22 May 1998




Clogher, Co Tyrone


William Wilson

(R A Noble & Co)

RESULTS from sales are dispelling the myth that there is no money left in the dairy industry, says William Wilson.

Four Northern Ireland auctions in which he was recently involved, for example, saw averages over the £1000-mark.

It highlights the strong demand for the best cow families, says Mr Wilson, as buyers compete fiercely for the top end of the market. As well as pedigree, buyers want good type and index figures.

But such buyers have exacting requirements: "Yielding 10,000kg/ year is no longer necessarily enough – people want cows that will do 12,000kg. At that level, they have to have good protein figures, probably giving 3.4% or above," he adds.

Attracting the highest bids was the Ards herd, which saw a new Northern Ireland record price of 12,500gns paid for the home-bred heifer, Ards Juror P Ruth.

Bought by a consortium, which included two overseas buyers, she will be stabled with the Joylan herd in England. "Where," says Mr Wilson, "she will no doubt make a big impact on the show circuit." The Ards offering saw an average of £1590 for 90 head.

Other averages for McCollum Bros, Colraine and S W Hutchinson & Son were about the £1100-mark.

And not far behind, at £1027, was the average seen for the draft of 50 heifers and young cows from the Newry-based Finch herd. Central to the high prices were the "beautiful udders and oceans of milk" exhibited by the stock, says Mr Wilson. Many were doing between 7gal and 8gal/day and had been sired by well-respected sires including Juniper Park and Donnandale Skychief.

Lower milk prices have, however, impacted on the dairy trade at the lower end of the pedigree world and in the commercial sector. "Stock that, two years ago, would have £800 or £900 is now making half that.

"Nobody wants older animals, those at the second-calving stage or older. And heifers that have poor sires or bad udders or are giving just, say, 4gal/day can be difficult to sell."

Together with the drop in quota values, this adds up to a lot of money for people quitting the industry this year, says Mr Wilson. "For one farmer who quit this spring, we calculated the cows and quota netted about £100,000 less than they would have done a couple of years ago."

The prospects for dairystock values are a little brighter following the recent weakening of sterling – augering well, as it does, for milk values.

And milk prices in Northern Ireland are unlikely, reckons Mr Wilson, to fall to the lows seen on the mainland, not least because the big Southern Ireland co-operatives are now making inroads north of the border, increasing competition for milk and putting a bottom in the market.

It has, meanwhile, been a busy couple of months for dairy dispersals. "Summer calving has never been favoured – so people prefer to sell stock fresh in the spring or autumn, when it is at peak production."

These were among the 16 tractors sold at Home Farm, Elveden, Suffolk last week for the Elveden Estate. Top price was £17,850 paid for a 1994 John Deere 7700. Bidding was lively, reflecting the standard of maintenance, said auctioneers Cheffins Grain & Comins.

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