When I moved the adjournment last night, I was concerned to direct the attention of the House to a very interesting and important development in the pig and bacon trade of the country. That is the remarkable increase that has taken place in the percentage of grade A pigs now being delivered to the factories in the country at large. In the August-December period of 1955, the proportion of grade A pigs was 54 per cent. of graded pigs delivered to the factories for conversion into bacon.
In the January-March period of 1956, the proportion of grade A pigs delivered to factories was 58 per cent., and in the April-June quarter of 1956, and again in the June-September quarter of 1956, the proportion of grade A pigs rose to 63 per cent. The situation has actually arisen now, it is hard to believe, when certain curers in the south of Ireland would almost say they are getting too many grade A pigs and are at a loss to secure pigs from which stouter grades of bacon can be made.
This is certainly a very dramatic change from the day when we here in Ireland regarded ourselves as being seriously embarrassed by the fact that an undue proportion of over-fat pigs was being delivered to the factories by the farmers. I do not think we should allow this occasion to pass without recording in public our congratulations to the farmers of the country who, in so short a time, have raised the percentage of grade A pigs from 54 per cent. to 63 per cent. I dare express the hope that, if this rate of progress is maintained, our commercial experience of deliveries of grade A pigs to our factories will, in the early forseeable future, rival that of any other country in the world.
As regard pig prices, the export price guarantee scheme has been proving its value recently, and despite reductions in bacon prices on the whole in the export market, the prices received by producers here have been maintained at 235/- per cwt. for grade A and 230/- per cwt. for grade B1 pigs. Producers are assured of these minimum prices. It is the intention of the Government to continue to guarantee a minimum price for grade A pigs and producers may, therefore, with confidence increase their output of pigs in the certainty that, whatever number of pigs they produce, there is no danger of the price collapsing, providing the pigs are grade A pigs.
I should like to add a word in clarification of the true position compared with the position in past times. In the June Census, the total number of pigs in the country fluctuated around the 1,000,000 mark—a little below sometimes, sometimes a little above. Our exports of bacon in 1938 amounted to 545,000 cwts. Our exports of bacon in 1939 amounted to 467,000 cwts. In 1940, our exports of bacon amounted to 562,000 cwts. Then the number of our pigs began to decline, but in the June Census of 1941 we were shown to have 763,000 pigs in the country. In that year, we exported 232,000 cwts. of bacon and 21,000 cwts. of pork. In 1943, we had only 434,000 pigs; in 1944, 380,000; in 1945, 426,000; in 1946, 479,000; in 1947, 456,000; in 1948, 457,000. In 1949, the number of pigs went up to 674,000. In 1950, we had 644,000 pigs and in that year our exports of bacon amounted to 47,949 cwts.
In 1951, I negotiated with the British Government a Pigs and Bacon Agreement and, if I say it myself, it was a very good agreement. Under it, we managed to get a price from the British for pork and bacon which enabled us to pay the farmers of this country, and guarantee to them over a five year period, a highly remunerative price, both for pork and bacon, but especially for pork. The result of that was that the numbers of pigs began to climb and in 1952 we had 719,000; in 1953, 881,000 and in 1954, 958,000. In 1955, we had 798,000 and in June, 1956, we had 742,000. But during the four years of the operation of the Pigs and Bacon Agreement we had the following astonishing exports of pork: in 1952 we exported 106,000 cwts. of pork; in 1953, 335,000 cwts.; in 1954, 290,000 cwts.; and in 1955, 226,000 cwts. Then the agreement came to an end and now our exports of pork are relatively infinitesimal.
I wish the Agreement had not come to an end but when you are making an agreement with a foreign government you must bear in mind that there are two sides to the agreement. They must want what you want to sell and you must be in a position to supply it. The plain fact is now that the British can supply all their own requirements of pork because they are paying their own domestic producers such attractive prices for pork that the British farmers have increased the numbers of pigs immensely, and the fresh pork market, so far as we are concerned, has ceased to be profitable because our pork pigs do not qualify for the guarantees provided by the British Government for their own producers.
Our exports of bacon in 1953-54 were very substantial but there is another interesting point that emerges. Our total pig population, to go back to 1941, was 763,000 as of June, 1941; and in that year we exported 232,000 cwt. of bacon. In 1955, to take the last complete year, we had rather more pigs—798,000 approximately— but because our people's standard of living had risen, they ate all the pigs and we exported only 51,000 cwt. That is a fact which may give us all cause for rejoicing in that our people are now so circumstanced——