Mary Delaney on NZ 2014 Nuffield Scholar Paul Olsen’s farm.

Mary Delaney on NZ 2014 Nuffield Scholar Paul Olsen’s farm.

Mary Delaney’s report on the sustainability challenges facing dairy farming was ahead of its time and came as most in the sector were focused on expansion and improved economic efficiencies.

Mary Delaney is Head of Sales with the Irish Farmers Journal and member of the IFJ Senior Management Team. Prior to this, she worked for Glanbia Ireland for 13 years. She is past President of the Agricultural Science Association (ASA) and a founding member of the Ceres Network. Originally, from Co. Monaghan, she lives on a spring calving dairy farm in County Kilkenny with husband David and children Gerard, Daniel and James. Mary is a 2014 Nuffield Scholar and currently a member of the Nuffield Ireland Board.

Completed in 2015, my Nuffield research topic “Sustainability – the Climate Change Challenge in Irish Dairying” was in some ways ahead of its time. My Nuffield Scholarship enabled me to benefit from two years of learning, knowledge sharing and networking across the globe to investigate the climate change challenge in dairying globally. I visited Australia and New Zealand as well as various countries in Europe in pursuit of information. I focused on identifying the challenges facing the Irish dairy sector post quota; looking at key global competitors; assessing the Irish dairy sector performance in relation to climate change and finally establishing what meaningful actions could be taken in Ireland.

My findings were that while many farmers have embraced practices which have led to greater efficiency, it was not always recognised that such practices were a necessary element of any effective response to climate change. There was growing awareness that efficiency, profitability, and sustainability are mutually supportive, but the dairy sector needed to do more to champion this message. I found that greater collaboration between stakeholders was necessary to demonstrate the sector’s commitment to addressing this challenge. I recommended collaboration between an all-inclusive Dairy Activation Group to act as governors for the climate change agenda in Irish dairying.

My report also made further recommendations. Included in those was the establishment of a climate change plan for the Irish dairy sector setting out a structured framework of actions. Strong governance and support from the leaders of dairy stakeholder groups would be vital to drive this initiative. I advocated the appointment of a credible, independent science-based spokesperson to represent the dairy sector in discussions on climate change, as well as the need for effective ongoing communication to relevant stakeholders on the dairy sector’s activity in relation to the challenge.

I recommended continuous support to dairy farmers and the provision of incentives to enable on-farm action. I stressed that this would require the identification of available funding, continued investment in research and development and collaboration at international level to find long-term solutions to the climate change challenge.
This report is possibly even more relevant now. While the climate change challenge in Irish dairying was discussed at that time, it was not considered the priority issue it is today. My recommendations remain just as relevant and good progress is being made in some areas. What is clear is that collaboration, communication, investment and on-farm action all remain vital components in addressing climate issues in Irish dairying.

Having the opportunity to study this topic as part of my Nuffield Scholarship cemented my passion for sustainability. It drove my involvement on the home farm in relation to the environment and biodiversity. It ensured that climate change was a key theme during my ASA presidency. It drove me to continue my education and I am currently undertaking a certificate in Sustainable and Efficient Food Production. It also encouraged me to combine my commercial acumen with sustainability in the Irish Farmers Journal and I’ve been involved in a number of sustainability focused initiatives with colleagues and stakeholders.

The Nuffield Scholarship opened my eyes to global agriculture and the wealth of knowledge and experience that could be garnered from the inspiring leaders in agriculture showcased by Nuffield internationally. An experience of a lifetime, the main reason I joined the board of Nuffield Ireland was to help others realise this amazing opportunity.

Read more about Mary’s Nuffield study topic and download her full report click here