Is this Kilkenny parish the EU dairy capital?
Is Callan in Co Kilkenny the dairy expansion capital of Europe?
It is a fair question to ask in light of the latest CSO statistics which show that Irish milk output continues to power ahead on both a year-to-date basis, and relative to our EU partners.
While milk output has either fallen or grown marginally in most EU states, it has been a very different story in Ireland, where milk supplies to the end of July were running 10pc up on 2018, and they were still 8pc ahead of last year's levels in September.
The southeast has been the powerhouse for the recent expansion in Irish dairy output, as organic growth from existing milk supplies has been accentuated by conversions to dairying by drystock farmers and cereal growers.
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Callan Co-op has been at the forefront of this development. While Ireland's milk pool has grown by 60pc since the days of the milk quotas, the Co Kilkenny society has doubled output. Co-op CEO Liam Ryan, explained that the society had a quota of 15m litres prior to 2015, but he expects milk supplies to exceed 34m litres this year, and production could top 38-40m litres in 2020. All milk supplied to Callan Co-op is processed by Glanbia.
Mr Ryan said the vast majority of Callan's suppliers farm within a seven- to eight-mile radius of the co-op. The bulk of the supply growth has come from the 40 or so society members that supplied milk to the co-op in 2015, he said.
However, there have been some conversions into dairying, with the number of milk suppliers increasing to 46 this year, and expected to reach 50 over the next 18 months.
"Milk output in this area was really restricted by the quotas. Because we were such a small co-op, farmers really couldn't get access to additional milk," Mr Ryan explained. He said the massive growth in supplies over the last five years was a reaction to the years of stagnation that quotas imposed.
Nationally, the 8pc growth in milk supplies recorded to-date this year suggests that overall production will top 8bn litres.
Despite the national herd growing by around 20,000 cows in 2019, milk supplies are expected to drop below 2018 levels for October and November as the earlier winter hits production.
This could pull the overall growth in milk output back to 6.5pc or 7pc. However, this would still see total milk production hit around 8.1bn litres.
Irish dairy sector growth has not been matched across Europe. While milk supplies in the UK and Poland have grown by 3pc and 2pc respectively, output has stagnated or fallen in most of the other dairy powers.
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