Friday, 15 November 2013

Shortage of Milk Leading to Shortage of Cheese

Following on from the article in the Irish Times last Monday I thought I might take this opportunity to maybe clarify the issues that it addressed and perhaps some of the comments attributed to me.  

It would certainly appear that there will be a shortage of goat’s cheese in the coming months.  From discussing the matter with a number of cheese makers it is evident that certain lines of cheese or batches that tended to be made at a certain time of year were not made this year.  The reason for this is a shortage of milk actually available for processing – in Ireland and beyond.  At present we have approximately 20 commercial scale liquid milk units in the country, but this figure has fallen by four in the last 18-24 months and will shortly become five.  It’s a simple equation to calculate that this is a reduction of about one fifth of our main suppliers of goat’s milk. 

The goat industry in Ireland has been going through a difficult period in recent years.  A historically undersupplied market received a number of new milk producers and consequently prices fell and remained inconsistent for a number of years.  It is only recently as supply fell off that prices have increased and steadied somewhat.  

A second reason is finding a secure and consistent outlet for milk.  It's important to consider that no goat farmer in Ireland is working off a written contract. All producers supplying either Glenisk or a cheese maker are doing so by way of a 'gentleman's agreement' as such. There are no quotas either so there is no security of outlet or supply on either side.

Finally the on-farm factors are also very important to consider.  Certainly we can strive to improve general husbandry practices such as nutrition and health but improving the genetic makeup of our herd is an absolute imperative.  There are a number of farms with highly yielding, high genetic merit goats but this is an exception rather than a rule.  Most animals on Irish farms simply do not have the genetic programming to perform and yield like their British or European counterparts.  This is a factor that could be improved drastically in a short number of years with correct recording, selection and breeding.

Although I did not actually call ‘for more support for (the) goat sector’ as is suggested in the article it is certainly true that goat farmers find themselves left out on a limb in comparison to other farm enterprises.  Although governed by the exact rules that cover, for example, TB testing in dairy cows there is no specific reference to goats within the ‘Compensation Arrangements for TB and Brucellosis’.  In addition, goats are classed along with sheep for identification and movement they are not eligible for any of the sheep schemes or programmes such as the Grassland Sheep Scheme or the Sheep Handling Scheme.  It also must be said that the employment embargo and a significant cut to budgets have had a very substantial effect on Teagasc’s ability to provide advisory resources for this sector and particularly the development of discussion groups which have been so successful in other areas.

It is obviously true that goat farming will never be a major sector in Irish farming but if properly nurtured and developed it could provide a very viable alternative enterprise for Irish farmers, particularly those on small acreages. In addition, with a significant portion of the world’s population relying heavily on the goat for their primary source of milk and meat, one has to believe there is definite potential for the goat industry to contribute to Food Harvest 2020.  We here in Ireland are world leaders in the technologies that produce the highest quality beef, lamb and dairy products. If applied correctly to the goat industry there is no doubt it would develop new high value products for sale into already receptive markets.

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