January is a good time to interview Irish dairy farmers: the majority calve in spring so they’re in the middle of a relative lull when milking has stopped before the cows calve. (There are also lingering tins of Christmas biscuits for sit down interviews.) The weather was mercifully mild and I carried out 20 interviews with farmers who very kindly gave up their time for the ‘Cows eat grass, don’t they?’ project in Louth, Meath, Kildare, Cork, Limerick and Kerry.
The following is a "poem" about the future of dairy farm size and ownership structure in the UK and Ireland. It's comprised of direct quotes from interviews with key stakeholders and document analysis in both countries. You can read more details about the data collection at the end. The country of the interviewee is given after each quote. It's intended to show the range of different views people expressed about farm size and farm structure.
Expansion has gone phenomenally well. (Ireland)
It’s not often you see a vegan lunch option at a farming conference on a dairy farm. But that was part of the ‘broad church’ approach at the Ethical Farming Conference: a farming conference about agricultural sustainability organised by four farms in Scotland, taking place on the Ethical Dairy in Dumfries and Galloway.
A sincere thank you to everyone who took part in the farmer survey. One of the most satisfying parts of being a social science researcher is people engaging with the questions you’re posing and taking the time to respond. Without that engagement we’d just be sitting in a room wondering what farmers think about year round housed systems or why they chose the system they did.
A man in California is suing Ornua: the organisation that markets and sells Irish dairy products abroad over claims that Kerrygold butter is “grass-fed”. The man is claiming false advertising because Irish cows do not subsist on grass alone but their diet is supplemented by grain and meal which may include genetically modified (GM) ingredients.
An argument with a neuro-marketing consultant in a cafe about food production, Jonathan Swift's thoughts on the need to produce more food and the future of the Irish dairy sector.
The ‘Cows eat grass, don’t they?’ project took to the stage at the Edinburgh Fringe for a second year as part of the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas, a public engagement initiative to connect academic research with the public. This provides an excellent opportunity to engage with people who wouldn’t normally be involved in research about the dairy industry.
This week I learned that spraying cold water into a new born calf’s ear will shock it into life if it’s not breathing but has a heartbeat. Apparently inside of the ear is quite close to the brain, so this jolts the calf alive when other techniques won’t work. It must be a huge relief for the farm worker, to prevent a calf with a heartbeat fading away.
Farming is both an art and a science. Dairy farming in the UK is poised between being a traditional backbone of the rural economy and a high-tech industry. We need to understand what farmers and other stakeholders value within this sector in order to understand how they make decisions. The idea of the ‘good farmer’ is a useful concept within rural sociology for understanding farmer decision making (1,2). Farmers make decisions that are in line with the ideal of being a good farmer, in their own eyes and that of their peers.