are very exposed to price volatility, one of our priorities
in the advisory services has been to monitor and control
production costs on farms so that farmers know where they
are in terms of efficient milk production. That necessity is
still only being gradually realised on many Irish farms."
Milk price priority
Sustainability has many definitions. One of the most
important, PJ agrees, is financial: "It is only now, with
milk exceeding 30c/L, that our businesses are financially
sustainable. That allows us to reinvest and provide a safe
working environment for ourselves and the people who
work with us. Maintaining that sustainability is crucial to
future success. Reducing price volatility in our businesses is
hugely important. Fixed milk price schemes, such as Glanbia
offers, have a big role to play in that regard, especially for
young farmers like myself where we need to hedge milk
prices over a number of years. That allows us to deal with
banks, to manage cashflows and to secure stability in our
businesses. Price is very important. We need to maintain
prices over 30c in order to be sustainable in the longer
Decades of change
Despite quotas, Irish dairy farming did not stand still over
the past 30 years, as Tomas remembers: "There were big
changes over the years. Cows go to grass far earlier than was
the case back in the 1980s. There is far more flexibility in
terms of growing and utilising grass. That's not an option
for everyone but there are far more opportunities to explore
and test out more flexible grass management ideas, based on
other farmers' experiences. Discussion groups have played a
key role in that change in mindsets."
That wasn't always easy, Tomas confirms: "Because some
farmers were achieving better results that tended to give
confidence to others to try out different practices. It wasn't a
case of doing it because the advisor said so. It was more the
fact that a neighbour or fellow group member had managed
it. Moorepark is a very important resource because it means
all our ideas are backed up by science, best practice and
financial proof of the benefits."
Who will milk the cows?
Among the greatest challenges facing the many milk
producers who have expanded their production since the
abolition of quotas are labour competence and availability.
The Young Farmer of the Year has strong views on the
subject: "There is a shortage of skilled labour in the sector.
All of us, whether as farmers, advisors or in the media, need
to be positive about farming and what it can offer people.
There are opportunities, whether that be in dairying or in
beef, sheep or tillage or any other area. There are people
out there wondering about career options and they should
contact the local Farm Relief Service and give farming a try
because, if you like working outdoors, like working with
animals or want a job with flexible hours, then farming is
definitely an option."
A balanced industry
Is the balance being lost between dairy and the other
sectors? Tomas looks at the facts: "The reality is that
dairying is the most profitable enterprise and has been
for a long time." PJ is adamant that there is a critical
interdependence in Irish farming: "We need each other,
whether that's tillage, or beef or dairy. It's in dairy farmers'
interests to have a solid beef sector to buy our calves. We
need local grain products and straw, and beef and grain
producers need dairy farmers in turn."
Professional and personal roles
The role of agricultural adviser is wider than one might
realise, Tomas explained: "You need to be versatile. The
job starts with people first, then advice and technology,
and then finishes with people again. Confessor, counsellor
those aspects of the role are often underestimated as
is the ability to provide reassurance to farmers, whether
that's in their personal or farming lives. You can arrive with
an agenda at a discussion group meeting, but individual
farmers arrive with their own problems or worries, often not
directly related to farming, and that can't be ignored. That's
the personal aspect of the job." In terms of personal life,
PJ puts an emphasis on time spent with his partner Ashley
and son Tristan, as a counterbalance to his farming life: "I
also enjoy cycling and running, and make time for those
activities before or after farm work. One of the best choices
I made was to join Macra. That has given me so much as a
person over the years." The Callan man cannot finish the
interview without referencing his affinity to the famed John
Lockes Hurling Club: "It's great to have a local community
involvement and that's worth making time for in our lives."
FARMER TO FARMER
Former Teagasc adviser, Tomas Turley.