Bovine talk turns to Brexit and Boris in Virginia as cliff edges closer

Clouds appear over 78th annual Cavan show as farmers struggle to predict political future

Rebecca Windrum and Alesha McAloon with their goats Millie & Minnie at the Virginia Agricultural Show in Cavan on Wednesday afternoon. Photograph: Lorraine Teevan

Rebecca Windrum and Alesha McAloon with their goats Millie & Minnie at the Virginia Agricultural Show in Cavan on Wednesday afternoon. Photograph: Lorraine Teevan


The cows looked as fed up as the punters in the torrential rain watching the animals compete to be champion cow at the 78th annual Virginia Show.

The weather did not deliver a fair day in Cavan, but it did not matter to the competitors trying to win the Diageo Baileys Irish Champion Dairy Cow, dubbed the all-Ireland for dairy cow breeders. More than 25 breeders from all four provinces competed.

The winning farmers, Cyril and John Dowling of Kingswood Farm in Baldonnel, Dublin, relished victory like it was their home county lifting the Sam Maguire Cup for the fifth time in a row.

This was Cyril Dowling’s seventh win and his 14th top-three finish in the competition’s 36 years.

Every win in “the Bailey’s” was sweet, a chuffed Dowling told The Irish Times, but this victory was that little bit sweeter as his prized Holstein was from a bull bred by his own farm, he said. None of those “fancy ‘AI’ bulls”, he said.

Local TD and Minister for Business Heather Humphreys, who awarded the prize, was not too put out that a cow from Dublin was taking the prize out of her home constituency.

“The best cow won,” she conceded.

The winner, named Baldonnel Flashmatic Dawn, produces 14 gallons of milk a day, Dowling boasted.

After Brexit

It was what will happen to this produce after Brexit at the end of October that had many farmers talking at the Co Cavan show.

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“There is a little cloud on the horizon,” said Dowling. “Anyone could see that any form of borders or tariffs, or anything, especially in the delicate times we are in with beef and milk prices, is a worry.”

Milk processors were equally concerned at the new type of brinkmanship being played by the new British prime minister Boris Johnson as he appears willing to risk a no-deal Brexit.

“It is coming very close to the cliff now,” said Martin Keane, the chairman of dairy processor Glanbia Ireland, one of the sponsors of the dairy cow breeding competition.

Some 30 per cent of the milk processed at Glanbia’s local plant in Virginia comes from Northern Irish cows which, in the event of a crash-out Brexit, will require approval from EU food health inspectors.

Keane said he was “very concerned” about what might happen over the coming weeks.

“Clearly Boris has a strategy that is different from his predecessor. We don’t know where this is going to land,” he said.

Cavan man Joe Brady, a candidate to be the next Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) president, said there was much frustration “on the ground” at the show over Brexit and whether the Government was doing enough to prepare.


“For an ordinary farmer on the ground, he probably sees nothing happening and thinks that Doomsday is very close. Hopefully that is not the case, that there is a plan that will be put in place that will kick in in the worst-case scenario,” he said.

As for the agreement reached between beef farmers and the meat-processing industry in the early hours of Wednesday morning, Brady said that it “doesn’t go near far enough”.

Brexit wasn’t just concerning farmers.

Helen Craig, who had travelled across the Border from Co Down to sell her preserves and pickles at a stall, said she was concerned about what the UK’s exit would mean for small businesses like hers.

“I’m pickling a lot more to prepare for Brexit. It’s a good thing that preserves are long-lasting to take me over the bumpy period,” she said.

Humphreys, still pushing for the proposed Brexit agreement that Johnson wants scrapped, showed a flash of frustration at when Boris would produce his Plan B to the contentious backstop.

“Where are the alternative arrangements?” she asked, telling The Irish Times there were just 69 days until Brexit.

“Where are they?”


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