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As the last cow is dried of on our farm for her winter break, one can’t help but cast a cursory reflection over the farming year that was even if we’re not at the finish line of 2021 yet.

This year has by any standards been a good year for farming in terms of grass growth and market returns. It indeed was needed after the poor market returns felt in the early days of the pandemic. In the finance world these highly unpredictable negative events are called “black swan events”.

With the volatile nature of global trade, farms will have to be sufficiently resourced in terms of capital and business skills to navigate these choppier waters. However this year did give farmers reason for optimism and especially in the dry stock sector which needed it so badly. Recent suckler breeding stock sales posted record sale prices.

We often hear about the national suckler herd but there is no national suckler herd, this phrase connotes a large ominous herd of cattle roaming the country destroying the environment. What we do have is 70,000 family farms of small to medium size producing ethically raised sustainable suckler cattle.

On our own farm, this year was an exciting year in that we embarked on something a bit different with my brother Frank and I joining forces to expand Melody Farm Eggs. It was a very challenging year to undertake a building project but we got there with the support of great people around us. Through a network of supportive businesses across Co Clare we have been able to supply our eggs to a growing customer base. This enterprise has added a buzz to the farm and we’re grateful to everyone who has supported Melody Farm Eggs.

With reflection we always pick out a few areas that we could improve on for next year. The main area for us is around labour during the breeding season as we do all our own A.I. This takes up a lot of time monitoring cows for signs of heat and then drafting them. Luckily there has been huge strides made in the Agri-tech sector in terms of collars that fit around the cow’s neck that aid with monitoring their health and heat status. When making up our minds on investing in a new piece of technology or capital investment we will endeavour to quantify what the increased efficiency will mean to our farm’s net profit and just as importantly how much it will benefit our quality of life.

Quality of life is an area of farming that I feel does not get enough attention. New Zealand went through huge expansion in its dairy industry in the 1990s. Although wealth was built and profits were realised, burnout was a huge issue amongst farmers with many retiring in their forties. Many times those farms had low levels of labour, primitive facilities and vast numbers of cows. I don’t think we will see anything as extreme as that in Ireland but quality of life should be a central tenet of the future of Irish Dairy the same way sustainability and profit is.

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