How one dairy farmer milks 90 cows but owns no land

Noel McCall is a dairy farmer with a difference; he’s milking 90 cows but he owns none of the land he keeps them on.

The Co. Wicklow farmer leases his 150 acres of land from a neighbour and in January of this year signed a 12-year lease.

Speaking on RTE Radio, McCall said that, while he is not from a farming background, he always had a keen interest in the livestock end of farming and in his late teens decided that farming was the way he wanted to go.

McCall went to agricultural college and decided dairy farming was the sector for him and he received a scholarship to go to New Zealand in 1997.

“New Zealand was always renowned for its dairy, there they have share-milking; the landowner provides the land and another farmer brings in the livestock to milk.

“Farms are large in New Zealand, farmers there see one farm as a stepping stone to a larger one. It’s common to be milking 700-800 cows, get to your mid 30s, sell the cows and raise money for your own farm,” McCall said.

He returned home in 2000 and fund a neighbour who wanted more of a backseat role in farming. They got talking and, at the time, McCall said there was a lot of complications, between herd numbers and taxes so the simplest way was to lease.

“I bought his cows and paid him rent for the farm. What Pat and what I wanted were quite similar; he wanted the cows milked on the farm but had been at it for 30 years and wanted a backseat role.

I started out with 50 cows, I now have 90. In 2005 I signed a 10-year lease and in January of this year signed a new 12-year lease.

“I’d love to buy the farm but the land is probably worth €1m – you’d take three lifetimes to pay it back.”

McCall says that leasing land is unusual in Ireland but, from a tax point of view, it’s better compared to the con-acre system.

“You see too many con-acre arrangements, an 11-month rental up for renew every year, people are very reluctant to put money into fertiliser or reseeding for someone else to have the benefits of that the next year.”

McCall says that he was restricted from increasing cows because of quotas, but he can push it on a bit more now.

I’m milking 90, I could run to 115, for one-man show that’s as far as I could go. I don’t have as much time off as I like but I’m trying for the summer to spend every second Sunday off.

McCall has a relief-maker who comes in for when he wants to go on holiday or take time off.

He says that a lot of things in farming are outside of his control; for example the milk price, if it drops McCall’s income drops.

“The finances are the hardest, but it’s well worthwhile.

“I love it, the drive, you’re self-employed, you need self-motivation or else you don’t succeed. I love working with the animals, love the outdoors and you see progress on the farm every year.

“You’re benchmarking yourself against other farmers.”

McCall was recently crowned 2015 Zurich Dairy Farmer of the Year and Grand Prix (overall) Farmer of the Year.

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