Opinion

Munster is the real epicentre of the Irish dairy industry: Here’s the proof…

We will soon be calling the Irish dairy industry the ‘Munster dairy industry’ such is the predominance of cow numbers in Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford.

The most recent geographical breakdown of where Irish dairy cows are actually found, published by the Irish Cattle breeding Federation (ICBF), confirms that Cork alone is home to more dairy stock than can be found across the whole of Northern Ireland.

The ICBF figures also confirm the recent increase in dairy cattle numbers in this country. But, in truth, the growth has been totally centred south of a line between Dublin and Galway.

This trend should be deeply concerning for those charged with the responsibility of charting the future progress of Irish agriculture. That’s Teagasc, by the way.

No doubt, the Munster area is blessed with almost perfect dairy farming conditions.

But there’s lots of good land to be found in north Leinster and parts of Connacht. So why have farmers in these parts not been attracted to dairying? Let’s face it; milk is the only enterprise that can deliver a reasonable income for a family farming business.

What, I think, has put many farmers off dairying in those parts of the country not always blessed with tremendously good weather is Teagasc’s absolute commitment to a grazing blueprint.

But this shouldn’t have to be the case.

Up in Northern Ireland, the weather is equally challenging. However, milk production is the key growth area for the region’s farming sector. And this looks like continuing to be the case for the foreseeable future.

The difference is that, up north, the production model implemented follows the rationale that it is possible to grow large tonnages of grass and make good silage from it.

Admittedly, this approach brings with it a greater onus on good housing and the use of a cow type that is fit to produce large volumes of milk from conserved forages and concentrates. But it’s an approach that works, as the recent gross margin figures generated across all the farming sectors in Northern Ireland fully verify.

In my opinion, every farmer in Ireland should have a fair and equitable opportunity to start up a dairying enterprise.

If this does not become the case, then we face the spectre of vast swathes of the country becoming home to part-time farmers only. And this will most certainly happen if the current Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform discussions progress badly, from Ireland’s point of view.

One way of mitigating this possible reality is for all the stakeholder groups within agriculture to actively promote dairying beyond Munster.