Around 20,000 farmers have attended a demonstration in Dublin over their concerns about future EU and government funding for the agricultural sector.

Many streets around Leinster House and Government Buildings were closed as the farmers marched through the city to Kildare Street.

The "day of action" by the Irish Farmers' Association is its biggest demonstration in the capital for several years.

The main concern of farmers is the reform of the EU Common Agricultural Policy over the next few months.

IFA President John Bryan said the huge turnout sends a clear message to Europe and the Government that farming matters in Ireland.

The IFA is insisting that there should be no cuts to the €1.6bn Ireland gets every year.

It is also opposed to proposals to redistribute the individual annual payments to farmers, arguing that the most productive farmers in Ireland could lose out.

The association said the Government must not cut the €300m it spends on farm schemes in December’s Budget.

Most dairy co-ops and meat processors are supporting the protest by not accepting farm produce, but this is unlikely to have any effect on consumers.

Mr Bryan warned that a bad deal in the CAP negotiations will cost Ireland thousands of jobs by undermining the viability of the country's most productive farmers.

Mr Bryan said farmers want to send a clear message to the Government that they must fight in Brussels to secure a deal that supports productive farmers and the rural economy.

He told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland the IFA also opposes the flattening and regionalisation of the Single Farm Payment as proposed by the commission.

He added it would lead to a drop in production.

Mr Bryan also said that it would be more difficult for Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney to "wear the green jersey" next year when he chairs the EU Agriculture Council of Ministers.

He said he must put pressure on the Commission between now and the end of the year on these issues.

Speaking this morning, Minister Coveney said he understands farmers' need to protest today to keep him under pressure.

He said he will meet farmers today, but could not give them any guarantee when it came to the Budget because he was being asked to make cuts and savings like every other department.

However, he added that he believed the agri-food sector was the most important sector in the Irish economy.

Mr Coveney said he would work as hard as he could in Government to secure the best deal for the agriculture sector, whether that was through the strategic use of the tax system or by minimising the reduction in expenditure.

Commission wants to freeze CAP budget

The European Commission Spokesman for Agriculture and Rural Development Roger Waite said it wants to freeze the CAP budget at 2013 levels until 2020.

The Commission is also looking for a better and fairer means of distribution.

Speaking on RTÉ's Six One, Mr Waite said it is no longer possible to justify payments on the basis of farm production levels ten years ago.

Mr Waite said that under the current system the people who do the best are those who were the most productive between 2000 and 2002.

But he said that using this historic reference period prevents those who want to enter farming or those who may have improved productivity in that time.

Mr Waite also said that different member states are unhappy with the proposed reforms to farm payments for different reasons.

He said that countries like Ireland, the Netherlands and Belgium were unhappy because the countries may receive less as a result of the reforms, while in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia there are concerns that while their farmers will gain, they will still receive less than the EU average.

"We're having protests in 27 different Member States basically," Mr Waite said.

"That's why the Commission has to retain this overall position, looking to retain certain principles, and one of those principles is we move away from historic reference periods."

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil's Éamon Ó Cuív has called on the Government to "put the boot in" to ensure that EU agriculture funding is maintained.

Mr Ó Cuív said it was "absolutely imperative" that the €1.6bn paid yearly under the CAP is maintained, saying Ireland should not accept a cent less.

There seems to be growing doubt in Europe about the level of funding, he added.

He was speaking in advance of a Dáil debate tonight and tomorrow on agriculture.