Analysis: Should we put all our eggs in one basket - or in one system of milk production?
The Teagasc Moorepark Open Day has become a showcase event for Irish dairying.
The research and advice from the team at Moorepark particularly in the last 15 years have shaped a world-class, grass-based, spring calving dairying industry for this country.
Our industry is now the envy of many countries and Irish dairying events and conferences are now regularly attended by international visitors from other dairying nations with potential for grass-based systems, such as the United Kingdom, France, Chile, Argentina, Brazil and, of course, the New Zealanders, who keep a close eye on dairy matters in this country.
The successful dairy production system developed in Moorepark is a grass-based, low-cost, sustainable system of milk production, matching milk production to the grass production curve by targeting calving 90pc of cows in a six-week period in early spring; concentrate feed is kept to a minimum.
The principles of the system were imported from New Zealand in the early 2000s and adapted to suit our climate. Initially, there was resistance from dairy farmers, in particular higher-yielding less fertile herds of Holstein/Friesian-type cows, but a clear focus on a single production system approach from Teagasc Moorepark and the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) has ploughed a furrow for the success of the system.
The marketing mantra for the system - 'Do not confuse the message' - has worked well to date; even the most diehard type and yield-focused Holstein breeders are now examining the milk and fertility indices of the Economic Breeding Index (EBI). The question is: should this continue to be the sole dairy production system of choice for this country into the future?
I calculate if our dairy industry grows at the same rate as the New Zealanders from 1979-2015, by 2055 we will grow from 1.24 million dairy cows to over 3 million dairy cows, and milk production will increase from 6.4 billion litres to 22.6 billion litres.
This successful result of the research into dairying will threaten the future of beef, sheep and arable enterprises in this country, as profitability can be up to 10 times greater per hectare in dairying. Without doubt, there will be a swing from these enterprises into dairying, but again should all our eggs be in the one basket and, more particularly, one system of milk production?