Average dairy cows yields in Ireland will increase by approximately 15% over the next five years to reach 5,258L/annum in 2020, according to the latest projections from the Department of Agriculture.

Built into the 2020 growth plan for dairy is a growth in overall cow numbers of around 325,000 head. To date almost half of these animals ae in the national herd. As a consequence, a 2% year-on-year increase in breeding numbers, between now and 2020, will allow the aforementioned numbers target to be achieved.

It is also envisaged that the trends towards improved milk protein levels, recorded over recent years, will be maintained. The latest CSO figures show that in 2014 Irish dairy farmers produced milk with an average fat and content of 3.99% and 3.43%. The equivalent figures for 2009 were 3.83% and 3.33%.

Another plus factor from a milk quality perspective has been the reduction in Somatic Cell Count (SCC) levels, falling from an average national figure of 256 in 2009 to an estimated level of 236 last year.

Currently, almost Irish 18,000 dairy farmers are producing 4.5bn litres of milk with the top 6,000 producers producing 60% of the milk. The average dairy farm extends to 54ha. The average age of an Irish dairy farmer is 52 years. Of these, 50% are over 50 years of age and 48% under. In order to encourage the entry of new – and appropriately educated farmers into the sector – the Department allocated some 70m litres of quota, at no cost, to 400 new entrants during the period 2009 to 2013.

Efficiency levels within the Irish dairy sector have been improving. The latest figures confirm that net profits at farm level have increased from 4.06c/L in 2009 up to 16.56c/L in 2013. During this period input costs increased from 8.88 to 13.95c/L. This was achieved  through targeted efficiency measures, including improved reproductive efficiency, EBI levels and milk solids per cow.