Kilteely’s Robert O’Dea wins ‘Dairy Farmer of the Year’ competition

Robert O'Dea is presented with the prestigious 'Dairy Farmer of the Year' award by John Comer of ICMSA at the recent Zurich Insurance - Farming Independent Presentation Dinner in Dublin

Robert O’Dea is presented with the prestigious ‘Dairy Farmer of the Year’ award by John Comer of ICMSA at the recent Zurich Insurance – Farming Independent Presentation Dinner in Dublin

Limerick’s reputation as home to some of the most technically skilled and progressive milk suppliers in the state has been confirmed by the triumph of Kilteely’s Robert O’Dea in the prestigious Zurich Insurance – Farming Independent ‘Dairy Farmer of the Year’ category. Presenting the award to Robert, the President of ICMSA, John Comer, said that his skill and commitment could not be doubted and that the award was a signal honour for Robert and his family as well as for Limerick ICMSA of which he  is a member. Mr O’Dea farms 75 hectares at Ballyphilip, Kilteely on which he keeps 75 cows, with his wife, Anne, and their  four children,  Maura, Denis, Seán and Stephen. He has reached a level of farming excellence that has attracted the admiration of numerous bodies and publications. He is a member of the Kilteely/Dromkeen dairy discussion group and his triumph in the Zurich – Farming Independent Competition is popular with several knowledgeable local observers citing him as a technically superb farmer who is happy to share his expertise with all.

The news about Mr O’Dea’s winning was a rare bit of good news for local dairy farmers as anger and frustration continued to grow in the face of the continued slump in milk price. Matters and humours were not helped by remarks made last week in the EU Parliament by Commissioner Hogan when he said that “dairy farmers must take their responsibility for the continuing increase in production”. Speaking after a series of meetings with local TDs, the Chairperson of Limerick ICMSA President, Tom Blackburn, said that the Commissioner is completely wrong in attempting to make farmers responsible for the dairy farmer income wipe-out when the blame for the current crisis lay squarely with the EU Commission, individual national governments and processors. Mr Blackburn said that the reality is that individual farmers are being forced to produce more and more in an effort to simply try and stand still, and unless their processor decides to implement a voluntary supply reduction scheme, the farmer simply has no other option. The processors simply wanted to get more milk for their processing plants and the position of farmer-suppliers was absolutely secondary to that consideration, he said.  

Turning to the question of “responsibility” for the collapse in milk price, the Effin farmer noted that we have repeatedly been promised action to correct the power of the multiple retailers. Mr Blackburn noted that since the start of 2014 farm-gate milk prices are down by over 40 percent while the prices paid by consumers for dairy products have fallen by approximately 2%.  The farmers’ margin has been decimated and has been gobbled up by the stronger links further along the supply chain. The Limerick ICMSA spokesman said that this is a key problem and has been repeatedly identified as such. Responsibility lies with the EU Commission to address it and nobody else has the power to do so. As the farmers’ margins have been obliterated, more and more have had to chase on volume what they’ve lost on margin and that increased production, in turn, had enabled the retail corporations to cut prices to suppliers again and so the whole spiral continues downwards with dairy farmers facing income wipe-out right across the EU.  According to Mr Blackburn, it was actually difficult to imagine a more cut-and-dried case of official neglect and victim-blaming than the behaviour of the Commission in relation to the relentless dismemberment of what’s left of the EU’s family farm system.