Efficient farmers ideally placed to reap global harvest

Efficient Irish dairy farmers will be ideally placed to capitalise on the global sales opportunities that will emerge post-expansion, according to leading industry experts.

That was the message delivered at yesterday’s Emerald Expo 2012 in Cillin Hill, Kilkenny, by speakers from Alltech, Dairymaster, Glanbia, Teagasc and visiting experts from Germany and China.

The two-day event, which continues today, is supported by the Irish Holstein Friesian Association. It features a mix of farm walks and outdoor activities, along with high-level discussion groups.

Speaking at the Expo’s dairy conference, Glanbia Dairy Ingredients Ireland chief executive Jim Bergin cautioned farmers that Ireland, by virtue of its size, will always be a smaller player in global markets, and thus will be at the mercy of global price volatility.

Nonetheless, Mr Bergin was also among those who highlighted that Ireland will be among the main beneficiaries of the end of the EU quota restrictions in 2012, along with France and the Netherlands and, to a lesser degree, Germany and some Eastern European states.

As many EU states are hampered by either costly stall-based feeding systems or a lack of availability of land, Ireland could well produce a disproportionate share of the expected net 3bn extra kilos of dairy output expected to emerge post-2015.

Irish Holstein Friesian Association (IHFA) chief executive Charles Gallagher said that farmers attending yesterday’s Emerald Expo opening day left with a far clearer picture of the scale of opportunity and with the efficiency steps required to achieve a profitable expansion.

Mr Gallagher said: “People are definitely going ahead with expansion plans. There is great positivity about this. The A.I. is up, despite the market being down right now, so people are clearly looking further down the line.

“We know that Ireland needs to capitalise on its ‘green’ image, and our reputation for clean, organic product. We also know that we need to meet our cost competitiveness goals, and that means keeping to the efficiency models outlined by Teagasc.”

Mr Gallagher said that there was a clear will to expand among dairy farmers present in Kilkenny yesterday. He also expects quite a number of farmers currently in beef and sheep to convert to dairy, but many of these are also watching rising input costs and the appeal of, for example, the rising prices being enjoyed for sheep meat.

Karen McBride, who works for Wonder Milk in Beijing, said that there is definitely rising demand in China for imported liquid milk, yoghurt and infant formula.

While milk consumption per capita is relatively small in China, the population is so vast that this still represents a huge market opportunity for Ireland. She also said that the market for imported milk would continue to grow, keeping pace with China’s increasingly cosmopolitan outlook and increasingly wealthy middle class.

Meanwhile, in terms of guidance on production efficiency, attendees were also impressed by presentations delivered by expanding dairy farmers Robert Shannon in West Cork, and Kevin Flynn in Co Laois. Both were members of the Emerald Expo 2012 discussion panel.

Mr Shannon farms near Ballydehob in West Cork and supplies about 670,000 litres of milk to Lisavaird Co-op. On a milking platform of only 26 Ha, his award-winning herd (60/40 spring and autumn calving) of around 80 cows averages some 7,500 litres at 4% butterfat and 3.6% protein.

Kevin Flynn farms near Clonaslee in Co Laois and supplies about 670,000 litres of milk to Glanbia. Kevin is also on the IHFA panel of judges.

The family has doubled herd size in recent years after purchasing an outside farm and now supplies over one million litres of milk to Glanbia. Their award-winning Reary herd (50/50 spring & autumn calving) of around 170 cows averages 9,050kg at 3.91 % butterfat and 3.46 % protein.

This key message of efficiency was also driven home by Junior Agriculture Minister Shane McEntee, who formally opened yesterday proceedings. He said that a successful expansion would require a concerted effort from operators across the sector.

He said critical success factors would include a farm sector with the lowest possible input costs, and strong sustainability and quality credentials; and a processing sector with a strong innovation culture and a focus on efficiency.

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