The overall winner, who will receive a €5,000 prize and a trophy, will be announced at a ceremony in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin, with Kilkenny hurling legend Henry Sheflin making the presentation. Each of the shortlisted farmers, based in nine counties, reached the final following nomination by their co-ops.
There are 17,000 dairy farmers in the country and each year the competition, organised by the National Dairy Council and Ornua, formerly Irish Dairy Board, attracts huge interest.
NDC chief executive Zoë Kavanagh said heritage and innovation were at the heart of the perfect dairy farm.
“What we have seen year after year, in the finalists and winners, is the marriage of traditional farming techniques, passed through generations, with the application of the best of modern technology and science,” she said.
The Ornua chief executive, Kevin Lane, said the shortlisted dairy farmers were the best of the best.
They showed a dedication to their craft which was beyond parallel. “They are not only driving the quality of their own farms, but they are also raising the bar for the whole industry,” he said.
Tomorrow’s finalists include Dan and Valerie Dennehy, who farm 58 hectares and milk 106 cows at Clonmoyle, Aghabullogue, They are Dairygold suppliers.
He describes dairy farming as his first love, having left school at 16 to return to the farm. Ever since he has been trying to build and improve the holding.
“It has been handed down through the generations and I want to do the bset I can. There is huge satisfaction in seeing the herd I built up producing the best quality milk,” he says.
John and Ann Fitzgerald milk 96 cows on a 94-hectare farm, Gobbinstown House, New Ross, Co Wexford.
They have combined a modern milking unit with the charm and tradition of an old farm yard, providing a long established heritage of milk production.
John and Colette Fox, Arrabwan Co-op suppliers, from Ballinacregg, Oranmore, Co. Galway, run a 29-hectare family farm which goes back generations.
They milk 36 cows and and supply Arrabwan Co-op. “I love what I do. Since I was a lad I’ve always wanted to milk cows. It was like heaven compared to other jobs,” said John.
Another couple, John and Margaret Greene, Greenville, supply their local co-op in Callan, Co Kilkenny. They have 122 hectares and milk 105 cows. John believes the cows and calves on his farm are a contented and happy lot.
“My farming ethos is to produce milk for people I will never know at a level of quality equal to what I would present to my own family.”
At the other end of the country, Gerard and Marie Killoran, Carrowloughlin, Bunninadden, Ballymote, Co Sligo, are Aurivo Co-op suppliers. They farm 60 hectares and milk 59 cows.
“It’s nice and rewarding to do things right. All in all it’s about good habits, not rocket science,” he says.
James Kingston, Maulnageragh, Clonakilty, Co Cork, who supplies Lisavaird Co-op, farms just over 47 hectares and has 60 cows.
He has been running the dairy farm at Maulnageragh for 13 years. His parents, Thomas and Anne, also live on the farm. Quality is important to him.
“I want to ensure a viabled business going forward while also protecting the envronment,” he says.
Florence and Caitriona McCarthy, Banna East, Ardfert, Co Kerry, are Lee Strand Co-op suppliers and work a 34 hectare family farm.
“The happier the cow, the more milk yield you get and the better the quality. Quality is important to us as it reflects on the animal’s health and wellbeing,” said Florence.
Michael and Mary Ita McCarthy farm 107 hectares at Kilmurray, Feenagh, Kilmallock, Co. Limerick. They milk 114 cows and are Kerry Agribusiness suppliers. They say they love what they do. They are the 7th generation farming at Kilmurray. Quality milk has always been a top priority on the farm.
Bandon Co-op suppliers Owen and Rosaleen O’Brien, from Cashelbeg, Enniskeane, Co Cork, also run a family farm of 37 hectares with 62 cows.
Owen said there was a responsibility that comes with taking on the family farm from his father and grandfather. “You want to do them proud and continue their good work.”
Barryroe Co-op suppliers, Denis, Siobhan, Barry and Jane O’Mahony, Shanakiel, Kilbrittain, Bandon, are also among the finalists. They farm 90 hectares and milk 150 cows.
“We are only caretakers of the farm for the time we are in charge and I hope that we can pass it to the next generation in the same or better shape than we got it,” said Barry.
Yet another West Cork couple in the final are Kieran and Catherine O’Sullivan, who farm with their 18-year-old son Cathal in Dunmanus, Goleen.
‘We put the quality of the milk we produce on our farm as the number one priority and that is why the milking of the cows and the washing of the milking parlour inside and out is the most important job we do every day,” said Kieran.
Thomas and Marie Ryan, Kylemakill, Moyne, Thurles, Co Tipperary, are suppiers to Centenary Thurles Co-op. They farm over 43 hectares and milk 72 Friesian cows.
“I’ve always loved cows and milking. We grew up with it. Always milk the cows as if you are going to drink the milk yourself,” said Thomas.
The other finalists, Ivor and Audrey Smyth, Countenan, Poles, Cavan, farm 144 hectares, milk 45 cows, supplying Lakeland Dairies.