Milk producers and dairy industry representatives have been reassured that the sector has a bright future in the medium to long term.
But overcoming the challenge of volatility will remain the key hurdle that must be overcome on an ongoing basis.
These perspectives formed the backdrop for this week’s dairy research seminar at AFBI Hillsborough, which saw the institute’s Dr Conrad Ferris confirm that improved on-farm efficiency will remain a key driver for the milk industry as a whole
“There will always be a requirement for the industry to review the systems which will deliver the best returns at farm level,” he said.
“But all the economic analysis carried out to this point indicates that the most robust milk production model for Northern Ireland is that of a medium input: medium output system.
“In practical terms this means achieving yields of between 7,000 to 8,000 litres per cow from 1½ - 2 tonnes of concentrates with animals fed good quality silage during the winter months and having access to top quality grazing for the rest of the year.”
“Production systems based exclusively on spring calving herds and maximising milk output from grazed grass will always produce the highest margin per litre. But this is not always the sole arbiter of overall farm profitability.”
Ferris confirmed that a significant number of dairy farmers right across Northern Ireland have tremendous scope to improve the overall efficiency of their businesses.
“The average milk from forage figure achieved by local producers is in the region of 1,500 litres per cow. This figure could be increased to 3,000 - 3,500 litres,” he said.
“The drivers for efficiency within every dairy farm are a commitment to make good silage, provide cows with high quality fresh grass during the grazing season while, at the same time, maximising herd health and fertility.”
Ferris singled out milk recording as a management tool which every dairy farmer in Northern Ireland should be availing of. Commenting on the host of new technologies now coming on-stream within the milk sector, he highlighted MIR spectroscopy as one with significant potential.
“The technique is already being used by dairies to assess milk constituent levels. However, it can also be adapted to assess the cow’s energy status, and may be used to identify metabolites which are key indicators of a cow’s specific health status.”
Ferris, who is Head of Sustainable Dairy Systems at AFBI, said that continuing research will be required to meet the evolving needs of the milk industry in Northern Ireland.
“This will be core to our role moving forward. This week’s seminar provided AFBI research staff with an opportunity to show case the work they are doing on all aspects of dairy farming development, from production systems through to calf rearing and the numerous welfare related issues that impact on a modern dairy farming system.”