The expansion of milk production in the west is set to be a key farming trend in the future
The expansion of dairying on a large scale in Connacht is set to be one of the big trends in agriculture over the next couple of decades, a leading agri economist has predicted.
With growing concerns over shortages in skilled farm labour and problems with land inequality set to increase, there will be significant structural changes in agriculture, says Dr Kevin Hanrahan, head of the Teagasc rural economy and development programme.
"Over the next 10-15 years, I think some of the Government and industry vision for the agricultural sector will be a change in the composition to be more dairy centred and somewhat less beef centred," he said.
"One of the things underlying that will be growth in the size of Irish dairy farms and that growth will come by dairy farms merging together, one dairy farm being taken over by another," he said.
Although most of the initial growth in dairy is occurring in traditional dairying pasturelands like Cork, Tipperary, Kilkenny and Waterford, Dr Hanrahan believes larger scale dairy opportunities will eventually be focused on western counties in 20-30 years time.
"At some point, it will become very difficult for farms in east Cork and Kilkenny to expand their operations in terms of dairying, and it will be easier to expand in the west of Ireland where there are dairy farms.
"Those farms will be able to access land more readily because the person they are competing with won't be another dairy farmer, it might be a drystock farmer," Dr Hanrahan said. He highlights the expansion of milk production in non-traditional dairy areas of New Zealand as an example of what could unfold here.
There are just over 17,500 dairy farmers in Ireland milking an average of 80 cows as part of a national herd size of 1.14 million cows.