Up to 10,000 jobs could be created after the EU abolishes milk quotas later this month, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney has said.
The move is set to see 300,000 more cows brought into dairy production, with a 50% increase in milk yield, the minister predicted.
“It is the most significant policy change that agriculture has seen in a lifetime. Particularly in counties that have the capacity to grow dairy industries rapidly.
“The Cork Institute of Technology was asked to do an assessment on the impact of dairy expansion in Co Cork alone by 2020 and they are predicting the creation of 4,000 extra jobs linked to that and the capital investment of €1.2bn — in one county alone.
“If you extrapolate that out to the rest of the country, over the next five to six years we will see an extra 10,000 people working in the dairy industry, either milking or directly related to the processing, transport and marketing,” Mr Coveney said.
The minister insisted the quota system had held back the Irish dairy industry, where the number of dairy farmers dropped from 65,000 in 1984, to 18,000 now.
Mr Coveney said the scene was set for substantial investment, as he noted that while farmers accounted for 6% of the working population, they received 24% of all bank loans last year.
However, he tried to play down the environmental impact of such a huge increase in livestock over the coming years and the impact it would have on greenhouse- gas emissions.
Mr Coveney said the expansion could be handled in an efficient way, which did not have a proportionate rise in methane gas remissions, as he said the Government was pushing the EU to be more flexible when assessing Ireland’s harmful energy levels in future.
Mr Coveney described the number of people killed on farms last year as “extraordinary” and “unacceptable”.
“We saw a record for fatalities on farms, 30 people lost their lives. Six percent of the working population had to deal with 60% of the fatalities in the workplace.”
Mr Coveney said a change of attitude was needed by farm workers to safety in the workplace, but insisted no new penalties were needed as solid regulations already existed and should be adhered to.
The minister also said he was determined to increase the number of young farmers, and had structured grants to ensure there was a generation shift in families.
Mr Coveney said only 6% of farmers are under 35, roughly the same amount as those over 75, and there needed to be a change so that new ideas were brought into the realm of production.
The minister insisted there was no need for an urban backlash against the huge amounts involved in the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, as non-rural dwellers benefited from this in the form of a reliable and safe system of food supply as a result of the investment.
“Cap payments represent a good deal for the taxpayer,” Mr Coveney said.
He predicted a major boost to the dairy export industry as a result of the dropping of quotas.
Britain and the North remain the biggest markets, accounting for €992m in sales, with China next after strong growth pushing its importation of Irish dairy products to €356m. Germany is the third biggest market after absorbing €221m worth of exports last year.
In total, Ireland sells €3bn worth of dairy products overseas.
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