'The distributors and middle men make as much as the farm'
Published 01/07/2015 | 02:30
ONE farmhouse cheese maker is facing a dilemma familiar to many farmers throughout the country.
Expansion is on the cards for Eamonn Lonergan of Knockanore Cheese in Co Waterford. However, at 57, Eamonn said the next phase of their expansion will depend on his children making a decision to come back to the farm.
He likely successor in the business is his son Edward who is currently on a visa working holiday in San Francisco after completing his accountancy studies with PWC.
Eamonn, who also studied accountancy in his earlier years, has been producing his smoked cheese at Ballyneety, near Lismore, Co Waterford from a single herd since the 1980s.
They produce around 30t to 40t with about 90pc of the milk produced by his 120 Holstein-Friesian with the remainder of the milk going to Glanbia.
"When I started the cheese business in the '80s the labour costs were my own. It was a question of 'one man and a bit' to take care of the herd then. Now it's different," he said. "There are the environmental issues such as the costs of dealing with slurry to consider."
However, he said that due to the buoyant market for Irish cheeses at home and abroad they will more than likely have to expand.
"The market is certainly good and the farmhouse cheeses are now well-displayed by the supermarket multiples. But this too comes at a cost and the cost is to the producer.
"I get €8.50 a kilo for my cheese and the supermarkets sell it at between €22 and €23 a kilo.
"The distributors and other middle men make about the same as the farm. Something has to be done about this because the only ones making a killing on the cheeses are the supermarkets," he said.
He sees the future in terms of the export markets especially to the United States and Poland.
Over on the Beara peninsula in West Cork the dilemma is slightly different - it's a question of dairy demographics.
The Milleens cheese is produced by the Steele family on milk contracts with local dairy farmers.
Edward Steele says the problem today is there were 70 dairy farmers on the peninsula when Veronica Steele set about making the cheese in the '80s and there are only seven dairy farmers left.
Further expansion may depend on dairy farmer numbers on the peninsula increasing.