Friday 30 September 2016

'The milk price I am getting is hard to believe'

My week: Quentin Harte

Ken Whelan

Published 27/07/2016 | 02:30

Quentin Harte and his son Darragh on the family farm at Cilleens, Enniscrone. Photo: Brian Farrell
Quentin Harte and his son Darragh on the family farm at Cilleens, Enniscrone. Photo: Brian Farrell
Darragh Harte feeding the calves on the family farm

When I rang Quentin Harte last week he had to put me on hold. "I'm up to my eyes with baling and stacking and we are fighting the weather down here on all fronts," he said. "Then I have to go milking. We'll talk in the evening."

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In Met Eireann terminology the weather in the Culleens area between Enniscrone and Ballina read "developing cloud with outbreaks of rain increasing", but in Quentin's words it was nothing short of a "nightmare."

Then came the heat wave of last Tuesday and Wednesday and it was back onto the upland fields near the Ox Mountains for Quentin and some serious catching up on the work.

"If the weather is good that's one thing, but so far this year we have had an awful lot of rainfall hitting the ground and when you move the machinery onto the land it tends to boil up and the machinery does some damage.

"There's a huge mix of soils around here and it is a nightmare with the amount of rain we have had over the cutting season. We are only averaging three tonnes an acre."

"I think many farmers will only break even this year," says the 43-year-old dairy/beef farmer who also runs a contracting farming and construction business.

Quentin has completed 400ac for pit silage so far this season and is working his way through a further 500ac of cutting and baling.

The home farm of 55ha with 24ha of leased or rented land is a "little scattered", in his own words, and mostly uplands located seven miles from the sea.

His day begins with milking 20 Friesian crosses which supply milk annually to Aurivo and normally ends with the second milking in the evening.

But during peak silage cutting season, he sometimes doesn't finish until well after 10pm.

On the beef side of the farm there is an Aberdeen Angus herd which are finished in the sheds around April and sold at 30 months to local factories. "The females are profitable but the males not so much," he says.

He doesn't believe this is going to be a great year for the farmers around the Ox Mountains.

"The dairy and beef prices are down. The milk price of 23c/l which I am getting is hard to believe. You would need to be at 33c/l to break even. Farmers can't survive these days without the farm payment," he says.

Quentin believes that cutting production in both beef and milk is the most likely measure to yield better prices of any of the mooted EU intervention proposals.

He qualified as a mechanic when he finished his Leaving Cert and worked for 10 years with a local dealer before returning to the family farm of his parents Eddie and Eileen.

The mechanics' experience helped him develop his business in the farm building sector.

Salary

He is quite proud of the four shed complex he built to house some 500 ewes belonging to a local sheep farmer over two months last winter. Although it took up most of his construction roster for the year, he says it was a great job.

Quentin readily accepts that without the salary from his wife's professional career the development of the enterprise could not have taken place, particularly in the current economic climate.

The Hartes have four children, three boys and one girl, who Quentin says thoroughly enjoy the farming way of life and the freedom which comes with it.

The family have a healthy interest in most sports although Quentin is too busy himself for hobbies: 'Where would I get the time?" he asks.

But he does like the family holidays and the Harte' are currently organising a four day trip to the capital to visit old reliables like Dublin Zoo and Tayto Park.

Quentin philosophically adds that "things will still be the same down here when we get back next week".

Indo Farming

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