Milk output running close to two years ahead of Food Harvest 2020 targets
Massive growth in the dairy sector has been recorded since the end of the quota regime in 2015.
Industry sources expect total milk output to top seven billion litres this year, which is 500 million litres shy of the 50pc growth target set in Food Harvest 2020.
Indeed, it is expected that the 7.5bn-litre output goal set in the Food Harvest plan could now be reached in 2018, or 2019 at the latest.
The bulk of the growth in the dairy sector to date has come from existing players. This is borne out in the statistics quoted in the Teagasc’s ‘People in Dairy Project’ which found that the average herd size has grown from 54 to 76 cows since 2005.
Indeed, there are 327,000 additional dairy cows since 2010, with the national herd now exceeding 1.35 million. And, close to half of these cows are in herds of 100 animals or more.
However, internal growth has been supplemented by an increasing number of new entrants. A recent survey published in the farming press put the number of new entrants since quotas were abolished at 600.
The majority of new entrants have been in traditional dairy farming areas such as Munster and south Leinster, and involved primarily drystock farmers switching into dairying.
But continuing income pressures among tillage farmers has prompted more interest in dairying from that sector. This trend was highlighted recently by the decision of the well-known Kehoe families from Wexford to move from cereals into milk. Further conversions are expected.