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Milking it: weighing up the cost of dairy farming on the environment

The Irish dairy industry has upped its milk output rapidly since EU quotas were abolished but at what environmental cost, asks Dan White

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Cows on a dairy farm in New Zealand — the huge increase in dairy production in that country has exacted a heavy environmental toll. Can Ireland tread a different path as it ramps up milk production? Picture: William West/AFP/Getty Images

Cows on a dairy farm in New Zealand — the huge increase in dairy production in that country has exacted a heavy environmental toll. Can Ireland tread a different path as it ramps up milk production? Picture: William West/AFP/Getty Images

Cows on a dairy farm in New Zealand — the huge increase in dairy production in that country has exacted a heavy environmental toll. Can Ireland tread a different path as it ramps up milk production? Picture: William West/AFP/Getty Images

Irish milk output is soaring, with 2019 likely to be another record-breaking year. But is this huge increase in production putting unsustainable pressure on the environment?

When EU dairy quotas, which had artificially restricted Irish milk output for 31 years, were abolished at the end of March 2015, farmers moved quickly to increase production. Milk output jumped by 13pc to almost 6.4 billion litres in 2015 as the sector moved to make up for lost time.

And milk output just kept on rising. It hit almost 7.6 billion litres last year and is now widely expected to reach at least 7.8 billion for the full year, with output up by 8.6pc in the first three months of the year.


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