Farm Ireland

Friday 24 November 2017

Taking the long view on the milk market

Meath farmer David Hannon is typical of those pressing ahead with expansion plans

David Moran addressing the Teagasc-Lakelands Dairies farm walk on his farm at Drumree, Co Meath last week
David Moran addressing the Teagasc-Lakelands Dairies farm walk on his farm at Drumree, Co Meath last week
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Dairy expansion is accelerating in parts of the country despite the dire outlook for prices over the coming six months.

The large crowd attending the Teagasc-Lakeland Dairies farm walk on David Hannon's farm near Grange in Co Meath heard how he plans to double cow numbers over the coming two years due the increased availability of land blocks in the area.

The €500,000 investment for Mr Hannon comes on the back of a 50pc increase in cow numbers in his spring calving herd over the last seven years.

"A few years ago, if you asked any of my discussion group, we would have all said that we were maxed-out.

"At that stage we were probably at an average of 200 cows per farm. But I'd say that number is going to be closer to 300 cows in a few years time," said Mr Hannon.

When asked what had changed, the Drumree farmer said that more blocks of land were coming up for sale in the area and that leases were becoming more popular.

"I'm in the process of creating a 15 year partnership with a neighbour for 65ha next year, and that's what is giving me the possibility of increasing cow numbers to maybe 500 over the next couple of years," he said.

He estimates that at least half of his Navan discussion group are in the process of taking on extra land.

Also Read


Teagasc farm structures specialist, Tom Curran, said that there was a noticeable increase in the amount of leasing activity around the country, but that opportunities for extra land depended on location.

"With the average age of farmers at 55 years, that means that half of them are over that, and probably looking at ways to step back. This is where most of the leasing opportunities will be.

"But land is still like hen's teeth in the most intensive dairying areas such as west Cork where it often makes €12,000-15,000/ac," he said.

However, Mr Hannon was adamant that he would not be using his existing herd of 230 cows to subsidise the establishment of his next herd.

"It needs to be able to pay for itself - if it isn't then there isn't much point in doing it," he claimed.

When pushed as to why he was taking on additional risk, Mr Hannon said that it was part of his retirement plan.

"It's unlikely that any of my four kids will come home to run the dairy farm, so I need to be creating something that allows me to employ a good dairy manager or form a partnership when I run out of steam.

"The pot needs to be big enough to pay him a good wage and pay for my retirement," he explained.

In terms of his approach to the expansion plan, Mr Hannon said that flexibility would be key.

"I'm not building any new parlours because I want to keep the investment below €4,000/cow.

"It's a 19 unit parlour, but I'm thinking about milking one herd just once-a-day, straight after the first morning milking.

"That would allow heifers and older cows cope better because the distance to the parlour is one of the challenges that has emerged on my farm. Cows have to walk over a mile to the parlour from the furthest paddocks."

Indo Farming