'End of milk quotas means we can allow our farmers to dream, plan and grow'
'The past is a foreign country - they do things differently there." Thus the top official in the Department of Agriculture, secretary general Aidan O'Driscoll, heralded the start of life after milk quotas at a celebratory breakfast in Agriculture House on Kildare Street.
A lavish spread featuring the finest of Irish dairy products provided the backdrop for the Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney, who claimed that the quota-free era represented the biggest policy shift for rural Ireland in a generation.
"We had 80,000 farmers at the start of the milk quota era. Now there's only 18,000, with many leaving because of the lack of opportunity in the system," he told dairy industry representatives.
"Now we can use Ireland's natural competitive advantage to allow farmers to dream, plan and grow, and that will create a new breed of dairy farmer."
However, the minister also acknowledged that there were growing concerns among environmentalists about the impact of a 50pc increase in milk production on water quality and greenhouse gas emissions.
"The new opportunities must be grasped in an ambitious, but responsible way. Ireland needs to become the benchmark internationally for producing dairy in sympathy with the environment. We will take it seriously and that's why the new dairy forum will also have NGO input," he said.
The president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, John Comer, said that the ending of the era of milk quotas represents an opportunity for the Irish agri-food industry to take a massive step forward.
"The Irish agri-sector is entitled to feel confident about the post-quota era based on our grass system and internationally recognised standards of excellence," said Mr Comer.