The year ahead will be one of consolidation for Irish milk producers, according to IFA Dairy Committee Chairman Sean O’Leary.

“So I find it difficult to agree with the Teagasc prediction that milk output will increase by 6.0% in 2017.

“Farmers are telling me that they will not increase herd size over the coming months.

“As a result, any expansion in output will come as a result of herds having a more mature profile than was the case this year,” he said.

O’Leary believes that the number of Friesian calves born in Ireland next year may well fall, compared to 2016 levels.

“Milk producers are now opting for a much tighter breeding season, when it comes to producing the herd replacement they need.

In some cases, this period has been reduced to four weeks. After that, sweeper bulls are put in with the cows. So we will probably end up with a significant growth in beef calf numbers next spring.

O’Leary stressed the need for viable export outlets to be maintained for Irish calves next year.

“The decision by Cork Marts to cease the export of calves is regrettable. However, I am hopeful that the slack will be taken up by other operators.”

The IFA dairy Committee Chairman is also predicting an average base price for milk next year in the range of 30-32c/L.

“This is a viable level of return. But farmers will need every cent they can get just to get their businesses back on an even keel,” he said.

“I am also mindful of the fact that the beef market will come under pressure in 2017 and this will have a negative impact on the prices available for cull cows.

Milk processers must reflect the growing strength of world dairy markets back to their farmer-suppliers as quickly as possible.

“There was scope to boost farmgate prices by 3c/L last month. However, the dairies only managed to deliver an increase of 2c/L,” he said.