EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan has said that he is considering reliefs for dairy farmers who will face heavy penalties for over-production when milk quotas end next month. 

European farmers will face a super levy for milk this year once the quota system finishes at the end of March.

Speaking in the Dáil yesterday, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said that at the end of January Irish producers were set to be 5.47% over quota, which would mean a super levy fine of about €88m.

The minister had previously asked Mr Hogan to alter the repayment terms of farmers so as to allow payments to be spread out over the course of two years.

Speaking in Washington, Mr Hogan said that the commission was trying to get farmers to "take matters into their own hands" by ending the quota system.

He said the rules had been in place since 2008 and reaffirmed in 2013, and that all farmers knew that if they over-produced they would face a penalty.

He said there would be no change to the rules at this time but that he would be discussing over the next few weeks what could be done "in order to assist farmers in paying that particular levy over a particular time".

He said he was looking at all possibilities at the moment but that he would not be making an announcement on it at this stage.

Dairy farmers across Europe have described the industry as being in crisis due to falling milk prices in recent months and with the quota system due to end.

The commissioner said that he would not "be intervening to increase the reference price for intervention" because that would actually drive down the price of milk for farmers and he wouldn't do that. 

He said he would also warn farmers not to "be coming up with proposals that will actually reduce prices".  

He said access to greater market opportunities would raise prices for milk and that was something he was working on.

Six other EU countries apply to export beef to US

Speaking to RTÉ News, Mr Hogan also said that six other European countries had applied to export beef to the US.

On a trip to the US to promote the arrival of Irish beef for the first time in 16 years, Mr Coveney had repeatedly stated that Irish beef would be the only European beef in the US for most if not all of 2015.

But his former cabinet colleague has today said that the UK, France, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and Lithuania had all made submissions to US authorities to also be granted access to the market.

Mr Hogan said he understood that decisions on the six countries could still be "a good few months away", and he felt Ireland had what he described as a "big advantage" in 2015.

Mr Hogan is in Washington DC to address the US Department of Agriculture Outlook Forum and to host meetings with the Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Both men are central to negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership which has just concluded its eighth round of talks.

Mr Hogan said he felt talks were progressing at a better pace since a fresh approach was agreed upon by the US and the EU in December.

He said the commission was mindful that there was US presidential election in 2016 and that they hoped to have a deal done by March that year.

However he said he felt that there was a number of non-trade barrier obstacles in place at the moment that could be resolved by the US Agriculture Secretary and himself, outside of the TTIP agreement.

He said he would emphasising that to the Agriculture Secretary and would be suggesting that they work together to remove the barriers which had been in place since the BSE crisis and which to his mind were now "out of date and unacceptable".