The minister said the removal of milk quotas tomorrow presents a huge opportunity for dairy farmers and that an extra 10,000 jobs are expected to be created across rural Ireland as a result. He said the majority of these new jobs would most likely be in cow milking and herd management.
The Department of Agriculture predicts there will be 300,000 more cows on Irish farms in the next five years and since it will take one extra person to milk 100 extra cows, the minister predicted that as many as 3,000 to 4,000 jobs will be in milking alone.
Responding to O'Rourke's query as to whether milking and herd management jobs could be automated, Coveney said that herd management is a complex task that requires significant human intervention. "Cows are complex creatures in terms of grazing management, feed management and feed conversion efficiency. Managing the sustainability and auditing the sustainability of that growth requires human input and intervention."
The minister also responded to the citing of a report in the Irish Independent yesterday predicting there would be 3,000 fewer dairy farmers in Ireland post-quota by saying the number of dairy farmers in Ireland has actually decreased since the introduction of quotas in 1984. "Before milk quotas were introduced in 1983/1984 there were 65,000 dairy farmers in Ireland, we now only have 18,000, so milk quotas have not been a protection for Irish families."
Addressing concerns that Ireland would be vulnerable to changes in world markets in terms of price volatility, Coveney highlighted the shift in focus in the dairy industry to premiumisation - where quality of goods is favoured over quantity.
The minister said that rather than producing basic dairy produce, the Irish dairy industry is producing high-value butter and cheeses and infant formula, a factor which helps makes our dairy produce more valuable on the world market and therefore more able to withstand price volatility.
He added that 12% of the world's infant formula is now being produced by Ireland.
Finally, the minister reiterated the importance of the 80% of dairy farmers who wish to expand post-quota not getting into debt.
“All of our state entities say you need to expand on the back of a business plan so you don't end up working for the bank in later years,” he said.
He reassured listeners on this point by saying that although 24% of loans from banks went to farmers last year, only half of all farmers have any debts at all.