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Collaborative farming options have potential to improve the structure of Irish dairy farming

Three collaborative farming arrangements have the potential to redress the deficit in Irish farm structures. Partnerships, share farming and contract heifer rearing can make a difference in terms of the age profile, average farm size and level of farmer skills in the Irish dairy industry. These were the main messages to emerge from the Teagasc ICOS Dairy Expansion Seminar held in the Killeshin Hotel on Wednesday 15th July. The common element within each of these three collaborative farming options is the importance of the relationship between the partners and the requirement for both partners to work on that relationship.

Tom Curran, Collaborative Farming Specialist Teagasc highlighted the key role that family farm partnerships can play in facilitating the succession process. He said: “Forming a family farm partnership can be an important interim step before considering full transfer of the farm. A family farm partnership has the advantages of providing increased responsibility for the successor while providing a degree of added security for the parents.” A registered partnership with another farmer (or farmers) “Can facilitate expansion without impacting negatively on lifestyle through the achievement of a fair and even distribution of workload between the partners.”

John Downey, Milk Policy Unit Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine highlighted that his Department are fully behind collaborative farming and that they have recently demonstrated this commitment through the launch of the Collaborative Farm Grant Scheme earlier this week. He said “This new financial incentive will initially support farm partnerships but can be extended in the future to support share farming and contract heifer rearing arrangements.”

In a farm partnership two separate farm businesses come together to operate as a single business while in a share farm agreement two completely separate farm businesses (the farm owner and the share farmer) operate on the one farm.

“Dairy share farming can provide entry into dairy farming for young trained individuals who wish to pursue, and are committed to, a career in dairy farming” according to Laurence Shalloo, Farm Systems Researcher Teagasc. He continued: “It can also provide a viable option for dairy farmers who wish to step back a bit from the day to day physical work on the farm but want to retain a strong interest in the management of the enterprise. Share farming is a very obvious vehicle for addressing land access issues and encouraging young people who might otherwise be constrained by land availability to bring their energy, enthusiasm and vitality to the dairy sector."

George Ramsbottom, Dairy Specialist Teagasc outlined the advantages of contract heifer rearing. “Our experience dealing with farmers involved in contract heifer rearing indicates that there are advantages for both the owner and the rearer. Contract rearing allows the owner to become more specialised in dairying while allowing the rearer to earn more money.” He advised farmers considering contract heifer rearing that the two most significant challenges are in the areas of communication and animal disease. “Teagasc recommends that both parties agree a contract to cover the rearing period and follow best practice guidelines in terms of the management of both regulatory and non-regulatory animal diseases.”

Finally, Seamus O’Donohoe, CEO ICOS, commented that “we all have a lot to learn about these three collaborative arrangements”. He also emphasised the importance of “structure, process and relationships – choosing the right collaborative structure for your situation, investing in the process and the importance of the relationship between the partners. By focussing on structure, process and relationships, we can foster an increase in collaborative behaviours.”

Further details on collaborative farming options, including specimen contracts/ templates for share farming, farm partnerships and contract heifer rearing are available on the Teagasc website www.teagasc.ie/collaborativearrangements