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Monday 20 August 2018

'Things are flying at the moment' - Top Mayo dairy farmer on surviving long winter and late spring

Dairy Farmer Sean O'Donnell on his farm at Behy Beg, Ballina, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan
Dairy Farmer Sean O'Donnell on his farm at Behy Beg, Ballina, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan

Ken Whelan

Sean O'Donnell has survived the long winter and late spring and is catching up with all the delayed farm work at his 100ha dairy enterprise near Ballina in Co Mayo.

The 37-year-old, who had his 200 Jersey crosses indoors until April, is happy with the new breeding season. Over 90 of his cows have been covered so far.

Sean is working through the backlog of work with help from his farm assistants, Fintan Mullarkey and Patrick Walsh,

"Things are flying at the moment," he says.

He's happy that the farm, which has two milking platforms across four separate divisions, is where it should be at this stage of the year.

They are used to late springs in Mayo and his sympathies lie with his fellow dairy farmers in the south and east who got the worst of the storms and rains this winter.

Dairy Farmer Sean O'Donnell on his farm at Behy Beg, Ballina, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan
Dairy Farmer Sean O'Donnell on his farm at Behy Beg, Ballina, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan

Sean took over the family farm from his father, John, after completing his Nuffield Scholarship and an engineering degree over 10 years ago.

He has built up the Jersey herd from 40 to the present 200. His abilities were recognised in 2014 when he won a Farmer of the Year award.

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After his studies he left Ireland for a rite-of-passage trip to Australia and New Zealand where he had "good times Down Under", working in the construction industry.

Sean is now married to Jackie, a teacher, and they have four sons: Oisín (9), Conor (7), Sean Óg (4) and Ronan (2).

His full professional focus now is on the farm, where his milk goes to Aurivo at a current price of 30.5c/l with bonuses.

Sean is not over the moon with the price, which is down some 5c/l since the turn of the year, but like all dairy farmers he is looking forward to improved prices later in the year.

"I wouldn't like to see the price go any lower," he says.

"Butter seems to be underpinning prices at the moment but I am sure it will improve as the year goes by."

On the agricultural scene generally, Sean says it is time that the Government and the Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed, placed more value on the input of the active farmers "who are doing the real work in Irish agriculture".

"There is too much concentration by the authorities on the inactive farmer," he maintains.

Another pebble in his shoe is the proliferation of the Irish flag on supermarket produce, from milk to meats even when these products are processed elsewhere.

"Labelling of food in supermarkets is confusing the Irish consumer and affecting agricultural prices generally," he says.

"The Government is only paying lip service to the problem and they should bring in legislation to stop the practice.

"The only foods which should be allowed use the Irish flag are those which are approved by the Irish food authorities as being produced by Irish farmers and processed in Ireland."

Off farm, Sean's main interest is the GAA and the Bonniconlon club where his boys play.

He played himself in his younger years, but he says he received too many "broken bones" during his playing career. To ensure his future as a dairy farmer, he decided to give it up.

Sean is currently taking up golf at the nearby Ballina golf club. He's at the "where's the flag stage" and is taking lessons.

In conversation with Ken Whelan


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