Brexit has caused a massive urgency in how dairy farmers adopt and utilise technological innovations, Teagasc’s Prof. Gerry Boyle has said.

The Director of Teagasc spoke at Tuesday’s Moorepark ’17 event, where he said: “The challenge [of Brexit] is really all about how we are going to take costs out of our dairy production systems.”

Irrespective of Brexit, he said, Teagasc would argue that there are massive opportunities for dairy farmers and processors through the route of innovation.

“An awful lot has happened in the last couple of years in the dairy industry that we should be really proud of.

“I think that it will help us to deal with the undoubted challenges of Brexit. For instance, we have one of the lowest cost bases of milk production in the world – that’s a fact.

I remember looking at the competitiveness of Irish agriculture 30 years ago. One of the points I made at the time was that our competitiveness would only be proven when we could shed the shackles of quota.

“Look what’s happened in the last couple of years, and it bears testimony to that,” he said.

Boyle continued to say that milk production on Irish farms is growing at a level way beyond that of our European competitors; it’s also growing faster than New Zealand and the United States.

“The reasons for this are very simple. We have a low cost base that we need to keep and preserve and we also have low debt.”

Boyle also said that Irish farmers have made massive improvements in their ability to capitilise on their competitive advantage.

“One statistic that jumps out all of the time for me is the huge improvement in the protein content of milk – it’s absolutely staggering if you look at the rate of change.

We have also experienced, thanks to our work with the department and Animal Health Ireland, a substantial reduction in Somatic Cell Count (SCC).

“We had to do it because there was no option, but the rate of change was phenomenal.”

‘Grass is our most important resource’

Boyle also said that the most important resource available to Irish dairy farmers is the grass they are utilising to feed their cows.

“We are utilising grass far better than we were a few years ago. But still, the average level of utilisation is 7.5t/ha and it’s not enough to help us withstand the challenge of Brexit.

“We think there’s a potential for utilising at least 10t/ha on research farms and, indeed, on many of your farms, it’s substantially higher than that.

“That’s world beating and, what I’m really saying, the challenge of Brexit is of being more competitive and putting into place those potential improvements on your farm.

“You might say to me ‘why should we do that?’. But I think if there was ever a motivation and an urgency for putting in place cost reduction measures, it’s Brexit.”

It’s through grassland management, he said, along with improving the genetics of our dairy herd that Irish farmers can take on the challenge of Brexit.