Farm Ireland

Friday 19 January 2018

Milk Mecca... crowds throng dairy research centre

Record numbers turned out at Teagasc's biennial open day
Record numbers turned out at Teagasc's biennial open day

Record numbers of dairy farmers turned out for Teagasc's biennial open day in Cork last week.

Estimates of up to 14,000 farmers streamed through the gates of the country's largest dairy research centre just outside Fermoy for what has become a Mecca for milk producers from both Ireland and abroad.

The latest in dairy technology, including calving alarms, virtual fencing systems and GPS powered grass meters were on display at over 120 information points throughout the 200ac site.

The focus of the event was finding sustainable ways for farmers to cope with the expansion that the industry is currently in the grips of.

Weekly milk volumes have soared by 20pc in some regions since the quotas were abolished at the start of April, despite international milk prices falling to some of their lowest levels in the last decade.

Results from Fonterra's Global Dairy Trade (GDT) auction fell by another 6pc last week as global supplies continue to outstrip demand.

This brings the GDT index to 634, less than half the 1,482 that the index was at in February 2014, and just 61 points above its lowest ever point in July 2009.

Figures on the day confirmed the impact of the downturn on dairy incomes, with a 75 cow herd back by €35,000 in sales this year.

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However, Irish dairy farmers can continue to remain among the most profitable in the world if they stay focused on their natural competitive advantages, according to Teagasc researchers.

"We might fool ourselves that we have other competitive advantages, but the real one is grass, especially as sustainability becomes a bigger issue," said Laurence Shalloo.

"We are probably on the downward cycle at the moment, but we need to build systems that can handle that," he said.

The difference between the top 10pc of farmers and the average appears to be widening, with a €33,320 gap on a 40ha farm. The majority of the difference is due to lower costs, but the better operators are also selling an extra €300/ha.

"Profit per cow drops by €126 when an extra tonne of feed is introduced into the diet. This exemplifies why there is zero, none, absolutely no relationship between profit and milk yield per cow," said Dr Shalloo.

He also warned farmers off the expansion trail if they had not thought it out carefully in advance. "If you don't have a plan, you've no business expanding."

Speaking at the open day, the Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney said that Teagasc Moorepark was "world class".

However, the head of Teagasc research, Dr Pat Dillon, warned farmers that they needed to be efficient to cope with the price volatility that was now a feature of the business.

"Farm businesses need to be efficient before considering expansion. Teagasc will develop technologies at farm level to deal with the uncertainty of the post quota era," he said.

Elsewhere, another forum was discussing career paths for people without land in the sector. Incorporating labour on farms that were traditionally one-man units is seen as a key priority for dairy farmers, with research showing that workloads on the average farm will be 94 hours per week by 2020.

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