The European Milk Quota system ends today.
First introduced in April 1984 under the European Union Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) the Milk Quota has stabilised (or some say stagnated) dairy produce production for 30 years. This has helped to protect dairy farming incomes, especially for smaller producers. The measure was to protect the small farmer.
The big dairy companies all over Europe have been gearing up for the explosion in production that is in the offing. They will be driving sales of dairy products into non-traditional markets. Have you ever noticed that Chinese and South-Eastern Asian cuisine uses no milk, cream, cheese or butter? Watch that space!
To win the international game the Irish Dairies need to ramp up production as fast, or faster than their counterparts in countries like Denmark, Poland, UK and France.
In the last year and more, the savvy and efficient Dairy farmer has been gearing up for the end of the quota in a number of ways.
Herd management for instance; calves are allowed to feed from the cows, production milking is restricted to one milking per day, excess heifers are kept calf-less for longer to keep them dry. Over quota milk has often ended up in slurry pits.
In the last week every storage container has been filled to bursting point to hold as much production as possible for midnight on 31st March.
In terms of farm management, the larger farmers have been assembling larger dairy platforms accessible to their milking facility, by buying and renting any land adjacent to their parlour. At the same time they are developing winter feed stocks by acquisition of suitable hay and silage production acreage.
Within the dairy itself they have been investing in new – high intensity – milking equipment. Automated feeding and milking systems. Computer databases of the herd, recording age, weight, production, feed regimen, medical history, pedigree, behaviour etc.
The dairy farm of today is a high intensity industrial plant.
It is a long way from the 40 acre mixed farmer who kept a half dozen cows and delivered a couple of churns to the creamery every other day.
But when you have thousands of acres of countryside managed by a handful of industrial farmers, what do you lose? Community? Poverty? A vibrant countryside population? A low income trap? Truth is, we will see a lot more cows and a lot less people. That can make cheap milk a very expensive commodity.
The Sands of Dee: by Charles Kingsley
“O Mary, go and call the cattle home,
And call the cattle home,
And call the cattle home
Across the sands of Dee”;
The western wind was wild and dank with foam,
And all alone went she.
The western tide crept up along the sand,
And o’er and o’er the sand,
And round and round the sand,
As far as eye could see.
The rolling mist came down and hid the land:
And never home came she.
“Oh! is it weed, or fish, or floating hair–
A tress of golden hair,
A drownèd maiden’s hair
Above the nets at sea?
Was never salmon yet that shone so fair
Among the stakes on Dee.”
They rowed her in across the rolling foam,
The cruel crawling foam,
The cruel hungry foam,
To her grave beside the sea:
But still the boatmen hear her call the cattle home
Across the sands of Dee.