Thursday 29 September 2016

Ireland's biggest dairy farmer warns against quota euphoria

Published 05/04/2015 | 02:30

Tom Browne
Tom Browne

The demise of EU milk quotas was celebrated around the country this week, with reports of some farmers throwing 'quota parties' to herald the end of decades of limits on how much 'white gold' they could produce.

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For over 30 years, farmers were restricted on the amount of milk they could sell. Now, new rules mean they will be able to produce as much milk as possible.

But the country's biggest dairy farmer is not joining in the celebrations.

Tom Browne of Killagh, Co Cork (pictured right), who milks around 850 cows, urged caution among fellow dairy farmers and said he does not believe predictions that demand will match rocketing supply.

"The end of milk quotas presents an opportunity for young ambitious farmers with the right land - but I am nervous. I have no doubt that we are underestimating what the rest of Europe is going to do. Milk production right across Europe is going to soar."

"We have been told the end of milk quotas will create thousands of Irish jobs, but at farm level it is a very different story," he said.

"Nobody has trained in farming in the last five years - so there is a huge skills gap."

Major consolidation of dairy processing co-operatives is needed to cut costs, Browne added. Processors including Glanbia, Lakeland and a variety of smaller co-ops have ploughed an estimated €1bn into expanding production facilities in advance of the end of the quotas. But there are simply too many competing against each other for the same aim, the Cork farmer said.

"There are way too many co-ops. We have 20 management teams when we ought to have two - and farmers are paying for that."

Meath native and former Irish Farmers' Association chair Tom Clinton is another of the country's largest dairy farmers and also has a major dairy operation in New Zealand. He thinks Ireland's small farms will have to grow to stay competitive. The average milks around 65 cows compared to 400 in New Zealand.

"Scale must go up. When you look at global standards, 90pc of Irish dairy farmers would be classed as small. The dairy farm of the future is going to have to be bigger."

Sunday Indo Business

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