Opinion

Transition ‘supports’ don’t help ambitious dairy farmers

The notion that the EU should introduce ‘support measures’ to help farmers cope with the end of milk quotas is nonsense. Support measures would just be another version of quotas.

Since the introduction of quotas, in 1984, Irish farmers have been secure in a bubble of a guaranteed milk cheque in the door every month, with processors selling into a limited, yet secure market which, when all else failed, had the cushion of intervention.

Quotas were originally only to run until the late 1980s, but time and time again the situation was extended. And, while this was happening, every progressive dairy farmer in this country has lived with a stranglehold on their ambition and drive.

Finally, back in 2008 – yes 2008 – this ending was mooted and it was confirmed in 2013 that milk quotas would go. And here we are, just four months off a watershed moment in Irish agriculture and people want to stay in the shackles that have restrained them for decades.

Irish and European dairy farmers have been building up herds, while others have been moving into dairying. Why? Because it’s a profitable farming enterprise. All one has to do is look at the Teagasc farm income figures for the past number of years – dairy farming is a profitable farming enterprise.

No one is arguing that the next year, and possibly longer, won’t be difficult for dairy farmers. Price volatility will be the single biggest issue for dairy farmers and those who are newest to the industry will feel it the most. They have the least experience, the least established herds, more than likely the most overheads and will have the least opportunities to make mistakes and learn from them.

Volatility will be most difficult for many new entrants to absorb and many dairy farmers may not be able to survive. But that’s the price the industry will have to pay. Supports measures have no role in bolstering those not farming sustainably and support measures would have to entail limiting supply. Those who can absorb fluctuations and volatility will be the ones who survive and it’s those who are concentrating on margins and efficiencies inside their own gate, not just profit, who will manage this.

And, it’s these dairy farmers we want to drive the industry forward. With years of choking the industry has concentrated on margins, efficiencies and high standards. Now is the opportunity for the best dairy farms to come into their own and take the next step towards a continued profitable future, where despite the peaks and troughs the good should outweigh the bad over time.

And any suggestions of ‘supports’ are just another form of restricting supply for the sake of buffering prices. Further choking our most ambitious farmers with any ‘supports’ is insulting to their ability and drive and should not be entertained.

Elsewhere, Richard Halloran outlines why he believes such support measures should be introduced.

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