| 7.1°C Dublin

Independent view: Four years to tackle dairy herd quality

Warnings from the co-ops and the Minister for Agriculture, Brendan Smith, on the risk of a superlevy fine this year will not have surprised too many dairy farmers.

There has been a general acceptance for some time that the country was rapidly closing in on the quota target. Milk output looks set to increase by a staggering 11pc during this quota year, a sharp turnaround since Ireland was 10pc under quota for 2009/10.

This growth confirms the potential of dairy farmers to drive production but it also changes the game plan for the sector between now and the abolition of quotas in 2015. The notion that farmers could increase cow numbers at will and gamble on the country remaining under quota has been blown asunder. Hopefully a heavy price will not be exacted for this flawed analysis.

Indeed, the threat of a superlevy fine looks set to hang over the sector right up to 2015. Figures released by the ICBF show that the size of the national dairy herd will increase by more than 30,000 and 40,000 head this year and next.

Even with a heavy cull of the herd, Irish dairy farmers will be milking an additional 30,000 cows by 2012. These cows will produce up to 135m litres. Although Ireland will get a further 2pc of quota for these years (under the CAP Health Check reforms), this equates to less than 85m litres. However, instead of getting hung up on numbers for the next four years, maybe Irish farmers should get their stocking rate right so that quota is not an issue and then focus on the quality of the herd. Use the time between now and 2015 to get rid of old cows, late calvers and cows with high somatic cell counts (SCC).

According to Andrew Cromie of ICBF, data from the CMMS shows that a higher percentage of older cows are being held onto and this has resulted in both the calving interval and SCC levels increasing.

We now have an opportunity to really tackle these issues so that by 2015 we have a young profitable herd which can act as a springboard for expansion.

Mr Cromie says talk of dairy farmers changing tack on the breeding front and switching back to beef bulls is ill-advised.

"We have made a lot of progress in getting the right heifers on the ground over the last few years and we shouldn't step back from or slow down that progress," he maintains.

By the way, if a blast of extra heifers is needed in 2015, why not have a group of good three-year-olds coming into the herd as well as two-year-olds that spring?

Indo Farming