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Idaho dairy producers tour the Emerald Isle

Karma M. Fitzgerald Published on 17 October 2014

Dairy in Ireland

Sometimes the best business meetings don’t take place in a random conference room. They happen on a tour bus traveling through the Irish countryside and get better, it seems, after a pint or two of Guinness.



That was the case for 25 Idaho dairy producers who found the exchange of ideas and business solutions well worth a very long plane ride to Ireland.

John and Carrie Nutsch and Curtis and Cynthia DeVries

Glanbia Foods, an Ireland-based company with cheese and whey plants in Idaho, sponsored the trip. The week-long vacation is a reward for the company’s top-quality producers and a few lucky dairy families who won the trip at a drawing during the company’s Christmas party.

This year four company employees and their spouses joined the trip either to help administrate the tour or because they won tickets at the company’s annual meeting.

Arie Roeloffs, jerome Fitzgerald and Pat Ryan“Glanbia Foods started the Ireland trip for Idaho producers back in 1992, and to date, 319 different dairy families and company employees have experienced the beauty of the Emerald Isle,” said Russ De Kruyf, the company’s milk procurement director and resident tour guide.


Chris Major“It’s one of the perks of being a Glanbia Quality Patron. It gives our Idaho patrons a larger perspective of [the company] on a worldwide scale. It also gives them an opportunity to interact with their dairymen counterparts in Ireland, which is always fun to observe.”

While the bulk of the tour was spent sightseeing, the group did make time for business. Ireland’s dairy industry is in a state of transition right now as the milk quotas, which have been in place since 1983, will go away in 2015.

Pauline Ryan

Some industry experts expect the milk supply to increase as much as 50 percent by 2020. The Idahoans stopped by Captal Farm, owned by Pat and Pauline Ryan in Dungarvan, County, Waterford, Ireland.

The Ryans are currently milking 240 head but are in the process of expanding to take advantage of quota-free market availability. They expect to be milking 360 next year, a big operation for an island where the average herd size is 60.

Idaho dairy producers


The Ryans milk in a rotary and, as is standard in Ireland, the cows are all grass-fed. Pat Ryan showed the tour members the new pastures he was bringing into his operation.

Since Ireland law requires farmers to keep the traditional hedgerows in place, large Western-style corrals aren’t possible. That makes the Ryans’ experience quite different from practices in Idaho.

glanbia plant“I think when you look around the countryside, when they’re talking about the restrictions coming off the production quotas, it’s surprising you don’t see these big dairies where the milk is going to come from,” said Tony Visser of Big Sky Dairies in Gooding County, Idaho.

“If you add 40 percent and you still have to walk [the cows] a mile-and-a-half to get them to the barn, it’s like comparing our dairies to a chicken ranch. You just see a completely different way of doing business.” PD

Karma Fitzgerald is a freelance writer and was able to join the tour after her husband and his partners at 4-Bros Dairy in Shoshone, Idaho, won a quality award from Glanbia.

PHOTO ONE: Ireland dairies are primarily grass-based.

PHOTO TWO: John and Carrie Nutsch (background) and Curtis and Cynthia DeVries listen in as Irish dairyman Pat Ryan describes upcoming changes to his business plan. Ryan told them the country is expecting a growth spurt in dairy business when milk quotas are removed next spring.

PHOTO THREE: Arie Roeloffs (left) of Westpoint Farms in Wendell, Idaho, and Jerome Fitzgerald (right) of 4-Bros Dairy in Shoshone, Idaho, discuss the differences between Idaho and Ireland dairy business with Pat Ryan of Captal Farm (center). Ryan is in the middle of a large expansion project in preparation for the removal of the Irish milk quota system. He has rented more pasture but will have to walk the cows as much as a mile-and-a-half to get them to the barn.

PHOTO FOUR: Chris Major of 4-Bros Dairy in Shoshone, Idaho, greets an Irish dairy cow. At home, they call him the cow whisperer. He ended up helping Pauline Ryan gather the cows in the barn. He said he just couldn’t help it; there was work to be done.

PHOTO FIVE: Pauline Ryan, a dairy producer with Captal Farms in Dungarvan, County, Waterford, worked non-stop during the visit from Idaho dairy producers. Here, she starts moving cows from the pasture toward the barn. The Ryans produce milk for Glanbia, as do all of the visiting Idahoans. Photos courtesy of Karma M. Fitzgerald.

PHOTO SIX: Idaho dairy producers gather with Glanbia’s corporate leaders and employees in front of Kilkenny Castle in Kilkenny, Ireland. The company’s world headquarters is located in Kilkenny. The group picture has become a tradition on the producer tours. The Idaho dairy families were able to eat dinner with their hosts and thank them for the trip.

PHOTO SEVEN: Glanbia is building a new dairy processing plant to handle a growing milk supply after the milk quotas are removed in 2015. The plant is expected to be commissioned this December with the capacity of 2.9 million liters per day. In U.S. terms, that’s about 6.6 million pounds of milk per day. The primary product will be whole milk powder. Photos courtesy of Glanbia.