Prestigious members of the Chinese dairy industry met with leading figures in Irish agriculture this week at Alltech's European headquarters in Dunboyne, Co Meath. The meeting was designed to encourage closer collaboration between China and Ireland, particularly with regard to their dairy industries.
For the past several weeks, students from the China Agricultural University, Beijing, interned on Irish dairy farms to gain experience with Ireland's unique grass-based dairy system, which stands in contrast to the Chinese housed method.
With a growing world population set to hit nine billion by 2050, agricultural production will need to increase by 70 per cent to meet the growing demand for food.
"Exciting opportunities are available for the Irish dairy industry in China," said Kevin Tuck, managing director at Alltech Ireland. "While Chinese milk output has increased exponentially over the years, it will never be in a position to meet its population's growing demand for dairy. Ireland is in a unique position to share its unfair advantage with the Chinese. By unfair advantage, I refer to our production surplus and proven commitment to sustainability with Bord Bia's Origin Green programme."
China Agriculture University is the leading agricultural educational institution in China. Professor Li Shengli, the chief scientist for the Chinese dairy industry, concentrates on nutrition and genetics. This was his first time on Irish soil. "My experience in Ireland has been amazing, and I am impressed with the passion Ireland possesses for its agriculture," Professor Li said. "My aim is to establish scientific and technology relationships with the Irish beef and dairy industry. Seeing is believing, as we say in China; now that I have been to Ireland, I believe!"
Professor Li addressed the current situation for the Chinese dairy industry and its contining development. "The 2008 melamine scandal has resulted in slow increases in dairy production in China and an obsession for safety. An important development for the industry has been the increase in large-scale dairy farms, (each) with more than 100 head of cattle, leading to 90 percent of Chinese raw milk now produced with a mechanised system. It is very important for milk to be affordable in China. While Chinese consumption of dairy products is very low compared with Europe, I predict this will increase with reform of the one-child family policy."
Brendan Gleeson, Ireland's deputy secretary general for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, addressed Ireland's advantages, including its large food production surplus, score of zero in terms of water stress as measured by the FAO and commitment to food safety as set out in Food Wise 2025. "More Irish dairy product was exported to China in the first six months of this year compared with 2014," said Gleeson.
"Three of the world's leading infant formula manufacturers are located here in Ireland, which proves the confidence they have with Irish dairy. We continue to make significant progress with market access to China for Ireland's agricultural food and drink products. Adding value through research and development will insulate the industry from global market volatilities."
The meeting heard that agricultural science must rise to the global challenges the industry faces. Alltech's Dr. Richard Murphy highlighted the company's commitment to this task, noting that Alltech has established 23 research alliances with leading universities and institutions around the world, including eight in China. Alltech have a dedicated team of 90 scientists around the globe working in three bioscience centres, one of them located in Dunboyne, Co. Meath, Ireland.