, the promotion of premium meat products, a holistic marketing story to accompany Irish traditional beef and lamb and the necessity for farmers to see competition outside the farm gate, abattoirs and butcheries need to be treated as a special case. They are about much more than profits and it is a food industry segment that warrants tangible support.

 

If the reason for the demise of local abattoirs is the regulatory burden, this burden should be lessened or even carried by government. At a time when the EU can support farming directly and  fund environmental and rural initiatives, there is abundant reason for supporting the local abattoir.

 

The Foundation’s preference of to work with existing small-scale abattoirs and to support their continuation. It does, nonetheless, not rule out being proactive in promoting new facilities if it is seen that this is the best way forwards for a specific locality and its livestock farming community.

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