144,000 Irish farms dairying since 1975 – there are still 1.3m cows to be milked

It’s often difficult to appreciate the immense change which Irish agriculture has under gone since it joined the EU in 1975.

However, when one delves into array of statistics on the dairy industry, in particular, it brings home the extraordinary journey the sector has been on over the last 40 years.

A few statistics really demonstrate this huge change:

In 2020 Irish dairy farmers will milk the same amount of cows as in 1975 (1.3m), however 128,000 less dairy holdings will carry out the task.

In 1975 the average dairy herd size was a mere 9.6 cows but by 2020 Teagasc estimates that this will have increased by over 750% to 85 cows.

The volume of milk produced is also set to increase substantially over the next five years. In 1975 Ireland produced 3.2m litres of milk by 2020 the nation hopes to reach nearly 7.5m litres.

In terms of price, the development has been more than welcome. In 1975 the average milk price was as low a 9c/L compared to a 2014 average of 38c/L.

The stark figures point both to the changing landscape of rural Ireland as technology and breeding sees less hand do more work.

But all across the same phenomenon is being seen in the dairy industry.

The number of dairy farmers in the EU has during the last six years (from quota year 2007/08 to quota year 2013/14), decreased by -41%, according to latest data from the European Commission.

Meanwhile, during the period 2005-2010, the agricultural area used by EU-27 specialist dairying farms has only slightly decreased by 3%.

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