Dairy farmers warned against ‘shiny salesmen’ and sleek new equipment as they plan expansion

Comparisons drawn between overseas property boom and spending on dairy facilities

Farmers have “a golden opportunity” for growth with the ending of milk quotas next spring but they mustn’t lose the run of themselves by spending money on equipment they can’t afford, the Dairy Ireland conference on the future of dairying has heard.

Farmers have “a golden opportunity” for growth with the ending of milk quotas next spring but they mustn’t lose the run of themselves by spending money on equipment they can’t afford, the Dairy Ireland conference on the future of dairying has heard.

 

Farmers have “a golden opportunity” for growth with the ending of milk quotas next spring but they mustn’t lose the run of themselves by spending money on equipment they can’t afford, the Dairy Ireland conference on the future of dairying has heard.

Milk volumes are expected to soar when the EU quota system ends next March but several speakers urged caution when it came to investing in sleek equipment and glossy machinery to produce that milk. IFA deputy president and dairy farmer Tim O’Leary said his wife had observed at the National Ploughing Championships that the stands selling milking machines were reminiscent of the stands selling overseas property years during the boom years, with big tents and bigger crowds. Warning about “shiny salemen” he said: “we need to be seriously careful here . . . because guys are happy now to pull money out of us and they see it as the next cash cow”.

Seán Molloy of Glanbia Ingredients Ireland said he could see farmers investing in herds, machinery and technology such as robotic milking machines. “Some of this [investment] is fantastic. Some of it quite frankly is quite worrying,” he said. “The question at farm level that we have to address . . . is, are we establishing farms today that will be fit for purpose in the future? Have we a cost base on those farms that if and when markets collapse, we will be capable of surviving and being there and being fit for the future?”

He said the stands at the ploughing championships showed that the amount of money farmers could spend was “enormous. We’re becoming very clever in the industry at pushing and marketing the technologies but one questions whether or not they will deliver useful returns into the future”.

Mr Molloy said having enough land was a key problem for farmers planning to expand but he believed people’s mindsets would shift from needing to own the land they farm, to merely having access to it. A lot of farm land was idle, or under-utilised, so the aim was to get that land used for the betterment of everyone.

Austin Finn, who runs Macra na Feirme’s land mobility service which helps young farmers to get established, said quotas were going but they would be replaced by two new restrictions - getting access to land, and getting skilled labour. He said farmers could not grow their herds on land they were renting on conacre, or short term leases.

Farmer and former Barryroe Co-op chairman John O’Brien said it was virtually impossible to get 100 acres of land together in his part of west Cork “because everyone else owns the fields around you. I think we are going to have to be more imaginative in the area of land access”.

Mr O’Brien also called for a review of the way in which places in third level agricultural courses were awarded. He warned that the increase in points for agricultural degrees was in danger of excluding the very people who should be studying agriculture.

The conference also heard criticism from one farmer about the Taoiseach’s decision to give Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney responsibility for the defence portfolio as well. “The very least the industry deserves is a full-time agriculture minister,” he said.