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.