There was plenty of lively debate at the DCU Ryan Academy Farm Entrepreneurship and Leadership dinner this week. The future of the Irish dairy sector was to the fore on the night with numerous questions posed to industry leaders at the event.

Highlights on the night included when the speakers were asked what areas do Irish farmers need to adopt new practices or change the way they do things presently to realise the potential that’s out there.

Cork-based dairy farmer Kevin Twomey, who is also on the board of Teagasc’s dairy expert group, responded that “it is about understanding what you want out of you business. It’s about evaluating your assets.

“Your biggest assets is yourself, you need to assess yourself and identify want you are strong at and understand your weaknesses and bring in help in those areas. Whether it is bringing somebody in to physically do a job or upskill yourself. You need to be aware of your weaknesses.”

He noted: “For some people growing your business may mean taking on staff and dealing with people and lots of people don’t like to be employing people. Be true to yourself, don’t just do what the neighbour is doing.”

For Sam Shine, founder of Samco, he said it depends on your position when you’re a farmer. “Whether you’re younger or whether you’re older. The main thing is to maintain a livelihood.  And not to borrow too much money to put yourself at risk.”

“Each farmer has to access his own situation. Sometimes it’s time for investment sometimes it’s not. We need to see more share type farming because you can’t survive on your own, people need some help, that’s one of the disadvantages we have in Ireland. People are holding on to a piece of land and it’s not always being farmed efficiently. Two brains or three brains can be better and we need to see that.”

AIB’s head of agriculture and strategy, Anne Finnegan, focused on financial management on farms. “We published a research report on the dairy sector and one of the things we asked farmers was their key considerations when thinking about expansion.

“The key consideration that came out was cost. Ranking well below that was financial reward. I would say be true to yourself. At the end of the day from the banks perspective we need to see a greater focus on planning and financial management and cost management on farms.”

She continued: “Before ever you consider the number of cows you want or the level of output. Consider what your overall goal is and where do you want to go. Put a strong financial and physical plan in place that is stress tested and a physical plan that is costed fully with buffers built in.

“Farmers must be very realistic in the plan you put down on paper. Because is it doesn’t work out on paper it isn’t going to work out in reality.

“I think going forward the farm level industry has to become more focused on management, financial management and having the business as lean as it can be.

Irish Dairy Board economist Mark Faherty was asked if the industry done enough to put pay to this impression that more milk is going to lead to a drop in price and if the industry should be putting a better marketing message out there for the primary producer.

According to Faherty: “We have done a lot in this area. However, we can always do more and do better. In the small limited areas of communication we can get to in our own business we are always very emphatic about the opportunities that are there. Because we firmly believe in them. But we do recognise that something has to be done to communicate out why producers that they can go ahead and plan for the future.

“We would love to see the industry and farmers within it become more long term in their focus. It is very difficult for people to be long term in there focus when they don’t really know what is coming down the line.

“So I think it is a big part of the role of industry to inform the farming community about the nature of the market and what’s happening in the market. But also how the market is evolving and where it’s likely to go in the next couple of years.”