The potential for growth is eye-watering. It’s a bit like the tech industry and the magic money generated by stripling start-ups. We are headed for a milk boom — the Celtic Udder.
No one can predict what will be the unintended consequences, but some can be guessed. A few changes may be superficial. For example, the tech boom in Silicon Valley led to a huge increase in buzz words. Could the same happen in farming? The Golden Vale would be renamed the Milk-Can Valley, as farms become start-her-ups.
The opposite may also happen. The tech industry gave us metaphors that colonised the boardrooms and then entered common speech; ‘low-hanging fruit’ or ‘blue-sky thinking’. As farming becomes a dairy-goldmine, humble words may turn up in unlikely places. Imagine an advertising guru slamming the table in frustration during a crucial, Mad Men-style meeting about a big ad campaign for a big client, and shouting at his team: “All I’m hearing from you schmucks is silage, silage, silage. Too damn SAFE in this room. Where are the haymakers in my organisation? Who’ll take the risk in order to give me that beautiful smell and TO HELL with sugar content and milk yields? Who is going to gamble on getting four dry days together? Who is going to put their haycock on the line? That’s what made this company great. Not guys like Lance here, just sitting there ready to wrap a bale in case it rains.”
Farming has been attractive for a while, but now it’s going to go stratospheric. It’s cool.
And if there’s one thing people can be guaranteed to do when something is cool, it’s lose the run of themselves. Points inflation will be rampant as the herd tramples in. Irish mammies will be ringing each other with the news that “so-and-so is repeating until she gets the points for farming”. In fact, never mind a full agriculture degree, even baling will become a B. Aling (Hons).
The media won’t be far behind. Feirm Factor will go to another level. Red Bull will come on board as sponsors and that will mean Extreme Feirm Factor. Instead of just building a pen for 10 sheep, the family will face tougher challenges. Twenty cows — no wait, even better — eejit yearlings break out and have gone up the road towards ‘the town’. You will have to retrieve them, with your own family replaced by a gaggle of freckly, unwilling children who are terrified their friends will see them in their ould duds. To make things interesting, they have to be retrieved before a big funeral is due to pass.
With such milk largesse, will the personality of Irish farmers be affected? Long-used to denying to anyone who’d listen that they’d have so much as a ten-bob note to spare, will Irish dairy farmers embrace ostentation and become milk Sheikhs? Will we see gold-plated Almeras and Passats lined up outside the mart? Hip-hop stars will be attracted to this largesse; crews with names such as NWA (Nitrates With Attitude), the Beastings Boys and the Notorious Ciba-Geigy.
One immediate effect of the disappearance of quotas: farmers’ chat-up lines will require urgent modification. The Great Recession has already taken some of the shine off ‘road frontage’. Now, how do you sell yourself without the milk-quota size as a reference point? Maybe it’s your potential for growth.