Dairy producers must embrace plant-based industry and continue sustainable production
The panel of five well-known personalities from Nordic dairies, moderated by Caroline Starck, communication director at Arla Foods Sweden, debated carbon emission progress and the future of the dairy sector at the Nordic Dairy Conference. Image: Nordic Dairy Congress
The Nordic dairy industry should embrace the plant-based sector and contribute to sustainable dairy production, while maintaining the progress it has made with carbon emissions.
These were some of the conclusions in a panel debate among five well-known personalities from Nordic dairies, moderated by Caroline Starck, communication director at Arla Foods Sweden, on Friday 20 May at the Nordic Dairy Conference.
The panel – Kai Gyllström, Arla Foods Sweden; Gunnar Hovland, TINE; Robert Auselius, Valio Sweden, Poul Johannes Pedersen, Thise Dairy, Krister Zackari, Norrmejerier and Conor Mulvihill, Dairy Industry Ireland (industry organisation) – also emphasised that Nordic dairy cows are at approximately half of the global average for CO2 emissions and should play an important role in feeding a growing global population.
Gunnar Hovland, TINE, Norway said Norwegians cannot grow enough proteins on ordinary agricultural land and will have to take advantage of a biofactory in the form of dairy cows, which can turn grass into protein and human nutrition of the highest quality.
But he stressed it is imperative TINE meets the UN’s sustainability goals, if consumers are to choose his business.
“As a company we work closely with suppliers, retailers, and consumers and together we provide a strong starting point for becoming the world’s most sustainable dairy farm by 2050,” Hovland said.
Kai Gyllström, MD, Arla Foods, Sweden echoed Hovland, reiterating how crucial it is for companies to succeed in meeting climate requirements to maintain consumer confidence.
Gyllström highlighted Arla Foods’ work with benchmarking its performance via its climate database based on 9,000 farms in seven countries.
“This gives us some special opportunities for strengthening sustainable production,” the MD said.
He urged industry to “become better at communicating all the positive effects of milk production, such as the contribution of grazing cows to different ecosystems and biodiversity”.
Poul Pedersen, Thise Dairy, Denmark spoke about Thise’s decision to phase out soy in feeding plans to protect the rainforest – even though Thise has to accept a lower yield of grass and peas.
Pedersen said the dairy industry can continue to improve in many areas including waste, and in tackling a global challenge, where 80 per cent of agricultural land is used to produce animal feed.
“It does not work when the earth’s population grows,” Pedersen stressed. “Therefore, we must cooperate with the plant-based industry, which also includes new blended products. The industry must also embrace plant-based products because the dairies have the best know-how and production facilities to produce proteins on a large scale.”
Robert Auselius Valio Sweden pointed out that for sustainable dairy production to succeed, it requires an equal balance of three elements: the planet/animals, consumers and the economy. If not, everyone is met, it will not succeed in the long run.
In 2035, milk production must be net CO2-neutral, which Valio will meet with biogas of cow manure.
Straight-talking Krister Zackari, Norrmejerier said the dairy industry hasn’t really improved much in terms of sustainability. “Instead we’ve gone on the defensive, trying to argue that the criticism isn’t correct, nor fair,” Norrmejerier added. “That doesn’t work. I think we need to make real, significant improvements and get better, not bitter.
“This, combined with lack of innovation and marketing by the Swedish/Nordic dairy companies has led to commoditisation, hence milk isn’t relevant, and the consumption is declining. The industry has to accept the fact that consumers continue to look for alternatives – especially for milk, where consumption has been steadily declining. And young people typically prefer plant-based drinks in coffee.”
Conor Mulvihill, Dairy Industry Ireland, said Ireland has increased its milk production to 11 billion litres of milk, which is an increase of 82 per cent in the last decade.
The cows’ emissions of methane gas call for external assistance from the government and other stakeholders to intensify research that can develop solutions to the industry’s biggest climate challenge.