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'What happens if we end up with a milk lake after all this expansion?'



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This year's hot weather has had a measurable financial impact on John McCormack's dairy enterprise in Mayo.

The milk yield from his herd of 75 pedigree Holsteins was down 25,000 litres during the summer heatwave and he describes the silage crop as being on the thin side.

Overall, he says it's has been the most difficult year weather-wise since he took over the home farm back in the 1980s.

"And to make matters worse I took an early guaranteed price of 28c/l for some of my milk, and the price has averaged 35c/l this year," John laments.

"That's farming for you. You are either on top of a hump or down in a hollow."

But John, 70, intends to continue farming as long as his health allows. He farms 130 acres between the home place in Ballyheane outside Castlebar, along with a 45-acre outfarm two kilometres away.

His daughter Claire, an Athenry Agricultural College graduate who works full-time with Aurivo, also helps out.

John and wife Bridie have three other adult children in their 30s - Sean, Breege, and Sheila, who are settled in Shannon, Westport and Leitrim respectively.

'Claire is a great help and is well qualified to take over the farm when the time comes," says John.

"After she got her agriculture qualifications she worked on three farms in Cork, Meath and Hollymount before returning home. At the moment she takes care of the heifers on the outfarm."

Apart from the usual farming preoccupation with the weather - and Storm Diana was lashing rain in the Castlebar area when we spoke last week - John has to make sure his pedigree Holstein bull works his magic on the 21 cows still not covered,


Then the question of silage for the winter months has to be addressed.

On Irish agriculture in general, John fears that the relentless expansion in dairying is now straying into the realm of over-production.

It is a danger he feels Minister Michael Creed and the co-ops should be urgently addressing.

John's advice is based on experience; he has seen it all in the dairy sector.

He started off in milk in 1981 and has invested heavily in the purchase of milk quota over the years to build up to the 75-cow herd that he has today.

"What happens if we end up with a milk lake at the end of this current phase of expansion? And how will the over-stretched new entrants to the sector deal with that?" he asks.

In John's view the best way to avoid over-production is a stable milk supply regime which would squeeze the commodity speculation out of the market.

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Off-farm John's main interests are soccer - he is an Arsenal fan - and he takes an avid interest in the GAA, although becomes somewhat downhearted when he thinks of Mayo's misfortunes. "It's like the mid-1960s again these days - we have a great team but no All Ireland."

Along with the soccer and football, John likes to unwind on weekend nights by playing a hand of 25 with friends.

In conversation with Ken Whelan

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