Dairy farmers should not pin their hopes on any "unrealistic" hope that the European Commission will increase national milk quotas ahead of the 2015 abolition date, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney has warned.
"There will be no magic solution for farmers who exceed their quota allowance," he told the 350 farmers gathered at the ICMSA annual general meeting in Limerick on Friday. "My advice to farmers is very strongly to remain within quota.
"There are powerful forces at work in Europe who do not want the quota regime to end. Countries like Poland, France, Spain and Portugal are very, very nervous about the ending of quotas and would like to see quota abolition delayed until 2020," Minister Coveney revealed. "I have my work cut out for me to make sure things happen as they are planned between now and 2015, so there will be no dramatic solution for farmers who go over quota in Ireland."
"Farmers need to be realistic and manage their milk supplies between now and 2015," he warned. "I know that's not what you want to hear, but it's what you need to hear."
Minister Coveney was responding to a call from ICMSA president John Comer to lobby strongly for changes to the butterfat reference that would reduce Ireland's looming superlevy bill.
"We were promised a softer landing and, given that quota are going anyway, we believe the quota rules should be relaxed between now and 2015," he told the Minister.
Ireland is currently running 0.9pc over quota and farmers face a 28.4c/l penalty on every extra litre of milk produced over their individual limits.
Meanwhile, Bord Bia chief executive Aidan Cotter told farmers at the ICMSA AGM that Department of Agriculture audits were no longer enough to attract international customers for dairy and the Bord Bia quality assurance (QA) scheme was essential to attract customers.
"Unless we show we are meeting higher sustainability and quality criteria than our competitors, customers will readily turn to the likes of Fonterra, Arla, Friesland Campina instead of Irish companies," he warned.
However, he added that the dairy QA scheme would not impose any extra obligations on participating farmers.
"We are not asking you to do anything extra because you are already doing a lot and Ireland already has natural green credentials," he told farmers.
The Bord Bia chief executive told farmers that even if they failed a QA inspection, they would not cease to be certified milk suppliers.
"Even if there are critical non-compliance issues, milk will continue to be delivered," he said. "Farmers will be given a period of one to two months to address issues highlighted on QA audits."