Short-term all about consolidation for Castlecor Farms

1 Nov , 2022  

Operating from its head base in Castlecor, Co Meath, Castlecor Farms Ltd is a dairy farm enterprise which is milking over 900 cows at present. Irish Tractor Agri & Plant touched base with Brian Murphy who oversees all three of the enterprises which make up this second-generation family business.

Business itself has been good as of late at Castlecor Farms Ltd and the plan for owner Brian Murphy is to try and keep things that way right through to next year.

Castlecor Farms was first established by Brian’s father, Michael Murphy in 1989. Brian took over 14 years ago and today it employs seven people full-time, with extra help coming onboard part-time in the Spring time and at the weekends.

Now 39 years of age, the Co Cork native moved to Meath in 20 years ago this year. Today, he has grown his dairy farming business into three highly-profitable, sustainable dairy enterprises.

Irish Tractor Agri & Plant caught up with Brian recently to learn more about Castlecor Farms Ltd, from its expansion over the last five years to his current business performance and vision for the future.

“It’s been business as usual for us. Nothing really changed for us during the Covid pandemic. We had to keep on going and do our thing,” said the Managing Director.

“Some of us got Covid and some of us escaped. We were more careful buying supplies, everything required more planning, particularly when it came to orders. We experienced some supply chain challenges, particularly so in the last six months. Prices rocketed, inflation has been insane with certain products.”

Business has thrived for Brian in more recent years and he added another dairy farm to the mix in 2018. 

He makes extensive use of contractors for large machinery jobs like silage, slurry, reseeding and winter feeding. It frees up time and capital to invest into high return areas in the business.

The acquisition of the farm in Harristown, Kinnegad, Co Meath means that the company now comprises of three dairy enterprises.

“The main dairy farm in Castlecor is about 160 hectares and includes 460 cows. That’s the original dairy farm,” he outlined.

“The second dairy farm is 100 hectares and includes 280 cows. That’s Loughcrew Dairy Farm. The third, Harristown Farm, is new. We bought it in 2018. It’s about 60 hectares and includes 180 cows.

“We’ve managed three farms in the last five years and we also bought a small young stock farm as well last year.  We’ve extended the business a good bit and we’re adding another 100 cows at one of the dairy units shortly as well.”

Sustainability is key. Farmers are very much the custodians of the land and Brian has done much to farm more sustainably and plans even more. He has incorporated clover, where appropriate, in the past two to three years and has reduced his nitrogen use by 20% across the board. Approximately a mile of native Irish trees and hedging was introduced in Harristown Farm, particularly on lands skirting the Boyne.

Brian has also invested in a heat recovery plate cooler which heats water on one of the farms and chemical catching units have been installed on all three farms. This means that 150,000 gallons of water is being used twice instead of just once and as reduced the need to spread as much as 500,000 litres of dirty water on the land per annum. Protected urea is extensively used there are plans to sow hundreds of native Irish trees on the youngstock farm just purchased.

All of the milk from Castlecor Farms Ltd goes to Glanbia and it’s a working relationship which has been hugely beneficial for both parties for some time now. As Brian himself puts it, the company have been supporters of “the whole Glanbia story” for some time now.

“We’re a trading partner with Glanbia, so it’s a Co-Op, and we’re big supporters of the whole Glanbia story. Some people give them a bit of flack, but we’re actually huge supporters of them,” he stated.

“We think they’re a very good Co-Op and think that the farmers buying back control of the Co-Op is very exciting. It’s a pivotal changing point for the future of the Glanbia suppliers – having full control of their Co-Op again. It’s now fully controlled by the farmer directors and the employed directors and the chairman of the business to deliver for farmer shareholders.

“There have been some caps put on milk supply last year for the next three years – this year, next year and the year after. A review will then be done. We’re delighted to see Glanbia won their battle to build their new factory in Kilkenny/Waterford. I think it’s very important that now that the farmers have full control of Glanbia that they make good policy decision to benefit young and middle-aged farmers.

“It is important that it’s correctly run, that the farmer directors are picked for their business skills to grow the business and run the business and deliver for farmers. It’s up to us now as farmers to run our business properly. We have full control and can become the most dominant and best paying Co-Op in the country.”

Looking at the months ahead for Castlecor Farms Ltd, Brian sees consolidation as key for the business.  He also hopes to see the EU make a U-turn on its on environmental reform policy, which the IFA has already said that it’s “extremely concerned” about.

“We’ve bought another farm, so we have to integrate that back into the business,” said Brian.

“We’re going to consolidate now for the next number of years and focus on what we have. We’re looking at forging some partnerships with some of the younger people in the business and getting them started. That’s probably the next phase.

“We have to comply with a lot of new EU environmental rules.  We think the EU has made a big mistake with their energy policy. We are fearful that they’re heading down the same tracks with food, but hopefully they do a U-turn just before they make the mistake or make a mess of that.

“You have to make slow, cautious turns and changes when it comes to food. We need to be making decisions based on data, not just predictions. We shouldn’t be rushing to dismantle something that not even the experts fully understand.

“What is being planned at the moment is quite worrying for young farmers. Ireland is one of the most efficient food producers in the world yet these are very uncertain times for young farmers in particular.

“We hope that the decision-makers take a long-term view and realise that pushing efficient production out of Ireland into a different country isn’t solving anything.”

First published in Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 10 No 4, July/August 2022