Supplementary Estimates, 1980. - Vote 39: Agriculture (Resumed).

Wednesday, 26 November 1980

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 324 No. 8

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Debate resumed on the following motion:

That a supplementary sum not [1215] exceeding £10 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December 1980 for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Agriculture, including certain services administered by that Office, and for payment of certain subsidies and sundry grants-in-aid.

Mr. Keegan: Information on Seán Keegan  Zoom on Seán Keegan  Before reporting progress I was dealing with the arrangements that have been made by the Government to stave off a fodder crisis similar to that which we had in 1974 and 1975. I was complimenting the Minister for Agriculture and the Government for the efforts they made, unlike their predecessors in 1974 and 1975 when thousands of livestock died from starvation. Was it not a pity that the men with the superior intelligence in 1974 failed to anticipate that situation in the same way as the Minister for Agriculture and the present Government anticipated it in 1980? That in itself has been a major contribution in assisting farmers in overcoming problems caused not by the Government but by our climate in 1980. That scheme has been well received by the farming community and particularly by the smaller farmers who have been able to avail of a silage-making grant for the first time. The success of that scheme will become more evident when figures are produced for the number participating.

The disadvantaged areas scheme is another major step in assisting the smaller farmers in the west, in the north-west and in parts of north Leinster. I would like, and it is not just a pious hope, to have that scheme broadened so as to cover livestock producers in the midlands and the Munster area because while the scheme is of enormous advantage to the small farmers in the west and north-west it does not have the same effect in the midlands where farm inputs tend to be more costly and farm rates very much a factor at the present time. I ask the Minister—there is no better man to do it—to use his good offices in Brussels and elsewhere to try to devise ways and means of [1216] extending the scheme to include other areas. The scheme is of tremendous advantage to those who can avail of it to the full. It is one of the best schemes that has come on the agricultural scene for a long time. It is clear evidence that we still have people in charge of agriculture who are capable of seizing an opportunity when it arises.

The sheep subsidy scheme is another major step forward. I am delighted that it is working so well in the west where we have such a large sheep population at present. That scheme should be continued. Together with the outlets on the French market, I am confident that it will play a major role in stabilising the income of those engaged in sheep production. The scheme is an excellent one and anything that I could say would be inadequate in terms of doing justice to it. Perhaps it will be found possible to extend the scheme further but in this regard we must bear in mind the constraints on the Government. In addition, constraints are being created from day to day in Brussels. However, if it had not been for that scheme, agriculture would be in a worse position than it is.

We are fortunate in being able to find markets for all our agricultural produce. This situation is unlike that of 1974 and 1975 when, for instance, it was impossible for farmers to dispose of dropped calves. We have all heard the story of the farmer at the mart at that time who, on returning to his trailer in which he had left a dropped calf that he was trying to sell, found another calf had been left in the trailer. That is an indication of how bad the situation was then. The improvements that have been brought about are the result of the corrective measures taken by this Government. That is why the Minister should be given every cooperation in his efforts to improve the lot of the farming community.

We have many critics but there are very few who are able to put forward an alternative and workable solution. I was saddened to note recently that even farm leaders were unable to put forward any effective policy on their part which would lead towards an improvement in our agricultural scene. Their contribution [1217] was by way of asking for greater subventions from the State. I was one of those people who was convinced that our accession to the EEC would bring about a situation in which farmers would be able to operate both economically and profitably without the help of State subventions. Unfortunately, due to the hardening of attitudes on the part of consumers throughout Europe, it has been necessary to revert once again to the subvention system.

This year I have had the opportunity of visiting some other countries and during those visits I made special efforts to explore the farming scene. My most recent visit was to Greece and from what I found there I am convinced that that country will not be a serious competitor with us in our efforts to sell our produce on the European market. Instead, I expect Greece to become a customer of ours. Recently the Greek Minister for Agriculture, together with our Minister, signed an agreement creating another outlet for Irish dairy produce. In this connection I should like to pay tribute to Bord Bainne for the efforts they have made down through the years in marketing our dairy produce. The dairying industry has made a major contribution to our economy but had it not been for the establishment of Bord Bainne in the first instance, we would not have found it possible to achieve the success that has been achieved in this area. The board have explored markets throughout the world and they must be encouraged to continue to do so because we have an enormous capacity in the area of dairy produce and this produce is easier to dispose of than is beef, for instance, because milk is capable of being converted into milk powder and other products. It can be disposed of in countries in which it would not be possible for us to dispose of beef. The board must be given every encouragement to explore every market throughout the world. Dairying is an industry that is capable of quick expansion and at a time when there is retraction all over Europe it is encouraging for our farmers to know that there is a demand for their produce. Many of our co-operative creameries are urging [1218] farmers to increase their output and they are being encouraged in this regard by increased prices. I urge all dairy farmers to respond to this request. In this way they will increase their incomes to an extent that would not be possible otherwise.

On the question of the marketing of our beef and beef products, a more dynamic marketing board is required. I should like to see a situation in which all our beef exports would be in packet form, whether vac-packed or packed through the refrigerated system. Markets should be properly organised so that farmers would be aware a year in advance of the numbers of livestock that they could safely produce in the following year in terms of marketing. If farmers knew in advance the potential of each market, not only throughout Europe but throughout the world, they could plan accordingly. We are lucky in having intervention to fall back on but that is not the answer to the problem of surpluses in Europe. Properly organised marketing would represent a major step forward and would be of enormous benefit to the farmers who produce the raw materials. In this context the meat marketing board must step up their activities and explore the markets further. There is great potential in Germany in particular for Irish beef which is very much in demand there. The German consumers are pleased with this product but if the beef could be shipped direct to the German supermarkets and the other outlets, there would be the twofold benefit of our getting the maximum price for the product while the German consumer would be availing of a very fresh product. This is the sort of marketing programme that we must embark on if we are to meet the challenge of the future and if we are to ensure a future for our farmers. Just as Bord Bainne have assured a future for our dairying industry, the meat marketing people must ensure a future for the beef producers. I know that the Minister and the Government are concerned about this whole area and that they are anxious to streamline our marketing system so that our farmers may look forward to the future in the knowledge that there will be a market for [1219] their produce and that that produce can be disposed of at an economic price

Mention of prices brings me to the question of the more intensive areas of marketing. There is a hardening of attitude on the part of housewives in Europe towards paying higher prices for beef and beef products. That is a serious situation so far as the farming community is concerned because farm inputs have increased enormously during the years. Therefore, it is essential that greater emphasis be put on farm efficiency and in this connection the role of ACOT is becoming more significant. Farmers need expert advice if they are to become more efficient. Farm incomes will be improved only if there is more intensive production. I think an increase will be granted to agriculture when the Brussels package is hammered out this year. We do not know the extent of the increase but we realise it may not be adequate to compensate Irish farmers for the high cost of inputs. I have no doubt that this matter is receiving the close attention of the Minister, of the new agricultural bodies and of all of those people who are interested in improving the lot of our farmers.

If the farm organisations want to play their full role in improving the lot of their members they should face up to realities. They should get down to negotiations and try to hammer out the best deal. It is no use saying to the Government it is their problem. The farm organisations must be realistic. I am a member of such an organisation and I want to say to them that they have an opportunity now to show courage and leadership. The best way they can do that is to maintain the lines of communication between the Government, the Department of Agriculture and the various European bodies concerned. There is no use in shouting, in campaigning or in marching. That will achieve nothing. The Government are aware of the problems facing agriculture. They are sensitive to the needs of Irish farmers. There is no doubt that agriculture is our greatest single industry. If it thrives thousands of additional jobs can be created. The welfare of agriculture should be the concern of every section of [1220] society. In the past there has been far too much farmer bashing by the trade union movement which is well organised. There is little evidence that they have a clear understanding of the enormous problems faced by people engaged in agriculture. Now is the time to show responsibility. Now is the time to demonstrate leadership. Now is the time for action. Everyone concerned with agriculture must work together to get the best deal possible for Irish farmers in order to guarantee them and their successors a future on the land.

Unfortunately we still have a serious problem, namely, the continued incidence of brucellosis and TB in our livestock herds and this has greatly hampered the progress of agriculture. For almost 20 years farmers have been battling with these diseases and they have cost the Irish taxpayers millions of pounds. The end is not yet in sight. Everyone concerned with the welfare of our national herd should leave no stone unturned to guarantee an end to those diseases. They have wiped out many farms. I know from my own experience of cases where farmers have had clear herds but unfortunately when they bought in additional breeding stock the disease returned. The greatest loser in such a situation is not the taxpayer but the farmer because he is deprived of an income and is not able to borrow money. In many cases the banks or lending institutions have put pressure on the individual farmer to make the repayments and sometimes the lands were put on the market by the lending institutions. That disastrous situation should not be tolerated in the case of disease eradication because the farmer has no control over such matters. He is the loser in such a situation and, therefore, he is very conscious of the need for complete disease eradication.

I am satisfied the Government are intent on eradicating those diseases as quickly as possible. The farmers who suffer grave losses in such cases need more sympathetic compensation arrangements than exist at the moment. It takes them years to get back into business. A form of low interest loans should be made available without any strings attached. I [1221] am satisfied this matter is receiveing serious thought from the Government and possibly in the near future there will be a scheme that will go a long way towards solving the needs of the farmers who are in financial difficulties at the moment. There are thousands of farmers in such a situation. They availed of the money that was literally thrown at them between 1976 and 1978 by the lending institutions. Those institutions have decided now to call in the loans but the farmers are not in a position to pay them. As a result there is a crisis in agriculture. I appeal to those lending institutions to adopt the same lines as similar institutions have done in other countries and give the farmers a moratorium. They will have them in the end. They are good customers of all the banks and lending institutions and their successors will continue to deal with them. The banks and lending institutions should look upon them as their best customers and try to deal with them accordingly.

Now is the time for all of us engaged in agriculture to show courage. It is the time for farm leaders to give leadership and tell the Irish people what can be done. There is little use in complaining about a situation unless one can come up with a solution. Thousands are writing in agricultural journals and newspapers about the problems of agriculture. They are campaigning against the Government but they are unable, or incapable, of putting forward an alternative to help solve the serious situation in the farming industry. Those people should direct their attention to that because we must get together to ensure that our greatest industry continues to thrive in the years ahead

Mr. O'Donnell: Information on Thomas G. O'Donnell  Zoom on Thomas G. O'Donnell  Ba mhaith liomsa cúpla focal a rá ar an Meastachán Forlíontach seo. Os rud é go bhfuil trioblóidí agus deacrachtaí ag feirmeoiri na hÉireann agus ins an tionscal talmhaíochta faoi láthair, tá tábhacht ar leith ag baint leis an Meastachán Forlíontach seo. Tá imní mór ormsa tar éis ráiteas an Aire maidir leis an package seo, agus caithfidh mé a rá, ar an gcéad [1222] dul síos, go bhfuil sé soiléir ón ráiteas seo nach dtuigeann an Rialtas agus nach dtuigeann an tAire Talmhaíochta an staid uafásach ina bhfuil an tionscal talmhaíochta faoi láthair.

Looked at against the background of the very severe and serious economic and social problems that confront the Irish agricultural industry at present the Minister's speech, and the package of measures which the Supplementary Estimate is designed to finance, clearly reflects an appalling lack of understanding and appreciation on the part of the Minister and the Government of the extent, significance and frightening national implications of the serious agricultural crisis. This Supplementary Estimate, and the so-called rescue package, displays an incomprehensible lack of understanding by the Government. The Minister, in his speech, referred to the fact that the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance and himself had several discussions during the year with the main farming organisations. He stated that in recent months the Government had taken a number of measures to help farmers overcome their difficulties. It is hard to understand the response of the Government and the Minister for Agriculture to the crisis that now confronts the agricultural sector. Surely the Minister for Agriculture, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance must have been made fully aware in the course of their various meetings with the farming organisations of the fact that we are faced with an agricultural crisis of a gravity and a magnitude unprecedented in the past half century. If the Minister and the Government understood the situation correctly—I have no reason to doubt but that the leaders of the farming organisations presented their case clearly, unambiguously and emphatically to the Government—it is difficult to understand the puny and, as has been described by some Members, Mickey Mouse response by the Government to a case put so effectively by representatives of the farmers.

There is grave disappointment throughout the country at the weak response by the Government to this serious matter. The result now is—it is an inevitable and unfortunate one—that [1223] after months of painstaking, reasoned and patient presentation of their case to the Government and the various Ministers, farmers are now taking to the streets to present their case to the people of Ireland. I do not understand the attitude of the Minister. I should like to ask him a question which I hope he will reply to at the conclusion of the debate: does he, and his Ministers of State, seriously think that the package of measures outlined in the Supplementary Estimate are adequate to meet the crisis in the agricultural industry? I challenge the Minister to answer that fair question. If the Minister answers in the affirmative and states that this package is adequate to tackle the crisis I will have to tell him that he is living in cloud cuckoo land and he does not have any appreciation of the extent or the magnitude of the social and economic implications that will result from this crisis.

Statistics have been put forward in the course of this debate and I do not intend to repeat them. Suffice it to say that no section of the economy can survive or tolerate indefinitely a situation where the primary producers have to suffer a reduction in income or up to 50 per cent over the last couple of years. I gave figures recently in relation to the decline in farmers' incomes and the average family income of farmers. I am convinced that we are facing a serious situation in relation to this industry. If this is not tackled realistically and in a proper manner we will see repercussions that will last for many years. Farmers, as a result of a continuous fall in their income and as a result of rising costs and declining prices for their produce, are now faced with severe financial difficulties. It is a well known fact in Munster that farmers are selling breeding stock in order to meet current debts and liabilities. In the light of the fact that the dairy industry is the foundation of our agricultural economy the repercussions from such wholesale slaughtering of our breeding stock will be felt not merely in the agricultural sector but, directly and indirectly, in many other facets of our economic life.

Apart from the serious financial situation [1224] which most farmers find themselves in at present we are faced with an imminent and serious problem in that there will be massive redundancies in the food processing industry. Within the last 24 hours I heard of a major dairy processing plant which will be letting a substantial number of workers go over the next couple of weeks. Inevitably there will be a large number of redundancies in the food processing sector. Irish industry is going through a very difficult situation with a resultant number of closures, redundancies and so on. We cannot allow a situation to develop where the industries which process our primary produce are faced with massive redundancies or, perhaps, closures. Most shopkeepers in provincial towns—and this applies to my own city of Limerick—supply and service the agricultural industry. This is called the agri-business. This sector too, is being affected.

In recent months I heard of a young man who set up a small agricultural service industry five years ago. It proved very successful and he employed 20 or 25 people. This business has now gone into liquidation because of the catastrophic decline in farmers' incomes. They do not have the money to buy the machinery and equipment necessary for an expanding industry. The ramifications of this situation are very frightening. If there is a reduction in farming output, there will be continuous slaughtering of breeding stock; the processing industry will be affected and redundancies will take place. The supply and service sectors are feeling the brunt of this situation. I spoke to many people in the agri-business in recent weeks and they are all feeling the pinch and fear the present situation will inevitably lead to redundancies.

A number of ideas were put forward in this debate. I listened to yesterday's debate and read the opening speeches made last Thursday. I want to state emphatically — I am sure every farmer will agree — that this Supplementary Estimate and the measures contained therein, represent a mere token response, a cosmetic exercise, by the Government to a very severe crisis which is hitting our agricultural industry. The [1225] present crisis confronting that industry cannot be effectively tackled by this halfhearted response. The Minister referred to silage subsidies, the Euro-loan and so on, which all add up to £50 million.

I support the case made by our spokesman, Deputy Bruton. He estimated that the real and meaningful rescue package necessary for the agricultural industry should be for a minimum of £300 million. Nothing less will do, and certainly not the miserable £50 million supplied in this Estimate. This will not solve the problem. Farmers are not fools and the farming organisations know their jobs. They are not taking to the streets for fun. They have enough problems without leaving their farms to protest at the gates of Leinster House and parade in the streets, but they have no other option. This is a sad reflection on the policies of a Government elected in 1977 with substantial electoral support from the farmers.

I cannot help comparing the present developing agricultural crisis, particularly the manner in which the Government are handling it, with the way a Fianna Fáil Government handled a similar situation in the sixties. Then, instead of responding realistically to the legitimate demands of the farming community and their organisations, the then Government had them carted away in the “Black Maria” as they appeared at the gates of Leinster House, and farmers were left sitting in front of the office of the Minister for Agriculture for nine weeks. I was in the House at that time and recall that occasion very well. The difficulties confronting the agricultural industry at that time were by no means as serious as the situation confronting them now.

Over the past six or seven years, particularly since we joined the EEC, there has been substantial investment by the farming community in the improvement of their holdings, massive investment in equipment and gearing their farms to the most efficient level of productivity. The farmers were aided by the financial institutions, lending agencies and so on. Unfortunately, and perhaps the most serious aspect of the present crisis is that the most progressive farmers who invested most by way of time and money [1226] in developing their farms in the past seven or eight years, who had to incur enormous indebtedness, are now hit most severely.

It is regrettable that after months of pleading by the farming organisations drastic action has to be taken. I fully support the demands of the farming organisations. Every Deputy in this House, especially those representing rural constituencies, must be aware of the real situation. What can be done?

I have been in this House for the past 20 years and I believe that the role of an Opposition, in addition to criticising Government policy, is to put forward constructive suggestion. Let us be honest and admit that this package cannot solve the problem. This cannot be denied and I challenge the Minister to try to deny it. This package is only scratching the surface of the problem confronting the agricultural industry.

Many Deputies referred to the European Economic Community. The Minister referred to various subheads. He referred to the Euro loan and the new sheepmeat policy. It is only natural that in any discussion in Irish agriculture inside this House or elsewhere reference should be made to the EEC. Since we joined the Community the lives and fortunes of our farmers have been determined to an ever greater extent by decisions taken in Brussels and in the Councils of the EEC.

I have said that I accept the figure of £300 million put forward by the spokesman on agriculture for this party as the amount needed to bring the industry out of its present crisis and put it on the road to progress again. A rescue and recovery package to the tune of £300 million is needed to implement a realistic policy. I have the honour to be a Member of the European Parliament and I believe that the Minister must look very seriously at the possibilities of securing a substantial part of this money from the EEC. The money can be obtained if the case is properly presented. I accept that the Common Agricultural Policy is coming under concerted and continuous attack from many quarters in the European Parliament and many sections throughout [1227] the Community. In addition to the fact that Irish farmers are suffering from the results of national inflation, we are also faced with the grim possibility of the CAP being revised, reviewed or rearranged in a way which could be seriously detrimental to the welfare of Irish farmers. I believe the only way the Government can deal effectively with this crisis is by the formulation of a comprehensive rescue package to be presented to the EEC. At least 50 per cent of the cost of that package could and, I am convinced, will be forthcoming from the EEC under various instruments and agencies. In the Protocol to the Treaty of our accession to the EEC definite commitments were given and the entire island of Ireland was recognised as an under-developed area. Not only is this the case but agriculture is the mainstay, a fundamental and integral part of the economy. Resources not only under the agricultural instruments but from the regional and social funds should be sought by the Government to support a realistic rescue package for the agricultural industry.

Unfortunately the whole EEC situation at present is absolutely crazy and becoming more crazy with every day that passes. There is a very severe budgetary crisis which will have serious implications for our agricultural industry. A new country is joining the EEC on 1 January and there is no proper financial provision in the mechanism of the EEC to cater for the additional demands which will be put on the budget. The Minister will have to adopt a hard and tough line in his negotiations at EEC level during the next six months. He must vigorously resist the idea which is gaining momentum that we must slash the resources allocated to the CAP in order to formulate a realistic regional and social policy. In such a situation we have the worst of both worlds because any type of regional policy in relation to this country which does not include agriculture as an important and integral part is not a regional policy at all.

Many suggestion have been put forward in the course of this debate in regard to finding solutions to the serious agricultural [1228] crisis. I deplore the appalling lack of imagination, understanding and dynamism clearly reflected in the Minister's speech. Desperate situation of this kind demand new thinking, new ideas and new attitudes and they also demand the formulation of a comprehensive rescue package. The Minister is justifiably under severe attack from the farming organisations, the farming community and those involved in ancillary activities related to agriculture. The criticism is fully warranted and the Minister must face up to the situation now.

I am convinced that aid could be obtained from the EEC and all of us who are members of the European Parliament, irrespective of the parties to which we belong, will give our support to his case for aid. I am sure there will be unanimous consensus among all my colleagues. We will fight within the various committees and within the Parliament itself for justice for the Irish case. Failure on the part of the Minister will have frightening repercussions for the national economy. Unfortunately the crisis in our agricultural industry is occurring at a time when the whole national economy is in serious trouble. We have had a disastrous tourism year and every day there are redundancies and closures affecting manufacturing industry, and now, on top of it all, our most fundamental industry, agriculture, is in a situation which is unprecedented over the past 50 years. I would support any steps the Minister might take to find the finances both from national resources and from European resources. From the research I have done over the past few months and from my knowledge of the workings of the EEC I know that aid is available. It should be available if the EEC means anything to us at all. I would go further and say that if the EEC is not prepared to recognise the serious situation in agriculture here we will have to re-think the whole question of our continued membership of the EEC.

There are other aspects to the agricultural situation which the Minister mentioned and which I have a personal interest in. One matter was the recent developments in the EEC in regard to [1229] sheep. Agreement was recently reached after many years of negotiation to have a common organisation of the market for sheep meat. I concur with the Minister in expressing the hope that sheep producers can now look forward with greater confidence to the future. The Minister is hopeful, and indeed so are the rest of us, of the opportunities of a community-wide market in relation to the production of quality lambs. In this respect I want to pay special tribute to my colleague, Deputy Mark Clinton, who is a member of the European Parliament and a member of the Agricultural Committee who played a leading part both in the Agricultural Committee of the European Parliament and in the various debates in the Parliament itself on the formulation of this new sheep meat policy. I am sure the Minister will join with me in that.

I want to draw the Minister's attention to the question of mountain lambs. A very interesting pilot experiment was carried out with which I had the honour to be closely associated. That was the concept of co-operative lamb fattening stations, the first of which was opened in Achill Island in 1975. Subsequently there was a very large one opened in Connemara at Maam, and the largest and perhaps most successful one is at Lispole near Dingle. This concept of bringing the lambs down from the mountain into a central factory unit was pioneered by the Department of the Gaeltacht in 1974 and 1975 following advice and research by the Agricultural Institute. Dr. Tynan in particular was the man who played a leading role in that and I want to pay a special tribute to him. The Minister should look at this concept of co-operative lamb fattening stations. They could be extended to various other mountainous regions.

I was very pleased to read in some newspaper over the past week about the move by sheep farmers in a certain part of west Cork towards this concept as well. The reason I want to draw the Minister's attention to it is this: in relation to the Achill lamb fattening station, the Maam Valley one and the Lispole one, the finance came from the Department of the Gaeltacht following consultation with the Department of Agriculture and with the [1230] Agricultural Institute and there was a grant scheme available through the Department of the Gaeltacht. But there may be farmers outside the Gaeltacht who are contemplating the possibility of introducing this idea— I hope there are many such groups of farmers—and the Minister should look at the possibility of providing grant aid similar to what is available for the projects that have been established in the Gaeltacht. Perhaps such aid is available from the Department of Agriculture in the non-Gaeltacht areas. But I would respectfully draw the attention of the Minister to the possibilities. There are enormous possibilities; there are mountainous areas and there are mountain sheep farmers in areas other than Gaeltacht areas. I can accept the idea of special aid being available for projects of that kind in the Gaeltacht but the economic arguments outside the Gaeltacht are equally strong. I am not saying that this is ideal, that all is rosy in the garden and that these projects were perfect but they were pilot projects, new ideas and they have worked overall. The most recent report was on the Lispole project in respect of which a substantial grant of about £75,000 was sanctioned by me as Minister for the Gaeltacht and it is working very effectively and very well.

The Minister also referred to another very interesting topic, the question of Irish food exports. He refers to the need for more co-ordinated and better marketing of Irish food products. The whole question of the Irish food industry is coming more and more to the forefront in recent times. We are beginning to recognise something that we failed to recognise properly since the foundation of the State, that we are an agricultural country with the soil and the climate and the natural conditions conducive to the development of a major food processing sector. The situation up to now has not been satisfactory at all. It is ironic that an agricultural country such as this imports a substantial amount of food products that could be produced at home. I came across a report recently in relation to that. It was a clear indication of the manner in which we have failed over the years to develop a proper food industry. Food [1231] imports have increased in value by £21 million in the last year alone; this is an increase of 32 per cent in all. Among the items here I see that imports of frozen vegetables have increased from just £200,000 in 1970 to over £8 million in 1979. In the meantime the vegetable growing acreage in Ireland has dropped from over 10,000 acres in 1974 to just under 7,000 acres in 1979 and it is even less now. This is an appalling reflection on the attitudes and the policies of successive Governments to the type of production tnat we are most fitted for. I believe that despite the difficulties that confront the agricultural industry at present, the situation can be solved if it is tackled realistically, if the Government will recognise the real problems and the real crisis confronting the industry, provided they respond in an appropriate manner to the present crisis by formulating a comprehensive rescue package to be jointly financed by them and the EEC. This will restore confidence to the farming community. The Minister made a most extraordinary statement in the light of present circumstances when he said that farmers were continuing to invest in their farms, improve their output and increase their stock. I live among farmers and meet them every weekend. I have met only one farmer in the last 12 months who told me he was buying a new piece of equipment. Every week-end I meet farmers who tell me they are at their wits end to try to meet urgent debts. I do not want to be contentinous regarding this. I am as concerned about the future of the agricultural industry as I am sure the Minister is. We must put our heads together and face the fact that we have a serious crisis on our hands. We must utilise all the resources available to us to implement a comprehensive, realistic rescue package for our agricultural industry.

I make a plea that no more reports be produced. We have had experts of all types from the State agencies involved in agriculture to various voluntary organisations producing documents; we have had various policy documents, reports and suggestions produced in recent [1232] months. I suggest that we need realistic action. Ba chóir don Aire, an Rialtas agus go háirithe ba chóir don Taoiseach beart a dhéanamh do réir ar mbriathar.

Mr. Cogan: Information on Barry Cogan  Zoom on Barry Cogan  I would like to take this opportunity of congratulating the Minister on the impact he is making on the people engaged in agriculture. He is a most acceptable Minister to farmers and to farmers organisations. He knows the problems which they have in this very difficult year because of international events and our weather. Many farmers are not in a healthy financial state. They are a very level-headed category of people who are becoming much more business-like. They have confidence in themselves, the Government and in the Minister and are confident that he is making every effort possible to improve their lot.

We hear a lot of talk about the oil which we may have in the future but we have an important resource in our agricultural land. Farmers are becoming better educated and better able to produce that wealth and to turn it into what for us is oil. In Cork and in Munster generally dairying is our biggest industry. We must ensure that every effort is made to contain the present size of the dairying herd and to see that cow numbers are increased. Milk testing and recording facilities should be used by farmers. We should ensure that all farmers know that those facilities are available. They should be shown comparisons between the people who are recording, the average yield they have as against what the people who do not record have. ACOT should give every assistance and advice to ensure that production is increased.

The creamery co-operatives and the meat processing co-operatives have a big part to play. They have a very big investment in the agricultural industry. Many of the creamery co-ops have enough investment for years ahead and will not need to build new processing plants. We need to get herd numbers up and milk supplies up to make those processing plants an economic proposition. There is a great spin-off from milk production not [1233] only in milk, cheese and other products but also in beef.

With regard to beef marketing, it is very important that employers and employees get together to see that those plants are made very efficient and to ensure that there is an inducement for farmers to sell to the meat plants. The people involved in their operation must be made aware of the importance of the beef industry to our economy. Selling and exporting beef on the hoof is an outlet for farmers who cannot always get cattle easily into factories. I believe if farmers were given the right incentive they would prefer to sell at home and see our beef ready for marketing to our housewives rather than see it going out live to other countries. I appeal to everybody concerned to see how efficiently those factories are being run elsewhere. Management and the trade unions should go abroad to see what our competitors are doing. It is a national disgrace that we are exporting raw material for processing in another country when there is a crying need to retain existing jobs and to provide new jobs for our young people. Here is an obvious way in which we can give employment, and very good employment, and add to the wealth of the nation.

We here have the land, the climate, the know-how and, I believe, the will to produce the best vegetables in the world. I urge that the most up-to-date processing and marketing facilities, which we already have in some cases, be adopted. These are not as efficient as I believe they could be. Every day of the week in the supermarkets and the food stores more and more foreign produced and packaged vegetables are to be seen. We see them advertised as health foods. The best health foods are fresh vegetables. Housewives should support their own country markets and their own farmers, thus helping in some small way our balance of payments. We must change people's attitudes regarding what is available. Our supermarkets and food stores should have an Irish corner. At times it is difficult for people who want to buy Irish to find Irish produce in the stores because there are so many foreign items on the shelves. I look forward to the day when [1234] we may have an imports corner, because our own Irish products would be so well packaged, presented and of such high quality and good value that they would take the majority of space in all the Irish food stores.

The repayment of high interest loans is probably of most concern to farmers today, especially the most progressive ones who have expanded, on the advice available from the banking organisations, agricultural advisers, the finance houses and their own county committees of agriculture. Due to the fluctuation in interest rates farmers who borrowed at 12 to 12½ per cent find themselves at times paying up to 20 per cent interest repayments. Farmers with whom I have discussed this problem during the last year would borrow again in the future if they were guaranteed a lower rate of interest. They do not want anything for nothing. If they get a service they expect to pay for it. The Minister should consider a level rate of interest and over a much longer period, as in most businesses. Too much pressure should not be put on anyone who may hit a lean period, which is what has happened in the past year. A number of things went wrong and farmers found themselves in difficulty. I am only adding my voice to many others who are asking the banks and money lending agencies to see the present situation as an emergency which will not readily occur again. Farmers are a very sound proposition and will get out of this difficult situation. They do not let their difficulties pile on top of them. They are prepared to get to work and can see that there is a future in the farming industry, particularly here with our tradition of the farmer's family following in his footsteps. The banks and lending agencies should realise that farming is a peculiar industry and needs a particular type of attention. I hope that the Minister, the Government and the finance organisations will work out something which will be in the long term most beneficial to the country.

Looking at the number of farm modernisation grants which have been or will be paid out this year one sees that they have increased over what was budgeted for, from £36.5 million to £59.5 million. [1235] Speaking from memory, last year it was £22 or £23 million. This is a vast increase, which shows the investment and improvements made by farmers over the past number of years. The farmers and the Minister should promote a continuity of investment with the emphasis on increasing stock. No matter how we increase our stock, whether beef or dairy, we have a long way to go before we reach our full potential. Every possible incentive should be given to farmers. It should be pointed out to them that, as far as increase in production is concerned, the sky is the limit. We have the markets, but must look after them. We have the facilities for intervention and for processing. The opportunities are there, given the proper encouragement and facilities.

I compliment the Minister and the Department on the continuous efforts being made to eradicate disease. Although animal disease breaks out here and there occasionally for some reason, I do not think it will be long until we have got rid of the scourges of TB, brucellosis, warble fly and all the others, because farmers are getting the message that disease eradication is for their benefit.

I shall deal briefly with the conditions in my constituency. I should like to see the expansion of the agricultural colleges, if we cannot get new ones. Every facility should be given to ACOT to do the job they were set up to do. I should like to see farm centres throughout the county properly staffed, with clerk-typists and with a telephone service so that agricultural instructors would be accessible to farmers in these difficult days.

The agricultural colleges are being used extensively by farming boys and girls who are anxious to be educated to the highest standards. As a result, our farmers are becoming a well-educated sector of the community. We should not deny them the opportunity to spend at least one year in an agricultural college. However, due to the unprecedented demands from boys and girls, the places available are not numerous enough. I make a special plea to have ACOT offices properly staffed so that the expensively [1236] trained agricultural advisers can get out in the field to do their work among farmers.

I commend the Minister and the Department on the introduction of the fodder scheme this winter. Because of the efforts of ACOT staffs many farmers made silage this year for the first time and because farmers have been made aware of the benefits of silage they will continue to make it in the future. I should like to pay a tribute to the Department and the Minister for introducing a subsidy on nitrogenous fertilisers. We should look carefully at the international price structures of this valuable nutrient so that our farmers will be able to buy it at the right price. Nitrogen is the final push that will give increased production and make the additional few pounds that will render farming economic.

In these difficult days it is important that the agricultural scene be kept reviewed constantly and I compliment the Minister on his efforts in this respect.

He should keep in close contact with the farming organisations so that there will not be any breakdown in communications. Given the right conditions farmers will respond. The present Minister for Agriculture is the right man for the job and I wish him well in his important post. I hope he will have every success in his negotiations in Brussels in the coming year and that as a result our farmers will have a bright 1981.

Mr. Griffin: Information on Brendan Griffin  Zoom on Brendan Griffin  I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on this Supplementary Estimate. I will bring a few facts and figures to the attention of the Minister of State now in the House who, I hope, will convey them to the Minister.

It would be remiss of me as a Deputy from south Tipperary, the Golden Vale, if I did not bring to the attention of the Minister the plight of farmers there. I will do so in a cool, objective way. The Minister should not be under any illusion about the feelings of the farming community in south Tipperary. This Supplementary Estimate is totally inadequate, too little, too late. It gives me the impression that the Minister has not got any perception of the real difficulties affecting [1237] farmers and the industry in general. To my mind, this Supplementary Estimate is only a piece of shadow boxing, window dressing, gimmickry. It does not attempt to deal with the real crunch issues.

It has been said quite often by Deputies on this side that there is a crisis in agriculture, and I re-emphasise that. Farmers have not experienced such a crisis since the bad black days of the Economic War. There are feelings of deep despondency and loss of confidence among farmers and once a farmer loses confidence it is very hard to restore it. Older farmers still recall the Economic War. Now, unfortunately, progressive young farmers are being caught in this crisis and I have no doubt it will leave an indelible mark on their minds which will prevent them from doing anything new or progressive, that will stop them from seeking the guidance of agricultural instructors or departmental officers. Once bitten, twice shy.

The Government are totally insensitive to the real feelings of farmers. That seems strange because the Minister must have been given advice by rural Deputies on his side and therefore he cannot be unaware of the feelings among farming organisations. He has seen the marches. To say the least of it, this Supplementary Estimated, depicted as a cure for present ills in agriculture, is highly insulting. Perhaps the picture the Minister would like to paint could be sold to the National Gallery, but I doubt that it could be sold to the farmers of south Tipperary. To me in that picture there are no warm hues of rose and pink. To me it is black, grey and sombre. I take no pleasure in being gloomy about the situation. That is how I find it. If I were to describe it otherwise I would be misleading the House and the Minister who has overall responsibility for agriculture. I should like to bring to his notice once again some of the harsh realities which have been described more eloquently many times from this side of the House.

It is widely accepted and undisputed that in the past two years farmers' income in real terms has dropped by 50 per cent. That is accepted by all sides of the House. Unfortunately, it is also expected that in [1238] the coming years farmers' income will fall by a further 10 per cent. That is against the background of industrial workers and other workers getting an increase of 6.7 per cent in real terms over the past two years. There is the crunch, in my opinion. The farming community are one of the hardest working elements in our economy. They are not afraid of hard work. They are prepared to work hard and take a gamble. All they expect is a fair return for their money and their efforts. In sharp contrast to the largesse of the Government to other sections of the community, particularly in subsidising semi-State bodies, they see the meagre allowances given to the farming industry, and rightly they have reason to crib, to be disillusioned and to be fearful of the Minister.

We are also told that in the past two years input into agriculture increased by over 30 per cent. I find it very difficult to accept that the Government have no long-term plan for agriculture. These are all stop-gap measures. An ordinary farmer has to have a five-year development plan to get the grants available to him from the EEC. If a farmer has to have a plan extending over five years, surely the Government of the day should at least have a long-term plan for agriculture to indicate to the farmers in what direction they should go. When farmers compare themselves with their industrial counterparts in the EEC they see that agriculture is blossoming and blooming in the EEC countries.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture (Mr. Allen): Information on Lorcan Allen  Zoom on Lorcan Allen  The Deputy should tell us where.

Mr. Griffin: Information on Brendan Griffin  Zoom on Brendan Griffin  In Europe in the first six months of this year milk output increased by up to 4.2 per cent. In Ireland there was a decrease of 0.4 per cent. In Ireland farm labour decreased in 1979 by 4.5 per cent. This year there was a drop in milk and cow numbers were down by 5 per cent. Milk is expected to be down 4 per cent again next year.

Mr. Allen: Information on Lorcan Allen  Zoom on Lorcan Allen  The Deputy's figures are all wrong.

[1239]Mr. Griffin: Information on Brendan Griffin  Zoom on Brendan Griffin  I can stand over those figures. The Minister should produce alternative figures and his source and we will compare them.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Seán Browne  Zoom on Seán Browne  We cannot debate the matter across the House. Deputy Griffin is in possession.

Mr. Griffin: Information on Brendan Griffin  Zoom on Brendan Griffin  I was interrupted by the Minister.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Seán Browne  Zoom on Seán Browne  The Minister will have to remain silent.

Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  He can have his say later.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Seán Browne  Zoom on Seán Browne  He has already had his say and he cannot speak again. Apart from that, we will have to get a little closer to the Supplementary Estimate. Every speaker is going miles away from it and the Chair has gone to sleep on it.

Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  I am delighted that the Chair is having a rest.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Seán Browne  Zoom on Seán Browne  That is about the size of it, and Deputies are going to town in the meantime.

Mr. Griffin: Information on Brendan Griffin  Zoom on Brendan Griffin  If the Minister would go to the country we would be pleased. I am also pleased that the Minister has found a new interest in speaking to make up for past silences over an extended period.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Seán Browne  Zoom on Seán Browne  There is nothing in the Supplementary Estimate about that either.

Mr. Griffin: Information on Brendan Griffin  Zoom on Brendan Griffin  Perhaps we could put in a subhead to encourage him to speak a little more.

Mr. Allen: Information on Lorcan Allen  Zoom on Lorcan Allen  Talk is cheap. Silence speaks louder than words.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Seán Browne  Zoom on Seán Browne  The Minister cannot talk at this stage.

Mr. Allen: Information on Lorcan Allen  Zoom on Lorcan Allen  On a point of information, [1240] I should like to know where the Deputy got his statistics.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Seán Browne  Zoom on Seán Browne  If the Deputy is quoting figures from any document he must give us the source, but if he is giving them off the top of his head like most other Deputies, we cannot press for the source.

Mr. Griffin: Information on Brendan Griffin  Zoom on Brendan Griffin  I will communicate with the Minister.

Mr. Allen: Information on Lorcan Allen  Zoom on Lorcan Allen  He has quoted figures from something in front of him.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Seán Browne  Zoom on Seán Browne  If he is quoting figures from a document he gives the source of the document.

Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  The Minister should put down a parliamentary question.

Mr. Allen: Information on Lorcan Allen  Zoom on Lorcan Allen  He is quoting from a document.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Seán Browne  Zoom on Seán Browne  If Deputy Griffin is quoting from a document he should give the source of the document. If not, he is in order to go ahead and give the figures from his notes.

Mr. Griffin: Information on Brendan Griffin  Zoom on Brendan Griffin  I will communicate with the Minister.

Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  He is quoting from his experience in his constituency.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Seán Browne  Zoom on Seán Browne  That is fair enough. If he says that, I accept it.

Mr. Allen: Information on Lorcan Allen  Zoom on Lorcan Allen  He has quoted percentages.

Mr. Griffin: Information on Brendan Griffin  Zoom on Brendan Griffin  The Minister is out of order.

Mr. Allen: Information on Lorcan Allen  Zoom on Lorcan Allen  The Deputy should not be here at all. He is a computer.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Seán Browne  Zoom on Seán Browne  The Minister should remain silent.

Mr. Allen: Information on Lorcan Allen  Zoom on Lorcan Allen  Deputy Griffin is unique in the House.

[1241]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Seán Browne  Zoom on Seán Browne  The Minister will not be unique if he continues interrupting.

Mr. Griffin: Information on Brendan Griffin  Zoom on Brendan Griffin  We should be serious in our attitude to agriculture and its importance to the economy. I will give a quotation of the NESC report, No. 26. The prelude to planning states that in the growth process the key sectors are agriculture and the manufacturing industry and the agricultural sector, including its associated supply and processing industry, accounts for 48 per cent of the total value of output with the remaining 52 per cent being contributed by manufacturing industry. We must establish the importance of agriculture to the economy and, having established it, we must go about rescuing it when it is in a state of crisis, as it is at present. Unfortunately the rot has set in in this year's budget.

In the golden years, when Deputy Mark Clinton was Minister, farm increases accrued yearly at the rate of 12 to 15 per cent and farmers enjoyed a certain amount of prosperity. Unfortunately that era did not last. The Government were not aware of that and in this year's budget introduced a multiplicity of measures against the farming community to extract from them their hard-earned money and they have left the farmers totally unprepared and under-financed to meet these difficulties. From a milk account of a co-operative creamery I found that there is an EEC levy at 1.3740p per gallon to be deducted, a dairy inspection levy at 0.1p per gallon, a research levy of 0.5p, a Board Bainne levy of 1 per cent and an IFA/ICMSA levy. A farmer recently gave me the deductions that he had to pay on each animal. There was insurance of 75p, a contribution of 0.1 per cent to the IFA fund—that might be because he is a member of that organisation——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Seán Browne  Zoom on Seán Browne  None of these things are in the Supplementary Estimate. The Deputy is getting a lot of latitude but he is going to town on it.

Mr. Griffin: Information on Brendan Griffin  Zoom on Brendan Griffin  —— there is also the Department of Agriculture vet examination [1242] fee of £1 per animal, the Department of Agriculture disease levy of £3 per animal and a CBF levy of 50p per animal amounting to approximately £5, leaving out cartage and other things. These levies are imposed on farmers by the Minister and his Department. If the Minister is serious in his attempts to rescue the farming community he should abolish most of these levies thus doing something positive and concrete for the farming community. The Minister is crying crocodile tears that he is concerned about the plight of the farmers when, at the same time, he insists that these levies be deducted from the milk or meat cheque.

I cannot speak in golden terms about subhead D.10, the £600,000 given as assistance to the farming community. One allowance is £20 per ton of fertiliser and the other is £3 per ton of silage up to a maximum of £50. It has been represented to me by the farmers that a subsidy of £20 per ton for a farmer who has lost his meadow of hay is an insult to his intelligence. There are many farmers in that position in South Tipperary. That £20 is only the cost of 10 to 15 bales of hay. That puts it in its proper perspective and likewise the £3 per ton to a maximum of £50. It is only a drop in the ocean to compensate farmers for their loss of silage of hay and it is so way out that it is ridiculous.

I am concerned about the division between urban and rural Ireland. Both sections should be complementary to each other. Will the Minister do everything he can to bring the two sections together? They are interdependent and should not continue to be suspicious of each other. We are all in this together and if we have a rich agricultural community the money will percolate into everybody's pockets. If things are going well for the farming community the processing industry will be maintained, there will be extra employment and the supply and other services will be maintained. I urge the Minister to try to defuse this ongoing row between the urban and rural community.

I would draw the Minister's attention to the disadvantaged areas. I regret there [1243] is no financial provision in the Estimate to include the Slieve Felim area of County Tipperary despite the promises of the present Minister for Finance three-and-a-half years ago that the area would be included. Will the Minister have another look at this to see if he could use his bargaining powers in the EEC to have it included?

Our best efforts should now be directed towards a short-term policy to help the farmers out of this present crisis and we should then develop a five-year plan for farmers so that they can plan ahead. What is needed at the moment is for the Minister to fight tigerishly in Europe as did his predecessor, Deputy Mark Clinton, to have a minimum of a 10 per cent increase. I note in this week's issue of the Farmers' Journal that already there are attempts to undermine this minimum of 10 per cent. In the initial debates on the 1981 budget the parliament have passed a series of resolutions limiting farm price rises to a maximum of 5 per cent. Some farmers' organisations in Europe are looking for a 15.3 per cent increase in order that their incomes will not fall. On top of that our farmers are looking for an extra increase of approximately 19 per cent to bring them up to the levels of their industrial counterparts. The Minister must go to Europe with a well prepared plan and ask for assistance as we have not enough resources of our own. If we put forward a plan and agree that the Irish Government will give £for £ the EEC Ministers will help to tide us over this short-term crisis until our farmers find their feet.

A proposal put forward by Macra na Feirme was that a green £ devaluation could compensate for our high inflation from Brussels. We are told that there is flexibility of the 1.53 per cent allowable for the devaluation of the green £. I would urge the Minister to see if that is feasible. I have no doubt from discussions with members of the farming organisations that the devaluation of the green £ would be to our advantage.

As regards a Government subsidy on farm inputs, especially interest rates and fertilisers, the Government removed the [1244] subsidy on fertilisers which the interParty Government had. The Minister should have another look at the matter. We are told that the French Government are about to take certain precautions to ensure that the income of French farmers does not drop. In this week's issue of the Farmers' Journal we are told that the most likely way the French Government will assist farmers is by a major VAT refund, a range of interest rate subsidies and, in some sectors, retrospective price increases. The decision of the French Government is a dramatic indication of how conscious they are of the need to maintain agricultural confidence and increase production. If the French Government can do so our Government should, especially as our economy is much more dependent on agriculture than the French economy is.

Other short-term ways in which we can help would be to pay off all outstanding grants. I know the Minister has made provision in the Estimate for this but I have known cases of where farm modernisation grants were outstanding for six to eight months. The farmers in question came to me time and again and I made repeated representations to the Minister. All I got were promises. Eventually most of the grants were paid. This is no concession to the farming community because they were entitled to the grants. The work had been contracted for and many farmers had to borrow at high interest rates to pay off the contractor while waiting for the final payment of the grant.

As regards marketing, we are told that the butter market will remain static for the next ten years but for the beef, veal, mutton, lamb and pigmeat sectors there is an expected increase in sales of 50 per cent and cheese will go to 75 per cent. An all-out effort should be made by the Department to avail of this hope for an increase in outlets for meat and cheese. I am glad that in Tipperary town a cheese plant is currently being erected.

It was brought to my notice recently that a person who went into a supermarket was appalled when he saw the rows and rows of imported foodstuffs. This is something the Government must look at seriously. We import about £20 million [1245] worth of foodstuffs that we could manufacture here. This should be of great concern to the Minister. He should set up a marketing board which would market our existing products in a more attractive way and set out to counter the temptation to import foodstuffs that we could manufacture with our own raw materials.

The Minister should look at the possibility of having a fixed rate of interest. This is one of the major causes of the present crisis especially among young progressive farmers. When they undertook farm development work they got loans at the rate of 12 per cent from bank managers or the ACC. All their future projections were based on 12 per cent. When the interest rate increased to 19 per cent and 21 per cent all their projections went awry and their expectations were completely disrupted. I know there are difficulties in getting fixed interest rates but it would be worth pursuing. If a farmer enters into an agreement with a bank manager to borrow £40,000 at 12 per cent, the rate of interest should be fixed at 12 per cent for the duration of the loan. If the following day he got another loan at 18 per cent he would have got it in the full knowledge of what the repayments would be. When there is flexibility in the interest rate there cannot be positive planning. The Minister and those in the Department of Finance should look at this.

The major task is to restore confidence, especially among young farmers, in the industry. That confidence has been eroded. Perhaps in 1982 things will improve. Confidence must be restored if we are to encourage them to progress and avail of the opportunities that undoubtedly exist in the EEC. At present they are disillusioned and are looking to the Minister for guidance.

We could remove a lot of the nationally imposed levies. We could do away with the base for the resource tax and rates which perhaps will be established in the European Court as an unjust and iniquitous type base for assessing people's ability to pay. We are told that there is a poor law valuation shock for the Cabinet because indication are that in the European Court this 150 year old system will [1246] be found unconstitutional. That will have many repercussions for the farming sector.

I urge the Minister in the short-term, in order to get out of the crises situation and the predicament that the farming community are in, to come forward with a more realistic package of help. From that he could go forward, in association with the farming organisations who are experts in the field and know the feelings of their members, and plan ahead so that agriculture can give the economy the return that is there. I have always stated that our greatest asset is the nine inches of topsoil we have. Oil fields may or may not be there but we are sure and certain of our fertile nine inches of topsoil. The Government, the Opposition and the farming organisations working together can capitalise on that but the farming community must be given the wherewithal, help and confidence. Until that confidence is restored and the financial help is given we will only go on with this stop-gap planning with no overall plan to make Ireland what I feel it could be — the real garden of Europe.

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  I am glad to have an opportunity of contributing to this debate especially since the main Estimate relates to the farm modernisation scheme. The bulk of the Estimate, £23 million, is going towards the payment of grants in connection with farm development and that indicates that there is confidence in the long-term ability of the industry. That is important.

In the first nine months of this year £51 million was paid out in grants relating to farm buildings and land reclamation. That is an indication that the farming community themselves are confident that this depression we are experiencing is only short-term and it is caused by a number of factors, some of them within our control, some outside our control. I am glad that the Government have taken steps to ease the burden and make this depression as short-term as possible. I do not have to go into the various items which were included in recent packages of incentives and aids for the farming [1247] community to help them overcome this short-term problem.

It is important that additional moneys be made available to encourage farmers to develop their enterprises. It is very important for the farming community, and indeed for the whole community, to find people engaged in our primary industry modernising their farm and reclaiming their land. It is estimated that half of the land in Ireland is considered marginal. If half of it is marginal we have a very big job of work to do to bring that into useful production. At every seminar and lecture concerning agriculture we hear that efficiency is the key word, efficiency in production, processing and marketing. Efficiency of production will be helped by the reclamation of land and the improvement of farm buildings. Generally the farmers are making tremendous strides towards having their end of the industry efficient and progressive.

After the produce leaves the farms or production areas I am not sure about the efficiency of the processing end of the industry. I am glad that in the recent package of £300 million, £150 million of which is coming from FEOGA and £150 million from the Exchequer, that emphasis is put on improving processing. In the west of Ireland in disadvantaged areas a FEOGA grant of 50 per cent is available to anybody who wishes to improve his plant or equipment for processing efficiency. As well as that he will get 25 per cent from the IDA. That makes a total grant of 75 per cent for firms, factories and industries, who want to modernise their plant and improve their processing ability. We have heard speaker after speaker talking about the amount of imported products, foods particularly, and asking why we cannot do this processing ourselves. We have natural advantages in production, we have hard-working farmers, and there is no reason why that production should not be converted into profitable products. Unfortunately, a number of the areas of processing have been neglected and run down and the money has not been put back into plant and equipment to provide these convenient and up-to-date types of food for the [1248] modern housewives, who in increasing numbers are working away from home and do not have a great deal of time to spend preparing raw foods. They want convenient products and are opting for the imported ones. Therefore, we have no option but to modernise our plant and equipment. If we can produce it we should be able to process it. I compliment the Minister and the Department for the emphasis they are placing on the processing end of the industry.

For the disadvantaged areas the headage payments on both sheep and cattle have been increased. The average farmer now in a severely handicapped area can get up to £1,000 per year in cattle headage payments. This is a tremendous help to enable people to carry on in very critical circumstances. Regarding disadvantaged areas, I hope that additional areas of west Cork in particular would be included in the revision of these areas.

I hope also that under that £300 million group water schemes will be improved and that the contribution from the applicants will be reduced from 33? per cent to 20 per cent. I have been involved in a number of group water schemes and I think they are an outstanding example of what can be done by local effort. They are a tremendous advantage to people in rural areas, because without a continous water supply one cannot really be involved in enterprises such as dairying, where so much water is required for sanitary purposes, for washing of milking equipment and so on. Therefore, this package will be of tremendous benefit in extending the possibilities for farmers within the poorer or more difficult areas.

One big advantage of the farm modernisation scheme is the fact that farmers have to plan and develop their enterprises in a coherent way; they have to know what they are about to do and then go ahead and do it. They have to keep farm accounts which will enable them to know where they are going. I am glad that the time to avail of the grant under farm accounts has been extended from three months to six months, because farm accounts are a fairly new enterprise for many farmers. They have to get help from accounts and various other agencies [1249] and in many cases they cannot get back the accounts in time to avail of the grant. It is a pity if they have to lose out on grant aid for one of the most important aids to farm development, namely, the keeping of accounts. Even with the six months if people are a little over the limit — I know of a few such cases — the Department of Agriculture could be lenient towards the farming community.

I am disappointed at the number of people participating in the milk recording scheme. It has not been going well up to now. Only 1,000 or 1,100 dairy farmers participate in milk recording. If they do not record their animals how are they to know what animals are productive. We have the lowest milk yield in Europe. If we want to double the yield, the first thing we have to know is what individual animals are yielding at present and take it from there. I urge the Department of Agriculture to take another look at the milk recording scheme to see if it could be improved and if additional dairy farmers could be encouraged to participate in it.

It is unfortunate that dairy farmers are being asked to converts their herds into beef herds. It is a pity to find good dairy herds being slaughtered, with incentive aids from the EEC. It has been shown over and over again that the most profitable farm enterprise is dairying. It is under developed here and everything should be done to improve it. Dairy farmers who might see a short term advantage in getting out of milk and opting for some of these schemes might have another look at it and remain in the most profitable enterprise in farming. Dairying is the cornerstone of the whole agricultural industry. Without dairy cows and calves one cannot build any type of beef herd or general industry.

I compliment the Minister on holding out against the introduction of a super levy. We have had a difficult year but it could have been worse if we had had this type of disincentive and penalty. More recently, I was glad to see the Minister resisting importation from third countries such as New Zealand. If we have restraints within the Common Market some format should be found to restrain [1250] third countries who are not even members of the Community. It is difficult to talk to hard working milk producers who cannot get a good return for their income because of competition from third countries. The Minister should get every support and encouragement in resisting this inflow of competitive products from third countries while we are trying to build up our own dairy and agricultural industries.

During the last 12 months ACOT was introduced and there was an improvement generally in aids towards educating farmers, young and not so young. Training programmes in the Cork area are going very well and the participation in and completion of these courses has been over 95 per cent. Demand for the courses has been beyond the expectations of the advisory service and, in the long run, this will be a great help to the whole agricultural industry. I support the other speakers who have asked for these new farm training centres, which are so helpful to the farming community. Farmers are able to meet in centres which are comfortable and well-heated. Some years ago these courses were held in closed-down schools and draughty halls and there was no encouragement for people to participate in them. It is unfortunate that we have not at least one clerical assistant in each farm training centre. It is not a good economic proposition to have agricultural science graduates answering telephones. It does not make sense. I urge the Minister and the Department to sort out this problem because the farm modernisation scheme is taking up a considerable amount of time. There is a lot of paper work involved without having to spend additional time answering the telephone. That is not what they were educated for. They should be able to spend more time on the farms in order to monitor the plan and the programme under the farm modernisation scheme. If there is a five-year programme it should be planned with the assistance of the advisers and, to do that, the adviser must pay regular visits. At present, unfortunately, that is not possible.

We had difficulties with some farmers in the disease eradication programme. They had breakdowns in their herds. [1251] During the early part of last year we had tremendous difficulty in Cork with the return of cards for farmers who wanted to take animals to marts and dispose of them and with the return of samples generally from Dublin. I am glad that blood testing facilities are being made available at last in Cork. It should not have taken the length of time it did. A temporary laboratory could have been set up in a building in the city which would have saved a lot of frustration for farmers.

Two years ago some farmers paid too much money for additional land—and for land in the first place—and it has caused financial problems. That situation has been eased somewhat by restructuring of loans and additional moneys made available to the Agricultural Credit Corporation and the banks, but there is still a problem. Rather than looking for additional loans for restructuring or development, which the hapless farmer has not even time to think of, there should be an extension in the length of time of the loan. If a five or seven year term loan could be extended to 12 or 15 years it would allow farmers to get over their temporary difficulties. It is high capital payback which is causing most of the problems and perhaps that could be considered in negotiations with financial institutions.

The pig meat industry has been going through a difficult time. The pigs and Bacon Commission and industry generally should look at the marketing performance of Bord Bainne in the dairy industry, which has set a headline for those other sectors of the food industry that have a go-it-alone, fragmented approach to marketing their products. As far as the pig industry is concerned there has not been any co-ordinated effort to modernise the processing and marketing of that sector. I am glad the Minister has been negotiating with the people concerned. I hope they will be able to reduce the slide in that industry because in areas like west Cork the pig industry is very important to the whole economy of the area. In the last few years it has declined very rapidly. If it is to remain in existence something will have to be done very soon. [1252] I am glad the Minister is negotiating with the people concerned at the processing and marketing end of the industry.

I am glad to have the opportunity of contributing to an Estimate which is mainly to support the development of the industry. It does show that there is confidence at farming level in this enterprise. I see no real point in Opposition members emphasising the depression. We know we have had a difficult year but emphasising depression will not do anything for those concerned. Constructive suggestions would be more helpful.

Anybody in town or city over the past six months will agree that activity in their area has not been as good as previously because farming activities have not been as great but, seeing that farming is the most important sector of the economy, serious consideration should be given to the inclusion of farming representatives in any future negotiations for a national understanding. I hope that when the next round of negotiations comes up the farming community will be included.

Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  Contrary to Deputy Walsh's appeal at the end of what I regard as a very good contribution to this debate, I want to draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that there is a crisis in the agricultural industry. I would not be adequately representing farmers in my constituency if I did not avail of the opportunity of bringing to the attention of the Minister and the Ministers of State that there is a crisis in this industry. Without apportioning blame we should avail of this discussion to try to find ways and means of restoring confidence in the agricultural industry as a whole because there is a lack of confidence over the last 12 months. What disturbs me more than anything else is when one finds even in Deputy Walsh's constituency and Cork county as a whole a new generation of young farmers who will travel to Dublin and congregate outside this house for no other reason than to attract the Minister's attention to their problems. That speaks for itself. We must find some means of restoring the confidence that is no longer there. More serious is the effect this lack [1253] of confidence will have across the whole economy.

I come from the south and I do not seek to minimise the magnitude of the problems of the Minister or his Minister of State. It is an enormous job because of the importance of the industry to job creation when so many are unemployed and this is an area in which we can create work and which has potential. I can understand the difficulties in trying to make sure that the maximum benefit will be got from this industry so that the whole country will benefit. Without going into detail, but talking in particular about the dairy industry, I think Deputy Griffin mentioned the number of levies and taxes of all sorts on agriculture. I want to draw attention to the fact that many of these taxes and penalties were imposed on the farmer's income at a time when farmers were doing reasonably well. In 1977 it was better than 1978; 1978 was better than 1979 and 1979 better than 1980. There is a continuing drop in farming incomes. All those taxes were there in 1978, the disease eradication levy, the Bord Bainne levy, the inspection levy and a number of others that I do not need to mention. How has the price of dairy produce fared since 1977? It has gone up a few pence a gallon for milk. The cost of inputs has gone up in some instances almost 100 per cent. Herein is the problem particularly of the dairy farmer.

I think we must first examine how we can do an emergency job on farmers' income. Nothing will restore confidence better than a little profit at the end of the day. The same would apply to any industry or to any worker. A little profit or improvement in income will restore the confidence necessary to get the maximum out of the individual or the industry. Perhaps we were a little over enthusiastic — I refer particularly to the advisory services — in the mid-seventies when we encouraged farmers to expand and create jobs. More milk was produced, more jobs created in production, transport, processing and marketing and things were going reasonably well. We encouraged, through the advisory services, expansion in building, land reclamation and drainage. We encouraged the borrowing of [1254] money for these purposes where young farmers took over the business from their parents. Young farmers who in many cases were educated and gained much experience through organisations like Macra na Feirme invested pretty heavily in the industry at that time.

The point has already been made about the rate of interest at which they borrowed. The problem is that the rise in the cost of servicing their borrowings is crippling. While we have a Suplementary Estimate here — and let us accept that it is a step in the direction of trying to rectify a serious situation — I do not believe it goes far enough. I think we need an emergency measure such as a year's grace in the repayment of loans, a removal of the taxes imposed on income for a year. Something of that kind would restore the confidence which is very necessary for this valuable industry. I should be grateful if the Minister would consider something of that sort because it is no exaggeration, and I take no pride or particular satisfaction in saying it, that some dairy farmers in the categories I have already mentioned are very close to bankruptcy as a result of doing what we encouraged them to do in the mid-seventies, borrow heavily, improve their holdings, improve their land. Now they cannot meet their commitments. I could give the Minister names and examples but this is not necessary because the Minister is aware of it. Deputy Walsh and everybody living in a rural constituency must be aware of these problems. However, it is something that will pass over.

We heard Deputy Keegan talk of a recession in 1974. We had such a recession; we will probably have more recessions in years to come but the difference between the 1974 recession and the present one is that this is a long-term recession. The 1974 recession was short-term. Talking about thousands of cattle dying of starvation in 1974 is disgraceful exaggeration because even in this much more serious crisis and with much more serious depression of farm incomes generally, when there is much more despondency and lack of confidence you will not have cattle starving or dying of hunger. Anybody who talks in those terms in this [1255] House is not aware of the capacity and intelligence of the farming community. It has not gone to that stage and I sincerely hope it will not.

We had a change of Government in 1977, a change of Ministers. Since the last election we have had two different Ministers for Agriculture but people are asking whether we have as much muscle in Europe now in terms of fighting for the retention of the benefits of the CAP as was the case in the past. In fighting a measure such as the super levy, for instance, I am confident that the Minister would have the widest support possible should he be confronted with that sort of situation again but it is necessary for him to have some muscle in the Council of Ministers and to point out to his counterparts there how vital is the agricultural industry to our economy.

It is disturbing to find that milk production has fallen here while it has increased throughout Europe but what is worse is that, as mentioned by Deputy Walsh, some of our highest-yielding dairy cows are being slaughtered because of the many incentives for joining the EEC conversion scheme. I would support Deputy Walsh in his views in that regard but what is worst of all is that we should introduce a scheme which is resulting in this slaughter so that we may induce our farmers to move away from milk production. Taking into consideration all the difficulties relating to the industry, I would accept Deputy Walsh's point that dairying is the most profitable enterprise in the agricultural industry. It is the area in which there is the highest labour content and the greatest expertise but it is also an industry in which there is a daily erosion of profits and incomes.

We have lost some ground in Europe during the past number of years. We do not have the tenacity that we had in the past. We do not have the strength that we had when the National Coalition were in office. This is accepted also by the farming community.

I welcome the improvements in regard to those areas that are included in the disadvantaged areas scheme but when may we expect an anouncement of the [1256] extension of this scheme? I would remind the Minister of State that at a meeting which I attended in Cork last year we were promised that the extension of the scheme would be effected by the following November. A year has now passed and we have not heard any more about it. But, of course, the promise of an extension was made long before last year. It was made during the election campaign iln 1977 when we were told by Fianna Fáil that if they were returned to power those areas in the constituencies of mid-Cork and south-west Cork, the areas which were not included in the scheme, would be included, that all that had to be done was to make application to Brussels. We were told that because an application had not been made up to then, these areas could not have been included.

Mr. Hussey: Information on Thomas Hussey  Zoom on Thomas Hussey  That was because the Coalition failed to have a review carried out.

Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  The Minister's party have been in Government for three years and have not done anything about this situation though the Minister of State who represents the constituency of Mid-Cork told the people there that there would not be any problem about their inclusion in the scheme.

Mr. Hussey: Information on Thomas Hussey  Zoom on Thomas Hussey  The Deputy was talking about 1977.

An Leas Ceann Comhairle:  We must not have questions and answers across the House.

Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  Deputy Clinton, as Minister for Agriculture, when asked a question in this regard said there would not be any extension of the disadvantaged areas boundaries for the present time. That was in 1977. Is the Minister saying that the then Minister was wrong?

Mr. Hussey: Information on Thomas Hussey  Zoom on Thomas Hussey  He refused to have a review undertaken.

An Leas Ceann Comhairle:  We must not have these interruptions.

[1257]Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  Deputy Clinton's reply is in the Official Report. His words were bandied about in the areas of Cork North-West, Cork Mid-West and Cork South-West during the general election campaign but the words “for the present time” were left out. This Government promised that there would be a decision by November last.

Mr. Hussey: Information on Thomas Hussey  Zoom on Thomas Hussey  That is not so.

An Leas Ceann Comhairle:  We will not be helped in any way by referring back to what happened at the time of the 1977 election. Deputy Creed should make his own speech.

Mr. Hussey: Information on Thomas Hussey  Zoom on Thomas Hussey  He should keep to the facts.

An Leas Ceann Comhairle:  The Minister will have the opportunity of replying.

Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  I am quoting what is in the Official Report but if the Minister wishes to check with his colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Industry, Commerce and Tourism, he will find that he told the people of these constituencies during the election campaign of 1977 that there would not be any problem in regard to their inclusion in the scheme. In doing so, he quoted the Official Report but omitted the words “for the present time”. That was the difference.

Mr. Hussey: Information on Thomas Hussey  Zoom on Thomas Hussey  I should not be surprised at what some of you Cork fellows would say.

Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  You should ask some of your own people if what I am saying is correct. I am sure that they have been confronted with the Fianna Fáil promise on many occasions since then.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Seán Browne  Zoom on Seán Browne  The Deputy should address the Chair.

Mr. Hussey: Information on Thomas Hussey  Zoom on Thomas Hussey  I had a very successful meeting in Kanturk about a year ago when I explained all the problems relating [1258] to an extension of the disadvantaged areas.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Seán Browne  Zoom on Seán Browne  We must move along. These instant replies across the House are disorderly.

Mr. Hussey: Information on Thomas Hussey  Zoom on Thomas Hussey  The Deputy was misleading the House.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Seán Browne  Zoom on Seán Browne  The Minister will have the opportunity of replying.

Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  I replied to what the Minister had said.

Mr. Hussey: Information on Thomas Hussey  Zoom on Thomas Hussey  I was only answering Deputy Creed's question.

Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  The question has not been answered. We are still waiting for the announcement concerning the extension of the scheme. There is an increasing ambivalence in this House about important matters: we had experience of this very recently.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Seán Browne  Zoom on Seán Browne  In replying to the debate, the Minister will have the opportunity of dealing with the points raised.

Mr. Hussey: Information on Thomas Hussey  Zoom on Thomas Hussey  What is important is that we honoured the commitment given at the time of the general election to have a review of the disadvantaged areas carried out.

Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  Whatever about selling that to me, there is no chance of the Minister selling it to the farmers.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Seán Browne  Zoom on Seán Browne  This is enough about that.

Mr. Creed: Information on Donal Creed  Zoom on Donal Creed  On the subject of disease eradication, I would be critical of the policies concerning it, though I am not confining this criticism totally to the present administration. It is disturbing to find that despite the many millions of pounds we have spent in this area we still have a situation in which one herd in 40 produces reactors. This is 20 years after the [1259] eradication of TB in our national herd. If we are to get anywhere in terms of our agricultural industry we must have a totally disease-free herd. There is not enough emphasis on the requirements in regard to achieving a total disease-free situation so far as the various people involved are concerned. I refer to the farmers, to the agricultural inspectors, to departmental officials and particularly to cattle dealers and people in the cattle haulage business. There is a considerable degree of looseness in the method of disease eradication. My county has been declared a clearance area for brucellosis. I know of the high incidence of the disease in Munster. Ultimately it will interfere with the income of the farming community but many farmers do not realise that. There is too much looseness in the movement of cattle. I have no time for people who try to make a fast buck while ignoring or circumventing the regulations. Transport and other aspects must be watched. It is a good question to ask what progress has been made. Will the same thing happen with regard to the programme to eradicate brucellosis as happened to the programme to eradicate bovine TB?

A considerable amount of work has been done during the years under the farm modernisation scheme but it is a cumbersome scheme in that it involves a lot of paper work. Much of the time of the agricultural advisers has been taken up with this work. With Deputy Cogan, Deputy Walsh and others I appeal to the Minister to provide some clerical assistance to deal with this scheme. The agricultural advisory officers are better employed to advise people with regard to land reclamation, crops and so on.

The land of Ireland is a valuable asset. We can talk about oil finds but here we have a valuable but scarce commodity. A considerable amount of land could be reclaimed and brought into production. Some people who are not availing of the benefits of the farm modernisation scheme could be advised to utilise that scheme in order to bring their land into production. More farmers should be encouraged to improve their land in [1260] order to produce more food that will be demanded in the world markets.

The poultry and pig industries are valuable assets. It is sad that more than one-third of the eggs consumed here are imported and more than one-third of the poultry being supplied under contract to institutions such as health boards is imported also. It may be of poor quality but I do not think we are educated to that extent. Surely it is possible to give incentives to poultry producers here to produce sufficient for the home market? I tabled some questions to the Minister on that matter because I was concerned. I am glad the Minister is meeting some of the interests involved in pig production because this is a valuable asset particularly to small farmers. I know that there are considerable constraints imposed on pig producers in relation to pollution but that is inevitable. Another area of concern relates to vegetable production. There is something wrong when we import vegetables to the extent now prevailing or when we see farmers queueing up in shops in towns in order to buy vegetables. All of these areas must be examined.

However, there is a more urgent requirement, namely, to deal with the crisis that exists in the farming community. This cannot be left for the future; it needs urgent attention now. Only the Government and the Minister for Agriculture can ensure that the industry does not collapse. When we joined the EEC agriculture was under-capitalised and that still remains the position. Is there any way in which there could be a stabilisation of finance, that once a farmer borrows money to improve his holding he will know what that capital will cost him. The uncertainty is frightening farmers and it militates against further expansion.

There has been mention about the cost of fertilisers and the subsidy of £20 for one ton of nitrogen. There was so much ballyhoo about it one would think the subsidy was wonderful but, in fact, the amount is not much. The Minister referred to one matter and I would support him completely on it, namely, the incentive to the farming community to [1261] move from hay-making into silage. As this year has proved, our climate is not suitable for hay-making. In addition to having a bad Government we had bad weather and both factors hit the farmers severely. Farmers should be encouraged to concentrate on silage-making rather than on any other kind of fodder. In many areas this year farmers lost much of their fodder because of the bad weather and they had to sell some of their cattle.

Irrespective of all other things, the dairying industry is the most important because it provides the raw material for the entire industry. Everything should be done to encourage dairy farmers to expand their cow numbers because by expanding they will provide more jobs and a better income for themselves.

Debate adjourned.

Business suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.


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