Expansion forcing small farmers out of dairying

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Margaret Donnelly and Ciaran Moran

The number of 100 plus cow dairy herds has more than trebled since 2005, and these units now account for around half the country's cows and about one-third of the holdings.

However, there has been a corresponding collapse in the number of small dairy farms with under 20 cows.

The Farming Independent can reveal that the number of dairy farms in the country fell under 18,000 last year for the first time, down from over 22,000 in 2005. Dairy farms now represent just 13pc of all farm holdings in the country.

The CSO figures, compiled by Teagasc ahead of its biennial dairy event Moorepark 2019, which takes place tomorrow, sheds light on the changing face of the Irish dairy sector as rapid consolidation and tighter margins are forcing many smaller farmers out of the industry.

The new figures show that cow numbers increased by 410,102 (38pc) between 2010 and 2018.

Numbers increased by 35pc in Munster (229,447); 22pc in Ulster (16,822); 33pc in Connacht (18,010); and 52pc in Leinster (145,823).

There has been a massive increase in the average herd size - with the number of herds over 100 cows up by 350pc since 2005, while the number of herds milking less than 20 cows has reduced by 44pc.

There are now almost 5,000 dairy herds milking over 100 cows, this is almost 30pc of all dairy holdings.

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Meanwhile, more than half the country’s dairy cows are in herds of greater than 100 cows. There are now some 356 herds with more than 280 cows, with 43 herds milking in excess of 500 cows.

The greatest increase in dairy cow numbers has been in Cork (92,775), followed by Tipperary (57,432), Kilkenny (32,166), Waterford (30,009) and Wexford (25,966).

Despite the increased commentary about new entrants to the sector, Irish dairy farm numbers have reduced from 18,472 in 2010 to 17,762 in 2018. A reduction of 710 or 3.8pc during this period.

The county with the highest cow numbers is Cork (378,194), followed by Tipperary (173,228), Limerick (118,923) and Kerry (100,589).

The county with the lowest cow numbers is Leitrim (1,958) followed by Dublin (2,900), Sligo (8,039) and Roscommon (8,119).

ICMSA president, Pat McCormack, said the movement towards bigger herd sizes highlighted the “relentless pressure” on milk suppliers to “scale-up” as they sought to protect their income levels from higher input costs and tighter margins.

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