Written Answers. - Agenda 2000.

Martin Ferris

Question:

137 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food his views on the prediction made by a former Department Secretary General (details supplied) that changes to the CAP and the WTO negotiations will mean that the number of dairy farmers will decline by 50% over the next ten years; and if so, his views on whether this would be a welcome development. [10878/03]

The views expressed are those of the individual concerned and are difficult to assess at this stage of the negotiations on the CAP and the WTO. Negotiations on both the mid-term review of Agenda 2000, and on the new WTO round, are at an early stage and it would be premature to predict the outcome. I have indicated my position regarding these negotiations and have vigorously represented the views of Irish industry in all of the discussions which have taken place thus far. My objective now and as these negotiations progress will be to achieve the best possible outcome for Irish agriculture, including the dairy sector.

It has been widely accepted within the dairy industry that consolidation is a necessary pre requisite for stability and growth, and the increased average size of Irish dairy holdings in recent times is evidence of that. In this regard, I will continue to encourage committed active producers to grow and develop their enterprises to an optimal level so that they will be better placed to meet the challenges of an increasingly competitive environment. There has been a tendency over the years, both in Ireland and in other developed countries, for the number of milk producers to decline while the average size of individual holdings increases. That trend will no doubt continue in the years ahead although it is difficult to predict the pace of that change.