Dairy-filled breakfast marks end of milk quota regime

Biggest policy change for rural Ireland in a lifetime, Minister for Agriculture says

Leaders of the dairy industry gathered at the Department of Agriculture for a dairy-filled breakfast to mark the end of the milk quota regime with Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney.

Cashel Blue Cheese, Tipperary Emmental and Imokilly Regato were among the cheeses on offer alongside Glenilen yogurts and Cooleeney Camembert filled-quiche.

The EU regime ended at midnight on March 31st, leaving farmers free to produce as much milk as they wish for the first time in 31 years.

Mr Coveney said he was anxious not to let the day pass without marking it at Agriculture House.


“This is a big deal. I’ve described this as probably the biggest policy change for rural Ireland that we’ve seen in a lifetime, certainly the lifetime of younger people anyway.”

Noting that it was April 1st, he said he briefly toyed with the idea of telling everyone it was a prank and milk quotas would be around for another ten years. “There are no pranks here. This is deadly serious and it’s a deadly serious responsibilty in terms of the expansion we are planning but also a deadly serious opportunity for rural Ireland, for family farms and for a whole new generation who simply haven’t been allowed to grow to their potential for more than three decades.”

Mr Coveney said €2 billion had been invested in Irish farms since 2007 and Teagasc had estimated that the removal of quotas could create 15,000 new jobs over the next five years.

He pointed to dairy investments of €200 million in Cork alone and said “that is the kind of future for rural Ireland that we need to be talking about,” he said. “Employment, investment, expansion, growth, and we will see that in other counties too.”

He said it was “a really positive story” but there were challenges such as managing price volatility.

“We need to answer and manage all the questions around sustainability and climate change and biodiversity and the protection of clean water,” he said.

“But ultimately let’s not forget the prize here. This is about offering rural Ireland, through farming and farm families...an extraordinary opportunity to grow and expand on the back of world markets that are hungry for the premium products that we produce.”

Mr Coveney predicted that milk volumes could increase by up to 20 per cent this year, and would have increased by 50 per cent by 2020. Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture Tom Hayes said he was milking cows in Co Tipperary when quotas were introduced in 1984. He was one of 80,000 farmers milking cows at that time. "Now there's only 18,000," he said. People left the sector because they could not earn a living with the straitjacket of milk quotas. "There is now an opportunity for them to get back into a very, very worthwhile industry," he said.

Alison Healy

Alison Healy

Alison Healy is a contributor to The Irish Times