Like it or not we live in interesting times. Dairy farmers today operate in a production environment of unprecedented uncertainty but also unparalleled opportunity.

For most of the last 30 years, milk output has been constrained by quotas, yet the Irish dairy sector remains one of the few indigenous sectors to have built a global footprint. Buoyed by strong international demand, the abolition of milk quotas in 2015 will finally afford dairy farmers the opportunity to expand their businesses.

Notwithstanding the positive energy for expansion at farm level, there are also challenges ahead. In recent years, the financial environment of dairy farming has shifted from relatively stable and predictable annual cash flows to higher milk prices but increasingly volatile farm incomes.

As an export oriented industry, the increasing integration of farming systems within interconnected global ‘paddock to plate’ food chains continues. We must ensure that our post quota systems meet the highest international standards of food safety and quality, while also being animal welfare friendly and environmentally sustainable. Irish dairying has an enviable reputation for sustainability; this must be enhanced post quotas.

At Moorepark, much of the production systems research undertaken in recent years has focused on the continued development of resilient grass based farming systems that facilitate profitable dairy expansion in an environmentally and socially sustainable manner. Resilient businesses are technically and financially efficient, generate surplus  cash, consistently achieve financial expectations and are simple to operate.

Based on the triple bottom line of profitability, socially and environmentally responsible milk production, our farming systems must continue to be heavily reliant on the production of milk from grazed grass. This will require compact calving, high EBI dairy cattle and an appropriate overall farm stocking rate that is consistent with the farms grass growth capability.

Dr Brendan Horan, Research Officer, Teagasc Moorepark. 

This piece first appeared in the autumn edition of Moorepark News.