Dairy drive: East and midlands lead the way on herd size, investment…and debt

The east and midlands region of Ireland is continuing to lead the ‘dairy drive’, where more recent dairy expansion has been occurring since the abolition of EU milk quota in 2015, according to the Teagasc National Farm Survey 2019.

The report – which was published on Monday, June 29 – divided the country into three broad areas, comprised of the: eastern and midland; northern and western; and southern regions.

The northern and western region included counties: Leitrim; Sligo; Cavan; Donegal; Monaghan; Galway; Mayo; and Roscommon, while the east and midland territory comprised counties: Dublin; Kildare; Meath; Wicklow; Louth; Laois; Longford; Offaly; and Westmeath.

Finally, the southern region – seen as the traditional dairy area of the country – accounted for counties: Limerick; Tipperary; Clare; Wexford; Kilkenny; Carlow; Waterford; Cork; and Kerry.

According to the report, on average, dairy farms in the eastern and midland region are larger, both in terms of land area and herd size.

Both hired labour costs and investment are substantially higher on dairy farms in the eastern and midland region with average farm debt also twice as high as in the other two regions at €138,094, the farm survey document outlined.

Utilised agricultural area (UAA) was highest on eastern and midlands farms, coming in at 72ha (178ac), followed by southern farms with 58ha (143ac) and finally northern and western enterprises with 51ha (126ac).

Due to their higher average size, there is also a higher hired labour component on farms in the eastern and midlands region.

Hired labour costs on average in the eastern and midlands region – some €12,943 – were triple those recorded in the south last year, which stood at €3,914 on average.

Hired labour costs on northern and western farms stood at €4,286 last year.

Source: Teagasc National Farm Survey 2019

In terms of unpaid labour units per farm (e.g. family members), dairy farms led the way with 1.38 unpaid labour units per farm – well above the average of 1.03 units per farm.

Sheep farms had 1.03 such units per farm, followed by tillage with 0.98 units. ‘Cattle rearing’ (suckler) and ‘cattle other’ farms accounted for 0.96

The average dairy farm in the east and midland region invested over €41,600 in 2019.

Both the average dairy farmily farm income (FFI) and the average FFI per unpaid family labour unit (LU) were lowest in the northern and western region in 2019, the latter being €31,853.

The equivalent FFI per unpaid family labour unit in the eastern and midland and the southern region were €68,709 and €52,366 respectively.

On a per-hectare basis, in 2019, FFI was highest in the southern region at €1,196. The comparative figures for the eastern and midlands region and northern and western region were €1,116 and €857 respectively.