Wednesday, 22 March 1972
Dáil Eireann Debate
That a supplementary sum not exceeding £7,368,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st March, 1972, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, including certain services administered by that Office, and for payment of certain subsidies, and sundry Grants-in-Aid.
The net amount of this Supplementary Estimate, added to the original Estimate for 1971-72, represents a total net provision of £80,140,000. This figure shows an increase of £10,663,990 on the final total Estimate for Agriculture, including the Supplementary Estimates, for 1970-71. Miscellaneous savings amounting to £1,178,000 have been taken into account.
The additional sum now required includes £1.6 million net for bovine tuberculosis eradication and £100,000 net for brucellosis eradication; £1.3 million for the beef cattle incentive scheme; £1.25 million for the farm buildings and water supplies schemes; £812,000 for the Land Project; £675,000 for bacon and pork export support; £550,000 for lime and fertilisers; £300,000 for sheep headage  grants; £285,000 for county committees of agriculture; £166,000 for agricultural schools and £119,000 in respect of wheat losses. In the limited time available I propose to deal only with the more important items.
The continuing interest in the beef cattle incentive scheme will lead to payments to about 58,000 herdowners amounting to £6.6 million for the year as against the £5.3 million already provided. I am therefore providing in this Estimate a sum of £1.3 million to meet the additional cost of grants due to all eligible herdowners.
An additional sum of £675,000 is being provided in connection with the operation of the scheme of support prices for exports of bacon and pork. This includes the £0.5 million which, as announced in last year's Budget, is being provided because of further increases in pig production costs. It also includes a sum of £175,000 now estimated to be required for pigmeat export support on account of the increased exports of pigmeat and the higher rates of subsidy payable this year.
The original Estimate for the bovine tuberculosis eradication and brucellosis eradication schemes was £3.5 million net after sale of reactors. It now seems likely that actual net expenditure will turn out at £5.2 million, an increase of £1.7 million. Our cattle numbers have grown, with a consequent increase in the volume of testing. Cattle prices have improved considerably and the cost to the State of taking up reactors has risen. There has also been an increase in the fees paid to veterinary surgeons for work under both schemes.
The Estimates for my Department usually includes a token sum of £5 to enable payment to be made in any cases which may arise involving the compulsory slaughter of animals taken up under the diseases of animals legislation. In the current year it became necessary for my Department to take up a total of 44 animals for slaughter under the provisions of the Johne's Disease Order. A sum of about £4,000 for this is included in the Supplementary Estimate.
 There is a provision for an extra £119,000 for recoupment of losses incurred as a result of purchases and resale of native wheat. Of this amount £62,000 is a balance due to An Bord Gráin in respect of losses in disposing of surplus millable wheat of the 1968 crop. The remainder relates to losses on disposal as feed in 1970 of 30,000 tons of surplus millable wheat held by the flour millers. The decline in bread consumption, coupled with the fact that modern harvesting methods allow smaller carry forward stocks, led to a build up of excessive stocks by the flour millers. By arrangement with the Irish Flour Millers' Association, the loss, amounting to £572,000 in all, is being paid in three annual instalments with appropriate bank interest. Liability in the current year is approximately £237,000 and it is necessary to provide £57,000 in addition to the original Estimate provision of £180,000.
Demand for the facilities provided by the Department's various development schemes continues at a high level. The fine autumn of 1971 resulted in a large number of Land Project works being completed and it is now expected that a further £812,000 will be required to meet expenditure to 31st March.
The additional and more attractive grants under the Farm Buildings and Water Supplies Schemes and the favourable weather during the year led to increased demand for the facilities of these schemes. The result is that grants are expected to total £4.075 million or £1.25 million more than the amount already provided.
An additional £550,000 is required to meet increased expenditure on limestone and fertilisers. A sum of £200,000 is accounted for by the high level of deliveries of ground limestone and the 12½ per cent increase in transport subsidy rates. Fertilisers require an additional £350,000 because the subsidy in respect of the exceptionally heavy consumption of fertilisers in the period February to April, 1971, fell to be met in the current financial year.
I am providing an extra £153,000 to enable payment to be made of the balance of the purchase money for Kildalton Agricultural and Horticultural College, and £13,000 to cover pay  increases at agricultural schools generally.
The Grant-in-Aid to the Farm Apprenticeship Board is being increased by £4,000 to cover the needs of the board including the expenses incurred in the introduction of the recently announced new Trainee Farmer Scheme. This will cater for young men who will inherit farms but who cannot be spared from home for the full period of training required under the main Farm Apprenticeship Scheme.
In the case of grants to county committees of agriculture an additional £285,000 is required to meet increases in the salaries and travelling expenses of officers of the county committees and also in the cost of the schemes operated by the committees.
A token sum of £10 is included in this Supplementary Estimate in respect of dairy produce. Under the revised creamery milk price structure, the price payable to manufacturers for skim milk powder is stabilised at £185 per ton which is reckoned to provide for payment of a producer price of about 5p per gallon of skim milk. As facilities for the production of skim milk powder or whole milk products are not available in some areas, an Exchequer subsidy of 2½ per gallon is payable on such quantities of skim milk as are returned to suppliers. This subsidy is being paid by the Department to the suppliers through their creameries. In the current year the cost of this skim milk subsidy is expected to be £150,000 which will, however, be met from savings on other items.
I am providing £20,000 for fees to business consultants who are at present carrying out, for the information of my Department and the Department of Finance, a detailed survey of the operations of the Dairy Disposal Company. The aims of the survey are to evaluate and define the future commercial functioning of the company, to explore means of improving the company profitability, and to make recommendations in regard to the managerial requirements of the company. It is hoped that the survey will be completed in the very near future.
 During the past year or so negotiations have taken place for the transfer of some of the company's interests to co-operative ownership. Negotiations for the transfer of four of the company's creamery groups have now been concluded or are at the point of being finalised. This is positive evidence of my aim to transfer the company's interests to co-operative societies and to assist the rationalisation of the creamery industry.
To stimulate further progress in sheep production, the 1971 Budget provided for an increase from £1.50 to £2 per head in the subsidy payable on hogget ewes. This increase in the rate of subsidy, together with an increase in the number of sheep qualifying under the sheep subsidy schemes, brings to £1.8 million the total requirement under this head, an increase of £300,000 on the original Estimate.
Finally, the Grant-in-Aid for the World Food Programme has been increased by £50,000 to cover the cost of sending an emergency consignment of skim milk powder to India last September for the relief of the victims of the civil strife in East Pakistan. The food was sent in response to an appeal by the Secretary General of the United Nations and a request by the Indian Government for assistance in coping with the vast influx of refugees into India at that time.
Mr. Creed: I welcome the Supplementary Estimate, even though it is wide ranging and the time in which we can discuss it is limited. The subheads go into every avenue of our agricultural economy but I will confine myself to a few points which I want to take up with the Minister. The Minister mentioned the interest in the beef incentive bonus scheme. There is a great demand for this scheme. A great number of people are changing from milk production to beef. Does the Minister consider that there is a danger that the change is too rapid and that too many people will change over from the dairy industry? Last year and the year before, because of the uneconomic price paid for creamery milk, many people went over to beef production. I did not notice the closing date for the scheme advertised this year. Last year  the scheme closed in February and it was extended to the 1st April. This year the scheme closed on the 1st March and participants already in the scheme did not have to apply again. Farmers who were anxious to participate for the first time in the scheme were not aware that the closing date this year was the 1st March. A number of them have told me that they did not see the advertisement in the paper. In view of the number of late applicants for this scheme I would like to know if the closing date was advertised.
I believe too many people are moving over to beef production. Anybody who works in farming knows that dairy farmers have to work seven days a week and when they change from milk production to beef they are changing from near slavery conditions to leisure conditions. I can see a great scarcity of dairy farmers not only in this country but also in Europe. It would be a very bad policy for the farming community in this country to move away from milk production. Two or three years ago there was a surplus of dairy products in Europe but that has almost gone. The same is likely to happen here with the change over to beef production. It would be very unwise, because of the amount of money spent inducing people to go into milk production, if a great number were to go over to beef production.
The Minister also mentioned the land project. His Department have fallen down completely on this. The Minister assured me the other day that there would not be any change in this scheme under EEC conditions. If I read the Mansholt Plan correctly it states that marginal or poor land will not qualify for a grant—that it must be proved when a person is getting a land reclamation grant that the land can be brought into full production. If this is so we could have induced far more farmers to reclaim land and bring it into full production. There are thousands of acres which could be reclaimed and if lime and fertilisers were used on it it could be brought into full production.
The Minister must agree that when  somebody buys a farm that is almost derelict it is wrong to hold that farmer over for almost 12 months before the land project inspector will give the OK to go ahead with the reclamation of the land. This deprives the farmer of a year's income from that farm. The Minister should have a look at this because it is a very important matter.
I now want to refer to agricultural education, which is very important in view of our entry into the EEC. About 80 per cent of our farmers have never gone beyond primary education. This highlights the necessity for a proper educational scheme for farmers' sons and those who are anxious to take up farming. The scheme has not achieved what is set out to achieve. You cannot produce a scheme and impose it on the farming community. The aid of Macra na Feirme should be sought in any agricultural education scheme.
The Minister should ensure that people attending primary schools who intend to take up agriculture as an occupation should have at least a few hours agricultural education each week. You have to orientate young people towards agriculture. It is very necessary to become efficient when farming will become so competitive under EEC conditions. When young people leave primary schools they should be given facilities to attend agricultural courses. I believe the winter classes throughout the country have failed because you have perhaps from 40 to 60 people who begin the course and at least one-quarter of those people do not finish the course. We will have to break the educational programmes down into different skills. Young dairy farmers are not interested in attending classes on horse breeding; because the classes they attend do not relate to practical farming they become bored and no longer attend them. Macra na Feirme have played a very important role in the education of our young farmers. The Department should consult with them as to the best way to provide educational facilities that will benefit the young farmers. If we want to get the maximum potential from the land our farmers should be educated on the proper application of lime and fertilisers  and the proper lay-out of farmyards.
We talk about the high rate of unemployment in this country. This is not relevant to this debate. We never stop to realise that if we could achieve the full potential from the land of this country the amount of employment that would be created in the processing, marketing and transport of this produce would eliminate completely the unemployment problem we have at present. We should aim at getting the maximum production from our land. This would solve our economic ills. The Department and successive Ministers have shown a narrow outlook in so far as achieving the maximum output from our land is concerned. The Minister should look at this from the educational point of view.
We have a subhead dealing with the eradication of bovine TB. This scheme has cost much money. Is the Minister satisfied with its progress? It is a heavy charge on the Exchequer. Has the money been wisely spent? How long will this scheme continue? The Minister has changed the approach. Testing in certain areas should have been introduced long ago. Brucellosis eradication is important also. It has only been treated in a halfhearted way. Last year I said that a situation exists in which there is great carelessness on the part of the powers-that-be in connection with this scheme. Collectors of dead animals are doing a lucrative business. They take the hides off the animals and distribute the carcases throughout the country. The Minister should discuss this point with the county veterinary officers. These animal collectors are responsible for the spread of disease. Brucellosis is rampant at present, especially in the south. There should be some control on the re-distribution of carcase meat sold as dogmeat all over the country.
I want to speak about the county committees of agriculture for which money is provided. I am a member of a county committee of agriculture. I believe these committees and the agricultural advisory service do valuable work. If we examine the future of these committees, if and when we enter  Europe, we will see that it is likely that much of our regional policy within the context of the EEC will be channelled through the county committees and the advisory service. It is necessary to improve and strengthen these services. I welcome the provision of extra money.
There is an increase also in the lime and fertiliser subsidies. This is a good thing. It shows that the farming community realise the value of fertilisers. Fertilisers are used at the time of the year when the farming community have not the inflow of cash necessary to invest in the quantity of fertilisers which the land requires. I dealt with this problem before when speaking on the Bill concerned with the ACC. Sufficient money is not available through the ACC in order to encourage the farming community to apply more fertilisers and lime. Money is also provided for the farm buildings scheme. This is very necessary. On behalf of Fine Gael, I welcome this provision. I should like to see more money invested in agriculture which is our major industry and will always be so. We have natural advantages of climate. There is not enough money invested to bring the maximum results. We have the land and the farmers and we could have more output if there was not such a scarcity of money.
Mr. Murphy: The Supplementary Estimate before us is reasonably limited. No one could quarrel with the requirements in this Vote. I dealt with the main Estimate and I should like to elicit some information on what the future may hold in regard to agriculture. We are told that if and when we enter the EEC, and when people in Brussels are managing Ireland instead of people in Dublin, the farming community will grow rich and prosperous. We are told that the type of money flowing through the Community to agriculture at the present time is such as to lead us to believe that when we join there will be no need for this type of Supplementary Estimate or for injecting so much money into Irish agriculture. I should like to hear the Minister's views on such points. I believe that some fraudulent intent prevails in this country at present in  the Government publications relating to EEC membership and its benefits. I am anxious, as every Deputy should be anxious, to put before the Irish people a factual appraisal of what the position will be. The best way to get that information on agriculture and on other aspects of trade and industry is to get the publications issued by the Commission. I have not yet seen any of the EEC agricultural booklets. Instead of sending out the books which have been published and which give a great deal of information, we have sent out a slanted version. I assume that the reason for this is to add to our case and to get the people to vote “yes” in the referendum. Whether they vote “yes” or “no” is entirely a matter for the people themselves.
Mr. Murphy: Perhaps I did not make myself clear and am at fault myself. What I was coming to is that we have here provision for grants for farm buildings, land reclamation and other public activities of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and I want to know whether it will be possible or necessary to continue such grants if and when we become members of the EEC. In discussing such grants, I think it is quite relevant to project ourselves beyond 31st March, 1972, and try to get some information as to what may happen after that date. This is not an EEC debate but I think it is quite relevant to ask some questions on it. Money is included in this Estimate for different subheads and I was merely repeating a suggestion I made to the Minister some weeks ago that he should send some literature on the agriculture policy of the EEC directly to all the citizens of the  country. All the money in the Estimate comes from public funds provided by general taxation and irrespective of one's avocation everyone pays taxation and is entitled to information.
I have made my point about the EEC question with particular reference to the need to give the facts as set down by the Commission in their literature. We do not want slanted versions. Some of us are not in a position to obtain these books. We have not State finance behind us and cannot go to the Civil Service saying we ought to have a document that would suit our side of the case as the Government can do. We cannot send out leaflets and booklets every other day at public expense. I repeat that we must get both sides of the story and that is not happening at present, certainly in regard to agriculture.
In discussing reclamation and farm buildings. TB eradication and brucellosis eradication, it is, I think, relevant to ask if all these services which are helpful to the farmers are likely to continue if and when we become members of the Community. There seems to be some difference of opinion, as there is a difference of opinion as to whether or not under the Articles of the EEC contributions payable at present, under the agricultural grant to local authorities to offset rates charges on farmers, will be allowed. This question has not been dealt with at any great length by the Minister or any Fianna Fáil members or members of Fine Gael as far as I know. I do not know the answer to the question. I have tried to get it in this House but the answer I got was completely inconclusive. Any answer beginning with the words “It is expected...” is not a definite statement. Seeing that the referendum is to be early in May, I should like the Minister to address himself to this question in answering it here. Possibly this is our last chance to discuss agriculture between now and the date of the proposed referendum, May 10th. Will that type of payment be continued? Will farmers have to pay their own taxation on land or, as is happening at present, will the general body of taxpayers be asked to  come to their aid? The citizens in general should know where they stand. I shall be satisfied if a definite answer is given and if quotations can be given from the relevant sections of the Treaty setting out that such payments can continue if we become full members of the EEC, if the people so determine. I am referring, of course, to what could happen after the transitional period.
Mr. Murphy: ——is that today is the 22nd March and we are debating an Estimate for the year ending on 31st March. I do not think anything very important will happen or that there will be any great change in agriculture between now and 31st March. It is no harm, within the rules of the House, to avail of opportunities afforded here by the agriculture Estimates to try to elicit information. I have made the question about rates on land quite clear. Are payments to continue under the present regulations for land reclamation and farm buildings or is there a great variation in the Community regulations so that such grants can only be paid within certain limits? It is not for me to define the limits. We must do our homework as best we can and we have no Civil Service at our disposal to research information for us. I should like to make clear to the Chair that my questions are designed only to get information so that the people will have definite knowledge.
My next question is: under EEC regulations are farmers taxed in the same way as other sections of the Community? Are their incomes assessed in the same way as the incomes of publicans, or drapers or grocers? Farmers would be interested in knowing the answer to that question. The Minister  and the Government, having knowledge of the EEC regulations and as a result of their meetings with the EEC representatives, should know the answers. If we become members of the EEC, will the same tax structure continue after the transitional period as now obtains?
Mr. Murphy: I agree that it would be more appropriate on the EEC debate but the position seems to be that some members who would wish to contribute to that debate may not have an opportunity to do so because of time limitation. My next question is one to which the Minister addressed himself in replying to the debate on the Estimate for his Department. This concerns the direct weekly subventions paid to farmers in the West. On the last occasion I asked the Minister whether these payments would be endangered in any way as a result of joining the EEC. I asked also about the system of assessment that is being used now, that is, land valuation only. The Minister said in reply that in the case of a person being in very poor circumstances his means would be assessed and the result of the assessment would determine whether he would be given unemployment assistance. My question did not refer to assessment on a means test basis but to the system which applies now. I support the land-valuation-only assessment because it does not inhibit a man from progressing, for instance, from buying an extra cow. Under the former method he was so inhibited. I want some information on this matter.
Undoubtedly the farm building  grants are a great help to many farmers and many have improved substantially their outbuildings with the help of these grants. On previous occasions I have mentioned the desirability of extending the grants that are applicable in the pilot areas to the farmers of the 12 western counties who would benefit greatly by them.
The only other point I would raise in this connection is the lack of uniformity in dealing with applications for grants. It is my opinion that a man having, say, only an acre of land should be entitled to these grants. It appears to be the position that in some districts there is no great difficulty in a cottier qualifying for grants, while in other districts a man may be told that because he is not a small farmer, the scheme does not apply to him. There must be uniformity in applying the regulations. The people I have in mind may be cottiers who have only small plots of land, but if they wish to build a wall around their yard or erect a piggery, they should be encouraged to do so. I wish the Minister to make it clear that such persons should qualify for the grant. To illustrate my point, I will mention the case of a cottier on behalf of whom I made representations to the Department with a view to his getting a grant for the erection of a piggery. This person failed to obtain the grant because he was not deemed to be a farmer. When I spoke to him recently he told me that he did not consider there was any point in making further representations and, consequently, he proceeded to build a piggery at his own expense. This man earns about £15 per week and the piggery he is erecting will accommodate about 50 pigs. It is a shame that he should have to bear the full cost of the work. I would like a ruling from the Minister on the operation of the scheme.
As I have said here on many occasions those people in rural Ireland who have an agricultural background but who may not be deriving their livelihood fully from agriculture should qualify for the grants that are available to farmers.
I would like to see an extension of the pilot areas but, of course, such  extension would cost money and the money must come from the pockets of the community. However, I notice from the latest official returns that there is a big increase in income to the Exchequer. For instance, income tax and surtax have brought in an increase of £40 million between the 1st April last year and the 10th March this year. There are increases in revenue from the various other taxes, too. Perhaps some of this extra money could be used to extend grants and also to have the pilot area extended. There has been a justifiable demand for such extension.
In doing that—it has just entered my mind—we would be doing a wrong because we have in other fields of agricultural activity taken away the advantages to the small man set down in our legislation. The Minister has seen fit as a member of the Government party—and I accept the democratic decisions of the elected Government of the country—to ensure that the man with 100 cows would get the same price per gallon for his milk proportionately as the man with one cow. Of course, that used not happen when we were interested in keeping the small people alive and keeping them on the land and in keeping up the numbers of small farmers. We did lean towards them, but that prop has now been withdrawn. Now the small man will have to face Brussels, Bonn, Paris, Rome and all the other big places with which we shall be associated on the same terms as his well-to-do brother, such as the Minister himself.
The subsidy on lime and fertiliser is a reasonably heavy one. I should like to know why people in the Berehaven Peninsula are precluded from taking lime from the mid-Cork quarries. Lime users may see a difference in the product from different lime kilns and I do not see why, if the distance between the districts is not too excessive, they should not be entitled to bring to their holdings the type of lime which they think is better than that from an alternative quarry. The Minister will say that it is we who will have to pay the subsidy or transport costs, but at the same time I have been asked by  farmers in the Berehaven district to seek more freedom of action as to the quarries from which their lime should be purchased.
Mr. Murphy: I just want to inquire about the Island butter subsidy. I understand it was to be in operation on 1st April. I am sorry that my time is so limited because I had a few other items to discuss.
Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries (Mr. J. Gibbons): I thank the Deputies who contributed to this discussion on the Supplementary Estimate, and since the number of contributors was rather limited, I shall begin by talking about Deputy Creed's contribution. He expressed anxiety that there may be a rapid swing in the future, possibly influenced by the beef cattle incentive scheme, from manufacturing milk into the production of beef. I should like to assure him about this. He is probably aware that last year 533 million gallons were delivered to creameries, and this is a record. He is probably also aware that farmers are now buying cows as fast as they can and in as great numbers as they can against the anticipated increases in milk prices that they know are available now. I would expect that in the coming year there would be an increase of at least 50 million gallons on last year's record level of milk production.
Mr. J. Gibbons: I have no figures on this, but I do not think it is generally true to say that there is a large fall-off in the number of milk producers. What is certain is that cow numbers, especially the numbers of heifers in-calf show an unprecedented rise, and it is very reasonable to assume that the increase in milk production in the coming year will be not only a record but will go forward by a  bigger jump than it has ever gone before.
Deputy Creed raised the question of the slavery that is traditionally attached to the production of dairy milk. This can be a problem, and like most problems it is capable of solution if it is tackled in the proper way. In this county and in my own as well and here and there throughout the country there are forming milking groups whereby the disagreeable task of Sunday milking is passed around from one farmer to the other, and farmers are allowed a number of free week-ends by arrangements with their neighbours. It need not necessarily be a serious difficulty at all. With the price inducements that are now available and with the better ones that are promised when we are in Europe, these problems will resolve themselves because it will be profitable to resolve them.
Deputy Creed expressed anxiety about the future of the land project, and Deputy Murphy, too, mentioned this and the farm building scheme as well. I am not aware that there is any reason at all why either one scheme or the other should be affected in any way to the detriment of farmers by our entry into the EEC, because they are in general conformity with the plans for farming in the Community itself.
Deputy Creed made some very succinct remarks about the very important question of farm education, a great deal of which I accept, but I think it is worth saying, too, that in the recent past we made some significant progress in the provision of the specialist schools for the training of the young men who will be the farmers of the future. I mentioned in my introductory speech the acquisition of the Kildalton school which will be able to accommodate, I think, speaking from memory, 100 to 120 pupils in horticulture and farming generally, and another farm school was opened by Rockwell as well in the past 12 months.
Mr. J. Gibbons: I am sure the House will forgive me if, under the admonition of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I start gathering up my notes and simply say that I have listened to the contributions made by the Deputies in the debate and will take note of them.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Perhaps the Chair should point out at this stage that in the next hour there are 16 Supplementary Estimates to be dealt with and Deputies will, therefore, have to be economical in their contributions.
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