Don’t listen to the begrudgers – there is still plenty of scope for new entrants to dairying

First Published 15th September 2020 Farming Independent:

Over 5 years have passed since the ending of EU milk quotas, however expansion in dairy farming in Ireland just keeps on going from strength to strength.

Poor profitability in beef, weather challenges and import price competition in tillage are causing beef and arable farmers to do the sums on converting to dairying. Add an unfavourable Brexit trade deal, reduced EU-CAP payments and the climate change challenge into the mix and its easy to see why forward-thinking beef and arable farmers/landowners are considering their futures.

Irish people are noted for having many great traits, we punch above our weight in politics, business, sport and in particular as well rounded human beings, who are regarded as good company to be around. However, we have a disappointing tendency to knock our most successful citizens. Whether its Bono in U2, Roy Keane in soccer or Michel O’Leary in Ryanair it is an unfortunate part of our psyche that we must find a chink in people’s success.

Unfortunately, this malaise is now challenging Irish dairy farmers as many are made to feel guilty when taking on a lease of land which has been historically farmed by beef and arable farmers. Dairy farmers are showing glimpses of their purchasing power at land auctions and they are still investing heavily in their dairy units. All of this is happening while they are still making repayments for expansion plans after the removal of EU milk quotas, this si the envy of farmers in other sectors.

People quickly forget that dairy farmers farmed with the handbrake on for over 30 years during the milk quota era, surely, they deserve their time in the sun, I’m from the school ‘if you can’t beat them join them’.

The Diffusion of Innovation Theory divides those who adopt new technology or innovations into 5 categories (see table 1). It is interesting to look at dairy farming in the context of this adoption theory, where are we in the curve today and the question has to be asked, is it to late to get into dairying?

Table 1: Adopter categorisation (Rogers 1971)

Category of Person%
Early adopters13.5
Early majority34
Late majority34


The Innovators were those who expanded or got into dairying after the announcement by the EU that milk quotas were going in 2007. This phase continued until the risk of super-levy started to emerge in 2011. There were some teething problems amongst this cohort of farmers, but most re up and running today.

Early Adopters

The Early Adopters were those made plans and retained extra dairy replacement stock to prepare for an increase in cow numbers from the get-go on the 1st of April 2015. Remember it is almost 4 years from using an AI straw to impregnate a cow/heifer until the first lactation of milk production is complete i.e. May 2012 to 31st December 2015. These are the well-established dairy farmers today.

Early Majority

The Early Majority are those who have now completed their development plans and maximised cow numbers to suit their farm business and system of production. These plans were conceived as far back as 2012 and now many of these dairy farm businesses are humming as their owners concentrate on perfecting the businesses rather than expanding it. The area of land in the grazing block is the new quota as this economically limits the viable number of milking cows.  These are also well-established dairy farmers today.

Late Majority

I believe we are entering the late majority phase now. The more conservative farmers who held off to see how the dairy boom would develop have been sufficiently impressed to take the plunge and make the move into milking cows. The systems of production and the capital investment required are clear, the research and advice is readily available, all of which combine to reduce the risk.   

It is difficult to predict how long will this phase of the cycle last. World demand for dairy products and the competitiveness of Irish milk production are the two key factors, both of which look positive at present.

Factors such as a) climate change legislation leading to lower stocking rates, b) animal welfare legislation forcing beef production from the dairy herd due to constraints on live shipping c) obtaining/retaining employed labour and d) alternative milk sources are all upcoming challenges for the sector.

However, I believe our dairy industry has the capacity to take all these known and unknown challenges head on and will continue to succeed. We are certainly a long way away from the Laggard phase of the industry where its too late to enter the industry.

So today, let’s celebrate rather than berate the success of our dairy industry and continue to encourage its expansion and development while the economic conditions are favourable. This will benefit the country as a whole from increased exports but more importantly right down to providing jobs and careers for our citizens in both urban and rural communities.

It is definitely not too late to get into dairying.