Optimism that EU approval for a soft landing on milk quota limits for 2014-2015 has faded to a glimmer after members attending the EU Council of Ministers meeting last week were openly divided on changes to the butterfat co-efficient.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said any changes to the butterfat co-efficient would be very minor, warning that an EU Commission trade off in lieu of relief could have serious long-term implications for Irish farmers.
He told the ACA annual conference in Carrigaline outside Cork city on Friday that the Commission is not in favour of relief unless it is part of a deal to introduce new market management tools post quota abolition.
"We don't want to agree to a deal that makes sense in the short term, but results in some type of supply control market management tool post quota abolition," Minister Coveney said.
"Of the 27 ministers who spoke at the council meeting, 12 of them asked for the Commission to review the butterfat co-efficient system as a way of giving a little bit of flexibility for the next 12 months – the final year – which would give us about 2pc extra to adjust butterfat levels."
He described as "scary from an Irish perspective" the Commission view that it is reasonable that the farmers of the countries that are producing a lot more milk post quota would be the ones to be asked to shoulder more of the burden if there was a price collapse because of the increased volume produced.
"We have spent hundreds of millions of euro preparing for the abolition of milk quota through farms and co-ops, and the idea that supply controls could be reintroduced if there was a price difficulty in the future cannot be accepted," Minister Coveney insisted.
Ireland East MEP, Mairead McGuinness, said it was a "crazy situation" that dairy farmers were being penalised by the EU for producing a product which the market.
"It is clear that there is a need to build political support to address this issue in both the European parliament and the council of farm ministers," she said.