Milk 'time bomb' in dairy industry, Animal Science conference told in Belfast
A "demographic time bomb" is waiting to explode in western Europe's dairy industry if young people do not increase their consumption of milk products, a farming conference has heard.
The stark warning came from David Dobbin, the outgoing United Group chief executive.
More than 1,500 experts are in Belfast to listen to 1,000 presentations on animal science in the Waterfront Hall this week.
The huge farming conference is said to be generating almost £3m for the Northern Ireland economy.
The 67th annual meeting of the European Federation of Animal Science is being hosted by the British Society of Animal Science (BSAS).
Today's programme takes in speeches from EU Farm Commissioner Phil Hogan and Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen.
Organisers say the delegates, including leading professors, industry representatives and students, come from around 60 countries.
Mr Dobbin, the chair of Dairy UK, said Northern Ireland was on target when it comes to growth rates of dairy production.
He said: "Dairy production has gone through a number of peaks and troughs over the past number of years.
"The problem for farmers, however, is being able to survive the troughs.
"Sadly, in the past year a number of farmers struggled to survive and some have left the industry."
Mr Dobbin said that the lack of younger dairy farmers entering the industry could threaten its existence.
"There is a demographic time bomb going to hit the west of Europe if we do not do something to tackle the low consumption rates of dairy products in the younger generations," he warned.
"If current trends are repeated when the young enter the next generations, then there will be a sharp fall-off in dairying (due to lack of demand) and that is something we have to try and address now."
Larne farmer Campbell Tweed said the conference was vital for the agricultural industry.
He said: "There is a lot of material being discussed here and I am hoping to take home some fresh ideas to help my own farm.
"Agriculture is facing problems around the world and it is good to hear how other countries are dealing with their challenges.
"We can all learn from others in order to help our own industry.
"Despite the path agriculture in the UK will take after Brexit, we as farmers need to improve our methods in order to survive.
"Deploying good science from experts around the world is one way for farmers to learn how to make their own businesses more efficient.
"Northern Ireland farming is predominantly grass-based and we need to make the most of this by improving our grassland management."
Topics being discussed include advances in livestock production methods as well as taking a close look at the dairy industry in Northern Ireland and in Europe.
Last night's programme saw the delegates visit St George's Market to sample locally sourced produce.