Like most PSU students, I’m sad that spring break has already come and gone. I had an amazing time in Ireland with the Penn State Dairy Science Club. I really enjoyed learning about Ireland’s dairy industry, and the touristy stops – like castles and cathedrals – were way cool, too. I figured I’d share a bit about what I learned during my time in the Emerald Isle.

About 50% of the herds in Ireland have adopted New Zealand’s grazing system. At the current time, the majority of Ireland’s dairy cattle are Fresian, but because of reproductive issues, many Irish farmers have begun looking at crossbreeding with Jerseys and Swedish Reds. The average herd size is about 55 head, but experts expect to see these numbers increase when quota regulations are eliminated in 2015.

Although Irish dairy farmers don’t face opposition from anti-agricultural groups like we do here in the U.S., they have plenty of other similar challenges to ours. The Irish economy is in trouble, too, and input costs are increasing. Irish farmers only receive 23 cents per liter and the cost of production is 24 cents per liter. Irish dairy farmers are beginning to retire, and the next generation does not have a whole lot of interest in returning to the farm.

Despite these issues, Irish farmers remain hopeful and focus on the positive aspects of the dairy industry. Because of the grazing systems, dairy farmers can promote a very green and natural product. Farmers export about 80% of the milk produced, mostly in the form of butter. This makes Ireland a very globalized country.

In addition the Ireland trip with the Dairy Science Club, I have been able to travel to New Zealand, Colorado and California. I love discovering how dairying compares and contrasts in various parts of the world. I always try to keep an open mind when touring other operations and hope fellow travelers do the same!

Feel free to share your traveling and learning experiences – both within your own country and abroad. What things did you learn? Were you able to take back your knowledge and apply it to your own operation?

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Comment by Godofredo Alba on March 24, 2009 at 5:09pm
I've visited several dairy farms in USA; in Ohio, Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin during a tour sponsered by Alta Genetics; we saw how those dairy farms were producing efficiently milk, they had averages per cow between 80 to 90 pounds daily per cow. I found not big differences from there to us, in our farm in México, we have same forages and feed stuffs. So, once I got back, I started to apply some of the things I saw. We are currently producing 91 pounds daily per cow in mlk!. So; yes, I was able to apply the new knowledge on our own operation! (of course, we can't talk about the milk market, although that's other story)
Comment by Ryan Curtis on March 16, 2009 at 1:54pm
I have seen dairies and talked with dairymen in a few states and can say there is a lot of variety in the way dairies are run. One thing that is very similar, even on the big dairies, is the reason they do it. Most, if not all, say they dairy because they like the lifestyle, having their family close.
I wonder if the U.S. is not also facing an increase in the number of retiring farmers and fewer kids returning to the farm. The dairy programs like the one explained above help broaden the experience of prospective dairy farmers and make sure those that do return to the farm are well equipped to handle the challenges ahead.

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