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Minister Creed's speech at NDC Quality Milk Awards, Clayton Hotel, 03 October 2018

Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to thank you for the honour of attending todays National Dairy Council & Kerrygold Quality Milk Awards which highlights both the quality and high standards of production of Irish milk. Importantly the awards also focus on those who are at the forefront in maintaining this quality and standard: our milk suppliers.

The importance of this event and others like it cannot be overstated. Everyone in our industry strives on a daily basis to work hard whilst focusing on many tasks. However, sometimes it is important to stop for a brief moment and acknowledge the best efforts of those in our industry who somewhat silently have over the last few years helped to drive efficiency and performance in our industry whilst at the same time maintaining such high standards of production.

Indeed one of the key elements of these particular awards is the breadth of factors that the organisers and judges take into account both in shortlisting finalists and ultimately selecting the winners of these awards here today. These factors which include, animal welfare, care of the environment, efficiencies and sustainability - as well, of course, as the quality of milk, are all key elements in ensuring that Irish dairy farming is rightly seen and acknowledged as the best in the world

I’d like to acknowledge the judges – Professor Pat Wall from UCD, Dr David Gleeson from Teagasc, and Dr Jack Kennedy from the Irish Famers’ Journal and the countless miles they clocked in travelling the country visiting the finalists – and this year’s Food Ambassador, Clodagh McKenna, for their continuing support of this event.

I understand that the level of competition for this year’s Awards was extremely high. I want to commend all of the short-listed national finalists and of course congratulate Darran and Denise McKenna on such a great achievement.  These dairy farmers are exemplary of the high standards in Irish dairy farming and the criteria upon which the Milk Quality Awards are based.

I think it is significant that one of the stand out elements among all the finalists for the judges was the passion each finalist brought to their farms. This passion is reflected in the very high standards to which they farm on a daily basis. I believe that this passion for farming is one of the key reasons why Irish dairy products are produced to such high standards and are so well regarded and sought after in international markets.

One other stand out factor among the finalists here today and no doubt a key factor behind the passion that these families have for their farm is the multi-generational aspect of the farms held by our finalists. We have examples of family farms going back up to 5 generations here today and this family farm model which has served the industry so well is very much worthy of celebration here today also.

In my role as Minister for Agriculture I am always conscious that this family farm model, and ensuring that succeeding generations see a future in farming, continues. In addition I am anxious that that the necessary structures, such as partnerships which my Department facilitate, are in place to allow this.

Whilst today is a day of celebration, I also acknowledge the difficulties the dairy sector as well as the wider agriculture sector has faced this year. Weather events this year have presented all sectors in Irish agriculture, including dairying, with on-going challenges. Whilst the relatively good weather of the last few weeks have provided some opportunities for farmers to recover forage deficits it is a situation that my Department and I are continuing to monitor.

Looking into the future, dairy markets should remain stable over the next number of months. 2018 has seen a significant reduction in intervention stocks of Skim Milk Powder and the move to bimonthly tenders for the sale of SMP out of intervention stock should see a further reduction.

With regard to domestic production, notwithstanding the difficulties this year, our Food Harvest target of a 50% increase in production will be reached well ahead of the 2020 target. We must of course remain vigilant to ensure that our continued expansion is carried out in a sustainable manner and all stakeholders must work together to ensure that we work towards our environmental commitments. Indeed it is reassuring to see that one of the key elements of this competition is sustainability and the environment.

Our efforts through schemes such as Origin Green and the Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme give further credibility to our claims and allow us to verify to international markets our claims in regard to the quality of our produce.

I am undertaking a trade mission to Indonesia and Malaysia in a few weeks and the work that the NDC and our other state agencies such as Bord Bia carry out are a vital component in ensuring the success of these trade missions and allow me to engage with foreign governments, agencies and buyers successfully in ensuring as many markets for Irish agri food, including dairy products are open as possible.

In 2017, Ireland exported dairy products to almost 140 countries with a value exceeding €4.6 billion, an increase of over 17% compared to 2016, representing high-quality value-added produce. This is a result of the efforts of our dairy farmers led by those here today in ensuring that Irish produce is seen throughout the world as a safe high quality product which consumers actively seek out.

Finally I would like to once again thank the NDC for their kind invitation to today’s event and offer my congratulations to Darran and Denise McKennaand all contestants, finalists and winners for their achievements here today.