A milk quota or dairy produce quota[1] was a historical measure used by the United Kingdom government to intervene in agriculture. Originally introduced to reflect the agricultural policies of the European Economic Community, the quota's purpose was to bring rising milk production under control. Milk quotas were attached to land holdings and represented a cap on the amount of milk that a farmer could sell every year without paying a levy. Milk quotas were assets and could be bought and sold or acquired or lost by other means and so there was a market for them.

Milk quotas were withdrawn on 31 March 2015.[2]


Milk quotas were first introduced in the United Kingdom on 2 April 1984 under the Dairy Produce Quotas Regulations 1984,[1] which reflected the then European Economic Community (now the European Union's) Common Agricultural Policy.[Notes 1] Originally, they were to run until 1989, but they were extended several times, and were not renewed for the period following 31 March 2015.[5][3][4]

Each member of the European Economic Community was allowed to produce dairy products up to a cap, which was based on each state's 1981 production, plus 1%.[6] The cap was designated the "reference quantity". A levy to the EEC was due on production in excess of the reference quantity. This levy was then to be recovered from the farmers or dairies involved. Until 2002, recovery of the levy was down to the Intervention Board for Agricultural Produce. It was then recovered by the Rural Payments Agency on behalf of the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).[7]

The Dairy Produce Quotas Regulations 1994,[8] which came into effect from 1 April 1994, substantially revised the old structure. Until 31 March 1994, the MAFF ("Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food", a British government department that has since been replaced by DEFRA) was responsible for milk quotas, together with the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales and the Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland.[9] On the MAFF's behalf, Milk Marketing Boards kept a register of quotas that detailed which farmers or dairies held what quotas. The Milk Marketing Boards were dissolved on 31 October 1994 (in England, Wales and Scotland) and 28 February 1995 (in Northern Ireland).

The final regulations governing milk quotas were the Dairy Produce Quotas Regulations 2005,[10] the Dairy Produce Quotas (Scotland) Regulations 2005[11] and the Dairy Produce (Quotas) (Wales) Regulations 2005,[12] as amended.


There were five kinds of milk quota:[13]

Acquisition and transfer

The EEC did not originally mean for milk quotas to attract a value. Contrary to their intent, milk quotas became a valuable asset, although prices fell towards the end of their life. Milk quotas could be purchased outright or leased.[3][14]

Although the quotas were normally attached to land, and transferred with it provided the transfer is not a tenancy of less than ten months, they could be traded separately.[Notes 2] The legality of such a transfer was questioned by the Courts, particularly in Carson v Cornwall County Council [1993] 1 EGLR 21, [1993] 03 EG 119, but since 1994 was accepted, at least in a limited way, in for example Harris v Barclays Bank Plc [1997] 2 EGLR 15, [1997] 45 EG 145, CA.[15]

Milk quotas could also be transferred without payment if the tenant of a holding under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 ceased to use that land for dairy farming purposes for five years and transferred that quota to other land that he held for dairy farming purposes if there was no quota protection clause in the tenancy. In the absence of such a clause, a tenant under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 or the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995 also seemed, in principle, to be free to sell the quota attaching to the land he rented on the open market. That has been called quota "massage" or even quota "theft", but Williams (2011) called the latter term "inelegant and inappropriate" since it was apparently lawful.[16]

Disputes about milk quota were generally referred to arbitration.

See also


  1. ^ The relevant enactment is Council Regulation (EEC) 804/68, as amended. The current rules are now in Council Regulation (EEC) 3950/92.[3][4]
  2. ^ This applied in England after the enactment of the Dairy Produce (Quotas) Regulations 1994, SI 1194/672, reg 13.[15]



  1. ^ a b "The Dairy Produce Quotas Regulations 1984". www.legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 2 January 2019.
  2. ^ Whittaker, Geoff: RIP MQ, Farm Law issue #217 (March 2015) pp. 6-7. ISSN 0964-8488
  3. ^ a b c Williams 2011, p. 243.
  4. ^ a b Milk quotas, HMRC, retrieved 2 June 2011.]
  5. ^ Daugbjerg, Carsten and Alan Swinbank. 'Explaining the 'Health Check' of the Common Agricultural Policy: Budgetary Politics, Globalisation and Paradigm Change Revisited' in Policy Studies, 32:2, pp. 127-141. p. 133.
  6. ^ Bateman, Curtis and Macadam 2006, p. 162.
  7. ^ Williams 2011, p. 244.
  8. ^ "The Dairy Produce Quotas Regulations 1994". www.legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 2 January 2019.
  9. ^ See regulation 1(1) of the 1994 Regulations and the meaning of "Minister".
  10. ^ "The Dairy Produce Quotas Regulations 2005". www.legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 2 January 2019.
  11. ^ "The Dairy Produce Quotas (Scotland) Regulations 2005". www.legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 2 January 2019.
  12. ^ "The Dairy Produce Quotas (Wales) Regulations 2005". www.legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 2 January 2019.
  13. ^ Williams 2011, p. 244-245
  14. ^ Prag 2003, p. 119.
  15. ^ a b Williams 2011, p. 262.
  16. ^ Williams 2011, p. 262-263.