Mike Brady: Has fodder crisis highlighted a failing farming model with too many dairy cows?
It is human nature to knock those who appear to be successful in life. We Irish are particularly good at it, the last generation raised us to ensure "we did not get above our station", the last straw was success going to somebody's head.
When the history of Irish agriculture is written, this period in time will be seen as the dairy farming era of success. Gone are the days of restricted milk production. This post-EU milk quota period of rapid dairy cow expansion has ruffled the feathers of beef and arable farmers, but it has also registered with our urban cousins.
Wall-to-wall coverage of the fodder crisis has raised questions about animal welfare, the environment and even farmer mental health.
It has provided the perfect platform for advertising campaigns such as the GoVegan campaign and comments from various other commentators. A recent quote from a national newspaper stated that "the recent fodder crisis proved we have too many cows and that the model of farming was failing farmers, society and the environment".
I asked myself the question, is this true?
The facts show that we now have 1.34 million dairy cows in Ireland, but 40 years ago - before the introduction of milk quotas - we actually had 1.51 million dairy cows.
Dairy cow numbers dropped significantly from a peak of 1.52m in 1984, just after milk quotas were introduced, to just 0.995m in 2005.
The announcement that milk quotas were going in 2017 has seen dairy cow numbers recover to today's level. Therefore, it is fair to conclude that dairy cows are not the cause of the current fodder crisis. In fact, I would argue that there is more than enough fodder in the country to avoid the dramatic imports from abroad, but the farmers with the fodder do not want to sell it to those who have not got enough to feed their livestock. In future, to avoid such negative publicity for the industry, a mandatory national fodder register, completed annually on September 30, would eliminate this now, recurring roadshow.