Back small, existing family farms not large start-ups

The Government, Teagasc, and the farm organisations should be doing everything to maintain most of our current dairy farmers viably — but they are not doing so.

Most of Ireland’s capacity to increase its milk production in the medium term is from existing suppliers.

We have many well-educated, enterprising young dairy farmers working with their parents on dairy farms.

Many of them are struggling with small quotas, and little CAP support. Increases in national quota, and other supports, should be focused on these farms.

When Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney came to power, his emphasis on the national importance of family farms gave great hope to these farmers.

However, Mr Coveney seems to have gone along with the status quo, and the quota-distribution schemes that he inherited from the last government — which are not farm family-friendly.

There is not a great urgency for supporting large, new start-ups — but there is a great urgency for supporting the family farm. It is much easier, and cheaper, to expand efficient, existing dairy farms than to start from green-field sites. Indeed, it is doubtful if new start-ups can be successful if large borrowings are involved.

Large borrowings are ruining dairy farmers all over the world.

It is time for farmers, who are being disadvantaged by the milk-quota rules and CAP system, to make their presence felt, but this is not happening.

They must act now and make sure that future CAP payments, and increases in milk quota and other supports, build a nation of efficient family farms, rather than over-focusing on new start-ups and very large enterprises.

When the ink is dry on the new CAP agreement, it will be too late.

At the European Dairy Farmers’ Conference in Cork in 2009, it was made clear that milk production costs in Ireland were normally much lower than in the rest of the EU. This situation will force many other EU farmers out of dairying before Irish farmers. Irish dairy farming, which is mainly grass-based, will not be affected, to the same extent as most of our competitors, by high prices for concentrate feed.

While the high price of concentrates, which is likely to continue, is difficult in the short term, it should work to the advantage of Irish dairy farmers in the longer term. Concentrate prices are increasingly emphasising the value of grass.


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