'Dairy sector needs another Greenfield farm' says Teagasc boss

Prof Gerry Boyle
Prof Gerry Boyle
Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

A new research dairy unit along the lines of the controversial Greenfield Farm needs to be established, Teagasc director, Professor Gerry Boyle, has claimed.

Describing the Greenfield Farm Programme as a great success, Prof Boyle said there was an urgent need for a similar unit to be set up.

A decision was made to call time on the demonstration farm project after Glanbia sought to end its involvement with the venture, and the Phelan family who owned the land said they were taking back control of the property.

The farm, which is located at Clara outside Kilkenny, is eight years into a 15-year project.

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Speaking on Teagasc's Dairy Edge podcast, Prof Boyle said a farm like Greenfields was crucial for new entrants as it highlighted the challenges of developing a dairy unit from scratch.

"We need the equivalent of another Greenfield. We have 40-50 new entrants every year," Prof Boyle maintained.

"It was the first farm where we had the true costs of production. The national farm survey and profit monitors are not able to capture the cost of land and labour.

"On this farm, we had full costs, and everything was transparent and that's important if we want to evaluate the economics of any farm enterprise critically," explained the Teagasc director.

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Teagasc dairy specialist Abigail Ryan, who was heavily involved with the project, also underlined Greenfields' importance, although she accepted that it "might not have been for everybody".

"Yes, we did start off very low cost, and looking back over the years there are some things we could have done differently," Ms Ryan conceded.

"At the time in 2009 milk price was at its lowest, it would have been impossible to get 100pc finance, so money was limited. We had to start somewhere."

Explaining the decision to establish the herd with a mix of cows and heifers, rather than with all heifers, Ms Ryan said it was impossible to source 350 heifers at the time.

In relation to staff retention, another criticism sometimes levelled at the project, Ms Ryan said Greenfield had excellent managers over the years.

"People would say we had a high staff turnover. They stayed on average 3.5 years and moved on to different projects.

"It was a progression for those guys, and they learned a lot. If there is a good guy you can't expect them to stay forever," she said.

The Greenfields Farm programme was run as a limited company, with three shareholders: Glanbia, the Agricultural Trust and the Phelan family. In addition, Teagasc provided management services and advice.

The farm aimed to showcase best practice in the conversion of a greenfield site into a fully functional dairy farm.

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