Patrick Brennan from Ballingarry, Roscrea came to national prominence on Thursday, November 1st when he was named as the 2018 Zurich Insurance Dairy Farmer of the Year. We travelled to the Premier County and met the modest Tipp man, who fronts a no-frills 400-acre dairy enterprise.
It was a proud moment indeed for Ballingarry man Patrick Brennan when he was presented with the fifth annual Dairy Farmer of the Year award in front of 180 of his peers in Athlone’s Hodson Bay Hotel at the start of November. The Zurich Insurance sponsored Farmer of the Year awards acknowledge the best-performing farmers in the country across six categories and Patrick was a worthy recipient of the prestigious Dairy accolade.
“It was really nice to get it,” he reflects. “We run an ordinary, simple farm – a straightforward, traditional farm with no bells and whistles, so the award was a welcome endorsement of what we are doing.
“It was reassuring that the judges recognised an ordinary family farm, because these farms are under threat here in Ireland and indeed across the EU.”
Patrick – whose farm is used by the Farm Relief Services for practical elements of their Training to Milk courses. – milked 204 cows in 2018 (from stock of 530), farming 200 acres at home on Lurganross Farm with the remainder divided into four lots in Eglish, Borrisokane and Ardcroney.
“We’ve been growing gradually,” he notes. “We were renting and buying additional land before the quotas went and I’m now up to 204 cows, having started with 11 in the early ‘80s. We’re hoping to go up to 230 within two years and will stop expanding then.”
Winner of the An Bord Bia award for sustainable dairying, Patrick completed his studies in Gurteen Agricultural College in 1978. “I inherited 100 acres which my father, Pat, bought for £3,500 about 68 years ago,” he reveals. “My son, Padraig, is in his fourth year at UCD, where he’s studying for a Degree in Dairy Business. He’s working part-time with me at the moment but I’m hoping he’ll come home to join the family business full-time once he qualifies. I also have two apprentices from Gurteen and, between the four of us, we keep it going, with a lot of help from my wife, Helen.”
All Patrick’s milk goes to Arrabawn Co-op, where he is a member of the board, which recently received planning permission for a €30m expansion of the processing facilities to cater with a substantial rise in local production. The Holstein-Freisian herd averages 5,500 litres, milking twice a day in a 20-unit Fullwood Herringbone parlour. The herd is spring-calving and calves are kept for one year before being sold on for fattening.
The 2018 figures show that Lurganross Farm have an average of 5,500 litre per cow with fat of 4.4 and protein of 3.6, which equates to about 445kg of milk solids sold to the co-op, so there would be another 15kg of milk solids fed to calves. Meal per cow for 2018 was around 1 tonne per cow but, on a normal non-drought year Patrick usually feeds 500kg of meal and usually gets around the same solids. Meanwhile, Padraig started grass measuring last year and the Brennans recorded growth of about 11 tonne per hectare in what was a drought year – 15-25% down on a normal year.
“We start calving from the 1st of February. They’d go on grass from the 8th of February and stay on grass until the 25th of November,” the 2018 Dairy Farmer of the Year continues. Complete with prolonged heatwave, the year gone by certainly presented the Tipperary man and his herd with plenty of challenges:
“We normally get all the milk off grass and meal but we also had to use some bales of silage this year. July and August were very warm and very tough. We had to buy some silage in, which obviously adds to your cost of production. It was a tough year for feed and anyone who was overstocked took a hammering.
“Weather-wise, there don’t seem to be too many average days anymore. We are getting more extremes now. The spring was also wet and long; it was a tough year all around.”
Interestingly, when questioned about what he perceives to be the biggest challenges being encountered by dairy farmers in Ireland today, Patrick chooses neither the weather nor milk prices: “The biggest challenge is oversupply … will the processors be able to handle the supply?
“There has been a 30% increase in milk supply since the quotas went. They predicted growth of 20% inside ten years but we’ve had 30% already and a further 20% increase is expected in the next five years. This is a massive increase and processors could struggle to handle such a significant increase in capacity. That’s the biggest threat to the dairy sector.”
Gradually increasing his own land base from 100 acres to 400 over the past 20 years, Patrick Brennan has focussed on sustainable growth to make sure nothing gets out of hand. “I prefer to grow slowly and steadily and keep things under control,” he confirms.
Rewarding and highlighting excellence in Irish farming, the Zurich Insurance Farmer of the Year Awards shine a light on the top performers in agriculture. Patrick Brennan says his enterprise is simple and unspectacular, pointing out that hard work, personal commitment and careful forward planning have been central to his success rather than anything extraordinary.
But family farms are extraordinary in their own right and the Tipperary man’s selection as Farmer of the Year represents a real vote of approval for this kind of traditional, old-fashioned, honest-to-God operation.
“It’s a tough business and every member of the family helps out on the farm. With a family farm, it’s very difficult to measure the labour that’s going into it. You’d be up at 6am and might not go to bed until midnight, but we are well used to it at this stage.
“There’s a huge amount of paperwork involved now as well and it really is like running a business,” Patrick concludes. “I’m very lucky to have Helen helping out with that.”
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Taken from Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 7 No 1, February/March 2019