Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue may be of the view that his new Food Vision Dairy Group (FVDG) can be used to reintroduce milk quotas through the back door.

If so, then he should think again. Irish dairy farmers lived under the yoke of quotas for 30 years; I sense they will not tolerate one more day of them as they look to the future.

No doubt the words ‘milk quotas’ will not feature within any of the dispatches emanating from Prof. Gerry Boyle’s new group.

But as the old saying goes – if something looks like a duck and quacks like a duck… then it probably is a duck.

Milk quotas and emissions

I note that Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA) president Pat McCormack has already said that the new group must not be used to link emissions from the dairy sector with future food output levels.

And he’s absolutely right. In my opinion, it is fundamentally unfair to link future restrictions in milk output to the ‘Holy Grail’ of reducing Ireland’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emission levels.

For one thing, once production limits are introduced, it will be nigh on impossible to get them reversed.

And, secondly, science will, almost certainly, deliver new strategies and technologies that will allow dairy and other livestock farmers to reduce their emission levels without having to cut animal numbers.

I am also deeply concerned that agriculture continues to be the fall guy in the government’s plans to reduce GHG emissions with little or no reference made to the key role played by farming in producing food.

Grass-based system

Here in this country we can produce milk, beef and lamb in the most natural and efficient manner possible.

Grazed grass is our ace in the pack; it is our ‘secret weapon’, which we really should be telling the rest of the world a lot more about.

Ireland has a unique advantage in being able to produce these high quality foods in such a consumer-friendly way. So why should we throw this advantage away?

And that’s exactly what will happen if Ireland’s dairy industry agrees to trade emission levels against future milk output.

Decisions on how Ireland best fights the challenge of climate change should be based on the science relating to the subject only. This was the approach taken by government throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. And it worked.

The good news within all of this is that the new dairy group will be chaired by former Teagasc director Prof. Gerry Boyle. He is a man of science.

I remain confident that he will act to ensure that government does not put the cart before the horse, where future dairy policy is concerned.

Any attempt to introduce future cuts in Irish milk production on the pretence of a climate change argument must be resisted.