The principal reason for the introduction of the Agricultural Produce (Cereals) Bill is to give the Minister power to suspend the provisions relating to the maize meal mixture. When the main Act was introduced in 1933, it was provided in that Act that the Minister would prescribe a certain percentage of home-grown grain to be mixed by the maize millers. The reason for the introduction of these provisions at the time was because there was a considerable amount of barley and oats in the hands of the farmers throughout the country. There was no ready market for the buying of oats because it was difficult to export it at the time on account of the tariff on oats and barley going into Great Britain. The mixing of oats and barley with maize commenced in October, 1932. At that time the farmers were in many cases doubtful of their ability to grow wheat, if they wanted to grow it as a cash crop. A tariff had been imposed on imports of oats and barley into Great Britain. This method of the absorption of grain seemed to be the only solution at the time. That is the difficulty we were up against. No other solution was suggested at the time or since to meet the situation we had to face.
When the Act came into operation in May, 1933, the percentage of home-grown grain in the mixture was raised from 10 to 15; in July, 1933, it was raised to 25 and in the same year in October to 33?. The percentage reached its peak in December, 1935 when it stood at 50. It remained at that high level until October, 1936 when it began to decline. It came down to 33? after October, 1936. For two years now it has averaged under 14.
The first matter one might be inclined to consider when introducing this Bill is whether the scheme conferred benefits on the corn growers. To get an idea of that, I want to give the House a picture of what was the surplus grain farmers had some years previous to 1933. If we take the four or five years previous to the introduction of this Bill in 1933, we find that the normal sales of grain were about 1,000,000 cwts. of barley and 1,600,000 cwts. of oats. Barley had been grown principally for malting and oats was sold for feeding to horses in towns, for racehorses and for milling into oatmeal by the oatmeal millers. In addition to the 1,000,000 cwts. of barley used in that way, and 1,600,000 cwts. of oats used inside the country, about 900,000 cwts. of oats were exported. But it was found to be impossible to carry on those exports then on account of the tariffs. In addition, there was the question of the very poor export prices on the English market at the time.
In terms of acres, 50,000 acres of barley and 125,000 acres of oats, of which 45,000 acres were exported, were grown for sale. The ordinary methods of absorption were still there as far as the internal market was concerned. A certain amount of barley and a certain amount of oats were taken up. A certain amount of oats was used by the oatmeal millers, a certain amount of oats was used for feeding horses in the towns and for racehorses. Over and above that, the maize-meal mixture—for the six years from 1933 to 1938, inclusive, during which the maize-meal mixture was in operation—accounted for about 300,000 acres of each, or 50,000 acres per year. That is to say, 300,000 acres of barley were grown for sale and 300,000 acres of oats were grown for sale, in addition to the ordinary things I have mentioned. That was an average of 50,000 acres each in these six years. For the last year the amount was very much lower than 50,000 acres of barley and oats. The amount absorbed by the maize-meal mixture in 1938 was 20,000 acres of barley and 33,000 acres of oats.
That was the effect the maize-meal mixture had on the absorption of oats and barley in our market. It had another effect also. It absorbed this grain at very much better prices than would have been available had not these provisions been there. To give an idea of the percentage of price increase, I will give the figures for oats here and in Northern Ireland during the period. I can only give the figures published here and in Northern Ireland. In 1933 our farmers got 2/9 more for their oats than the farmers in Northern Ireland; in 1934 they got 1/7 more; in 1935, 1/8; in 1936, 2/-; in 1927, 1/2. I have not got the figures for 1938, but the margin is, I believe, smaller than it was in the other years. Now there is no tariff.
Another question that is sometimes debated and another thing that is, in fact, alleged, is that the proposals embodied in the cereal legislation of 1933 did not have a salutary influence on tillage. As a matter of fact, our tillage increased between 1931 and 1938 by very large figures. In 1931 we had 160,000 acres less under cereals than in 1938. The amount of wheat grown increased by 210,000 acres, the amount of barley increased by 2,000 acres. There has been a very big decline in the acreage under oats for many years. During the ten years previous to 1931 there was a decrease of 210,000 acres under oats. For the last six or seven years the decline has been 52,000 acres.
Now I will take the figures in another way. I have given what is the increase in acreage under cereal crops for the last six or seven years, and I have also given an idea of the prices paid here for oats as compared with the prices in Northern Ireland. There is one other figure from which might be gained, perhaps, a better idea of the benefits conferred on the country in general, and especially on the farmers, by the cereal legislation introduced in 1933. The cash received by the farmers who sold their grain crops before 1933 would be about £1,000,000 per year, putting barley at 7/- per cwt. and oats at 5/6 per cwt. During the years 1932 and 1933 the farmers received almost £2,000,000 each year. Since then their receipts have exceeded £3,000,000 each year. It must be remembered also that in addition to these receipts there has been another addition. In these last few years 60,000 acres of wheat were used by farmers in their own households. That is equivalent to a large amount in cash to these farmers.
I have already announced my intention to suspend the maize meal mixture at the end of this cereal year. In order to do that this Bill is required, and it is necessary to have it passed by the Dáil before the session ends, because the necessary order will have to be made about the end of August. Although the scheme has conferred great benefits on grain growers I think we can suspend it now. Seeing that it has conferred benefits on grain growers the question might be asked—why discontinue it now? Well that is because we can do so without inflicting any great hardship on grain growers. In the first place, farmers have been growing less and less oats and barley for the maize meal mixture. For the last two years the percentage of oats and barley in the maize meal mixture has been less than 14 per cent., while it reached 50 per cent. during the first three years after the scheme was put into operation. In the next place the price that can be realised for oats and barley on a free market without the maize meal mixture is much closer now that it was three or four years ago. In the next place, it is generally recognised by the farmers throughout the country that they can grow wheat as a good alternative cash crop.
There is admittedly opposition to the removal of this mixture scheme. During the previous debates here on the Agricultural Estimates some Deputies spoke against the advisability of having the scheme removed. There is the natural divergence of interest amongst the farmers between grain growers and feeders It is rather difficult to decide which is right and which is wrong, but if this Bill be passed now, the Order removing the provisions would not be made until about the end of August. It is possible for any interested party to put up an alternative scheme or to seek the opinion of the Commission on Agriculture on the question, and I should be very glad to consider an alternative scheme put up by the Commission on Agriculture or by any other body of persons.