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Ireland 13.02.2024

Challenges Impacting Irish Dairy Production in 2023: Weather, Prices, and Farmer Fatigue

Source: The DairyNews
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The year 2023 witnessed a continuous decline in milk production in Ireland, influenced by various challenges, including adverse weather conditions, fluctuating milk prices, and farmer fatigue. Data from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) reveals that the total domestic milk intake for the year reached 8,458 million liters, marking the lowest level since 2000.
Challenges Impacting Irish Dairy Production in 2023: Weather, Prices, and Farmer Fatigue
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The overall milk intake for 2023 decreased by 4.1% compared to 2022 and 3.4% compared to 2021, with monthly supplies consistently lower than the previous year. In December 2023, milk intake by creameries dropped by 27% and 20% compared to December 2022 and 2021, respectively. Similarly, November 2023 saw a decline of 19.8% from 2022 and 16.5% from November 2021 supplies.

Joe Patton, Teagasc Head of Dairy Knowledge Transfer, identified several factors contributing to the reduction in milk volumes. Adverse weather conditions, farmer fatigue, the cost of feeding cows, and declining milk prices all played a role in discouraging farmers from pursuing additional production.

Patton highlighted that the decline in milk production per cow started from June and July onwards, but overall cow numbers did not experience a significant drop. Pasture growth declined, leading to reduced feed intake by cows, resulting in lower milk production. There is a concern that farmers might be substituting grass with concentrates, although the feeding of concentrates is gradually increasing while milk solids production per cow remains relatively stable.

Noel Murphy, Chairperson of ICMSA’s Dairy Committee, emphasized the economic aspect of milk production, pointing out that Teagasc calculated 2023 milk production costs at 37 cents per liter. With milk prices falling below this threshold in most milk processors during the autumn, coupled with unfavorable weather conditions, farmers opted to dry off cows early to avoid operating at a loss.

Murphy also noted the significant impact of changes in Nitrates regulations at the individual farm level, with the full consequences expected to be evident by the end of 2024 and into 2025.

A spokesperson for Dairy Industry Ireland acknowledged the influence of factors such as price, farmer morale, and weather on the decline in Irish supply in 2023. However, the spokesperson emphasized that policy incoherence is the primary driver of declining production, calling for clarity in national and EU policies that are fair for both farmers and the industry. Failure to address policy issues could result in a further decline in output, with consequential economic damage to the Irish national economy.
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