This year’s Irish Grasslands Dairy Summer Tour, sponsored by AIB Bank focused on milk production on leased land visiting grass based dairy farms in Skeaghvasteen, Co. Kilkenny and Tullow, Co. Carlow on Tuesday July 25th. With stocking rate increasing by approximately 10% since quota removal and one third of dairy farmers renting an estimated 30% of the land they farm, leasing land to increase milk production was the focus of this year’s event. The topic attracted a record audience – over 600 dairy farmers from around the country attended the event.
Common features of the host farms were the following:
Cathal and Grainne Moran farm at Curraghlane, Skeaghvasteen, Co. Kilkenny. Cathal started farming in 1997 with 16 cows when the farm also had beef, sheep and tillage enterprises. Today he farms a total of 144 ha where just over half of the 120 ha milking platform is leased. This year’s overall stocking rate of 2.5 LU/ha includes 259 cows and replacement heifers. In 2016, the herd produced 450 kg milk solids per cow (4.30% fat; 3.67% protein). Cathal plans to increase this to 360 cows within 2 years with replacement heifers contract reared off the farm.
Jamie and Lorraine Kealy are first generation farmers. Coming from a non-farming background, they purchased 12 ha of land while Jamie worked as a building contractor. He commenced milk production on a 26 ha fertile leased farm at Slaneyquarter, Grange, Tullow, Co. Carlow calving 60 heifers in the spring of 2014. The lease also included cubicle accommodation and a milking parlour. The following year, Jamie leased another 10 ha across the road from a second lessor and he currently milks 94 cows stocked at 2.6 cows/ha on the milking platform. His herd produced 530 kg milk solids per cow (4.47% fat; 3.70% protein) on 780 kg meal last year. He plans to increase the size of the herd to around 120 cows over the next couple of years.
Both hosts alluded to developing a relationship with the land owners talking about the importance of trust which comes from being open and transparent in their dealings with them from the start. Jamie for example talked of informing the land owner about what his plans are before making changes, ‘You’ve got to remember it’s their land you’re dealing with’. Minding leased land as if it was their own has helped both hosts to strengthen the relationship that they have developed with the owners of the land that they lease.
Both Jamie and Cathal detailed the investments they made to develop their farms. The costs involved for both are summarised in Table 1.
Table 1. Investment costs (€/cow) for the Kealy (well developed leased former dairy farm) and Moran (conversion to a specialist dairy farm) farms.
|No of cows costs are based on||100||360|
|Cow opportunity cost||€1,200||€1,200|
|Accommodation & milking facilities||€550||€2,500|
|Total invested per cow||€2,000||€5,000|
For the Kealys, leasing a fertile, former dairy farm the investment costs were lower than for the Morans who has leased land adjacent to his own land and developed his own farm. Most of the infrastructural work was already done on the farm that they leased. Total investment still totalled €2,000 per cow because paddocks needed to be adjusted, roadways extended and water system upgraded.
On the Moran farm investment costs were considerably greater. All of the facilities have been constructed on effectively a green field site to include a 30 unit milking parlour, 350 topless cubicles and two lined slurry lagoons. Converting drystock and tillage land to dairy use involved constructing new roadways, reseeding most of the milking platform, soil fertility improvement and developing a paddock system. The investment on the Moran farm has taken place over the past 20 years with approximately 60% of the costs incurred since 2014.
Speaking at the event, Laurence Shalloo, Teagasc Moorepark highlighted the impact of the lease length on total annual costs. Assuming an investment cost of €2,500 per cow (€7,500/ha) with half of the investment borrowed, and a stocking rate of 3 cows per hectare the funding and depreciation costs were €825/ha, €596/ha and €481/ha for leases lasting for 10, 15 and 20 years respectively. Thus the greater the length of the lease, the lower the annual cost of investments made by the lessor on the land.
Of interest to the audience on the day was the capacity of both farms to generate a return on fully or partly leased farms. The financial performance of the two host farms in 2016 is presented in Table 2.
Table 2. Financial performance of the host farms dairy enterprise in 2016 (€/ha).
|Own labour cost||775||370|
|Margin after own labour||733||857|
Both farms were operating to a high level of technical efficiency in 2016. The Moran farm was more highly stocked than the Kealy farm in 2016 (2.8 vs. 2.4 LU / ha) in anticipation of extra land coming on stream in 2017. Own labour costs totalling €30,000 were included per farm leaving a margin per hectare of €733 and €857 to cover principle repayments and taxation on the Kealy and Moran farms respectively. Visits to the two farms showed that when farmed efficiently, leasing land for dairying can be a profitable option. According to Cathal, ‘There is no point in farming your own land badly and thinking that leasing more is going to make you more money’.
 Based on 360 cows milked which is planned for 2019.