Connacht Gold faces up to difficult challenges in region

THE challenges facing farmers and food processors in the West of Ireland set it apart from other regions.

The scale and fragmentation of milk production, the shortage of milk to sustain a viable processing industry, and the importance of diversification for economic survival are among the challenges that dairy co-ops like Connacht Gold encounter every day.

Their task is not an easy one, but the enthusiasm with which they approach their operations is impressive.

Trying to get the mix right between what is economically viable and socially desirable requires the skill and judgement of a tight-rope walker.

For Connacht Gold, imports of milk from as far away as mainland Europe are necessary for up to 48 weeks each year, to maintain a viable dairy processing sector, operating close to capacity.

To milk processing is added a wide diversity of operations and businesses, ranging from livestock marts and property sales to mushroom growing, timber processing, agri-trading, fruit juices and bottled water supplies, and meat processing.

The result is total turnover exceeding €5 million per week, employment for more than 500 people, and one of the highest milk prices in Ireland.

When the Guild of Agricultural Journalists visited the region recently, and met the Connacht Gold team on the ground, it appeared that everyone from Chief Executive Aaron Forde down through his team shared the same passion and commitment to making it work, from farm to factory.

How the Mid Term Review will affect farm production in the north west remains to be determined. The region cannot afford to lose either milk quota or livestock production, if farm viability is to be maintained.

There is no doubt that the coming decade will present even greater challenges for farmers in the region and their co-op, both operating under difficult conditions, but each highly dependent on the success of the other.

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