Committee on Finance. - Vote 27—Agriculture (Resumed).

Thursday, 26 April 1956

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 156 No. 8

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Debate resumed on the following motion:—

That the Estimate be referred back for reconsideration.—Deputy Walsh.

Mr. Rooney: Information on Eamonn Rooney  Zoom on Eamonn Rooney  I was pointing out last night the valuable contribution which farmers' organisations can make towards increasing the volume of production so urgently required from the land at the present time. We must remember that the only immediate prospect of improving our balance of payments position is to increase agricultural exports by at least £50,000,000 as soon as possible. Now that can be done. It can be done because there is a huge acreage of potentially fertile [972] land waiting to produce food. The experience of our farmers in the past has been that, if they produce a surplus of any crop, they cannot find a market for it, and they are, therefore, obliged to put that produce on sale for home consumption at sacrifice prices. I emphasise home consumption because I realise that, if we expect the farmers to produce more live stock and more surplus crops, we must be in a position to export that surplus, since our population here has a limit, so far as consumption is concerned. Indeed, we can all too easily produce too much food for our own people.

Our objective, therefore, must be to find a market outside for our surplus produce and we must find a market which will pay our farmers a reasonably profitable price. Now the difficulty, so far as farming is concerned, is that production costs are so high the surplus produce from our land cannot be sold outside the country. We can produce here too much of most types of food and, when we try to sell the surplus outside, we find ourselves competing in a world market. Owing to our system of production, a system which is out-dated, our production costs are so high that we are unable to sell our surplus produce economically on the world market.

For that reason, I believe that the various farmers' organisations, such as Muintir na Tíre, the National Farmers' Association and the Young Farmers' Clubs, have a very valuable contribution to make towards improving our agricultural economy. Looking back over the past, it is obvious that we must look to these organisations now to guide the farmers whom they represent, by voluntary effort and co-operation, in relation to both production costs and modern methods of production. In addition to that, we shall have to devise better marketing schemes throughout the country for our surplus of both crops and live stock.

At the moment, the only surplus which can be easily marketed is beef and we have a ready market for all the beef we can produce. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about other surpluses which we are also capable of [973] producing. From that point of view, I think the farmers organisations should get down to the business of costing the various items of food for the guidance of farmers, so that they, in turn, can bring down their costs of production, thereby enabling us to compete in the world market. Nobody can deny that we have three acres of land for every unit of our population and, from that point of view, we are capable of producing a huge surplus. If we succeed in producing that surplus at the right price, we can certainly get it sold on the world market. We cannot ask the farmers to produce at surpluses and then sell their produce at sacrifice prices, so we must set about cutting down costs for the various products which can be produced quickly in the immediate future so that we can export to improve our balance of payments position. Were it not for our agricultural exports at the present time, this country would be in a very bad position.

When we examine the figures, we see that in 1947, £40,000,000 worth of livestock products were exported as compared with £120,000,000 worth to-day. Even with that huge increase in the monetary value of our exports, it is not sufficient to put our balance of payments in proper order. Therefore, we must immediately set about adopting some kind of policy which will enable a huge increase to take place in our agricultural exports. We need not look to industry to improve our balance of payments to any considerable extent within a short time but most people familiar with agricultural conditions will agree that there is a reasonable prospect of a sure market for the products of the land if the farmers could increase production dramatically. They are nervous of doing so having regard to past experience when they succeeded in producing surpluses of various crops. That is why I consider that the farmers' organisations have a very important part to play now.

If we cannot get into markets outside this country with our food, we need not consider ourselves an agricultural country with an agricultural economy. For that reason, I feel that [974] by adopting modern methods of production and better systems of marketing we shall get that export trade which is needed very urgently now by the country.

When we are considering these things we should also consider the farms from which those exports should come. We must expect the export trade to come from the small farmers of this country; two-thirds of the total number of farms are occupied by small farmers. We must ask ourselves what type of surplus can be produced on a small farm. If we take a 20-acre farm, we need not hope that such a farm will be capable of producing a large number of either cattle or sheep. We must look to those small farms to increase dramatically the production of pigs and poultry. The small farmer's wife in the past contributed a very large share to the national wealth by her efforts on those small farms, by feeding calves, pigs and poultry. It is to that side of our economy that the small farmers can make the greatest contribution. When we decide that the small farmers of the country can give us a surplus of pigs and poultry, we must immediately get down to the problem of costings for those two items in order that they will have a certain market and a certain profit on those two items.

We have seen in the past that production costs in the poultry industry have been very inconsistent. Poultry farmers made good profits in one particular year or in one part of a particular year and then they suffered a loss in the latter part of the year or in the year following. They were going out of poultry and then going into poultry, usually at the wrong time, instead of keeping consistent stock. When we consider that there are people engaging in poultry production who have not the facilities which are available to the small farmers, we realise that if the small farmers could be assured of a steady and stable market for their poultry produce they could engage in a consistent way in that sphere of production.

The position as far as pig production is concerned is not so difficult. There has been a reasonably steady market [975] for pigs during the last few years. There again, if we ask our small farmers to increase dramatically the number of pigs produced and the amount of bacon supplied to our factories, which will, in the long run, be exported, we must be able to give them guidance in the matter of costings in order that they will have a certainty of profit and a sure market.

I was very interested in the particulars given by the Minister in his Estimate. He devoted a considerable amount of time to the problem of pig production when he was introducing his Estimate and showed clearly the value that pig production can be to this country. He showed also that pig production is not a matter of chance any longer. Costings have been cut down to a very fine position in the matter of pig production.

We are now able to calculate to the last pound the amount of food and proteins fed to the pigs and the weight that will result from such feeding. That is very useful for any man who desires to go into pig production. I am going to ask the Minister to start a campaign for pig production amongst the small farmers and to ask them to follow the various feeding systems and rations which are now made available to them by experts in pig production. If they can get a profit from it, we shall be able to increase our exports in that sphere. We can increase our pig population more rapidly than any other form of live stock. The number of pigs can be increased more rapidly than either poultry, cattle or sheep. I think that, if the Minister appeals to the small farmers to increase their pig production and adopt this form of feeding, he will get good results.

Most farms in this country are understocked but I feel we ought to concentrate, for the present anyway, on starting activities on the small farms which will result in profit to the families living on those farms. We have seen that since the war the volume of production has increased mainly on the larger farms and the explanation of that is that modern machinery and mechanisation has enabled a greater amount to be done in a given time. The machinery is suitable for [976] those larger farms, but when we consider that by far the greater number of our farmers here are small farmers, we must direct our attention to them first, because I believe that the larger farmers will follow, if there is a sound economy created on the smaller farms.

On that point, I should like to know from the Minister whether there is a limit to the amount of credit which can be made available through the Agricultural Credit Corporation for the purchase of sows which would enable small farmers to go into pig production right away. I know there are formalities to be complied with, and possibly a farmer desiring to go into pig production may have to wait a short time in order that a sow can be made available to him. I believe many small farmers would be prepared to avail of that very useful scheme through the Pigs Marketing Board, if they were assured of a ready market for all the pigs produced on their farms.

When I speak about production on these small farms, I feel that farmers there should concentrate on producing their own food for those pigs. It will hardly be economic for them, if they have to purchase certain classes of food from the neighbouring farmers in order to feed these pigs, because neighbouring farmers will expect, naturally, to make a profit on those crops and it will only be the surplus that will be put on the market for those small farmers.

Most of our farms are understocked, and I was glad to hear from the Minister that he is going to start a vigorous campaign asking farmers to devise whatever means may be possible to increase the number of cattle. It is obvious that even if we had twice the number of cattle we have at present, we have a ready sale—only across the water—for all the cattle we can produce. It takes some years for that population to be brought up, but the sooner the farmers start to increase the number of live stock on their land, including cattle and sheep, the better for the country. We have to depend on the farmers because our industries are earning by their exports only a small proportion of our national income at the present time. In the face of world competition, we cannot expect [977] our infant industries to go into the traditional markets to sell the goods produced here in our own factories but, indeed, some of our manufacturers are going into the foreign markets successfully.

Looking back over the past few years we see that the real change in agricultural policy took place when the present Minister took responsibility. It began with the 1948 Trade Agreement with Great Britain which took the place of the 1938 Trade Agreement Agreement. The 1938 Trade Agreement between Great Britain and this country was too long in force and resulted in the farmers here selling their cattle at depressed prices during the war when there was a really strong demand for them in a free market.

Mr. Walsh: Information on Thomas Walsh  Zoom on Thomas Walsh  There was no free market during the war. The Ministry of Food was buying from 1941 onwards. Do not confuse matters.

Mr. Rooney: Information on Eamonn Rooney  Zoom on Eamonn Rooney  Yes; they were buying under the 1938 Agreement.

Mr. Walsh: Information on Thomas Walsh  Zoom on Thomas Walsh  The prices were fixed by the Ministry of Food. It was not a free market.

Mr. Rooney: Information on Eamonn Rooney  Zoom on Eamonn Rooney  In any case, the point I am making is this: until we got the 1948 Trade Agreement we were selling cattle very cheaply to Great Britain, and, when the 1948 Trade Agreement was completed, there was a very sudden increase in the price of cattle. That is the argument I am making. If we had a trade agreement between this country and Great Britain sooner than 1948, it is probable that our balance of trade would have been much better. On this issue, when we hear the Fianna Fáil people talking about the balance of trade, let us remember that when our total volume of agricultural exports amounted to £40,000,000, in 1947, the adverse trade balance was £30,000,000. That was three-quarters of our total volume of agricultural exports for that year. If we took our agricultural exports at £120,000,000 now and brought our adverse trade balance up to £90,000,000, it would be far more serious than it is now.

[978]Mr. Walsh: Information on Thomas Walsh  Zoom on Thomas Walsh  So it is not serious now?

Mr. Rooney: Information on Eamonn Rooney  Zoom on Eamonn Rooney  It would be more serious.

Mr. Walsh: Information on Thomas Walsh  Zoom on Thomas Walsh  That is good news from Deputy Rooney.

Mr. Rooney: Information on Eamonn Rooney  Zoom on Eamonn Rooney  I am only pointing out that it is foolish for Fianna Fáil to talk about the balance of trade between this country and Great Britain at present, while they forget their own situation in 1947.

In addition to the large amount of fertile land we have in this country, we must remember that the Dillon scheme, as it is known, has increased the number of fertile acres of land here by 1,000,000.

Mr. Walsh: Information on Thomas Walsh  Zoom on Thomas Walsh  Where are they to be found?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Patrick Hogan  Zoom on Patrick Hogan  Order!

Mr. Rooney: Information on Eamonn Rooney  Zoom on Eamonn Rooney  The figures show that almost 1,000,000 acres of land have now been rehabilitated under the Dillon scheme.

Mr. Walsh: Information on Thomas Walsh  Zoom on Thomas Walsh  Under the B scheme, not even 100,000 acres have been reclaimed yet.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Patrick Hogan  Zoom on Patrick Hogan  The Deputy should be allowed to speak.

Mr. Rooney: Information on Eamonn Rooney  Zoom on Eamonn Rooney  We have 1,000,000 acres producing which were not producing before but, unfortunately, this land is producing for home consumption, and we will have to bring about a change in the scheme. The people who are producing on that rehabilitated land can concentrate on producing live stock and crops, which can be exported, so that we will then get the real return that was anticipated from the land that has been drained.

I know that there are many farmers who are not fully aware of the many useful grants which are available to them and, in that respect, I believe their growing organisations such as the Young Farmers, Muintir na Tíre and the National Farmers Association, could be a great help, if they pointed out to them the advantages of these grants and the results obtainable from them in the matter of improving [979] farm conditions. Very frequently, farmers only discover they could have got a grant for carrying out certain farm building work, say, or some other amenity, when the job has been completed. I feel it would be better if the farmers knew these grants were available because it might encourage them to do the work sooner rather than wait until they could afford to do the work themselves.

The greatest change which has taken place in this country since the present Minister for Agriculture took office in 1948 has been in the grain market. Before 1948, farmers were being forced to grow wheat at 55/- a barrel whether they liked it or not. That was the highest price they ever got until the present Minister took office. The price of wheat from that year on was stepped up according to the price of wheat obtaining on the world market.

Mr. Walsh: Information on Thomas Walsh  Zoom on Thomas Walsh  By what amount?

Mr. Rooney: Information on Eamonn Rooney  Zoom on Eamonn Rooney  It went up by £1 a barrel during the time the present Minister for Agriculture was in office, from 1948 to 1951.

Mr. Walsh: Information on Thomas Walsh  Zoom on Thomas Walsh  £1 a barrel?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Patrick Hogan  Zoom on Patrick Hogan  Deputy Rooney is entitled to speak without interruption. If it is desired to challenge what he says, that can be done by some other Deputy afterwards.

Mr. Rooney: Information on Eamonn Rooney  Zoom on Eamonn Rooney  I wanted to say that the farmers were being compelled to grow wheat at 55/- a barrel prior to 1948. At that time, they were getting an average of, I think, four barrels per acre. That shows they were getting a very small return per acre for wheat at that time. No attempt was previously made to give the farmers any guidance which would enable them to increase the amount of wheat that could be produced per acre on their land so as to give them a better return per acre. In 1948, the ground limestone scheme was started. The liming of the land meant that farmers got a greater quantity of wheat from a smaller acreage of land. In addition, they got the extra prices which were given at [980] that time by the present Minister for Agriculture.

Similarly, we have had a situation where the farmers were forced to sell malting barley at 35/- a barrel. When malting barley was sold at that price, the balance of our requirements was being imported at £4 4s. a barrel. When that system of forcing farmers to sell malting barley at 35/- a barrel was abolished by the present Minister, the price immediately went up to over £4 a barrel and the farmers got the advantage of the very sudden rise in barley prices during those years. The prices of grains, particularly on the world market, have since fallen.

The fall in the grain prices on the world market has certainly had its effect even in this country because, when the grain prices are related to the cost of animal feeding, it certainly makes things difficult for us in the world market. I hope that, during the coming year, efforts will be made to convince the farmers that animal feeding produced on their own land is just as good, and perhaps better, than animal feeding produced outside this country. When, in years past, animal feeding could be obtained cheaply by this country there was an argument in favour of it but, in view of the change in currencies in other countries and the monetary cost of these feeding stuffs now, it is no longer economic to use those imported feeding staffs compared with the relatively high prices of our own feeding stuffs. For that reason, I feel we could use our own feeding stuffs although, on present costs, the finished article resulting from the use of our own feeding stuffs may be rather high in price and difficult to get into the foreign market.

The credit facilities available to farmers at the moment are not sufficient. It is too difficult at the moment for farmers to obtain the necessary credit to enable them to engage actively in agriculture and particularly to enable them to increase their stocks as quickly as possible, whether it be a greater crop of grain or extra pigs, poultry or cattle.

I wonder if it would be possible for the Minister to improve the system of credit facilities for farmers. Most [981] farmers need only short-term credit. The Agricultural Credit Corporation— as it functions at present, anyway— is found to be rather cumbersome by many farmers who desire a certain amount of capital to increase the stock on the farm. I do not know what alternative there is but certainly the majority of farmers are not able to avail of the advantages which could be obtained from the credit facilities given at the moment by the Agricultural Credit Corporation. There is in the Department a scheme whereby farmers are enabled to purchase machinery over a long term which would, in the long run, pay for itself and enable the farmers to produce crops more economically.

There is a lot of land in this country which is fit only for sheep feeding and sheep farming. There, again, a lot of that land is derelict. If we could arrange in some way to increase our sheep flocks it would be a great help. Examining the figures, we can see that, since the war, the number of sheep has increased considerably. They cannot be increased as rapidly as our pig population but I feel that if the farmers were encouraged to engage in sheep farming, especially on what might be described as marginal land, we could get the increase which we desire.

We must depend on the agricultural organisations in the matter of scientific education for farmers. The Department of Agriculture has a job of work to do at present. I feel that the only extra activity in which the Department of Agriculture could engage, with advantage to the farmers, would be the gathering of costings even if they are not reliable and not accurate, so far as this country is concerned.

It would be a great help if the Department of Agriculture could gather from other countries, where there is scientific and modern agricultural production, statistics which might be useful for the guidance of any organisation which would be prepared to undertake the preparation of costings. I feel that most farmers do know what it costs them to produce a particular article on the farm. I think [982] that is a very great disadvantage. In particular, when the question of marketing arises, they do not know accurately whether they are making a profit or not, or whether they are wasting their time by pursuing the methods under which these various items of produce are produced on the farm.

If the Department of Agriculture went to the trouble of getting these costings from countries well known for efficient agricultural production, it would be a great advantage to our farmers. Certainly there would be the terms of reference there and there would be the main items which are to be included in any calculation of costings. Having got those things, the other aspects peculiar to our own climate and country could be taken into consideration in order to arrive at a reasonable accurate figure.

I do not see, so far as agriculture is concerned, that we can arrive at any exact figure for costings, because there are so many aspects to be taken into consideration, climate not being the least of them. For that reason, I feel that the Department could be of great help to the farmers, if they would get that information. The voluntary farmers' organisations could do their part by carrying out various local experiments and schemes for the guidance of farmers. I feel that in these days our farmers must be given the advantage of all the scientific advice that can be made available. For that reason, I ask whether it would be possible for the Department of Agriculture, the farmers' organisations or the committees of agriculture to make lectures available in every national school in this country.

The national school is a centre at which people can gather. In these days the farmer should have the advantage of scientific advice and also the results of experiments. The national school would be the most suitable place at which those lectures could be given. In certain areas farmers have the advantage of certain lecturers or, perhaps, pictures which can be made available through the various committees of agriculture. I think that in other countries farmers [983] are encouraged to come to various centres for the purpose of doing specified courses. They might be anything— they might be courses on the production of pigs or courses regarding poultry production, or anything else. I feel that the local national school would be the best centre in which that scientific advice could be made available to our farmers. In these days, with transport so very much improved, the farmers would not find it so difficult to attend those lectures as they might have found it in the past.

Finally, on the question of milk costings, I feel that there has been too much misguided agitation regarding the matter. The commission, as we know, was set up by the previous Minister for Agriculture. It was set up as an independent body between the farmers and the Government. On previous occasions, when the price of milk was to be adjusted, it was a matter for direct negotiation between the Government and the creamery milk suppliers, but in 1952 the previous Minister for Agriculture decided that no longer would the Government negotiate the price with the creamery milk suppliers; that, instead, they would pass the work to this milk costings commission.

It was expected that the milk costings commission could give a report which would be satisfactory both to the farmers and the Government. There is a feeling, however, that the milk costings commission were not given a free hand in this matter of calculating costs; that they were told by the previous Government what costs were to be taken into consideration and what aspects were not to be considered, when these costs were being calculated. For that reason, there is a feeling amongst the milk producers that the report of the costings commission is not going to be to their advantage, having regard to all aspects of milk costings.

However, the present Minister for Agriculture took over a position where the milk costings commission were already functioning. They were already getting the data which was to be put together in order that the cost of milk production could be arrived at. There is a very big difference between the [984] cost of milk production in the creamery areas and the cost of producing loose milk for sale and the conditions under which it is produced. All those aspects have to be taken into consideration when the approximate final cost is to be arrived at. It is doubtful whether in the long run the report of the costings commission will be satisfactory to the farmers or to the Government, but in any case they have been asked to do a job, even if they have not been given a free hand to do it.

They have been given a free hand to some extent, but they have not been given an opportunity of taking every aspect of costings into consideration, so that a final figure can be arrived at. The milk producers are certainly becoming impatient and now there is a feeling that, perhaps, the various farmers' organisations could do their part in trying to prepare milk costings which could be put side by side with the costings being prepared by the commission.

In any case, I think there is a feeling on the part of the Government that it is time for a result to come, whether it be good or bad for the farmers. Certainly, it will give the farmers an opportunity then of examining whether every aspect of costings that should be taken into consideration was considered. It will give them an opportunity of making their own case regarding the cost of milk production. In previous times there were direct negotiations between the milk producers and the Government. That was hardly satisfactory either, because before the war, I think, the creamery milk suppliers were forced to take something around 6½d. a gallon for milk and it was certainly an uneconomic price even at that time.

Finally, may I say that we witnessed the present Minister for Agriculture giving great leadership to the farmers from 1948 to 1951? He championed their cause and he was very successful during those years, particularly because he changed the policy in regard to agriculture. That policy has since been pursued and we have other problems to face now because we are in a world where we are settling down to peace conditions and more difficult competition in world markets.

[985] The population of the world is increasing, I believe, at the rate of 20,000,000 persons per year. Modern agricultural science has enabled various countries to increase the amount of food made available for that extra number of people but I feel that this fertile land we have should enable us to do our part in producing food for those extra 20,000,000 people in the world. I doubt if there is any other country with only one person, man, woman or child, for every three acres there are. For that reason, I believe if the benefits of agricultural science were brought to our farmers and modern methods were introduced we could participate in a huge volume of exports.

The real problem for farmers at the present time is the difficulty of marketing surplus produce and it is a problem that must be tackled immediately. The Minister should examine the various classes of produce from the farms of this country which, from one year to another, show a surplus which causes the farmers to accept a price below the cost of production, discourages them and upsets the consistent production of any particular crop. When the Minister has examined these classes of produce I feel he should then set about devising a scheme for the marketing of that produce in order to steady prices. The rise and fall of prices and inconsistent fluctuations are the worst things that can happen farmers from one year to another or from one season to another. If a proper system of marketing could be devised the Minister would bring to the farmers that great measure of security which they need and which will strengthen the confidence they have in him.

Mr. P.J. Burke: Information on Patrick J. Burke  Zoom on Patrick J. Burke  This is one of the most important Votes, as far as the welfare of our nation is concerned, to come up for discussion here. We have been listening since this debate opened to a number of criticisms and also to a number of defences by the members of the Government Party. The first thing that the Minister in charge of the Department of Agriculture, let it be [986] the present Minister or his predecessor, would be expected to do is to take stock of what we were able to consume in our own country. If we are importing goods which we are capable of producing at home, then that Minister should see that that importation should cease and that we would not import even a pound's worth of goods if we were capable of producing it ourselves.

Not alone should the Department of Agriculture not be the plaything of various political Parties but it should have a national outlook, giving farmers encouragement to proceed along certain lines so that they could be confident that a change of Government would not be responsible for upsetting their planning. That view was adopted under the Fianna Fáil administration. We believe in producing first the foods for which we have a market here, namely, wheat, beet and various other items in regard to which I will not go into detail. In regard to wheat and beet we believed in producing them here because we knew we had a market for them. We wanted then to carry on and produce many other commodities which we were importing heretofore. We hear a great deal of talk about our adverse trade balance and if any Minister for Agriculture insists on importing what we are capable of producing at home I hold that that Minister is doing the country harm. The Department of Agriculture should act as an adviser to our farmers and say to them: “Grow a certain amount of wheat, beet, oats and barley. You have a market for it.” Then the Department of Agriculture could go further and, through their advisers here and their representatives abroad, try to get a market abroad for our surplus produce.

Some of the smaller countries throughout the world that have succeeded in building up their agricultural economy, such as the Netherlands and Denmark, have approached the problem completely from the national viewpoint and they were able to tell their farmers how much should be produced for export. Here our farmers during the last few years did not really know how they stood. The change of Government was often responsible for [987] a change of opinion as to what should and what should not be grown. In 1948 we had the experience that our farmers were told to give up wheat and to grow oats instead. We found that the whole country was glutted with oats whereas there was a market for our wheat at that time as there still is.

If we are to go ahead and survive as a nation, the whole approach to our agricultural industry must be altered and our farmers will have to get greater assurances of markets. They will have to be encouraged to grow at least the commodities which can be consumed at home, that is, animal food or human food. When we have reached peak point in that respect, we shall be on the road to doing something worth while for this nation. It is easy enough to stand up here and, for political reasons, throw stones, but I regard this whole matter as too serious; the time has passed for bandying words here or playing about irresponsibly with the situation. If we do not develop the main industry by every means in our power the country will not survive. Other small countries have succeeded in developing agriculture and I do not see why we cannot do so.

Many times I have defended certain farming interests. I did so for one reason only, that I took the national view. I have been misrepresented here because I have indicated that certain goods were too dear. The position to-day is that there is an adverse trade balance of over £109,000,000. We import goods for which we have the raw material here. There is a great potential in the arable land of this country.

A German economist said that if the people of Holland had the land of Ireland they would feed the world. Our farmers are as clever as the farmers of any other country and all they want is a lead from the Department. I have the honour to represent an area where there are the best farmers in Europe. The Minister for Agriculture should indicate the line of production the farmers should adopt and tell them the quantities for which there is a home market. Then, if the farmers produce a surplus, the export market should be developed. Our trade representatives [988] abroad should be able to indicate the commodities that other countries will take from us. In that way, agricultural output can be stepped up with advantage to the national economy.

Agriculture should be dealt with on a national basis. It must not be dealt with on the narrow basis of what Deputy Dillon or Deputy Walsh did Every Minister for Agriculture in this country has done his best, but I maintain that the Fianna Fáil policy was the best policy for the Irish farmer and was gradually building up agricultural production.

Deputy Rooney said that farmers were compelled to grow wheat. The farmers of Ireland knew that it was essential during the emergency period to grow wheat so that the people might survive. There is no comparison between the emergency period and the present time. During the emergency, it was a case of trying to feed the people, even on a ration, and anything that was done was done in the national interest. Deputy Rooney's comment is not worthy of a reply.

Another matter about which I am concerned is disease in corn crops, tomatoes, mushrooms and fruit. I have put down questions in the House directing the attention of the Minister to the necessity of setting up a research laboratory in a centre in or about Dublin. While the secretary of the county committee of agriculture and the instructors are doing a very good job in my constituency, nevertheless, the farmers must get immediate assistance when disease makes its appearance in corn crops, root crops, tomatoes or mushrooms. The diagnosis should not be delayed for a fortnight or three weeks, when the harm may have been done. Farmers and the nation are losing a great deal as a result of disease, even in cereal crops. There are hundreds of acres of tomato houses in County Dublin. A number of market gardeners and farmers have developed mushroom growing. Sometimes disease sets in in mushrooms.

In one case where disease appeared in the mushrooms, although the officers of the Minister's Department did everything they could to eliminate the disease, a man who had gone to a great deal of expense in connection [989] with mushroom growing was completely put out of business. In another case one acre of tomatoes were destroyed by disease. The Minister's advisers have done their best but there is an urgent necessity to set up a research laboratory which would help in the elimination of disease in horticultural and agricultural production.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon  Zoom on James Matthew Dillon  Have you not got the Albert Agricultural College, the centre of all research, sitting in the middle of your constituency?

Mr. P.J. Burke: Information on Patrick J. Burke  Zoom on Patrick J. Burke  I admit that but there is often a considerable delay before the farmers get the results of tests. Soil testing, for instance, often takes up to a fortnight.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon  Zoom on James Matthew Dillon  That is not bad, is it?

Mr. P.J. Burke: Information on Patrick J. Burke  Zoom on Patrick J. Burke  Where tomatoes are fading away at the peak growing time, delay may be ruinous. If the diagnosis could be given within 48 hours, the plants might be saved. The Albert College authorities do their best but from reports I have received from all over the county a lot more is to be desired. I would suggest that there should be a scientific expert in each county.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon  Zoom on James Matthew Dillon  Did the Deputy approach the chief agricultural adviser for the county?

Mr. P.J. Burke: Information on Patrick J. Burke  Zoom on Patrick J. Burke  I did and he dealt with it.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon  Zoom on James Matthew Dillon  What more could he do?

Mr. P.J. Burke: Information on Patrick J. Burke  Zoom on Patrick J. Burke  He dealt with it as best he could. It is the delay I am talking about.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon  Zoom on James Matthew Dillon  Did he find there was any delay?

Mr. P.J. Burke: Information on Patrick J. Burke  Zoom on Patrick J. Burke  It is not fair to put the agricultural adviser on the carpet. I am dealing with points I have got from farmers.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon  Zoom on James Matthew Dillon  He is the chief agricultural expert for the area of County Dublin.

Mr. P.J. Burke: Information on Patrick J. Burke  Zoom on Patrick J. Burke  He is there and he is doing his job well but he has not [990] got the scientific methods to help him along. Up to ten years ago, very few tomatoes and fewer mushrooms were grown in this country. Up to 1940 there was very little fruit grown in comparison with the present time. The enlargement of production in this field calls for greater scientific research in order to combat the increased numbers of diseases affecting production. I think an immediate speed-up of the testing of crops for diseases is essential. The chief agricultural officer for County Dublin is a very efficient man but he could do a lot more work if he had the help of the Department in combating fruit and plant diseases. I should like if the Minister gave an early decision to lend such a hand to county committees of agriculture so that these diseases could be counteracted in the same way as action has been taken against cattle disease at Abbotstown and elsewhere. I believe we should speed up this disease testing, particularly in the tomato growing industry. First of all, it is essential to find out what is responsible for these diseases.

The Minister spoke about his parish agents, each of whom will serve three parishes. I think he should consider the establishment of a research station under each county committee of agriculture in order that plant diseases might be eliminated and production accordingly increased. We are covering very little ground in this direction at the moment and, the sooner we find out exactly what is responsible for tomato and fruit diseases, the more we will be encouraging people to go in for greater production of these crops throughout the country.

The last speaker made reference to our pig population and, like many other speakers on the opposite side, he picked out 1947 when he was dealing with the position. That has been the practice of Coalition speakers down along the line. Everybody knows that in 1946 and in 1947 we had the worst harvests, winters and springs for 50 years. In 1946 we had the big harvest campaign during which 84,000 people from Dublin went out to help the farmers of Dublin and five other counties. Following that harvest, you had a very bad winter and spring and the [991] result was that the ensuing harvest was also very bad. Thousands of cattle and sheep died all over the country. Accordingly, I cannot understand why the Coalition speakers take this mean, low political advantage of picking the worst seasons we had in living memory. We were lucky that the farmers of the country survived those two years. We have not had such bad weather since and I would ask Coalition speakers to try and find some new tune to play because they have played out that one.

Frequently farmers have to contend with great difficulties because of bad harvest and spring weather and I should like to see that easier credit facilities were made available to them to tide them over difficult periods. At the moment, they find great difficulty in getting credit at all without very substantial securities. The Agricultural Credit Corporation was established with a view to helping farmers but in my opinion the Agricultural Credit Corporation look for too substantial a security for loans.

I have listened to a good deal about pig production. When I was a child, everybody in the country, particularly the poorer people, reared pigs. To-day very few people produce them. Some years ago it was part of the economy of rural Ireland to rear a few pigs and I would like to see the Department of Agriculture making an all-out endeavour to revive that economy. The Minister should make it part of his policy to encourage widespread pig production by letting people know that a good market exists for them. It is the Department's job to encourage that kind of production instead of to criticise those who engage in it.

Complaints have been voiced about the administration of the grants for the reconstruction of farm outbuildings. A farmer recently told me that he reconstructed a farm outhouse at a cost of £300. After inspection, he got a grant of £40. I believe that owing to changing circumstances much bigger grants should be available to encourage people to reconstruct their farm outhouses. That was the object which Deputy Smith had in mind when as Minister for Agriculture he introduced [992] that scheme. He also had in mind the necessity to house farm animals properly. Therefore, I think greater grants would give greater encouragement to farmers to increase their production.

During a dry summer and harvest, cattle often get diseases from drinking bad water. I would suggest that a lot of bovine diseases come from the consumption of bad water by cattle. A Tipperary Deputy at one time always advocated proper water supplies for animals as well as for human beings. I agree with him and I would suggest that action should be taken by the Department of Agriculture to encourage farmers to put down proper pumps on their land. I think that proper water supplies would give healthier herds of cattle and would accordingly increase production. For that reason alone, I would press the Minister to be more generous in giving grants in order to enable farmers to have proper water supplies for their live stock and not have the cattle drinking from old water holes which are often responsible for cattle dying.

Some few years ago, the Minister made an effort, about which we heard a good deal, to drown the English people in eggs. When we had nobody to encourage it, our egg production was better than it is to-day; and I often wondered what was the reason for that. In the old days, the way of living of the people, especially in the small farms, was that they sold their eggs, butter and pigs. We seem to have centralised this industry of egg production and the people who used to engage in it in every cottage and small farm seem to have given it up completely. The Department should try to encourage our people to go back to the production of eggs on the lines on which it was carried out in their mother's time or their grandmother's time. As I say, at that time, we had no advice on egg production and we were completely under an alien Government; yet we seemed to do it better than we are doing to-day. I think it is a reflection on us here.

I did not get an opportunity of defending the farmers of County Dublin against a statement made by the [993] Minister for Agriculture that there was a number of farmers in County Dublin who were wheat ranchers. There are a number of progressive farmers in County Dublin with sufficient business acumen to grow any crop that will pay them best, and that is really what happened. As far as the growing of wheat in County Dublin is concerned, that was done to produce more wheat and it was done on purely economic grounds by intelligent farmers. It was implied here that these farmers were starving their land, but they did not do any such thing. They treasured their land because they knew what it could produce. The sooner these irresponsible statements, maligning farmers and saying hard thing about them in this House, are given up, the better. It is not good for the country. If the Minister, or any successive Minister, feels that production of a certain kind is being abused, he can make a statement about it. In every community, you may have certain people—maybe one or two—who may take advantage of a certain thing, but the majority of our farmers are intelligent enough to take advantage of some crop that will pay best, and nobody can blame them for doing that. That is all the farmers in County Dublin did at that period, and, coming after a reasonably bad harvest, they took a very poor view of the fact that the price of wheat was cut down. That was responsible for disheartening them and it disheartened them so considerably that a number of them will not go back to tillage production and the growing of wheat again. These are most serious matters. If you destroy the confidence of any section of the community which is doing something worth while, then you are in trouble and you will find that they will not easily go back to that production again. I am sure that that is what is happening, not alone in County Dublin, but in the remainder of the country.

Another point I want to discuss is the production of fruit. We are still importing certain fruit, and I would like to see if we could produce more of our own fruit here. I should like to see the Department of Agriculture and the county committees of agriculture [994] encouraging our people to grow the fruit best suited to the market in this country, so that we shall not be importing from some other country fruit that we can produce here ourselves.

Dealing again with fruit trees, we have a large number of orchards in North County Dublin where the fruit trees have not been doing so well. The soil has been tested and various other tests have been carried out by the experts of the Department of Agriculture and the county committee of agriculture. It only brings me back to the point I made at the beginning about the urgent necessity for carrying out more research in trying to eliminate disease and to increase production. I would again ask the Minister to try to do something worth while on that score.

We should step up our tomato production and particularly we should have more of our people heating their tomato houses to produce the tomatoes earlier in the year. The Department of Agriculture should meet the tomato growers and try to formulate some scheme which will have that effect. In that way, we would be producing our own tomatoes earlier in the year and not buying them from foreign countries. During the tomato season, we are now able to supply the whole country, and that has happened in a few years as a result of the Fianna Fáil administration.

I want to say finally that, in this very critical period of our history, the Minister for Agriculture has a very serious national responsibility. He and his Department have the ball at their feet now, if they do their work properly. For pity's sake, give up the racket of accusing Fianna Fáil of doing this, that and the other. The policy of Fianna Fáil was that adopted by other nations in a similar position to ours and those nations succeeded in proving that they had implemented the correct economy in relation to agriculture. The policy of Fianna Fáil was not a new policy. It had been adopted successfully by other nations, nations which succeeded in building up their own economy. We have made some progress here and I appeal to the Minister now to continue that progress [995] and improve on it, until such time as we make our agricultural industry what it should be, namely, the primary industry essential to give our people a good standard of living and redress our balance of payments position.

Mr. Lindsay: Information on Patrick James Lindsay  Zoom on Patrick James Lindsay  I want to intervene very briefly indeed in this debate. Having regard to his opening statement and after a full study of the notes circulated in relation to the activities of his Department, one cannot help being impressed by the vast field of activity which the Minister has to survey and the magnificent manner in which these activities have been and are being carried out in the most efficient possible manner.

The constituency I represent is, from the farming point of view, a mixed one indeed. Part of it fits in very normally into what might be termed the average economy of the country as a whole. The remaining part of it consists of the congested areas, which do not fit in so well; but, nevertheless, it is heartening to observe from a survey of the activities of the Department that these congested areas are being catered for as adequately as the financial position will allow. In fact, I would venture to say that these areas have been more than generously catered for in relation to the various schemes the Department operates.

I am very keen on an agricultural bias in education, particularly in primary education. This may well be a matter more appropriate to the Estimate for the Department of Education, but I believe that, if we give an agricultural bias, we will probably make people, particularly in the congested areas, more agriculture-minded and thereby give them the impetus to form a resolution to use the little bit of land at their disposal more effectively and therefore more productively.

Another matter that affects my constituency is the peat land experimental station at Glenamoy. I referred to this on a Supplementary Estimate for the Department a short time ago. From my observation of the station and the way in which the work is proceeding there, not alone has the Minister an excellent supervisory [996] staff, but he has the goodwill and cooperation of the people, too. I do not think he overestimates the future when he says that this has great possibilities indeed.

Deputy Burke said the Minister has a serious national responsibility. Of course he has. So have all other Ministers in their respective Departments. Other people have serious national responsibilities, too. From that point of view, I would like to comment on a matter which has arisen in this debate in relation to the publication in newspapers, principally the Irish Press, of comment and headlines concerning cattle prices and the state of agriculture generally. I think the Minister has done the Irish Press, if that organ is prepared to listen to him seriously, a great service, because he may possibly bring those who control it to a realisation of the fact that they have a very serious national responsibility. It is one thing to report news; it is another thing to report it with comment, comment by way of the physical nature of the presentation of the news, and scare headlines imply in themselves comment. Comment is all right in the editorial or on the part of special correspondents; but, in my respectful opinion, news should be printed impartially and not carry with it any sort of implied criticism. I read these articles myself in the Irish Press and I could not help feeling that each headline carried implications that the present Government, particularly the Minister for Agriculture, were responsible for the fall in cattle prices and it was because this Government were in office that cattle prices had gone down.

That kind of thing is bound to affect people and these slogans are bound to have a more far-reaching effect than the voice of the Minister himself asking the people to keep calm and hold their cattle. Time has proved, of course, that the Minister was more than justified in giving that advice. It is an elementary principle of economics that, when there is a period of trial or stress, when markets are unsteady and we are struggling to keep our place, the old advice is always the best: “Don't shake the boat.” If the Irish Press and those who are responsible for the presentation of the news [997] in it could appreciate and follow that advice, they would have a greater sense of national responsibility towards their public. Possibly from this debate some good will emerge, namely, to make people like that appreciate that they have a national responsibility rather than a Party one.

The Minister and his staff are to be complimented on their activity. I want to say a special word in praise of the Minister's outdoor staff, the men in the country who have vast areas to cover, who do outdoor inspection and field surveys and who have, in addition, an enormous amount of clerical work to do. When people complain about officials not being up to the mark and not showing the efficiency and speed they think ought to be shown, I think they lose sight of what the work entails. It is only when one knows all the difficulties involved in combining field survey, inspection and travel with clerical work that one can appreciate the difficulties under which these men work. Speaking for my constituency, I am satisfied that the officials in charge of the various activities relative to the Department of Agriculture are giving excellent service indeed.

So much has been said about this Estimate that there is very little left that one can say with effect, but I want to join with Deputy Burke in saying that these matters are serious national responsibilities and there should be no ramps about them. The people creating the biggest ramps of all are the Opposition themselves. It is a feature of Irish life to try to down the other fellow at every opportunity, but the Opposition should say to themselves that they are in opposition, recognise that fact, and offer constructive criticism. Nothing will be achieved by destructive criticism. It is better to acknowledge the facts and play your part as a constructive Opposition and give advice. During the life of this Parliament, and particularly in relation to the Department of Agriculture, which is the principal Department of State, everybody should play his full part in offering the best advice possible and not be annoyed when that advice is rejected after being fully considered.

In those circumstances, I wish to [998] compliment the Minister and to wish him well, not alone in the forthcoming year, but for the remaining years of his office.

Mr. Colbert: Information on Michael Colbert  Zoom on Michael Colbert  The purpose of this annual debate on the Agriculture Estimate, I take it, is to enable the Minister to review the position in agriculture, to refer to any new schemes he may have introduced during the past year and to show the House to what extent they have been successful. It also provides an opportunity for Deputies on both sides of the House to offer criticism of the manner in which the Minister has discharged his responsibilities. I presume that criticism should be helpful and constructive.

The constituency which I represent is mainly a dairying constituency. The majority of the people derive their means of livelihood from dairy farming. I propose to devote my contribution to this debate to certain of the problems that confront dairy farmers at the moment. During the course of the debate on the Vote on Account, both the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Industry and Commerce stressed the need for increased production and increased exports in order to correct the balance of trade and the balance of payments position. The Minister for Agriculture, for some time, has been advising farmers to keep more cows. He has asked the man with five cows to keep seven, the man with ten to keep 14 and the man with 20 to keep 28. That is sound advice, but I wonder is it realised that in the dairy districts we are already fully stocked. In fact, there are some dairy farmers who are overstocked. There is not much hope, then, for expansion in those areas.

Furthermore, I think that, as a prerequisite to increased production, the farmer should be given an assurance of an economic price for his existing milk supply and for the increased supply available, if he can add those extra cows. There are people who put forward the view that the farmer can increase his income by stepping up production per cow. These people forget the fact that we have accepted in this country the dual purpose Shorthorn cow as the most suited to our needs. [999] You cannot have it both ways. We want beef and we want milk, and that type of cow is giving us both meat and milk. The present Minister and the previous Minister both approved of that type of cow.

Those people who believe that the farmer can step up production per cow say to the man who has ten, 15 or 20 cows: why not have all 800 to 1,000 gallon cows? We know from practical experience that, while you might have an odd cow with a yield of up to 800 gallons, it is really a rare thing in the average bawn. You have the man in the town or village who keeps two, three or four cows. They are pampered and hand-fed and the plot of ground on which they graze is fully fertilised with ground limestone and superphosphates, etc. That man is concerned only with filling the bucket. He is not concerned so much about profit and loss, because that business of keeping these cows is a mere sideline with him. The Minister made no reference in his opening speech to the question of an economic price for milk and I hope that, when concluding, he will touch on that vital question.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon  Zoom on James Matthew Dillon  I did not catch what the vital question referred to.

Mr. Colbert: Information on Michael Colbert  Zoom on Michael Colbert  The question of an economic price for milk. I am speaking about the creamery areas. A good deal has been said about the commission which was set up in 1952. Farmers are disappointed that they have not so far received the report of the activities of that commission. They expected it well in advance of the present milk season. That commission was to determine what would be an economic price per gallon for milk delivered to creameries. That was the purpose for which that commission was set up, and I wonder if, even at this late hour, there is anything that can be done to expedite its report.

I believe that there should be a permanent costings body that would determine well in advance each year what may be regarded as a fair price for milk, both in the creamery areas and in the cities and towns. This matter of bargaining and haggling between [1000] the farming representatives and the Minister is hardly the proper way to approach this problem. Why should the farmer have to go hat in hand to anybody? The industrialist has at his disposal expert costings systems in regard to his manufactured goods. He has to determine the net price at which he can dispose of them in order to leave himself a profit. I think the farmer is entitled to the same service.

At this stage, I am sure it is accepted that agriculture is the greatest factor in our national economy, but there are people in this country yet who are not sure about that. After more than 30 years of native Government, during which every effort has been made to develop our industrial arm and increase industrial exports, the experts have now apparently decided that, in the main, we have to depend on agriculture. In our agricultural economy, the basic producer is the dairy cow. From the dairy cow we get the store beast as well as the milk products.

It might be asked where are we to sell the products of our dairy cows? If we convert the milk into butter, we have no market for it across Channel. The chocolate crumb industry seems to be in danger of collapse. What else have we? We have cheese and so on. That is all very fine, but something will have to be done about it, or otherwise the whole agricultural economy will collapse. If the remedy is to subsidise the export of butter, that must be done. The New Zealand farmer can sell his butter in the English market at lower prices than those at which we can sell it. I do not know how that is achieved, but I presume it is through subsidies. Of course, I know the New Zealand farmer has grass almost the whole year round.

Coming to that question of grass, I think we now recognise that grass must be looked upon as a crop in the same way as corn or any other cereal.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon  Zoom on James Matthew Dillon  Hear, hear!

Mr. Colbert: Information on Michael Colbert  Zoom on Michael Colbert  We are very much behind the times in so far as grass culture is concerned. It might possibly provide a solution of the vexed question [1001] of milk prices, if we could extend the grass season here.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon  Zoom on James Matthew Dillon  Hear, hear!

Mr. Colbert: Information on Michael Colbert  Zoom on Michael Colbert  We have now not more than from 1st May to say, 1st December, at the most. If that grass season could be extended, say, from 1st April to 20th December, it might give us that extra yield, or at least it might give us the 600 gallon cow and maintain, at the same time, the dual purpose animal. What is the position at the moment? The farmer has to feed his cattle certain concentrates during the spring. He has to keep them in the pound or stand until 1st May, because he cannot afford to let them out in whatever fresh grass is available during April, because, when they have that consumed, their milk supply drops immediately. Intensive grass cultivation is the only way a solution can be found to that problem, by making available to the farmers scientific experts who will show them, by proper seeding and so on, how to get deep down into this question, in every sense of the word.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon  Zoom on James Matthew Dillon  I have sent you down two or three parish agents in your constituency.

Mr. Colbert: Information on Michael Colbert  Zoom on Michael Colbert  I welcome them; the more you send, the more we like it.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon  Zoom on James Matthew Dillon  Would you tell Deputy Moher that?

Mr. Colbert: Information on Michael Colbert  Zoom on Michael Colbert  That is my view, and I think, as we are on the question, the parish agent or whatever expert is available, should also include in his programme a visit to the national school. If he could attend the national school, say, one day a week and take the children out and give a demonstration, it would be a great help. In my young days at school, the only instruction we got was through weeding the master's garden. The parish agent could instil into the minds of the children a greater love for country life and agriculture.

Another matter the parish agent could advise on is composting. We know there are two schools of thought on this question of fertilisers. There is the believer in the compost fertiliser [1002] and the man who is entirely on the artificial side.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon  Zoom on James Matthew Dillon  Would the Deputy distinguish between compost and farmyard manure—dung?

Mr. Colbert: Information on Michael Colbert  Zoom on Michael Colbert  What I mean is the manufacture of compost through what we call yard muck.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon  Zoom on James Matthew Dillon  Yes.

Mr. Colbert: Information on Michael Colbert  Zoom on Michael Colbert  In practice, in order to get that, you must make machinery available. You will not get workmen to collect that at present. You will have to have what we call a muck gatherer and the farmer must be instructed about the value of manures. Liquid manure, for instance, at the present time, is allowed to flow down the drains, instead of being trapped by vegetable waste and so on. There is also ground limestone. There is a scientific way of doing these things and most farmers do not seem to understand the value of that at the present time, so that the parish agent could help very much in that respect.

Coming back to this question of the 1,000 gallon cow, that type of animal would seem to be out of the question as far as I can see on the ordinary dairy farm. Even people who profess to speak on behalf of agriculture do not seem to understand that completely. One might as well say that a blood-stock breeder should make sure that all the fillies are going to be “Pretty Pollys” or “Melds” and that all the colts should be stepped up to the Tulyar or Panaslipper standard. That cannot be done. We must take the good with the bad. We cannot have selective breeding within the confines of the herd, the dual purpose dairy herd.

I was born in one of the largest dairy farms in the country and at one time we carried over 100 cows. The farm had its own creamery and was completely self-contained. I worked there in my young days and milked cows before going to school and I saw how good milkers came into existence. They were carefully selected from high milk-yielding dams. These animals were very much sought after in the [1003] fairs and markets. At that time, there was no selective breeding, no cattle breeding Acts or anything else. It was done by the farmer, himself basing his judgment on his own experience.

Reference has been made to credits for farmers. I am against people who represent the farmers as being in a depressed condition. The farmer is not in a depressed condition. He is not a millionaire and he is not a wealthy man; the average farmer is comfortable and he has been enjoying that prosperity for the past eight or ten years People who say otherwise are destroying the farmer's credit.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon  Zoom on James Matthew Dillon  Hear, hear!

Mr. Colbert: Information on Michael Colbert  Zoom on Michael Colbert  Furthermore, they are depressing him and his family on the social scale. When he sends his children to boarding schools or to the university they are not considered in the same class as the town man's child. They are looked upon as the children of the “God-forsaken farmer” down the country. That is one of the reasons why farmers find it difficult to get credit to day from the banks and perhaps from the Agricultural Credit Corporation.

We must realise that the Agricultural Credit Corporation is more or less an independent financial concern. You get a loan for a fixed period which is repayable in half-yearly annuities. In the case of the commercial banks, you get a short-term loan. Somebody once said that the policy of the banks in relation to farmers is like giving out umbrellas when the sun shines and taking them back when it rains. In the good times, the bank lends money freely and then they take the borrower by the throat when bad times come.

With regard to the Irish Press reports on the market prices, the Minister said: “God help the poor ‘mugs’ who swallowed those reports and sold their cattle”. In the cattle trade, and in farming generally, you will find the shrewdest people in the world. In my time, I have seen very few “mugs” knocking about either in the cattle trade or amongst the ordinary farmers. I do not believe the reports would have [1004] the slightest effect so far as the sales of cattle are concerned. If the Minister's advice to hold their cattle until April had been taken, I think there would have been a glut in April which would have further depressed prices or which would, in any case, have balanced out the improvement which took place in the month of April.

These are just impressions I have gained myself over many years of practical experience of farming. I think responsible Deputies in this House should try to approach this matter in a common-sense way. This attempt to get political kudos out of the agricultural position is unnational, as Deputy Burke said. No matter what Minister for Agriculture may be in power, nobody will criticise him unduly if he carries out his responsibilities in a satisfactory way. I hope the present Minister will try to end the conflict with the dairy farmers. I am not in favour of public demonstrations. That sort of thing seems antiquated to me. It does not seem right to see a respectable farmer leave his farm in Cork or Limerick in the early hours of the morning and come to Dublin and parade himself through the streets before people who have not the slightest understanding of what the whole thing is about. Possibly there is a satisfactory explanation for that action by the farmers as a result of the delay in the issue of the Milk Costings Commission report.

The Minister should endeavour to iron out any little antagonisms there may be so far as the dairy farmers or any other single section of the agricultural community are concerned. It is vitally important that there should be a round-table conference between the Minister and representatives of the various farmers' organisations and, exclusive of the Milk Costings Commission altogether, they should try to arrive at a reasonable price for milk. The present price was fixed in 1953. In the interval, farmers' costings have gone up considerably as, for instance, fertilisers, machinery and wages. The fact of the matter is that whatever price was considered economic in 1953 is not considered economic to-day. I [1005] put forward these suggestions for the consideration of the Minister.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach (Mr. O'Sullivan): Information on Denis O'Sullivan  Zoom on Denis O'Sullivan  I represent a constituency which is, in the main, a dairying constituency similar to that of Deputy Colbert. I must compliment him on his very fine approach to this debate and on his speech. His approach has been most constructive. I agree practically in toto with most of his remarks. He may not have intended to be so extreme in his statement but he referred to the chocolate crumb industry and said the feeling was that the industry was collapsing. That is the only remark he made on which I disagree with him, and I disagree very strongly with that statement. I do not believe that that is so.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon  Zoom on James Matthew Dillon  Hear, hear!

Mr. O'Sullivan: Information on Denis O'Sullivan  Zoom on Denis O'Sullivan  We know that the industry has had some troubles but certainly this year the prospects are pretty good. The factory in my constituency in Mallow has gone into production earlier this year than it did last year. A very big concern has a factory in the adjoining constituency of South Kerry and it derives its supply pretty well in the main from my constituency. There, also, all the indications would point to a continuance of production. Consequently, the fears which existed last year have fortunately not materialised.

In regard to the marketing of our agricultural produce, I think tribute is due to the best market that exists for the produce of our Irish farms, that is, the market in this country. The Irish consumer is to-day the best purchaser of Irish produce. That is indicated by the fine market we have in this country for Irish butter. I think it was a good day's work to reduce the price of butter and make it available to more people in order to have greater consumption at home. By so doing, we were guaranteed a bigger market in this country and we ensured that prices would be obtained that could not be procured abroad. At the same time we were providing an excellent food for the benefit of our people.

I think that is a good development. [1006] If our standard of living to-day is such that our people are in a position to consume more and pay reasonable prices for butter, meat and the other commodities, which come off the Irish farms, then all the better for Irish agriculture. At the same time, we must keep the spotlight on the absolute necessity of increasing our exports. That was referred to by members on both sides of the House. At this late stage in the debate, there is little to add to what has been said about emphasising the necessity of improving those exports.

Unfortunately, in that respect there has grown up over some years amongst farmers a fear of increasing production—a dread that if they do so prices will be reduced. They are apt to ignore the lowering of costs that would accompany increased production. They do not compare like with like. At any rate, they fear that if they go all out to increase production in a particular section of agriculture, there is the danger of a collapse in prices.

I am glad the Minister has made the arrangements in relation to the pig industry because it is true there were some fears that, on the termination of the current agreement this month, the industry might run into extremely troubled times. Over the past year there was a vacillation, or an up and down movement in regard to prices even though prices were good. When this was occurring, there was uncertainty in the industry. I think what has been done will have an excellent stimulating effect as will the guarantee to the producer of a price for a good period, over 12 months, below which pigs cannot go.

I think, furthermore, that it will remedy the situation in relation to grading that developed over the past year. In that respect, the producers must remember they must cater for the public taste and that, not even in the rural areas to-day, will people eat the type of bacon they ate 20 years ago. Therefore, it would be unfair to expect people in cities and towns and people abroad to consume goods which the producers themselves would not consume. Acknowledging that, there are also widespread complaints in [1007] regard to grading and there have been charges of abuses. Deputies Barry and Lynch advanced a case with which I completely concur. I have come across throughout the country, particularly in the constituency of North Cork, statements by producers that they would not mind so much if bacon were available over the counter at a graded-down price similar to the grading-down they experienced in relation to the sale of their animals.

If some method could be worked out by which there would be a clear stamp on the bacon coming into the shop, which would guarantee to the consumer that this bacon is available at a lower price, it might stimulate the market for this lower-grade bacon and at the same time ensure that the consumer would not be mulcted. It is true that the discerning purchaser will go to the shop where he is treated fairly. The retailer would be most unwise to abuse the situation and deprive himself of a customer by such methods but it is also true that, in rural parts, there is not the same choice in shops, so that the people have more or less got to take what is before them. However, now that this new arrangement has been made, there is no doubt but that it will result in the removal of some of the abuses that were alleged to have taken place in recent months.

In relation to the pig industry, the Minister advised producers in regard to the best means of feeding pigs with a view to securing a reasonable profit from them. He has advised them to concentrate upon the use of feeding barley and skim milk. There is no doubt that a new vista has opened up in that regard in recent years with the extension of the growing of feeding barley.

The former Minister for Agriculture, Deputy Walsh, referred to the reduction in the number of pigs and later in the course of his remarks he referred to the reduction in the amount of milk going into chocolate crumb. Perhaps, these factors are allied to each other. When the amount of milk going into chocolate crumb was at its peak, there was less skim milk available for pig [1008] feeding. There is no doubt that a considerable extension in the use of feeding barley and skim milk could be brought into being in relation to the feeding of pigs.

Recently efforts were made to make some progress in relation to progeny testing. It is acknowledged that an improved strain in breeding would assist considerably in the production of a pig which would make the A grade. I feel it is long overdue but now a start has been made to assist producers considerably in obtaining a type of pig which will be more conducive to securing the top price. I think our farmers' organisations could assist considerably in this respect by bringing it home to their members and, through them, to the producers in general, the advantages of aiming at producing top grade bacon.

I think that one bacon factory in particular is to be complimented on inviting Macra na Feirme to their firm and having there a competition. They invited the Young Farmers to grade the live pig and then showed them, when the live pig had been slaughtered, how the exact grading is arrived at. I think that is a good idea which could possibly be extended. It might also be a good idea to have a short film made capable of showing the N.F.A. and Macra na Feirme the advantages to be gained by aiming at top grading. That would be a worthwhile measure.

Reference was made in the course of the debate to the activities among farming organisations in recent years and their rapid development. The N.F.A. was afforded recognition not alone by the Minister's own Department but by other Departments of State. It would be well if that recognition were mutual. Here and there we see extreme statements where the Department is reviled and suggestions made that alternative means should be adopted which would produce better results.

On the other hand, we find that in the report of the N.F.A. some very interesting tributes are paid to the Department. It has even pointed out that, in reference to the establishment of a nitrogen factory in this country, a [1009] delegation was received by the Minister for Industry and Commerce and that this was the first time ever that organisation of farmers was recognised and received by the Minister in that Department for a consultation in reference to that matter. It is a good thing that that happened and it is also a good thing that the N.F.A. would place on record their appreciation of it.

The N.F.A. report has also recorded that in reference to representation that was made to the Department in connection with double grants for cow byres, within 24 hours of its being brought to the notice of the Department that certain farmers had not received the double payment grants, the awards were made. I do not think that anybody could ask for more prompt attention than that. Further on reference is made to the information being conveyed to the Department of outbreaks of trichomoniasis and that within a few hours the Department's veterinary officers came in and started on the eradication of the complaint. These are praiseworthy occurrences and the tributes that are here to the Department from this organised farmers' body are admirable.

However, I would introduce a little note of criticism of other statements made from time to time. I cannot fathom why an organisation such as the N.F.A., which is formed with the express purpose of looking after the interests of the farming community and doing a very useful job in that respect, should avail of their movement throughout the country to express and, they say, express with some authority, doubts in relation to the setting up of the proposed oil refinery. I think that organisations who do that, in ignorance possibly of many of the advantages that would flow from such concerns, could do harm.

May I say also that circumspection is necessary at times when the Government and the Department are engaged in marketing negotiations? With the best intentions in the world, if statements are made at that time which would receive much publicity relating to our weakness in one sphere or another, they could be very embarrassing [1010] for those engaged in the negotiations. The criticism that we are offering of the action of the Irish Press in relation to its heavy headlines on a reduction in cattle prices is particularly prompted by the fact that negotiations were in progress at that time in Britain between the British farmers and the Treasury and that one of their points in support of obtaining an increased price was the cost of store cattle in Ireland. The fact that a national newspaper at that time carried headlines indicating a serious drop did not assist in securing the results which would be reflected in our fairs here. It is well that ultimately the price which was secured was followed by increased prices in this country.

The greatest development in agriculture in this country in recent years has been the reclamation of land. Many people who are working hard in making drains, removing scrub and fertilising are annoyed when people who are non-agriculturists charge them with not producing more. When we look at the figures of production, we should not just regard the agriculturist as being solely engaged on productive activity. After all, he is making up for many years of neglect in the reclamation of land, the erection of out-offices, in the extension of rural electrification, in improvements to his farmyard and in the eradication of T.B. from his herds. All these activities demand an extraordinary amount of attention and endeavour from the farmer, his family and his worker and also considerable capital outlay. All praise is due to the fine State assistance that has come to each one of those projects.

When people stand up reading papers before chambers of commerce and other arenas and speak slightingly of the agricultural community as being a section that are not pulling their weight in the national effort, they completely ignore these facts. There is no doubt but that it is an epic achievement if, at the end of this year, we can claim to have rehabilitated 1,000,000 acres of land. When one considers what land means to us in this country, the addition of that acreage to our productive activity is bound to have wonderful results in the course of a [1011] short time. If the results are not yet apparent one must realise that the good effects will not come overnight, that very few people have succeeded in completely reclaiming that part of their holding which requires reclamation.

It is not, I am sure, an exaggeration to say that the land project has changed the whole face of the country. The first effect, to my mind, was social in its impact. Down in my own part of the country, in regard to the progressive young farmer taking over any farm which heretofore had not provided him or his family with anything like a reasonable income, from the time he got any influence in the management of the farm his eyes were on the faroff hills. He has never had any ambition other than to set aside as much money as he could, looking forward to the day when he could move out into better land. That was his ambition and there was no incentive to him to improve the holding which he then had. He moved away 40 or 50 miles into a new community and he was then faced with overheads that he had not experienced previously, higher valuations, higher rates, and he was living where, quite possibly, people had very different methods and, in many cases, he very much missed the old system of neighbourliness that he enjoyed where he formerly lived.

Now that man can improve his own holding to a very considerable extent. In many cases farms that were incapable of providing a living for more than one member of the family are now doing so and will provide even more than that in the future. That is a good thing and the results that flow from it will be very effective inasmuch as it is being done without displacing anybody else. The man who lived in his own place and went away and bought better land was just taking up where somebody else left off. In the kind of land which is being reclaimed, refertilised and brought into production, the most of it for the first time, the remainder to a negligible extent, whatever increased production will flow from it will come from land that formerly, if producing anything [1012] was producing a negligible amount. I move to report progress.

Progress reported; the Committee to sit again.


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