‘It’s possible to farm without subsidies’

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Profitable milk production is possible – without contracts and subsidies - provided you know your costs precisely.

That was the view expressed earlier this week by Jim Thompson, who milks across two sites near Green Bay in Wisconsin, USA.

The Banbridge man left for the States some 15 years ago, where he found that it was possible to develop a thriving dairy farming business on the back of a commitment to manage cows in the most efficiency way possible. Jim farms with his wife, Alison, who joined him on the trip to Ireland this week.

“We buy in most our feed, corn silage and alfalfa, from a number of local growers. We pay an agreed price per tonne of feed delivered,” said Jim.

“This is all about trust. There are no formal contracts entered into. There is a simple acceptance that everyone involved is doing the very best for everyone else.

“The same principle holds when it comes to making slurry and other farm wastes.”

Jim confirmed that his farm business is not eligible for any subsidies from the United States’ government.

“In my opinion subsidies only encourage inefficiency,” he stressed.

“For us, it’s all about getting the best possible milk price from the market. And this comes down to producing milk of the highest quality, while driving improved efficiency within the business.

“We employ 50 people. So getting the best out of everyone involved is crucially important.”

Adding value is another core driver for the Thompsons.

“Most of our milk goes for kosher cheese production. Our farms are regularly inspected by a rabbi,” said Jim.

“Only milk produced from cows that have not had any form of surgical procedure performed on them is eligible for this business.

“Another factor in our favour is our ability to provide our own haulage to the milk processing plant.

Getting on with neighbours is another priority for the Thompsons.

“One of the farms is very close to a built-up area,” Alison explained.

“There are times of the year when the roads around the farm can get quite clogged up with either manure or silage.

“In light of this we would provide all our neighbours with a selection of cheese once a year. It’s our way of saying thank you for your patience and tolerance.”

But Jim keeps coming back to the overall priority for the business, which is that of producing high quality milk.

“Last year one of our farms averaged a cell count of 60 for an entire 12-month period. This reflects our commitment to managing the cows to the highest possible standards.