Minister's warning over dairy 'excitement'

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney has expressed concern that the beef sector could become a by-product of the dairy sector as farmers got "carried away" in all the excitement about expansion in dairy.

He was addressing a full attendance at the Agricultural Science Association's (ASA) annual conference in Maynooth last week.

"I am very protective of the suckler herd that we've got here and you will see me trying to support schemes that promote this," Mr Coveney said.

One of the initiatives that the minister is planning is a replication of the highly successful dairy discussion group programme, where dairy farmers are paid €1,000 a year for attending a minimum number of discussion group events.

"I want to replicate this in the beef sector," he added.

"The only problem is that we've 80,000 beef farmers compared to just 17,000 dairy farmers, which has obvious budgetary implications.

"That's why I'm going to be looking to the beef industry for support. I'll be making no apologies for leaning on big food businesses because they are doing very well at the moment."

In a wide-ranging address, the minister also indicated that his Department was about to roll out initiatives to encourage more farm families come together to form partnerships, companies and mini- cooperatives.

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"We need to assist farmers in achieving economies of scale, while keeping family farm structures in place," he said.

"I want to see farmers move beyond just sharing machinery to the point where they are sharing energy, slurry and any input that they are using at farm level."

Mr Coveney added that he intends to get pilot projects up and running to show farmers how these initiatives would work.


He reiterated his warning about the likelihood of any leeway being secured on milk quota at EU level.

"The Dutch and the Danes were fined last year for going over quota even though Europe was under quota overall," he said.

"I am very wary of opening up a broad debate on milk quota in Europe when there are so many countries which would use this discussion to push out the ending of milk quota well beyond 2015.

"This whole issue is made even more difficult by the fact that two of the most powerful countries, France and Germany, are so opposed to any debate on the quota issue."

Mr Coveney also made reference to the possibility of restarting a sugar processing industry here.

"We produce most of the world's Tic Tacs here and this company was telling me recently how difficult it is to secure supply at any cost.

"The pharma sector has similar concerns. I think that we should axe the sugar quota for the same reason that we are ending dairy quotas.

"The figures [for re-starting the industry] are very persuasive in the studies that I've seen. The real question is whether we can guarantee farmers a minimum price of €40/t for this to be a viable proposition.

"And there appears to be a growing number of people who argue that the answer is yes."

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