Anna Tully on the farm.

‘We’ve learned this year that dairy prices are extremely volatile’

While she may not have been reared on a farm, farming remains a big part of Anna Tully’s life.

“I work as a dairy advisor for a co-op,” explains the 22-year-old Cornafean native. “Both my parents are from dairy farms, so I always had an interest in farming and worked on my uncle’s farm in Ballymachugh.

“My interest grew in my late teens and by the time I was 16, I knew I wanted to study agricultural science. I studied sustainable agriculture at DKIT and went on to do a postgrad in dairy technology and innovation in UCC.

“I don’t work on the farm as much as I used to since I gained full-time employment but I’ll definitely take time off in the spring to help out with calving.”

In her college education, Anna learned that sustainability in agriculture has more than one meaning and covers a broad spectrum of areas.

“People think sustainability is all about the environment and climate change, but there are lots of other parts to it, such as social and financial aspects.

“We also learned about management skills on farms such as staff, labour, and monetary factors. My masters covered a broad spectrum of topics such as dairy science, and dairy business. It gave a real in-depth view into exports, markets, international relations, milk quality which looked at raw milk quality, post pasteurisation and contamination, very important for my role.”

Her job covers a wide geographical area which allows her to look at how different systems operate on both sides of the border.

“I’m a milk supply manager working across the northeast in Cavan, Meath, Monaghan, north Louth, as well as Tyrone and Fermanagh overseeing certification and milk quality issues. It’s nice to work in the north, as I live so close to it, to see what’s going on there. In the North things are very different, with a lot of liquid milk and indoor systems compared to down where south it’s primarily spring milk, creamery system with a lot of farmers opting out of winter milk.”

When asked whether winter milk has a future here Anna is unsure given the ever-changing nature of Irish farming.

“If you had asked me that question in 2015 I would have had a more definite answer. But there are so many changes happening at the minute. It’s hard to say. Winter milk is very hard for farmers especially this year with high inputs and lower prices, but other years could be different. One thing we’ve learned this year is that dairy prices are extremely volatile.”

She also says that changeability has become part and parcel of dairy farming in the 21st century, both in terms of systems and external factors.

“Genetics have changed a lot in Ireland. There has been a big shift from the tall, white American Holstein genetics to a jersey cross, which gives significantly less litres but have good fats and proteins which are important as we change from a liquid milk country to a mainly spring calving system.

“Dairy industry prices have been bad recently but we’re a very resilient industry and we go through a lot of changes. In 2015 quotas were removed, there have been several droughts since 2018, and in 2020 we became chlorine-free.”

While Anna observes that dairy prices has become more volatile, she remains optimistic for the future.

“It’s almost comparable to the pig industry. Last year prices were close to 60c now they’re near 30c. Current prices would have been a great price to get five years ago, but not anymore because inputs cost so much. It’s difficult for farmers, especially with such high energy, feeds, fuel, and fertiliser prices but there has been a lift in the markets, so hopefully prices will pick up.”

Anna hasn’t ruled out running a farm in the future.

“I would like to consider part-time farming such as sucklers or sheep.

“At the moment I haven’t got the time or money to get into dairy farming but there are lots of partnerships available. It can be a tricky game especially if you’re not working with family.”