Farm Ireland

Thursday 18 April 2019

'The priority has to be keeping Irish products on the shelves in the UK'


Barry Coleman
Barry Coleman

Ken Whelan

It's full steam ahead at Alan and Barry Coleman's dairy farm in Kinsale, Co Cork.

Upgrades and new work are being carried on the cubicles, and further capacity is being added to the farm's slurry storage facilities as the Dairygold suppliers drive on to meet new milking targets.

It's a work in progress and it is not cheap, with an extra 160 units being added at the farm.

But father Alan and his 27-year-old son Barry are firm believers in the "white gold" credentials of dairying and are confident that the sector will thrive despite the imminent problems which Brexit might hold for the sector.

"It's the future and I am confident about the dairy sector, though farmers thinking of expanding their herds should pay attention to rental costs," says Alan. "They are expensive at the moment and this can affect the balance sheet.

"There will be a shock when the deal is done but things will balance out over the next two years," adds Alan, who has been in dairy since Ireland joined the EU back in 1973.

His father ran a beef and tillage enterprise and, as Alan puts it, "I even remember sheep on the farm when I was growing up".

The Coleman farm runs across 140 acres on the home block, with another 60 acres rented, plus a 60-acre outside block, and father and son are happy with the return of 31.5 c/l they are getting from their herd of 250 Jersey crosses.

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"We'll take it," says Barry. "We are reasonably happy with the milk price, although we are expecting some shrinkage later in the year."

Barry, the youngest son of parents Alan and Bridget, was always going to be the farmer of the family - with his brothers Shane (33) and Brian (31) opting to work abroad in the construction sector, while sister Aisling (26) is taking a year out in Canada having finished her studies.

Barry obtained his Green Cert at Clonakilty Ag College and then progressed to Waterford IT to study dairy management.

He travelled to New Zealand for his on-farm work experience and, apart from the usual tourist activities, the found time to line out as hooker for a local rugby team. He still plays in that position for his local team in Kinsale.

The father-and-son team are delighted with the weather this spring as they were able to get the herd back to grass at the beginning of February, which made a welcome change to last year, when the herd only went out well after St Patrick's Day.

"We have ample grass down in Kinsale at the moment and things are much better than last year when it was April before we got the cows out on the land," says Barry.

Alan describes grass growth over the winter as "phenomenal", though he is quick to point out that the more wintry weather is now returning to the region.

For the moment, it is all about going "with the plan" and expanding the herd - irrespective of what happens with Brexit.

"It won't be a World Trade Organisation result," says Alan confidently, but he acknowledges that there might be some shocks for Irish agriculture when the trade talks, as distinct from the political talks, proceed over the next two years.

"A deal will be done over the next two years and the important thing at the moment is that every effort has to be made to ensure that Irish beef and dairy products remain on the shelves in Britain during this period," says Alan.

"The Government and the EU will help Irish farmers over this period and they will fill the gaps. The main thing is that Irish agriculture remains efficient and competitive."

In conversation with Ken Whelan

Indo Farming