Smith discusses end of milk quotas with EU commissioner

IRISH concerns about milk quotas and additional modulation were discussed at a trilateral private meeting in Luxembourg yesterday.

Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith, European Farm Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel and EU Farm Council president Michel Barnier, France, attended the meeting.

The main Irish priorities arising in the Health Check of the Common Agricultural Policy were discussed during what Mr Smith later described as being a very productive and constructive meeting.

He said he had sought an increase in available EU funding for special sectoral measures to help farmers.

“Many countries, including Ireland, cannot fully utilise the funding allocated for the single farm payment scheme because of the complex and restrictive rules governing the scheme.

“I am therefore seeking greater national discretion in the use of these funds. If agreed, this would effectively release these unspent funds and provide additional money for necessary measures to assist farmers,” he said

Minister Smith said he had worked closely with other ministers in support of this proposal, and at the meeting pressed the commissioner to accept it.

“The commissioner responded somewhat cautiously but she agreed to consider the idea,” he said, pointing out that no final decision will be made until the next meeting of Agriculture Ministers in November.

Minister Smith said he also set out his priorities for the milk sector, stressing the need for a genuine “soft landing”, when milk quotas come to an end, accompanied by steps that would allow farmers and industry to plan for the future.

Emphasising the need for progressive quota increases, he made a specific request that additional quota allocations for Ireland be front-loaded given our capacity to progressively increase production.

In this regard Minister Smith called on the commissioner to make adjustments to the butterfat calculations to facilitate higher levels of quota in 2009.

“I was very pleased with the response I received to a butterfat adjustment and I see this as a possible avenue to increased milk production,” he said.

Minister Smith said he made clear his view that the retention of private storage aid and intervention for butter are critical market mechanisms supporting Ireland’s seasonal pattern of production.

“These tools are essential for market stability in the quota phase-out period and I made it clear they should retain their essential characteristics,” he said.

Mr Smith said he also made it very clear to the commissioner his opposition to the increase proposed in modulation.


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