Irish dairy farm numbers will be down to 16,500 within the next 10 years, according to new figures, and the milk they produce will have to be at a higher quality level. By Margaret Donnelly
When the story broke that masses of people were becoming ill, the Hastings District Council was quickly put under the media pump. The Hawke’s Bay Regional Council was, for a time, largely left in peace.
I set myself a goal. Look for just one statement, one press release, one sound bite where any politician or bureaucrat from either council uses the word ‘cow’. At all.
Certainly, within the first two weeks of the campylobacter outbreak, I found zero examples. The words employed, and only if pushed, were cattle and livestock.
Sure, it was way too early to tell where the source of the contamination originated. Yet, the wilful non existence of that most sacred word rang my alarm bells.
The dairy industry cheerleaders were clearly getting ahead of the game.
When I say cheerleaders, what do I mean?
According to the 2025 dairy roadmap from Teagasc, and approximately 1,500 will be new entrants over the next nine years.
At the same time, Irish milk production levels are expected to grow significantly despite predictions of ongoing volatility and the overall number of dairy farmers in the country will reduce slightly from 17,500 today.
The Teagasc research says that while volatility will remain an issue, there will be increased opportunities for farmers to enter ‘forward contracts’ and utilise price risk management tools.
Those farmers left in the industry will have to produce milk of a higher quality, it says, to produce higher value products, including infant formula. The document also warns that Ireland, as the producer of 10pc of the world’s infant formula, could face significant reputational damage if there was product failure in the sector.
Tom O’Dwyer, Head of Dairy Knowledge Transfer with Teagasc, said the market is demanding ever increasing standards of milk quality as testing becomes more stringent.
Within the sector, Teagasc says that Irish dairy farms will become more specialised and there will be a demand for contracting as services are outsourced.
National cow numbers are expected to increase to 1.7m from 1.14m today, while the average herd size will be over 100 cows as stocking rates go to 2.15. However, it also says that the land required by dairy farmers will continue to increase.