Approximately 40 new farming entrants started up within Northern Ireland’s dairy sector during 2021 and this growth looks set to continue, according to Holstein UK’s John Martin.

He commented: “A significant number of these new entrants have invested in pedigree Holstein bloodlines from the get-go with many committing to robotic milking systems.

Milk continues to deliver in terms of delivering a monthly income stream. Most of the new entrants coming into dairy have switched from other farming enterprises.

“It is financially feasible to sell 100 suckler cows and replace them with 70 high-producing black and whites," Martin added.

“Robotic milking is a very attractive option for those young farmers who do not have a strong background in dairying. But this approach does not suit every dairy farming operation.”

Challenges for dairy farmers

John Martin said that a continuing lack of profitability is creating a real challenge for milk producers in Northern Ireland at the present time.

“Unavailability of labour is also a major issue for bigger herds,” he commented.

“The most sustainable milk production model in Northern Ireland at the present time is that of a 100-120-strong herd, that can be managed as a family business.”

Meanwhile pedigree Holstein heifer and young cow prices remain very buoyant.

“Freshly calved heifers with good milk potential are making in the region of £2,500 per head. But quality is key," Martin continued.

“Demand for pedigree stock is being driven by the fact that these animals are all milk recorded. In addition, their pedigree going back over many generations is fully known.

As a result, buyers can make appropriate decisions when it comes to putting these animals to the bull, without worrying about the issue of in-breeding.”

According to the Holstein breed representative, black and white genetics will have a key role to play within a milk sector that is striving to reduce its environmental footprint.

He said: “In many ways, this comes down to a numbers game. The average Holstein cow can produce significantly more milk than animals from other breeds.

And this factor really kicks in when one considers the quantity of carbon dioxide [CO2] linked to the production of 1L of milk.”

The most recent figures indicate that 1.12kg of CO2 is created per litre of milk produced by Dale Farm suppliers in Northern Ireland. The comparable figure for the UK as a whole is 1.23kg.