While Ireland has been deemed to have too many cows, war-ravaged Ukraine needs more to survive. By Chris McCullough.

It may be World Cup time but there really is a game of two halves when investigating dairy cow numbers in the Republic of Ireland and Ukraine.

While more suckler beef farmers in Ireland continue to switch to dairying and boost dairy cow numbers, dairy farms in Ukraine are crying out for stock to replenish those killed by Russian soldiers.

Latest figures from the Republic of Ireland state there are 1.63 million dairy cows in the country with the top three dominating counties being Cork with almost 400,000 cows, Tipperary with 189,000 and Limerick with 123,500.

According to calf birth figures in Ireland just over 800,000 suckler-bred (beef) calves were born this year to date, which is more than 24,000 less than the previous year.

This reinforces the switch to dairy as there were 1.58 million calves born to the dairy sector, an increase of almost 27,000 calves over the previous year.

Overall, the total number of calves born in the republic has stayed steady at about 2.4 million head but the composition is changing.

Ten years ago suckler (beef) calves accounted for more than half the calves born in the country while today that figure has dropped to about one third.

Even though the Republic of Ireland livestock sectors are under pressure to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, in line with other countries in the European Union, overall cattle numbers are staying strong.

However, Irish farmers are religiously following the controversial steps the Dutch government is taking to potentially issue compulsory purchase orders on up to 3000 farms starting next year.

This action is causing huge unrest, even civil unrest, among Dutch dairy farmers as they fight to survive drastic measures to put them out of business.

Ukraine farmers need stock

While all livestock sectors in Ukraine, Europe’s largest country (apart from Russia), are suffering major losses due to the ongoing Russian war, the dairy sector there will need extra help once hostilities end.

It is estimated Ukraine will lose 30% of its total livestock numbers by the time the war is over, but the Ukrainians have adopted a steadfast determination to rebuild.

Looking specifically at the dairy industry, the most recent figures say about 70,000 dairy animals have been killed in Ukraine since the war started in February.

Milk production for the first eight months of the war reduced by 15% to 5.1 million tonnes. However, despite significant losses of dairy cattle, it fell by only 7% to 1.7 million tonnes over eight months compared to the same date last year. Losses in private households are much higher, estimated at more than 18.6%. A number of agri associations from Ukraine have issued a ‘Marshall Plan’ outlining the actions required to get the industry back on track. These associations include the Ukrainian Agri Council, Association of Milk Producers, Association of Ukrainian Pig Breeders, and the SAVEUA charity fund.

Andriy Dykun, chairman of the Ukrainian Agri Council (UAC) and founder of the SAVEUA Charitable Foundation, explained the current dire situation.

“Today, farmers who have animal husbandry are more or less surviving in Ukraine. The war proved to everyone how important it is to produce products with added value. Animal husbandry provides an opportunity, large agrarian companies have already begun to think about it,” he said.

“I predict that the recovery of Ukrainian animal husbandry after the war will be extremely rapid. But we need European and American processing technologies, as well as an understanding of who our partners will be.

“Ukraine is intensifying the export of dairy products, but there is not a single factory that can process more than a thousand tonnes of milk. This is the future, and we have good dairy farms. I believe that Ukrainian dairy farms are the most efficient in Europe today, but they lack effective processing,” he added.

Given the current losses and prospects of the agricultural sector, investments for recovery will need to reach tens of billions of dollars.

Hanna Lavreniuk, general director of the Association of Milk Producers (AMP), said, it will all be needed.

“The total losses of the agricultural sector amount to almost $40b, of which direct losses are $6.6b. It is $2.8b for agricultural machinery, more than $1.5b for production facilities, more than $1.5b for livestock complexes. Gardens and long-term plantings have lost almost $4.4b.

“This is the situation in which we live now. In addition, the agricultural sector has more than $35b of indirect losses. This is lost profit as farmers did not harvest and did not sow a new crop. Also they lost revenues from the sale of products,” she said.

The UAC and the AMP have proposed their vision within the ‘Marshall Plan’ for the restoration of the dairy industry of Ukraine, which consists of three stages.

AMP vice president Lyubomyr Dykun said the first stage is to be implemented during the active phase of the war, which requires urgent support of Ukrainian producers.

“In particular, this includes charitable material support to enterprises from the occupied territories that have lost livestock as a result of hostilities, for the purchase of breeding animals and material assistance for the repair of damaged facilities and destroyed equipment.

“It is extremely important to provide agricultural enterprises with generators for uninterrupted operation, veterinary medicines, vaccines, premixes, feed additives, and hygiene products for animals, etc,” he said.

The second phase includes technical support projects such as reconstruction of farms, demining of agricultural land, purchase of breeding livestock and provision of services to agricultural enterprises.

And the third phase will directly shape the dairy industry of Ukraine directing investments to the development of processing, cooperatives and the construction of research and educational agricultural institutions.

“We already have a new strategy for future investments. Together with international partners, we need to create and develop cooperative milk processing plants, cooperative slaughterhouses, build genetic centres, educational and research facilities, create irrigation equipment factories.

“And it is equally important to educate specialists and encourage young people to work in the agricultural sector. To do this, it is necessary to create and build the Ukrainian Agrarian University,” he said.