Dynamic Donovans dwarfing tough targets of Harvest 2020
MORE THAN 400 farmers attended the Irish Grassland Association's dairy summer tour in West Cork last week to see how some of the country's top farmers are making exceptional profits.
The first farm to be visited on the day was that of Norman O'Donovan at Skibbereen. While the Food Harvest 2020 target of a 50pc increase in milk supplies over 10 years is considered ambitious by most, Norman, along with his father Derry and brother Damien, have proven that it is possible to go one step further and double output over the same period.
Derry and Anna O'Donovan started out milking 95 cows on 135ac in 1978. Despite the introduction of quotas in 1983, Derry had still managed to more than double the herd to 240 cows, and acres farmed to 283ac.
Over the course of the 1990s, cow numbers remained static but output continued to improve from the pedigree Holstein Friesian herd.
But from 2000 on, Derry, Norman and Damien began to crossbreed with Jersey cows and expand numbers again.
Since 2008, the O'Donovans have bought and leased an additional 400ac of land to bring their total land-base up to 1,000ac carrying more than 560 spring-calving cows and over 750 head of drystock. While Derry, Norman and Damien all continue to milk their herds on three separate farms, they operate the farms out of one bank account and discuss problems and plans daily. "I think we got a bit too comfortable [during the late 1990s and early 2000s] when we had no borrowings," Derry O'Donovan said.
"We were only keeping about 12pc of our sales in 2003 compared to almost 40pc today. I'm not advocating that everybody go out and borrow but I think there is no better discipline.
"It created a practical cost control for our business long before the profit monitor was ever invented, when we didn't have the borrowings and were focusing instead to keeping the tax bill low. Now we're quite happy to have a large tax bill."