Dairy entrepreneur who became cream of the crop
Edmond Harty has helped Kerry-based Dairymaster to become a world leader in dairy equipment manufacture
Some farmers say picking a new milking parlour is a bigger decision than picking a wife. And it is only said half in jest. “After all, when you buy one of these milking parlours, you will have it for 20 years,” says Edmond Harty, technical director of dairy manufacturing group Dairymaster. Indeed, some marriages fizzle out long before the milking machine gives up.
Harty recalls how one Dutch customer emailed him to say he had just experienced two of the most significant events in his life. “He got married and he got his new milking parlour,” he says. “And he sent a picture of himself and his wife, in their wedding gear, down in the new milking parlour.”
The fact that the farmer wrote to Dairymaster to share this news speaks volumes about the type of relationship the north Kerry company has with its customers. Harty’s focus on customers was one of the factors highlighted when he was named the Ernst Young Entrepreneur of the Year a fortnight ago. The judges also noted his company’s in-house research and development, advancements in engineering technology and innovative product range.
Winning the award was a major coup for the 36-year-old, who joined the family business 14 years ago. Dairymaster is now a leader in dairy equipment manufacturing and has operations in the UK and the United States, but it keeps its headquarters in Causeway, Co Kerry.
The company employs 280 people locally and another 25 in the US and Britain. Between 70 and 75 per cent of production is exported to more than 40 countries, including the US, Japan and Siberia. Dairymaster entered the German market 10 years ago “and we have nearly 25 per cent of the market in milking equipment”, he says.
As well as the milking parlours, the group manufactures automated feeding systems, automatic manure scrapers, milk cooling equipment and cow fertility monitors.
It’s all a far cry from the days when Harty’s father Ned started the company in 1968. He was the second son, so his older brother inherited the farm and he had to find something else to do.
He noticed that milking machines were beginning to take off but that farmers had to wait about six months to get one installed. So he began importing and installing them.
“He sold 19 in the first year, which was an awful lot at the time,” Harty recalls. Then he began manufacturing milking machines.
Young Edmond spent a lot of his free time at the business, skipping homework whenever he could. As an eight or nine-year-old, he was obsessed with technology and would take a bus to the shops in Tralee on Saturday mornings to look at the fancy new Commodore 64 computers.
He studied mechanical engineering at the University of Limerick and went on to complete a PhD on milking performance in University College Dublin. His research focused on what was going on between the milking machine and the cow.
“It’s like the performance of a car engine. You can measure fuel consumption and find out how quickly the car can go from zero to 100km. But there was no research like that for milking.”