‘If you are going into a career in dairying, the best thing to do is work for someone else first’

As part of the Irish Grassland Association (IGA) Dairy Summer Tour, IGA Dairy Committee chairman, Stuart Childs, facilitated a live discussion. During the event – which was hosted by AgriLand – he interviewed three progressive Irish dairy farmers who have all hosted the tour from 2014 to 2016.

The three farmers included: David Kerr from Ballyfin, Co. Laois; Henry Walsh, who farms in Oranmore, Co. Galway; and Conor Creedon, from Rathmore, Co. Kerry.

The discussion looked back at where they were at the time they hosted the tour, where they are now and where they see themselves going in the future.

Additionally, Stuart spoke with Tadhg Buckley of AIB on the prospects for dairy markets in the latter half of 2020.

2020 milk price

As we entered into 2020, the Irish dairy industry was in a strong position and the outlook for the year was very positive. However, similar to all other sectors, Covid-19 hit and – as a result – downward pressure was applied to price.

Saying that, there has been somewhat of a recovery in recent weeks, with milk price now sitting at approximately 30c/L across the board.

“When we saw Covid-19 at the early stages, there was a real significant drop in the price of dairy commodities; at one stage things were looking quite grim for milk price for 2020,” Tadhg explained.

“But, it was remarkable the rally that took place in dairy markets three or four weeks into the crisis. We have now seen a real recovery in the price of most commodities – butter is probably the one that is lagging a bit.

“When we look out for the remainder of the year, we may be looking at things levelling off now at current levels.

“Part of the recovery that has happened over the past couple of weeks is probably linked to the building back up of inventory, so the bounce that we got from that might be out now. So, it may be that prices plateau where they are,” he added.

“Even if they do, looking at our seasonality of production, 60% of the milk is produced in the first half of the year – and if prices remain where they are for the remainder of the year – you are still looking at an average base price for 2020 of north of 30c/L.

“And, if you look at the price last year of 31c/L or slightly over, we’re actually not that far back from where we were. Overall, it’s looking like it will shape up to be an OK year, barring we see a major re-emergence of a lockdown,” Tadhg highlighted.

Successful traits and labour

As mentioned above, three progressive dairy farmers were present on the panel discussion, with Tadhg noting that there are similarities across the best performing dairy farmers in the country.

“When you look at what the three farmers share, they have a good network – such as the [Irish] Grassland Association – that they can get information from.

“They take on the information and adapt it to their own farm as it applies. They are not afraid to try technology or new practices; they listen to the right people and they are very good with people which is a very important part of it,” he said.

As dairy farms across Ireland expand, the need to attract and retain labour has never been as important and is now a major part of any larger-scale dairy operation.

On this, Tadhg said: “I think the big thing is if you are looking into going into a career in dairy farming, one of the best things you can do is work for someone else for awhile; then you understand how an employee feels in terms of working for some else’s business.

“That can help a lot if you can try and put yourself in the other person’s shoes and see what’s driving them and what are their motivations.

At the end of the day, a lot of people think that pay is the driving factor – not always.

“In a lot of cases, it’s often if it’s a nice place to work; obviously everybody wants a fair rate, but you need to be working in a place that you enjoy working.

“If that’s not there, it doesn’t matter what you pay, you won’t be able to hold on to them,” he added.