The future success of Ireland’s dairy industry is dependent on the sector adopting a ‘value not volume’ approach to production, according to a leading expert at University College Cork (UCC).
Seamus O’Mahony, who is from a family farm background in Glenville, Co. Cork, made the prediction as he took up his new role as professor of dairy science at UCC in July.
“Securing a sustainable future for the Irish dairy industry will require a shift in focus away from volume-based expansion to science-based value-add,” he said.
“Greater investment in fundamental dairy science will attract the types of skilled researchers and professionals required to achieve this transition.”
Dairy is Ireland’s largest indigenous industry, worth about €16 billion in economic value across the island, and provides employment to about 85,000 people.
Responding to the evolving needs of the dairy sector and harnessing the world-class capabilities in food across the university, Prof. O’Mahony led the establishment of a center of excellence in science at the UCC school of food and nutritional sciences in 2021 to provide leadership, integration and a platform for future growth.
In the past year, Prof. O’Mahony has led the introduction of new employment-based post-graduate research programs in dairy ingredients and processing in partnership with Irish and international dairy companies, and the introduction of a new diploma in dairy technology and innovation.
New dairy professor
Prof. Mairead Kiely, head of the school of food and nutritional sciences, said that UCC was delighted to announce Seamus’ appointment to professor, which consolidated his leadership role in dairy science at UCC.
“Together with Prof. Alan Kelly, our recently appointed lecturer, Dr. Tom O’Callaghan, and planned appointments in the areas of sustainable dairy processing and dairy nutritional ingredients, UCC is well placed to take a lead role in the research, education and training of the next generation of innovators in the dairy sector,” she said.
The future is bright, with exciting initiatives planned across the areas of nutritional ingredients, sustainable dairy processing, dairy alternative systems and formulation science for value-add, she added.
“Immediate priorities involve recruitment of new academic staff in processing, sustainability, nutrition and dairy, to bring the total number of academics focused on dairy science at UCC to six,” said Prof. Kiely.
“This will happen through the UCC Futures program which is focused on securing our future through research excellence.
”The scope of what we do in dairy science is expanding to include research on alternative dairy products, hybrid dairy food systems and cellular agriculture in responding to consumer demand and in formulating climate-smart food systems.”
Prof. Sarah Culloty, head of the college of science, engineering and food science, welcomed the appointment of Prof. O’Mahony, an international expert in the field of science and technology, to the dairy pivotal role as professor of dairy science.
“Prof. O’Mahony is at the forefront of innovation in the sector and has a longstanding history of collaborating with partner organizations on future-focused initiatives that meet the advancing needs of the dairy industry,” she said.
Prof. John O’Halloran, UCC president, said that recognizing expertise such as Seamus’ is core to UCC’s Futures initiative, which will support innovation and translate sector-leading research into real solutions to meet the challenges facing society.
“Food security, production, and value are key issues that leading experts such as Seamus are well-positioned to tackle,” he said.
Conor Mulvihill, director of Dairy Industry Ireland, Irish Business Employers Corporation, said that to sustain the Irish dairy success story, we have to own our challenges, such as labor attraction, climate change and diversification.
“Without the innovation that can be brought to bear by the university sector we risk cutting off the pipeline of innovation and talent we require to keep Ireland at the pinnacle of global dairy development,” he said.
“We are delighted with the appointment of Prof. O’Mahony who will help drive the continuous pipeline of talent and innovation necessary for the success of our sector,” he said.