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 University College Cork (UCC) expert.
Seamus O’Mahony, who comes from a family farming background in Glenville, Co. Cork, made the prediction when 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 from volume-based expansion to science-based added value,” he said.
“Greater investment in basic dairy science will attract the types of skilled researchers and professionals required to achieve this transition.”
Dairying is Ireland’s largest domestic industry, worth around €16 billion in economic value across the island, employing around 85,000 people.
Responding to the growing needs of the dairy sector and leveraging world-class capabilities in food across the University, Prof O’Mahony led the establishment of a Center of Excellence in Dairy Science at the UCC School of Food and Nutrition Sciences in 2021 to provide leadership, integration and a platform for future growth.
During the last year, Prof. O’Mahony led the introduction of new employment-based postgraduate programs in dairy ingredients and processing in collaboration 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 Nutrition Sciences, said UCC was delighted to announce Seamus’ appointment as Professor, cementing his leadership role in dairy science at UCC.
“Together with Prof. Alan Kelly, our newly appointed lecturer, Dr. Tom O’Callaghan, and planned meetings in the areas of sustainable dairy processing and dairy nutrition, UCC is well placed to take a leading 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 in the areas of nutritional dairy ingredients, sustainable dairy processing, dairy alternative systems and value-added formulation science, she added.
“Immediate priorities involve the recruitment of new academic staff in dairy processing, sustainability, nutrition and health, bringing 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 cutting edge research.
”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 to respond to consumer demand and to formulate climate-smart food systems.”
Prof Sarah Culloty, Head of the College of Science, Engineering and Food Science, welcomed the appointment of Professor O’Mahony, an international expert in dairy science and technology, to the central role of Professor of Dairy Science.
“Prof O’Mahony is at the forefront of innovation in the sector and has a long history of collaborating with partner organizations on forward-looking initiatives that meet the evolving needs of the dairy industry,” she said.
Prof John O’Halloran, UCC President, said recognizing expertise like Seamus’ is at the heart of UCC’s Futures initiative, which will support innovation and translate sector-leading research into real-world solutions to meet the challenges facing society.
“Food safety, production and value are key issues that leading experts like Seamus are well positioned to address,” he said.
Conor Mulvihill, Director of Dairy Industry Ireland, Irish Business Employers Corporation, said that to sustain the Irish dairy success story we must own our challenges, such as labour, climate change and diversification.
“Without the innovation that can be harnessed by the university sector, we risk cutting off the pipeline of innovation and talent that we need to keep Ireland at the forefront 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 essential to the success of our sector,” he said.