The sustainability of the dairy expansion in light of a potential dairy bull calf issue this spring has been called into question by the president of the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association (INHFA), Colm O’Donnell.

Commenting on the concerns outlined by advisors and members of the farming industry relating to the “expected births of over 750,000 dairy-bull calves”, the INHFA president said: “There doesn’t seem to be a plan on how to manage this.

“Since the abolition of milk quotas, we have seen a massive increase in the dairy herd and while those of us not involved assumed that all aspects of this were thought through, it would appear that this is not what has happened.

Recent reports that our state advisory service who was encouraging this expansion hadn’t factored in how it would deal with the increasing number of dairy calves is appalling.

“It also raises the question that if they miss something as basic as this then what else have they missed?There are also uncomfortable questions for many of our co-ops, our lending institutions and the Government.”

Expansion’s impact on other sectors

Addressing the possible impact this expansion will have on other sectors, O’Donnell said: “It has already impacted our suckler industry by delivering a surplus of beef which has undermined price.

For those supplying lamb, there is the concern that as beef price falls the price of lamb will follow it down.

“The greatest concern for all is the 750,000 dairy bull calves that will be born this spring and the dire impact that this could have for all farmers supplying meat and dairy products.”

He stressed it is “vital” that dairy farmers have adequate animal housing and the necessary labour to ensure “no animal welfare issue arises”.

This should be seen as a short-term measure. In the medium to long term, we need to ensure that this situation never arises again and the most effective way of ensuring this is through a cull of the dairy herd.

“The details and nature of any cull should be worked out over the coming months to give dairy farmers enough time to plan for the following year, but the obvious starting point is dairy farmers in nitrate derogation territory and those exporting slurry.

While this proposal may seem drastic, it is not unprecedented.

He noted that the overgrazing of some commonage lands in the late 1990s resulted in a mandatory 30% stocking reduction on all commonage farmers.

Concluding, O’Donnell said: “No other sector was asked to help in delivering a solution as the issue was addressed on the basis of ‘the polluter pays principle’ and this principle must now apply to the current crisis in the dairy sector.”