Trevor Alcorn  -  Sustainable Dairy Farming - Does the family farm have a future?

Thomas Henry Foundation

I am a dairy farmer’s son from Omagh in Northern Ireland.  Farming has been in my family for generations and I myself have been involved in agriculture since I can remember.  I live on the family farm, with my wife Barbara, which consists of 110 hectares of grassland stocked with a dairy herd of 200 Holstein Friesian cows plus young stock.

While completing a Higher National Diploma in Agriculture at Greenmount Agricultural College, Northern Ireland, I spent part of my work placement year  working on a 24,000 acre cattle ranch on mile 26 of the Alaska Highway in British Columbia, Canada. I also worked on a 80 cow Dairy Farm in the Netherlands, all of which gave me the inspiration to develop my knowledge of various farming systems throughout the world. I then went on to complete a degree in Agriculture at Queen’s University, Belfast.

I am currently employed by College of Agriculture Food & Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) as a Dairying Development Adviser in the North Tyrone Area. This job involves working with farmers on an individual and group basis to help them improve and develop their farm businesses.

My previous job was an Agricultural Lecturer at Enniskillen Agricultural College where I was involved with various part time and full time agricultural courses.  

In my spare time when I am not helping out on the family farm, I assist with local  farming and rural community groups, in organising various meetings with topical guest speakers. We have regular study tours to various parts of the UK and Europe to learn about alternative farming systems. I am currently president of my local Young Farmers Club – Clanabogan and previously played an active role throughout the organisation.

I am very grateful to my sponsor The Thomas Henry Foundation for giving me the opportunity to participate in a Nuffield Farming Scholarship.

  • Project Details

I have chosen this topic due to my lifelong interest and involvement in the Northern Ireland dairy industry. With the pending abolition of milk quotas in 2015 and the ongoing volatility of milk prices, the aim of this study is to draw conclusions as to what type of farm business will be viable and sustainable in the longer term. Will it be the average family farm with an 82 cow dairy herd or will it be a 1000 cow mega dairy? Will it be a moderate output grass based system or a high output intensively housed system?

I plan to look at various aspects of farm businesses including – production costs, land base owned/ rented, level of borrowings, production systems, climate/ rainfall, mindset and management skills to name but a few. I would also like to find if or when does a family farm stop being a family farm and becomes just another business.

I would like to look at the variation of herd size in the USA, visit the new mega dairies being created in China and see the traditional family farm structure throughout Europe.

I am very grateful to my sponsor The Thomas Henry Foundation for giving me the opportunity to participate in a Nuffield Farming Scholarship.