The reality is that normality is different for everyone

Coming from this corner, the above words could conceivably have all manner of connotations. However, a perhaps debilitating reluctance to be overly expansive regarding some of the more angst inducing pitfalls of life’s journey generally sees them sheepishly shelved in favour of matters more mundane.

When consigned to the darkened cupboard though, they have a sickening tendency to gnaw away at defensive walls like a mouse drilling for access to a dwelling. Resulting in a situation whereby the invasive activity isn’t noticeable until sizable incisions have been incurred and remedial action is forlornly succumbed to.

Thus, monotonous has its helpful, maybe necessary, utilisations. It’s all context. What constitutes mundane tedium for some is the essence of entertainment or, in some cases close to home, therapeutic release for others. Normality is indeed different for everyone. To that end, though many may never understand the extent to which farming is adored by yours truly, the value thereof is incalculable.

Even with farming, the principle of indefinable normality abides. Certainly now more so than at any time during my life. To the extent that what was normal up to the night before this column was mentally visualised is now no more. I refer, of course, to the milk quota. The abolition of which has been one of the buzz topics in agriculture for what feels a protracted period.

In fact, it would have to be admitted that it was only recently realised that the process of abolishing quotas had commenced a decade and a half ago. So what does it all mean? Well, for new entrants, as with all change, it brings both opportunity and challenge. For established operators – once the super levy from being over quota is dealt with – the opportunity to expand presents itself.

However, nothing is without risk. Given that it’s felt by some in the sector that 40c/l is required to deliver a margin, prices standing 10c/l below that the week before quota ended starkly underlined the volatility at hand. Of course, the removal of restrictions facilitates the opportunity to milk more cows.

It’s difficult to discern, mind you, whether expansion is all that attractive. Surely, more milk coming on stream will only depress prices still further. Who wants to see a return to the days when milk was being, literally, spilt down the drains? And let’s not forget the butter mountains. The other, perhaps more pertinent point is, with the inevitable price volatility allied to seemingly ever increasing input costs, is the gamble which expansion amounts to, worth it?

Though it may not seem obvious, to some at least, all agricultural sectors are in some way intertwined and thus interdependent. Whether that be in terms of pig and poultry farmers feeding their stock grain or, maybe more pointedly in this case, beef operators – whether finishers or those selling stock on as stores – depending on a vibrant suckler sector to ensure a viable supply of weanlings being continually available to be bought in. The latter being of the utmost importance close to home. And, frankly, the starkness of the post quota era has been manifestly obvious as, in the early part of the year at least, weanling prices have or for a period in any case had, gone off the scale.

Put it this way, you wonder what room for a margin exists when buyers are forking out up to €980 for a 260kg LM X bull – as was detailed to me last week. That may well have been a peak, as prices have shown signs of contracting a bit. However, not only does that surely squeeze a lot of buyers out of the picture, but – when associated costs are factored in – you wonder where there’s any room for a profit.

Farming is, though, in many ways, a business of contradictions. Perhaps most obviously in terms of the weather. Where the desire for land to dry out in order to get cattle out of sheds is palpable, at the same time, the rain was welcome to wash spread dung in! Of particular relevance presently, meanwhile, is a scenario which sees weanling prices ascend while at the same time calf prices ease back. No harm in the last bit either, for some.

The wheels keep turning. The waft of dung from the sheds will soon cede in obviousness to the proliferation of summer’s grass and the mischievous explorations of inmates of the housing – some for the first time in their lives. Change is the central theme running through everything at this time of year. It’s all down to circumstance of course. For some, the more things change, the more they stay the same.


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