Wednesday, 15 February 1956
Seanad Éireann Debate
That Seanad Eireann is of opinion that in view of the substantial decrease in the total area under tillage as a result of the reduction in the price of wheat last year and having regard to the increased cost of production it is essential that the price of next season's crop be increased.— (Senator Cogan.)
Mr. Hawkins: I wish to support this motion. This is not a Party question; it is a national question. In my view, the best case that one can make this afternoon in support of this motion is that which has already been made by the persons most concerned, that is, by  the deputation who waited on the Taoiseach and put the importance of the subject matter of this motion before him. The result was that, having heard their arguments, the Government decided to make a somewhat belated and very small increase in the price, regardless of the fact that, when the Minister brought about the reduction of 12/6 per barrel, we were told in this House that the price then fixed by him would be in operation for a period of two years. The Minister said on that occassion that his action was not because he was not in favour of the growing of wheat. All the old arguments were abandoned. No longer did we hear that the soil of this country was not capable of growing wheat; no longer did we hear that it should not be encouraged. The reason advanced by the Minister was that he was taking that step in order to discourage people who took conacre in a very extensive way in the Midlands and who, by availing of the then price, made somewhat large profits. I do not know whether such a large number of persons of this type engaged in the production of wheat.
I am not one of those people who have a terrible disregard for the conacre system, such as the Minister seems to have. In some circumstances, the conacre system is an essential part of Irish life. It has saved many a holding and maintained it during a difficult period. Many things can happen to a family and the conacre system can then be availed of. For instance, the head of the family may become ill and may not be able to attend to the farm for a considerable time. Again, he may die and his widow and young family may not be able to look after the farm. In such circumstances, it is a great relief when somebody comes along and takes that land in conacre for a number of years. I have known quite a number of farmers in my part of the country who farm conacre in grassland, that is, for the raising of live stock, and there is no serious objection to that type of conacre although it is not at all as beneficial as the type of conacre under which the land is taken from the landowner because the landowner may not be able  to undertake the tillage at the particular time.
The action of the Minister was, no doubt, effective inasmuch as it did bring about a reduction in the acreage of wheat and of tillage in general. If it had the effect the Minister desired, and which he expressed to us here, of reducing the then acreage of wheat and having the farmers change over to the production of barley, oats, potatoes or any other farm crop, the picture might not be so black, but the result of the Minister's action was not alone to reduce considerably the wheat acreage, but also to reduce the acreage devoted to crops of practically every kind. Once the farmers felt that the Government did not advocate a policy of going ahead with tillage, it seems that their reaction was to slacken off in production in general, and the aim the Minister had was not achieved and will not be achieved while that seems to be his approach.
Arising out of my earlier remarks, we have the position that the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance and practically every member of the Government are now engaged in a campaign of drawing our attention to the national necessity of cutting down imports and of trying to even up our balance of payments. As a result of the action of the Minister for Agriculture, we have been compelled to import wheat, maize and other feeding-stuffs that could have been produced here in Ireland, if the inducement had not been taken away from our farmers. The direct effect of that is not so much the effect it had on the farmers as on production in general.
During the worst period for farmers in our lifetime, 1947, when all the other cereal crops were beaten to the ground, everybody will admit that wheat was the one crop that stood up best, which proves that it was not the nightmare to the farmer which many speakers up to then had suggested it was. All these old slogans as to the land of this country being unable to produce wheat were dropped and then something new arose. We were told about the difficulties of making a good loaf from Irish wheat, but I was pleased recently to see that that has also been blown to the winds by experiments  carried out in Sweden, so that, one by one, we have got around to the idea that it is good national policy to encourage our farmers to grow food for man and beast in this country. You cannot do that in the face of actions of the kind taken by the Minister, when, after the bad year the farmers had, he reduced the price of wheat and reduced it as drastically as he did. If the evil which the Minister sought to eliminate was there, it could have been dealt with in many other ways rather than in the way the Minister approached it.
This motion has been on the Order Paper since last November. I feel that this question of wheat, like many other questions, should, if at all possible, be taken out of the realm of politics and out of the realm of discussions of this kind. I should like to see set up some organisation—and I think it could be set up, with the assistance and goodwill of the Minister—now that the farming community have been organised as they were not previously organised, somewhat on the lines of the Beet Growers' Association, so that agreement on prices and so forth could be negotiated between it and the millers, and so that some facilities could be made available in the way of the provision of essential fertilisers, as is done by the Sugar Company for the people under contract with them. Now that we have agreement—it may have taken a long time, but it is worth it— that it is a good thing to grow our own foodstuffs, we should set about having an organisation of this kind set up.
I quite agree that, where the general community interest is involved, Parliament must at all times, play a very prominent part in negotiations on prices that may arise as between the bodies concerned, but these are matters which have been very satisfactorily dealt with by the Sugar Company, as between it and the beet growers. If we had an organisation similar to that to deal with this question of wheat, it would be a step in the right direction.
I hope the Minister will hold out a hope that some arrangement will be made for giving a greater increase than he has given. If the price was  justified in 1953, having regard to the increase in rates, in wages and in general farming costs, but, in particular, the increase in the price of fertilisers, a more substantial increase in price should be offered than has been offered. It has been stated by many of these people that the offer made by the Minister to them is more of an insult than an encouragement, in view of the many increases which other sections of the community, except the weaker sections who have no means of fighting for themselves have secured over the year. The farming community, particularly in regard to this question of wheat, are the only section who seem to have been picked out for a reduction rather than an increase.
The Minister not so very long ago gave a guarantee that there would be no such thing as an increase in the price of fertilisers. The reason advanced by the Government when they gave the increase of 2/6 per barrel quite recently was that it was to counteract the increase in the cost of fertilisers; but that 2/6 would not meet the increased cost of fertilisers, and nobody—not even the Minister— can argue that it would meet the increased cost the farmer has to meet in every other item of his expenditure. It would not meet the increased cost of labour or the increased costs that every section of the community have to meet and in respect of which they have got advances in remuneration of one kind or another.
When we talk so much about encouragement and having more production, the Minister would be wise if even at this stage he recognised that the action he took last year in reducing the price—it may have got rid of the spivs and others who, he said, came in here and took conacre—had the very drastic effect of reducing the acreage of tillage and also reducing the acreage of every other crop in the production of which farmers are engaged.
Minister for Agriculture (Mr. Dillon): I must not trespass upon the patience of the Seanad by recapitulating all the discussion that took place here on a previous occasion on the  general question of wheat prices, but I direct the attention of the Seanad to the fact that, since his motion was set down, certain events have transpired. The motion sets out:—
“That Seanad Éireann is of opinion that in view of the substantial decrease in the total area under tillage as a result of the reduction in the price of wheat last year and having regard to the increased cost of production it is essential that the price of next season's crop be increased.”
On representations having been made to me that the farmers had to contend with certain increased costs, the Government, on my advice, since this motion was introduced in Seanad Eireann, did decide to increase the price payable for wheat this year by 2/6 per barrel, which increase, in my judgement, will fully cover the increased costs which farmers may have to undertake this year.
I heard Senator Hawkins describe that as an insult. That insult is going to cost the Treasury £350,000. Anyone who wants to insult me by giving me £350,000 will be very welcome to do so as soon and as often as he pleases. It is right for the Seanad to bear in mind that a conservative estimate of the differential in favour of home grown wheat as compared with wheat of corresponding quality which is being imported from Australia or from the Pacific Coast of America is 15/- per barrel. That means that a farmer growing wheat here is getting £6 per ton more for his wheat dried on the mill floor than we could buy that wheat,, for delivery on the same mill floor, from Australia or the Pacific Coast. £6 per ton in the price of a commodity costing from £24 to £34 a ton is no small measure of differential. I am very glad they should get it, but it would be quite illusory to dismiss from our minds the very relevant fact that we have decided that they will get a differential of that size.
I wonder have Senator Hawkins and Senator Cogan forgotten the decision taken by the Government constituted by the Party to which they now belong? I think it is something about which I must refresh the memory of  the Seanad. The Government of which Mr. de Valera was Prime Minister in 1954 recorded the following decision on January 22nd, and that decision was communicated to the Department of Agriculture in the following terms:—
I wish the Seanad saw the contents of those memoranda, and if they did we would hear less of the monolithic unanimity of the Fianna Fáil Government and of the dissension that is alleged to exist in an inter-Party Government. I am a long time in an inter-Party Government, but I never saw memoranda of such ferocious dissent as I have seen in connection with these memoranda addressed to the Department of Agriculture:—
“I am to refer to the memoranda submitted by the Minister for Agriculture, by the Minister for Finance and by the Minister for Industry and Commerce relative to the policy of the growing of wheat and to inform you that the Government at a meeting held to-day the 22nd January, 1954, decided that the general aim of policy in regard to the growing of wheat should be to require an annual mill intake of 300,000 tons of dried native wheat, and that the Departments concerned should forthwith consult together immediately with a view to finding solutions of the problems concerning transport, drying and finance likely to arise to ensure that adequate facilities will be provided on a permanent basis for the handling in future years of an annual crop of a magnitude represented by a mill intake of 300,000 tons of wheat.”
Mr. Dillon: Did they intend to ration acreage, and, if they did, did they propose to recruit the full of ten fields of inspectors? Did they propose to line the ditches of the farmers with civic guards? Did they propose to break down their gates and their fences with bull-dozers if anyone planted more than the quota allotted to them?
Mr. Dillon: I only hope that some one of his colleagues will intervene in this debate before it is over and will inform the Seanad how did the Fianna Fáil Government propose to limit the acreage of wheat to an annual intake of 300,000 tons of dried wheat? They must have had some plan whereby to do it.
Mr. Dillon: I remember that in their policy of 1948 they advocated compulsory tillage, and I assume that in 1954 they were returning to their old love and that they proposed to ration the acreage among the farmers. If they did they should tell us now how they proposed to do it. The policy of this  Government is founded on a different principle, and that is that we do not propose to tell any farmer how to run his own holding. We propose to leave it within his right to get from his holding the maximum return his land is capable of yielding for himself, his wife and his family, always provided that he will leave his land in autumn a little better than he found it in the spring. To that end we sought to provide what was a fair and equitable price for wheat which would yield a profit to those farmers who chose to grow it, and not only to yield a fair and equitable margin but a guaranteed market, with a certainty that whatever quantity was grown would be bought.
How shall we test conclusively whether the profit to be earned from growing wheat at 72/6 per barrel is calculated to yield a competent farmer a fair margin of profit on the work he does? I suggest that the only reliable test is to inquire what are prudent farmers paying for conacre for land up and down the country this year in the knowledge of what has been fixed as the price. I have conacre rentals here. In the County Carlow up to £32 per acre, Irish measure, is being paid for conacre for wheat this year. According to Senators Cogan and Hawkins they are fearful that a farmer who sows wheat on his own land would not have a fair return for his labour, but there are farmers in County Carlow, Senator Cogan's neighbours——
Mr. Dillon: The best farmers in Ireland, says the Senator, who have judged the situation carefully, and they are quite willing to pay £32 an acre to grow wheat; and yet, says Senator Cogan, they could not afford to grow it on their own land. While I am bound in courtesy to the Seanad to come here and answer any cod motion put down, when a Senator puts down a motion which says that the best farmers in Ireland——
Mr. Dillon: ——are willing to pay £32 an acre for land upon which to grow wheat, but in the same breath  says that they cannot make everything out of growing it on their own land, that is daft. That is the only word I can use to describe it, and I apologise to the Seanad for the necessity for having to traverse so fantastic a proposition. In Louth £32 an acre has been paid for conacre on which to grow wheat. In Tipperary up to £24 10s. an acre, in Kilkenny up to £30 an acre for conacre. How can any rational man, offering his own certificate that these are the best farmers in Ireland, say that they are paying those prices and then go on and argue that when they grow it on their own land they cannot make a living on it?
Mr. Dillon: I am glad to hear the Senator pay that courteous tribute to the excellence of the agricultural policy of the present Government. Was there ever a higher conacre rent paid in this country than under an inter-Party Government? The land of Ireland has at last become of value to those who own it, and those of us who helped to make them owners rejoice accordingly.
Somebody said something about grass and cattle. In despite of all the Irish Press and the Fianna Fáil Party can do, they cannot smash the price of cattle, because this Government has put a bottom to it. The dirtiest, rottenest, foulest campaign that has ever been run in this country has been run by the Fianna Fáil Party and their “Pravda” the Irish Press to wreck the farmers of this country, and force them to sell their cattle to Fianna Fáil tanglers who are trying to make dirty money out of it by buying cattle cheap from farmers whom their own rotten ring has deceived into believing that the price of cattle has gone down.
The price of cattle will not go down and nothing that Fianna Fáil can say will bring it down. I advise the farmers to recognise Fianna Fáil and its rotten rag for what they are. They are at the same old game again. They want to bring the farmers of this country to their knees, so that they can walk on them in the future as they  did in the past, but, thank God, they have a Government now that will not let them do it. My advice to the farmers is: do not sell your cattle at Fianna Fáil prices.
Mr. Dillon: The rotten Irish Press campaign has panicked some farmers into selling cattle. I tell them now that if they hold their cattle they will get a good price for them, and any man who sells a beast for less than £6 per cwt. is a damn fool. They will get more before the 30th April.
Mr. Dillon: So I thought. Senator Hawkins referred to the desirability of producing all the barley we required. I cordially second his view. He will have noticed that, in the five-year plan which I ventured to propose to farmers recently, I suggested that we should grow all the barley requisite to replace all our coarse grain imports of every description on our own land. The price of pigs is being subsidised and there is a further assurance that no farmer  who has a surplus of barley to sell will have to take less than 40/- per barrel for it. I would emphasise that the true aim of the expansion of the tillage of coarse grain is to persuade the farmers to grow all their own coarse grains, but even so, over and above that, the farmers whose circumstances require them to grow an acreage larger than they can conveniently convert into live stock can be assured that in respect to any surplus they wish to dispose of they will receive not less than 40/- per barrel for it.
It is right to direct the attention of the Seanad to another fact, a fact which is constantly overlooked. I feel a certain delicacy about trespassing on the time of the Seanad to repeat facts to which I think I have already drawn Senators' attention. Sometimes it appears to me that these facts are overlooked.
Mr. Dillon: In evaluating the price payable for wheat, it is a very relevant consideration to bear in mind the average yield per acre, not by any basis of estimation, but measured by a yardstick of actual delivery to the mill. Here are the facts. I must apologise for trespassing on the time of the Seanad to give a comprehensive statement of these facts.
In 1944, the average yield per statute acre, expressed in terms of mill intake, that is to say, the quantity of wheat delivered to the mills from each statute acre of wheat, was 9.5 cwts. I am speaking of cwts., and not of barrels. In 1945, the average was 10.7 cwts.; in 1946, it was 9.8 cwts.; in 1947, it was 6.3 cwts.; and that was the very wet year; in 1948, it was 12.3 cwts.; in 1949, it was 16.7 cwts.; in 1950, it was 14.2 cwts.; and in 1951, it was 13.2 cwts. I would direct the attention of the Seanad to the fact that I am speaking of cwts. and not of barrels as is commonly done in referring to wheat. In 1952, it was 15.7 cwts.; in 1953, it was 18.5 cwts.; in 1954, it was 16.85 cwts.; and in the past cereal year of 1955, it was 18.9 cwts.
In assessing the price payable for wheat, we have got to bear in mind  that not only has the price increased from what it was in 1947 to what it is to-day, 72/6 per barrel, but the average yield per statute acre has risen as between 1947, which was an abnormally low year, from 6.3 cwts., not barrels, per statute acre, to 16.85 cwts. in 1954, which was every bit as bad a year as was 1947.
Mr. Dillon: That is an argument which the Senator will seek to impose on the Seanad, but, judging from the quality of the Seanad, I think he will have pretty tough going in his attempt to make that case.
Mr. Dillon: When the yield was only 6.3 cwts., the cost of production must have been three or four times the cost when it was 18.5 cwts. Perhaps, if it were put at two and a half times as high, it would be reasonably accurate. I think I have already mentioned that the 2/6 per barrel extra will represent £350,000 more for the farmers, on the assumption that the acreage and yield is approximately what it is this year. I would ask Senators to bear in mind that, while the acreage of wheat has declined from 662,000 acres in 1945, we are getting almost the same yield to-day from 357,000 acres of land. In effect, while we had 662,000 acres of  land under wheat in 1945, the yield was 2,837,000 barrels. In 1954, we had 486,000 acres under wheat and the yield was 3,286,201 barrels. This year, the yield will be close up to 2,500,000 barrels from 357,000 acres—and that, the House may be interested to know, is about the same as what we got in 1944 from 642,000 acres.
I expect that, in this year, from 357,000 acres we will get as much wheat as we got from 642,000 acres in 1944. I have not the slightest doubt that at the present time wheat pays the farmer who grows it a very fair margin of profit. We have to bear in mind that diversification is an important thing in our circumstances. It is known to us all that there exists in the world at the present time a very large surplus of wheat. In many parts of the United States of America at the present time, wheat is being stored in the open. If the existing stocks of wheat in the United States of America and Canada and Australia were released for sale, the world price of wheat would fall forthwith by about 50 per cent. Even taking the present artificial world price, which is being maintained by very careful restriction of sales by large world producers, the price payable to our farmers averages about 15/- per barrel higher than the world price for wheat of similar quality. Fifteen shillings a barrel represents approximately £6 per ton. I think it would be improvident and, indeed, bad practice to widen that differential further than has already been done.
I believe that, in the last analysis, the economic salvation of this country depends upon the prudent exploitation of the only natural resource of consequence with which our people have been endowed by God. The only natural resource of consequence on which our people depend, in the last analysis, for their living is the land of which we have approximately 12,000,000 acres which can be deemed arable. If we cannot get out of that an income sufficient to provide an adequate livelihood for our people, the plain fact is that our people will go elsewhere to get that livelihood and they would be damn fools if they did not.
The object of this Government is to  get from the land of Ireland—for nowhere else can we get it—a standard of living sufficiently high to ensure that all our people will have an opportunity to live in their own country in circumstances of modest comfort. With the total natural resources of which we are possessed, we can never hope for more than that.
Every other economic activity in this country ultimately depends on the success or failure with which we exploit the resources of the land. Our aim, then, is to get from the land the maximum return that it is capable of yielding for all our people. To that end, I have suggested—with the authority of the Government to which I belong—that we should embark together upon a five year plan of mixed farming, exploiting to the limit the potentialities of the land of Ireland for all our people. I believe that any Government, seeking the whole-hearted co-operation of all its people, should have due regard to the strongly held views of minorities as well as of majorities. I believe that whatever the economic implications of growing wheat may be, there is a substantial minority in the country——
Mr. Dillon: ——who believe passionately in the desirability of growing wheat. It is philosophically and politically wrong for any Government to trample on the deeply-held sentiments of any minority and, although the bulk of the wheat grown in this country is grown by relatively wealthy farmers east of the Shannon, I think it is a prudent and sensible thing to provide them with a secure market at the expense of their neighbours, within reason. I believe that the market that they at present enjoy represents a fair guarantee, albeit at the expense of their neighbours, for a profitable husbandry founded on the growing of wheat. I have no hesitation, in all the circumstances, in recommending the maintenance of a price 15/- per barrel higher than the world price, out of respect for the views of those who are deeply attached to this type of farming and because I believe that, on the whole, this method of tillage can profitably be integrated in a wise system  of husbandry in this country. I have no doubt whatever that, on the basis of the present price structure, we will get a fully adequate supply of wheat from the competent farmers of Ireland. I do not think it is right to ask that the consumer or the taxpayer should find more money than they are at present finding to subsidise this particular crop.
I believe that, in the last analysis, the economic survival of this country depends on the successful and provident exploitation of the resources represented by our 12,000,000 acres of arable land. I hope, in the course of the next five years, that we shall be able to raise the cattle population on that land, the cow and heifer population, to 2,000,000. That will make a substantial and real contribution to the standard of living of our people. I hope that, within the next five years, we should be able to render ourselves independent in respect of supplies of coarse grains from our own resources. I believe that that will further contribute to the standard of living of our people.
I believe that the growing of wheat will be a continued charge upon the resources of the State, because, to get it grown here, we will have to continue to pay 15/- or 20/- a barrel for it above world prices. I do not think it is altogether the fault of the Irish farmers. I think it is the fault probably of world economy, because, in the wide prairies of Canada, the United States and Australia, mass production of wheat is so highly mechanised and so highly developed that they can produce it at prices which, in the absence of their wide spaces and the intensive mechanisation those wide spaces make possible, no other nation can match.
I do not believe that in a civilised democratic community every decision of a Government should be dominated by nothing but the cold logic of economics. Whether we like it or not, there is a considerable body of farmers in this country who have a deep attachment to the growing of wheat, who believe that the profession of farming is  incomplete, if it does not, in the course of its normal cycle, produce its quota of wheat. So be it. In a well ordered democracy, profound respect should be entertained by any prudent Legislature for the strongly held legitimate prejudices of any minority, be it small or great. Therefore, I think our Legislature does wisely in saying: “So be it. If these feelings are deeply entertained, we can afford them and we will, accordingly, take measures to make it economically possible for those who wish to grow wheat to grow it and to find a market for it.” Whether in the cold light of pure economics, one can justify that decision, in our circumstances, is something on which I would not care to record a final opinion at this stage.
But there is no use in closing our eyes to the fact that Divine Providence has ordained that the average annual rainfall in this country is 42 inches. There is, so far as I know, no other country in the world with an average annual rainfall of 42 inches which seeks to grow wheat for human consumption. In Norfolk and the eastern counties in England, the average annual rainfall is below 25; in Denmark, Holland and western Europe it averages 22 to 23 inches. On the prairies where wheat is becoming the dominant crop of the new world, the average annual rainfall is of an entirely different pattern from that experienced in our part of the world. But I agree that the strict rule of economics cannot always condition the somewhat more variegated patterns of political men and, thanks be to God, in this country we have not yet degenerated to the deplorable status of economic robots. We are still political men and women; we have feelings and we are entitled to look to our Government to consider not only our narrow economic interest but also our human prejudices and sentiments.
I hope that it is from that enlightened approach the present Government have fixed a price of 72/6 per barrel for wheat. We do not pretend it is an economic price, but we believe it is a price that our people can afford to pay and get fair value for it, albeit that part of the value perhaps must be accepted in the form of the contentment  enjoyed by a minority of our farmers who have a possionate attachment to this crop. I think it is wise Government. I do not think that you can govern human beings by the arid laws of economics. I think that disaster awaits you if you forget that such laws function, but equally, disaster must encompass you if you accept them as your only guide.
We seek to take a middle path, and, while recognising that, in a country with an annual average rainfall of 42 inches, we should look to live stock and live-stock products as the principal source of our national revenue, it is not impossible in these circumstances to grow cereals, but it is extremely difficult. If I recall to Senators our national experience in 1954 and 1947, I am sure they will agree with me that, in those years, the growing of satisfactory cereal crops was a very great burden to the farmers who had to undertake it. If I recall that all our economy depends ultimately on our capacity to export agricultural produce, I think Senators will agree with me that it behoves us all, if we wish to get for our people a steadily rising standard of living, to make the maximum use, on optimum lines, of every acre of land that we can bring into production.
In conclusion, I want to say this: the deadly error into which an overenthusiastic Minister for Agriculture can fall in this country is the belief that he is a better judge than each individual farmer as to how best his land can be exploited. The only people in this country who can get from the land of Ireland its maximum economic production are the farmers who, under our blessed dispensation, purchased at great cost, own the land. They hold it from no landlord other than the Lord Himself. We are one of the few countries in the world to-day in which we can say that the humblest farmer holds his title direct from God. In that happy state of absolute ownership of land, it seems to me that the function of a prudent Government is to bring within the reach of those who own the land and live upon it the means of using it to the best advantage, so that thereby we can get from it the maximum return, in the knowledge  that, in the last analysis, every individual in this State depends for his livelihood on what comes from the land. All we buy from abroad must be paid for with what comes from the land, and our common experience and knowledge is that, if we do not export the produce of the land, we have not the means wherewith to buy the imports which we require for industry and other means of employment for our people.
We can afford to go a certain distance in meeting the moderate prejudices of traditional farmers with a passion for a particular crop, but we have got to remember every day and every hour of every day that, in the last analysis, the standards of life of everybody in Ireland depends upon the success with which we exploit the resources of our own land, and that success must be measured in the wealth which we can extract from that land, always ensuring that we leave that land in autumn a little better than we found it in the spring. Too long in this country did our people labour under the hideous illusion that you can mine your land of all its inherent riches and squander the proceeds and then return to the land in the hope of getting a living from it still.
Now, I think our people have awakened to the fact that the land's capacity to carry the people depends on the care of the farmers who own the land—remember that we are the only farmers in Europe to-day and almost in the world who can claim to own our land—the care with which they keep it in heart and rehabilitate it after they collect their crop. If we divert the land from those methods of husbandry best calculated to get from our farms the maximum income which the land is capable of yielding, always provided that there is a margin left to make it a little better in the autumn than we found it in spring, we dig a pit into which the whole nation must fall. We can afford to encourage certain forms of agriculture dictated by deep-felt prejudices, but the bulk of our agricultural operations must be founded on the rock of economics. If it be taken off that, we should all perish in bankruptcy. There is no  other source from which the Irish nation can draw the essential wherewithal to survive economically.
I think we are dealing with this wheat situation within the limits of prudence. I believe that the 12,000,000 acres of arable land we occupy can bear this burden and still retain a profit margin sufficient to provide for all our people a moderate standard of living on their own land. But I do ask the Senators to remember that the inevitable incidence of this heavily subsidised crop falls in the richest counties in Ireland, and for every million of money Oireachtas Éireann determines to distribute in this subsidy, £7 out of every £10 finds its way into the pockets of relatively well-to-do farmers. Less than £3 goes into the pockets of the small farmers of Ireland. West of the Shannon there is little or no land on which wheat will grow. The bulk of it will be found in East Cork, Waterford, Wexford, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Kildare, Louth, Westmeath and Meath.
I do not deny that I was brought up amongst the congest farmers of the West, and I do not conceal that, in my work as Minister for Agriculture, these neighbours are ever present to my mind. I cannot forget, if I wanted to, that it was mainly they and their exertions that made the land our own. From this benefaction, they received nothing, and those who fought so hard to make the land our own and who themselves to-day live on ten or 15 or 20 acres of it, get no share of the £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 that this subsidy of the price of wheat disburses amongst the farmers of our wealthier counties. It is on the produce of all the farms, large and small, that this nation ultimately depends. I think that on the whole we can afford this provision, but we can only do it so long as the farmers of all the land of Ireland have a chance to live. The small farmers are getting nothing. It is for the big man that wheat grows, and they will do reasonably well out of the provision that is being made this year.
I am thinking of the little farmers who have to produce the cattle and  the pigs and the oats and barley which truly constitute the exports of the land of Ireland. If these should dwindle town and city and country will perish in this land of ours. I am prepared to justify the burden we put upon them in this proposal, but not a penny more, and I want to say to the relatively wealthy farmers who will benefit by this dispensation that I do not think they are doing badly out of the 72/6 which their relatively less prosperous neighbours will have to pay.
Mr. Cogan: Thank you very much. The Minister last year, when making the case for drastically cutting the price of wheat, based that case on four great falsehoods. I referred to these falsehoods in my introductory statement when I proposed this motion. The first of these falsehoods——
Mr. Cogan: The Minister is running away from these four falsehoods. He has dropped three of them and he is running away from my reply, because he realises he has been found out. Where now is the case that the Minister made last year about speculators in wheat? There is not one word about speculators or any mention of them in the course of this debate, because the Minister knows that it has  been proved to be completely wrong. There has not been one word in this debate, or any word by the Minister, of the alleged negotiations that Fianna Fáil made with wheat exporters which would compel us to import 270,000 tons of wheat. We knew at the time that that accusation was false and that there was no such obligation in actual fact and the Minister has admitted that to-day.
Again, the Minister referred last year to the danger of a wheat surplus in this country, a danger that we may have an export surplus of wheat. In actual fact, during the past year, instead of exporting wheat, we have had to import over £4,000,000 worth from the United States of America, at a time when the balance of payments is running heavily against this country and when our balance of external trade is one of the most serious things that the Government has to consider. The only point, one of the four points which the Minister made last year in support of the cut in wheat prices, to which he adhered in this debate is the accusation that Fianna Fáil intended to reduce the acreage and to reduce the price of wheat. Yet, for two years, the Minister has undoubtedly searched the files of the Department of Agriculture and of every other Department and has failed to find any evidence or any suggestion that Fianna Fáil intended to reduce the price of wheat. All he found was an assertion that Fianna Fáil was aiming at a minimum of 300,000 tons of millable wheat delivered to the mills. Was there anything wrong in that? There was no decision by Fianna Fáil to reduce the acreage of wheat, nor was there any decision to reduce the price and the Minister has failed absolutely to find any evidence of such suggestion.
What Fianna Fáil intended to do was to ensure that this country would be made mainly self-sufficient in the matter of bread cereal. Fianna Fáil never intended to produce wheat for export. It intended to ensure that this country would be independent of imports from external sources of supply, and I think anyone who judges the position fairly will maintain that, in so doing, Fianna Fáil was not  only serving the interests of the farming community but the best interests of the nation as a whole, because it does not matter what the world price of wheat is to our community, if we can produce sufficient wheat at home for our needs and pay our farmers a fair price for it.
Mr. Cogan: I am not going to enter into a discussion on that with Senator L'Estrange. There was a position in which the people required wheat for their bread and Fianna Fáil gave the necessary incentives to induce the farmers to grow wheat crops. Senator L'Estrange has referred to butter and bacon, but I would like to remind him that last year, when his Government was in office——
Mr. Cogan: Last year, when Senator L'Estrange's Government was in office, the number of cows went down considerably and it has not done much to increase the production of bacon which has gone down by 50 per cent.
Mr. Cogan: The Minister went out of the wheat fields and in among the cattle when he claimed credit for any increase that had taken place in the price of cattle since 1948, but blamed Fianna Fáil for any reduction that had taken place over the past five or six weeks. I have answered the point as to what Fianna Fáil would have done if there had been a danger of an exportable surplus of wheat in the foreseeable future. What they would have done in those circumstances would have been to encourage the growing of other cereals or root crops, such as potatoes, thereby giving an incentive to the farmers to grow more of them.
Mr. Cogan: The question of compulsory growing of wheat during the period of the emergency was not a matter of disagreement and even the Fine Gael Party, in its worst days of depravity, agreed with that policy during the emergency right up to 1948. That was the main point on which the Minister depended when he made the case for a reduction in the price of wheat. He then stated that Fianna Fáil were committed to a reduction of the price and of the acreage.
I am quite sure the Minister will in future drop it as he dropped the other three excuses which he put forward for cutting the price of wheat last year. He has got some little consolation in the fact that some farmers in some counties pay a high price for conacre. It is hard to imagine that a Minister for Agriculture in an agricultural country such as this could be so ignorant of agricultural conditions that he would not know what causes a high price to be sometimes paid for land in certain areas. Is it not the result of acute land hunger? For the Minister to say that the fact that people sometimes pay excessive prices for land to grow wheat is a justification for the reduction in the price of wheat would be the same as for one of the old landlords in the last century, when there was acute land hunger here also, to base his case for increasing the rents on unfortunate tenants, on the fact that some tenants were quite willing and appeared to be quite happy to pay those excessive rents. Anyone who understands agricultural conditions will know that in many cases people who pay excessive prices are driven to do so by economic circumstances.
Mr. Cogan: There are quite a number of farmers who lost money last year in taking grassland. I hope that will not happen again, but some of those farmers have been forced by the circumstances in which they are placed to pay high prices this year again. This matter is not governed entirely by economics. It is governed sometimes by social conditions. There is only a certain amount of land and the area cannot be increased. There is  only a limited area offered for letting each year. There is a very large number of applicants for that land and competition inevitably forces up the price beyond what is economic.
Mr. Cogan: We would like to hear some practical farmer, such as Senator Burke, giving his explanation of the position. I will admit this, in fairness to Senator Burke, that there are certain exceptional cases in which a farmer may pay a fairly high price for exceptionally good land in order to grow wheat, in the hope of reaping a small margin of profit, but, remember, the estimated yields that are given to us are average yields. Some yields are much lower. Some unfortunate farmers have to take lower yields, but there are some lands where the yields are very high, and, if you have an exceptionally high yields, such as 24 or 25 barrels per Irish acre, you can pay a very high price for conacre. That shows how fallacious, to use the Senator's expression, it is to rely upon conacre prices as an argument in favour of cutting down the price of wheat. I am quite sure that if Senator Burke stood up at any meeting of the National Farmers' Association or Macra na Feirme and made the case that wheat should be cut because of the high price paid for conacre, he would be laughed out of the room because his argument would be absolutely and completely silly.
Mr. Cogan: Another point the Minister made, and laboured for some time, as justification of the reduction in the price of wheat, was the increase in yields over the years. Now, if we examine the figures, we will find that the increases have not been very steep, particularly since the period of the emergency ended. It is true that, during the emergency period, estimated yields, or yields of wheat delivered to the mills, were relatively low, but we must remember that statistics are very  unreliable. There is now no incentive for providing misleading figures as there was during the emergency, when every farmer was compelled to put 10 per cent. of his land under wheat and when there was naturally an incentive, perhaps, not to give the accurate acreage, or to exaggerate the actual acreage he had grown. That incentive disappeared when compulsory tillage went, so that the figures since 1948 would, therefore, be more reliable.
There is not such a very wide difference between yields now and in 1948 and 1949. Whatever increase is taking place, it may be readily agreed, has been due to an enormous increase in the utilisation of fertilisers. People who, prior to the war period, used perhaps very little fertilisers on their grain crops are now using up to 6, 7, and 8 cwts. and, in some cases, up to half a ton per acre. That increase in the use of fertiliser has inevitably had a very marked effect on the yield secured and it has also had a very big impact upon the cost of production. If a farmer has to purchase £6, £7 or £8 or £9 or £10 of fertiliser per acre in order to grow his crop, that must be added to the cost of production, and, for that reason, it is not a true comparison; nor is it a sound case to base the reduction in the price of wheat on the fact that farmers have, by good farming and intensive manuring, stepped up output per acre. It is penalising efficiency, if you like, and is entirely unjustifiable. In 1954 the Minister for Agriculture crowned the farmers of Ireland with a cut of 15 per cent. This year, he has graciously crowned the wheat grower with half-a-crown and we are asked to regard that half-a-crown as a wonderful concession given to the farming community by a gracious and kindly Government.
The Minister knows that the representatives of the farmers' association met him and proved conclusively by figures which could not be disputed that, since the price of wheat was fixed at 82/6 in 1953, the cost of production had increased by 16 per cent. The Minister did not dispute those figures. They cannot be disputed because the farmers' association went into the matter in detail, went into every item  of costings and they proved that the increase in the cost of production had occurred, but, notwithstanding the fact that that increase occurred, we have been given a reduction of almost 15 per cent. We are asked to regard that as a wonderful concession to the farming community by a gracious and kindly Government. I am sick and tired of hearing the Minister say that wheat is a political crop and that the only people that grow wheat in this country are the supporters of Fianna Fáil. I wish they were. I wish that every man who grew wheat was a supporter of Fianna Fáil. Senator Burke contradicted him openly and showed us that there is at least one wheat grower in this country who is not an enthusiastic supporter of Fianna Fáil, but I do not agree——
Mr. Cogan: And he gave his reason for even tolerating the growing of wheat, that he had to have regard for the sentiments of the minority, as he described them here, and that it was purely a gracious concession on his part to the Fianna Fáil supporters——
Mr. Cogan: ——who were enthusiastic about the growing of wheat. It is a pity that those people who do not like to hear the Minister's ridiculous statements exposed would not take the Minister to task and prevent him from making those statements, but, since he made them, they must be answered.
Mr. Cogan: The Minister annoyed Senator Burke by saying that the fact that he grew wheat made him a Fianna Fáil supporter. He was so annoyed that he bounced out of the House. A genial and kindly Senator like Senator Burke should try, if possible, to put some sense into the Minister's head.
The growing of wheat is not a political issue and a farmer does not grow wheat because he is a supporter of Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. He grows wheat as a part of his farming operations—a very useful part. Let it be clearly understood that, so far from accepting the Minister's assertion that the growing of wheat causes a deterioration to agriculture and a cutting down of output, the opposite is the case.
Mr. Cogan: The Minister's whole case was based on the contention that he would only tolerate wheat because some people had a sentiment for it, but that good farming practice demanded that we should grow oats, barley, and particularly grass, rather than wheat and that he was just tolerating the growing of wheat because some Fianna Fáil farmers wanted to grow it.
The fact of the matter is that wheat fits in very well into our crop rotation. Wheat with a guaranteed price enables the farmers to carry on a certain percentage of tillage on their land which, without wheat, it would be impossible to carry on. In carrying on a rotation of tillage on the farm, land is freshened up as it would not be under permanent pasture, notwithstanding our heavy rainfall to which the Minister referred. It is absolutely absurd to base the case against wheat upon our heavy rainfall because, if the rainfall prevented us from growing wheat, it would have the same effect on the growing of oats and barley which are far more subject to damage by rain than wheat.
In the worst year which many of us remember, 1954, wheat stood up to the continuous torrent of rain for weeks on end, whereas the barley and the oats  were beaten flat into the ground, so that it is a fallacy to claim that wheat is more subject to destruction by excessive rain than any other crop.
Not only has the Minister failed, but he has not even tried to convince farmers, particularly wheat growers, that the cut in the price of wheat which he imposed in 1954 was justified. He has failed to convince anyone that the injustice he inflicted on the agricultural community in that year has been rectified by this gift of 2/6 in the coming year. Every factor which has been brought to his notice proves that the farmer was entitled to at least a continuation of the price which prevailed in 1954. Farmers would be rather reluctant to press for an increase in that price, having regard to production costs, because farmers are not an unreasonable body. Everybody realises that it would be in the interests of our national economy if prices could be stabilised at a reasonable level.
Farmers are not the kind of people who would try to enforce an inflationary policy on the Government, but, on the other hand, they are not the kind of people who should be expected to tolerate a grave injustice inflicted, as I say, on pretences that were without basis or foundation. As I indicated, three of the excuses the Minister gave for cutting the price of wheat last year have now been dropped. They have been proved to be without foundation and they have been ridiculed out of existence by the farmers and by the farmers' representatives who have met the Minister again and again.
Mr. Cogan: Is it not the whole policy of the Government to bring in as many foreigners as possible into the country? That is one of the reasons, perhaps, they dropped this particular leg of their programme last year.
The Minister ran out of the house when I proceeded to point out to him  that Fianna Fáil never at any time agreed to a reduction in the price of wheat. I would like somebody to bring this challenge to the Minister. Let him produce some evidence that Fianna Fáil ever decided or announced their intention to cut either the price or the acreage of wheat. That is a challenge I should like somebody to convey to the Minister. In this motion we are asking for an increase in the price of wheat as the price stands to-day.
Mr. Cogan: The motion will be voted on to-day, whether Senator Hayes likes it or not. The facts we have got to deal with in this motion are the facts before the Seanad to-day. We are dealing with the position as it stands on this day, and no other day.
Mr. Cogan: Anybody in favour of an increase can vote for the motion. Senator Hayes says it is no trouble to Fine Gael Senators to vote against any increase for farmers, but they have a great deal of trouble in voting against any increase for any other section of the community, strange as it may seem. Perhaps the farming community, and I am including in that term the farmer members of the other Parties, do not exert all the power they should. It just shows us that at least a number of people in high places think that farmers are the one section of the people who can be trampled upon and imposed upon and who can have their incomes drastically reduced,  without any valid case being put forward in support of that reduction.
Mr. Cogan: Who declared the economic war against the Irish people, but a foreign Government? I think we should have fought it at that time with all the energy at our command. Unfortunately, however, Senator L'Estrange's leaders gave a wrong lead to a considerable section of the people, with the result that that economic war was prolonged for seven years, whereas it could have been ended in three months, if the people had been united.
Mr. Cogan: I broke with Fine Gael on the issue of the economic war—if Senator L'Estrange wants to know my own part at that time. I found their attitude nationally wrong, morally wrong and wrong from every point of view. I have not been a member of the Fine Gael Party since then.
Mr. Cogan: On many occasions, the Minister for Agriculture has told us to forget about this savage reduction in the price of wheat, to forget about the fall in the price of cattle that has taken place in the past three or four weeks, to forget about the fall in the numbers of live stock, to forget about the fall in the acreage under tillage  and the increase in the acreage of grass, to forget about all his faults and failures and to join him in a five year plan which guarantees the farmer nothing whatever, except that the Minister will indulge from time to time, as he did to-day, in a little patronising patter. The five year plan and the parish plan are the things the Minister advocates now, but, only a few years ago, he was telling us that the one thing he detested was plans or attempts by anyone to plan his life or the life of the country. His only plan now for the wheat grower is to compel him to accept a price for his wheat which is lower than the price paid to wheat growers in every other country in Europe, with the exception of two.
Why should the Irish farmer who is tilling his land and growing wheat be forced to accept a standard of living lower than that of the French peasants, lower than that of the peasants of Germany, of Austria, of the Balkan States, lower than that of any farmers in Europe, simply because the Minister for Agriculture has a deep-seated prejudice against the growing of wheat and cannot get over that prejudice? The Minister seeks to represent the people who grow wheat, not as practical farmers, but as people who have a prejudice in favour of growing wheat.
Speaking as a practical farmer, I want to say that farmers have no prejudices in regard to crops or stock. They will grow any crop that suits their land and yields them a modest profit. They will keep any type of live stock that pays them for their toil and  enterprise. However, they expect a fair deal from the Government of this country. They feel that, now that farmers are organised on vocational lines, the Minister for Agriculture should be prepared to meet the representatives of vocational organisations, such as the National Farmers' Association, and settle with them the price policy for each successive year, as is done in Great Britain and in every other moderately civilised country. Here, however, we unfortunately have a Minister for Agriculture who wants to make political capital out of every issue, who claims that wheat is a Fianna Fáil crop—a political crop, if you like—in regard to which some people have prejudices; but in that case he is speaking only for himself.
We have a Minister for Agriculture who stands on public platforms throughout the length and breadth of the country and claims credit for every increase that takes place in live-stock prices and unloads the blame for any decrease that occurs upon his opponents. I ask the House to accept this motion with or without whatever reservations Senator Hayes may have at the back of his mind.
Lynch, Peter T.
Sheehy Skeffington, Owen L.
Sheridan, John D.
Teehan, Patrick J.
Crowley, Patrick. L'Estrange, Gerald.
McCrea, James J.
Meighan, John J.
Murphy, Dominick F.
O'Connell, Thomas J.
|Davidson, Mary F.
Douglas, John Harold.
Fearon, William R.
Guinness, Henry E.
Hickey, James. O'Gorman, Patrick J.
O'Sullivan, John L.
Prendergast, Micheál A.
Ruane, Seán T.
An Cathaoirleach: We have received a message from the Dáil that the Wireless Telegraphy Bill has been passed. I understand the desire is that it might be taken at the conclusion of Senator Crowley's motion or before the House adjourns.
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