A year of milk and honey for Limerick dairy farmers but is there a sting coming?

Limerick farm review 2017: Beef farmers were 'at the pin of their collars' and a fodder crisis looms unless cattle can be got out early

Donal O'Regan

Reporter:

Donal O'Regan

Let’s get a ‘moove’ on: Frank Burke, Croom, preparing his cattle at the Cappamore Show in August which defied heavy rain the night before to go ahead in their new grounds  Picture: Dave Gaynor

Let’s get a ‘moove’ on: Frank Burke, Croom, preparing his cattle at the Cappamore Show in August which defied heavy rain the night before to go ahead in their new grounds Picture: Dave Gaynor

WITHOUT wishing to be the bearer of bad news at this time of joy and celebration there are worrying times ahead for farmers – but then again isn’t there always…

It was only in 2013 that desperate Limerick farmers queued up at co-ops for loads of English hay. In 2017, Cattle were in early this autumn and land is swimming. If it is a bad spring and cattle don’t get out early things could get serious. To be fair, this has been well sign-posted by the IFA. They have announced an emergency fodder initiative.

Counties have been twinned with a view to identifying farmers who are in a position to contribute feed, to be transported to areas in need. Limerick’s donor county is Waterford – a fitting choice as we are both experiencing a Liam McCarthy Cup famine.

It was a good year for dairy farmers. Badly needed after a few when milk prices were on the floor. But the market is turning with global supplies increasing . With many having invested serious sums of money into their enterprises a severe downturn would hit hard.  

Beef farmers could say at least dairy men and women get to experience occasional highs. They were to the “pin of their collar” said IFA president Joe Healy.

Apart from up and down prices – concern over crime is another way of life for farmers. A break in the quads thefts across County Limerick was a welcome development this month.

Limerick, Cappamore, Newcastle West and Charleville Shows went off with aplomb. And good to see their importance in rural life being recognised by funding announced by Minister Michael Ring.

And continuing the theme of the importance of community in rural life. This was exemplified by farmers supporting each other after Hurricane Ophelia hit. Generators were shared around to ensure cows were milked. Happy New Year to all Farm Leader readers and have a safe 12 months.

January

A Revenue employee, who signed letters sent to over 400 Kerry milk suppliers demanding tax arrears on loyalty shares, received “sinister” threats at her County Limerick home.  Affected farmers were shocked and angry in November 2016 when they received correspondence from “out of the blue” saying they had under declared income on these shares. Sums range from €5,000 to over €50,000 per person. Gardai have confirmed they were investigating two instances of hate mail and threatening behaviour towards an individual. The Kerry share saga rumbles on.

GVM’S Tom Crosse describes 2016 as a difficult year in terms of land sales in Limerick and the Mid-West. Between himself, John O’Connell and Richard Ryan they sold around 1,200 acres at an average price of €8,100.

“2015 was reasonably good. We averaged prices at around €8,600 an acre in 2015 but looking through some figures, 2016 was slightly above €8,000,” said Mr Crosse.

At a time when dinner dances are dying out the Limerick and Clare Liquid Milk Producers continued to attract a large crowd to theirs in the Dunraven Arms.

Michael O’Connor, chairman, said:“Following 18 months of milk prices on the floor it was a welcome sight to see prices starting to slowly rise from mid-year on.” He also touched on the hate mail sent to the Revenue official.

“IFA, Kerry Co-Op board and the committee of Limerick and Clare Milk Producers have said they are totally against such action. We might not like what the person is doing but at the end of the day, they are only doing their job,” he said.

February

Pallaskenry Agricultural College student Stephanie  Shine won her college round of the FRS memorial scholarship for outstanding leadership the day before there was a heated debate on Liveline about women in agriculture.

One caller said it is “very unrealistic” for a woman to run a farm and spoke of their inability to “pull calves” from a cow. Stephanie, of the Shine family who run Samco in Adare, described his comments as “irrational”.

“I believe what I’m doing is meant for me and I always tell people if you’re good at what you do it doesn’t matter what gender you are. Being a woman working in the agricultural sector is hard but it only makes me more ambitious and work harder to prove to people that I am very competent, I get great satisfaction from doing this.  

Two leading Limerick ICMSA men – who have had their properties targeted – issued a warning to fellow farmers and rural dwellers.

“Farmers and people living in rural Ireland are vulnerable. It looks like they are targeting farmers. Our house was broken into. It is not a nice experience. There wasn’t a pile taken but it is the invasion of your privacy,” said Mr Blackburn. National dairy chair, Gerald Quain had €2,000 worth of goods taken from his Colmanswell farm two years ago. “There isn’t a farmer who hasn’t been affected by crime or knows a neighbour who has,” said Mr Quain.

March

Criminals trying to break into a house with a slash hook fled after a 93-year-old retired farmer fired his shotgun over their heads. The elderly man, who lives on his own in the Kilfinane / Ballylanders area, heard his door being kicked in late at night. The perpetrators then smashed two panes of glass in the door and a light, with a slash hook.

It is understood the bachelor then warned them he was armed. Undeterred, the burglars then moved to a front window, broke it and, as a hand reached in to open the latch the 93-year-old shot over the intruder’s head. The assailants then ran from the scene.

Deputy Niall Collins said the local community is shocked.

“This man fired into the air, as a warning, which is his right to do. They fully support him and many expressed the view to me that they would like to have seen these intruders shot on site,” said Mr Collins.

April

IFA president Joe Healy warned that milk produced over the winter months will soon fail to meet demand.

“There is a real risk of shortages for consumers because farmers aren’t being paid enough to milk cows during the winter,” said Mr Healy.

Principal of Salesian Agricultural College, Derek O’Donoghue described graduation day as a “very significant and momentous occasion” for the students. Youth is the lifeblood of every industry, sporting organisation and family farm, he said. 

“If we don’t have students in agricultural colleges we won’t have a well-trained farming population to utilise and manage our farms in the years ahead. We are where we are today in Irish agriculture because of the work of the generations that have gone before us. Graduates, it is now your turn to innovate, develop and progress Irish agriculture to achieve those ambitious targets,” said Mr O’Donoghue.

Dairygold CEO Jim Woulfe made everybody sit up and take notice when he described Brexit as a “sleep disturber”. The Ardagh man painted a bleak picture of how Brexit would impact the cheddar cheese sector.

May

Fifty years ago Danny Horan was one of the first employees at Dromcollogher Mart. He started on £1.50 a day and says they were long days, especially Wednesdays to get the yard washed for Thursday and waiting for trucks. He said buyers came from far and near and recalls the Troys purchasing for Larry Goodman.

Fast forward to 2017 and Danny received a special presentation at Thursday’s 50th anniversary celebrations of Dromcollogher Mart. Another recipient was  Seamus Stack, the first secretary and manager.

PJ Buckley, chief executive of GVM Group, said: “It is important to mark these occasions. We had representatives of people who would have been on the founding committee. It was a nice occasion and it was good to celebrate the anniversary.

June

In December 1955, Clement McAuliffe, aged 21, attended a meeting in Bruree which resulted in the GVM that we know today. In May 2017, Mr McAuliffe, Ardpatrick, was one of the honoured guests at the launch of From Fair to Mart and Beyond… A History of Golden Vale Co-operative Mart 1956-2016.  A crowd of over 350 attended the event in the South Court Hotel on Friday evening.

Historian Sean Liston, author, told the audience it describes the changes in livestock marketing from the days of the fairs and included many funny stories. One was of a hurler who was getting cleaned out by his marker but he did manage to sell him two calves! 

Limerick and Clare Friesian Breeders held their annual field evening at award winning Margaret and Mike Laffan’s farm near Kilfinny.

The Kennedys from Kilteely face more challenges than most Limerick farmers but they continually prove it is no barrier to success. Timothy and Mary milk 90 dairy cows on a fragmented farm of 200 acres. Some of their land is up to three miles apart but this didn’t stop them supplying the best quality milk from the Limerick region to Dairygold throughout 2016.

July

Limerick agri-tech business BHSL acquired a leading wastewater and effluent treatment company and completed its €7m fundraising this week. Based in Kantoher, BHSL has developed a unique, patented system to convert untreated poultry manure into energy for heating, cooling and electricity generation to meet the energy needs of the farms. It is transforming poultry production by turning a cost centre (dealing with waste manure) into a source of fuel, thereby driving farm profitability through reduced energy bills.

Nearly 200 attended a Dairygold better grass and weed control event on the farm of Michael and Martin Carroll in Coolruss, Bruree. 

Vanessa Crean flew the Limerick flag at the 46th International Miss Macra Festival. She lives in the city centre and is quick to dismiss the notion that Macra is “only for farmers”. She only wished she joined the Limerick city club earlier.

“I had become stuck in a rut and wasn’t appreciating everything the city and county has to offer,” she said. 

The auction of 88 acres at Kiltannon, Croagh sold for €965,000. GVM’s Tom Crosse said it is land “you would walk in your slippers 12 months of the year”. 

August

At Cappamore Show, Dairygold CEO Jim Woulfe warned the milk price “current panacea of joy isn’t going to last forever”.

“We are in a cyclical business. I don’t want to be preaching doom and gloom but be very clear - the dairy market is volatile and it will be volatile. Even look at butter, the way it has gone in the last 12 months. It is really underpinning the actual price right now. You’re looking at a situation where it is gone up into the six thousands and approaching seven thousand euro a tonne from a price of around €2,500 last year. You see in that situation it is volatile - you have to be cautious,” said Mr Woulfe. Sadly he has been proven right as the butter market has fallen back to the four thousands.

At Limerick Show, IFA president Joe Healy said: “Unfortunately we see  beef price under downward pressure. Beef farmers are to the pin of their collars – costs are high and once the price goes under €4 a kilo you are into loss making territory then.”

September

Limerick chairperson of ICMSA’s dairy committee Gerald Quain drew attention to “the hugely concerning gap” that has opened up between Irish dairy prices and those of our mainland EU counterparts.

“While milk prices in Ireland have obviously improved in 2017, ICMSA would point out that Ireland is currently only in 12th position of the EU,” he said.

Bruff gardai investigated the theft of equipment, valued at €35,000, from a County Limerick farm. It was taken from land belonging to former councillor, John Egan, in Bohergar, Boher.

“The ESB were working on my land with a teleporter. It was hydraulic equipment attached to the teleporter, which could be seen from the road, that was stolen. The gate was swinging off its hinges. There were calves in the field and lucky enough they didn’t go out on the road. What they stole was highly specialised equipment,” said John. 

The Herlihy family from Granagh claimed top spot in Munster in the 2017 FBD national farmyard awards. 

October

Limerick IFA, ICBF, FBD, HSA, gardai and Teagasc joined together to highlight safe farm practices in Pallaskenry Agricultural College last week.

A crowd of over 200 attended to hear a range of speakers give advice. Pat Blackwell, dairy advisor Teagasc Kilmallock, said the event was timely in the most unfortunate manner considering the recent spate of farm deaths across the country.

Farmers and neighbours pulled out all the stops to ensure cows were milked after Hurricane Ophelia. Once the wind dissipated on the Monday evening Martin Stapleton, IFA national farm business chairman, left Oola for Kilkenny to hire a two tonne generator. It has been going non-stop ever since.

Eamonn English, Oola farmer, said they set up a rota of farmers between them to help their neighbours after hurricane Ophelia struck .

“It is an animal welfare issue to get cows milked. Cows are still milking well. If it was near December it would be different. Everybody is pulling out all the stops to ensure cows are milked,” said Eamonn.

In brass tacks the agriculture budget has increased from €1,468m to €1,532m – a rise of 4%. However, ICMSA president John Comer described the Budget as “very disappointing from the point of view of farm families”. He described as “inexplicable” the fact it contained no measure “whatsoever” to counter the growing problem of price and income volatility that was “trapping farm families in a very precarious financial position”.

November

Five Laurel Hill Secondary School students found themselves the proud owners of five Angus cross calves and they didn’t cost them a penny.

The girls were picked out of hundreds of entries as one of the five finalists in this year’s  Certified Irish Angus Beef schools competition.  They have to rear their calves for 18 months until their slaughter as part of their Leaving Certificate agricultural science curriculum.

A “cracking” County Limerick farm made €12,777 per acre at auction. 72 acres at Cloghaviller, Herbertstown was sold for €920,000.

Over 250 County Limerick farmers with slurry towers were written to by the council to say they will be carrying out inspections of the tanks. Limerick IFA chairman Shay Galvin and Cllrs Adam Teskey say there is one rule for farmers and no rules when raw sewage is being pumped straight into rivers.

Mr Galvin said: “The time to do risk assessment was when farmers were applying for planning, not now. All the letters I have been shown by farmers were for tanks which are less than ten years old and even in one case the tank was never built.”

Samco signed a €1.5m contract with a Chilean dairy co-op on the same day they broke ground on their €2m expansion in Adare. Their new Chilean partners visited their farm and facility before putting pen to paper in the Dunraven Arms 

December

A County Limerick farmer, who is always up for the craic, buried his underpants in the interests of science. This unique form of soil testing has been tried in Scotland, Canada and America.  If, after two months, the underpants are exhumed intact, the soil is sterile and lifeless. If nothing but an elastic band remains it is thriving.

Giving his last presidential address to an ICMSA AGM, John Comer told the large attendance at the South Court Hotel it was “impossible to imagine” a more challenging time for policymakers in the national critical farming and food production sector. Mr Comer’s six years as the association’s president will come to an end this month. 

Farmers expanding their herds was reflected in the throughput in Kilmallock Mart in 2017. Cattle numbers were up 3.5% in 2017 compared to 2016. This equates to an extra 4,500 cattle going through the rings.

An Bord Pleanala is to decide if a Limerick farmer can build an entrance to his land after Limerick City and County Council turned him down.