Dairy farmers facing a 50pc hit on incomes
The full impact of this year's extreme weather won't become clear until next year, but the lesson of 2018 is that successful dairy expansion will be achieved by the cautious rather than the carefree, writes Trevor Donnellan
At the outset of 2018 the main concern for Irish dairy farming was the anticipated fall in milk price - when would it happen, how bad would it be and how long would it persist?
That question has largely been answered at this stage. Milk prices fell in 2018 and the reduction has been more or less in line with expectations. A difficult production season in Europe and New Zealand has prevented the decline in prices from being worse.
Relatively modest increases in production costs were anticipated for 2018, with prices for feed, fuel and fertiliser also expected to rise a little bit.
However, the real story of 2018 has been the weather. At a recent agri-food industry event, a speaker said he had spent much of the first half of 2018 praying for fine weather and the second half of the year praying for rain.
Weather-wise it has been a year of two halves, each coming with its own problems.
The trouble began with the long winter of 2017/18, which depleted fodder reserves and led to increased feed use in the first quarter of 2018.
A brief period of 'normal' weather followed and then we had the dry spell, which quickly turned into a drought. Soon the silage-making calendar was torn up, grass growth collapsed and feed mills were working round the clock.
Irish milk production, which had been expected to increase once again in 2018, began to slip, with monthly production in July 3pc below the same month in 2017.