Farmers must limit production of milk or face a fine
Irish dairy farmers face an over-production fine of some €50m - and the EU rules cannot be bent to avoid it.
That was the stark warning from EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan during a visit to Dublin yesterday. Mr Hogan said the rules on limiting over-production had been in place since 2008 and everybody was aware of the large levels of milk being produced.
The commissioner said he accepted that the good weather throughout 2014 had boosted milk volumes - but he warned that farmers must rein in production in the final six weeks of the milk-production year, which ends on March 31 - a date which also sees the formal abolition of EU milk quotas.
The Agriculture Commissioner noted that farmers had reduced milk production by some 15pc in the past two months when compared with the same period last year. But he strongly warned all farmers that there was no scope to mitigate penalties or do anything other than apply the EU rules in full.
"There is going to be no change in the rules and farmers will pay a 'super-levy' unless they reduce production between now and the end of March," the Commissioner told the Irish Independent.
Mr Hogan said he had "heard all sorts of figures being bandied about" on what Ireland's penalty would be, with one suggestion of €100m. "My own understanding is that it would be about half of that," he said.
One respected trade estimate has put the likely tariff at €60m in Ireland's case. Ultimately, this clawback would be shared out among the individual farmers, reducing individual incomes.
Mr Hogan has also pledged to mount a strong defence of EU farmers' interests as EU-US trade deal talks - the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) - gain momentum. "There will be no 'chlorinated chicken' and no hormone beef given access to EU markets. I'll be centre-stage as EU Agriculture Commissioner ensuring good food safety standards are maintained in TTIP talks," he said.
Mr Hogan also signalled that 2015 farm accident statistics will influence the next move to make farms safer. He said cutting farm payments to promote safety could not be ruled out and it may prove inevitable.