Darragh McCullough: Let's apply a bit of perspective to estimates of a 60pc drop in dairy incomes
Teagasc's estimate that dairy incomes will fall by 60pc this year was stark enough to make headlines. But dairy farmers are not the worst-off following this year's drought.
Granted, nobody likes to see their income fall 60pc, but let's apply a bit of perspective here. The fall is in comparison to 2017, which was the most profitable year ever for Irish dairy farmers, with average incomes of over €90,000.
There will be some out there that will point to the fact that there is 1.4 labour units on the average dairy farm, and that dairy farmers work more than a 40-hour week, and that they pay for new farm investment out of the profits.
But the profits still kick ass compared to any major farm enterprise. So much so that many dairy farmers will have a big enough cash pile from last year to carry them through 2018. Even with incomes of 'only' €45,000 projected for the average dairy farmer this year, it is still 50pc better than average incomes in 2009, and equal to that achieved in 2012 and 2016.
Some have seized on the feed shortage this year as concrete proof that Ireland's dairy herd has grown too big. Since the abolition of milk quotas, the national herd has increased by nearly 40pc to 1.45 million cows, so the average herd size has nearly doubled in the last 15 years to about 83 cows.
That expansion has left all but the most meticulous planners under serious pressure. But it has also allowed farmers to reap big rewards when things go right, as in 2017.
Don't be under any illusion that farmers would have had lots more fodder to spare if this drought had hit while the milk quota regime was still in place.
All that would be different is that more of the fodder would have been used to feed beefing animals retained on dairy farms. The milk cheques would have been smaller with a smaller milk pool, and there would have been even less money to buy in additional fodder.