Approximately 50 farm businesses converted to milk production in NI during 2023, down 20% from the 62 new entrants into dairying last year.

With the average new dairy business running 70 to 100 cows, it would indicate there is somewhere between 35m to 40m litres of new milk being processed across NI this year.

Dale Farm accounts for around 40% of all new entrants, followed by Lakeland Dairies, then Lepino Foods and Tirlán.

But rather than increase the overall milk pool, this new milk supply is merely offsetting some of the milk lost when other farmers retire or reduce their farming activities.

The latest June 2023 census results showed that there are 3,150 dairy farms in NI, down by 35 when compared to the previous year.

With overall milk production across the island of Ireland stalling due to various environmental pressures, there is a renewed appetite among processors to get new entrants on board – farmers thinking of making the switch are not short of offers.

Early uptake

The vast majority of new start-ups in 2023 occurred during the first half of the year, many of which had initially planned to commence milking last autumn.

However, delays in completing infrastructure such as housing, slurry storage and milk equipment pushed several farms into early 2023, before the first cows could be milked.

Since then, processors have seen a marked decline in the number of farmers expressing an interest in converting to milk production, particularly over the final quarter of this year.


Multiple factors have led to a cooling of interest, not least the collapse in milk prices during 2023.

Other factors include the crippling rise in interest rates, making financing conversion projects much more expensive this year.

Obtaining planning permission is also proving to be a major barrier for potential new entrants.

Steady trend

While this year’s new entrant total is lower than 2022 levels, it is similar to the number from 2021 and higher than the 40 new entrants recorded in 2020.

In 2018 and 2019, around 50 farms converted to dairy in each of those years. Overall, it means more than 300 farms have converted to milk production over the past six years.

The vast majority of new start-ups have come from the suckler and beef sectors, with farmers looking to secure a more reliable source of income.