Low-cost grass based dairy farming has the potential to create sustainable growth in rural Ireland, according to Nuffield scholar Sean Coughlan.

The Co. Mayo farmer looked at the skills and competencies needed for anyone looking for a successful career in dairy farming, be they new entrants to farming or transferring from another enterprise.

“I wanted to create a simple enjoyable system that would give me a good future,” he said as he main reason for looking at dairy farming.

Dairy farmers, he said, need to have a clear focus on factors within their control and be realistic regarding the scale necessary to provide a sustainable future for the business.

He also advised that there are more valuable lessons from failure than success and that no two farms or seasons are the same, land type, weather, stocking rates and milk price all vary.

“The key to profitable dairy farming is producing and utilising as much grazed grass as possible.”

Inside the Farm Gate

His advice to farmers looking to improve things inside the farm gate includes setting realistic goals for yourself and your business and then to work backwards.

Search for innovation that promotes efficiency and strive for simple replicable systems that can be easily operated in your absence, he said.

He also said that farmers should evaluate and adopt the latest research available. Coughlan said every purchase should be evaluated and advised farmers to be wary of every salesperson.

“No matter how friendly they are they are not acting in your best interests, they are specially trained and their success is rated by their ability to take your money.”

He also advised farmers to join a discussion group. “The advice and guidance of fellow farmers in invaluable. Many of them will be in your shoes at some stage and may be able to give accounts of how they dealt with particular challenges.

“This simple, practical, informal advice delivered by farmers in their own language is without doubt the most effective method of knowledge transfer.”

He praised Matt Ryan, the ex-head of Dairying at Teagasc on selecting the right cows. “As a beef farmer you went by your eye. What was I going to base buying cows on, Matt Ryan advised me and told me to get the cow type right from the start with the EBI as it would take 10 years of breeding to rectify a bad decision.”