'The liquid milk price for farmers had become a joke'
Cork dairy farmer Vivian Buttimer switched from liquid to manufacturing milk production last year because the prices being paid by the supermarkets had "become a joke".
Vivian, who milks 160 Holsteins at the historic Ford Farm at Ballinascarthy, outside Clonakilty, fears that the low margins in liquid milk will lead to an exodus of dairy farmers and processors from the sector.
The Department of Agriculture and its dairy agencies need do something to rebalance the margins in favours of the primary producers, he adds.
He is now getting 31.8 cents per litre of milk plus bonuses of up to three cents a litre from Lisavaird and is protected by the co-op's commercial ethos for his manufacturing milk. The best he made while supplying liquid milk was 30.07 cents per litre plus winter bonuses.
"The liquid milk suppliers are being squeezed all the time and the pricing advantage has to be taken away from the retailers says Vivian (52), who has been working on the home farm since he was 16.
"The farmers are being squeezed all the time and I can see casualties in the sector unless something is done."
Married to Jocelyn, Vivian works in partnership with his son Evan (24), a UCD graduate in dairy business, and he also has plenty of help on the farm from his parents.
His mother Hazel, a sprightly 79-year-old, helps with the milking and general farm duties and his dad Thomas also does his bit.
Hazel is related to the motor manufacturing tycoon Henry Ford, whose family worked the farm in Cork from the 1700s until 1847 when they emigrated to America during of the famine.
They fetched up in Dearborn, Michigan where they took over 80 acres of scrub land, cleared it and resumed their farming activities. Henry, however, had no fondness for farming and instead focused his energies on revolutionising the motor industry.
Hazel still milks the herd when required, a job she finds "very relaxing".
"I have been milking the cows for over 60 years now from hand and bucket to the petrol dairy platform we once had and on to the various milking parlours we've had to the present one which was built in 2014," she says.
She loves the job and loves the Holsteins, who she says are "very kind" animals.
Hazel has kept the old Ford homestead in pristine condition down the years.
The current generation of American motoring Fords, including chief executive Bill Ford, visit the Ford Farm occasionally to renew their Irish roots.
During their most recent visit, in 2011, Vivian turned up in his new Toyota Avensis only to be politely told by the family to keep the vehicle out of sight while the American party visited the graves of their ancestors. Vivian now drives a Ford Focus!
Apart from the dairy enterprise Vivian also keeps an eye on the beef market as he finishes beef for the factories on another farm 27 miles away in Carrigaline. He reckons himself and Evan are facing into a "tough year" on this front.
In conversation with Ken Whelan
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