I should like to congratulate the Minister on the excellent presentation of the agricultural picture which he has given us in introducing his Estimate. If I have any criticism to make, it is that the Minister does not go far enough. At this stage it is necessary to have a stocktaking of the general position of farming. We are channelling a colossal amount of State subsidy into agriculture and I do not think we are getting the results we should be getting.
Undoubtedly, there is a great deal of dissatisfaction amongst farmers as to the income they are getting from agriculture, but it would appear that there are farmers who are getting as much as £600 or £700 subsidy now as against the position that obtained in 1958. The small farmers are really up against it because they have no way of collecting that subsidy and of availing, to the extent I would like, of the help which would give to them a reasonable livelihood. The figures show that between 1958 and 1965 there has been an increase from about £17 million up to £44 million in direct subsidy. There would also appear to be an increase of almost £25 million in the value of cattle and livestock. On the other side, there is a reduction in the acreage under tillage of 383,095 with resultant loss in the production of grain and cereals. Therefore, one wonders whether we have made any progress at all, notwithstanding the fact that we have injected into agriculture over the eight years a total of close on £150 million and when you add what our farmers and landowners have injected into it by way of borrowing and otherwise, the figure must be far higher. It is time for an examination of the situation. We must endeavour to plan along lines that will give the farmer stability and something to catch on to.
One of the greatest mistakes we made was to bring about derating of land. Since 1958, we have added an extra subsidy of up to £11 million. Unfortunately, the farmers who succeeded in getting the very extensive reduction in their rates are now, much as they were in the past, producing out of 200 to 400 acres what would normally be produced from 30, 40 or 50-acre farms. I do not think it was our duty to come to the assistance of those people. If they are not able to make a living out of 200 and 400 acres of land, then the sooner they get off the land the better. I have always looked on those people much the same as on the person who has £100,000 and invests it in either a national loan or in a good company to earn five or six per cent. He has his £5,000 a year return out of it. He does not have to worry; he still has his capital and a good income from it.
The large landowner is much the same. He always has an asset. If it is a 200 acre farm, it is nominally worth £20,000 and he need not worry about the future except to ensure that he will get the figure he has in mind as necessary to maintain himself and his family. Our assistance to him has merely got him to produce that much less. The figures of overall production per acre indicates this. We are among the lowest in Europe. We are reputed to have ten million acres of arable land. At the very low figure of £40 per acre gross output, we should have an output of £400 million. We are far from that. The Minister should go into these figures and try to find out what is wrong and what is happening the amount of subsidies we are channelling into agriculture and for which we are not getting the desired results. A £25 million increase in capital assets over the eight year period after an injection of £150 million by subsidy plus all the money put in by the farmers as well, gives rise to concern. It should be possible to have a thorough examination and start planning for the future lines of policy that will get the most out of all our people.
The small people are working hard because they must. If they are among the four, six, seven or eight cow farmers, they must work hard to get the necessaries of life. The bigger farmers should not be allowed to avoid what is a national duty. They should be made to produce the maximum amount from their land and if they are not prepared to do that, there should be a policy of taking some land from them or compelling them to let some of it to somebody who will work it. It is not our duty to keep them living on easy street because they are big and have assets to which they are holding on because these give them their essential incomes without too much trouble.
Agricultural policy should also be directed along the lines of assigning certain areas to necessary tillage production and certain areas to beef production. We had hoped that the bigger farmers, with the introduction of the heifer subsidy, would have gone over to beef animals, Herefords and Angus. Evidently those people have turned to milk and are glutting the market and becoming a serious threat to the dairying industry in Munster which had traditionally produced butter, milk and milk products. The bigger farmer with his broad acres can get the maximum from his cows with modern methods, milking machines and so on, and can make the money he needs in milk. He can afford to sell milk at the present price because we must remember that this type of farmer can collect anything from £600 to £800 in subsidies. He is subsidised to this extent through relief of rates, ground limestone, manures and so on, and can buy supplies at lower cost. The small farmer with eight or ten cows with the equivalent of 12, 15 or 18 acres cannot collect much subsidy because he cannot use very much manures and so on. Therefore, subsidies do not apply equally for each holding. The Minister should have a general examination of the position, getting down to facts and figures once and for all so as to straighten out this position which is causing so much strife among farmers.
There have been extraordinary increases. Sheep have increased in value by practically £1 million. That is not a section of livestock that has been subsidised in the extreme, if it has been subsidised at all. I suppose it is done through manure and ground limestone but, largely, sheep are produced in the early stages on the mountains where people do not use fertilisers. Pigs have also increased and add to the picture of an increase in agricultural production but they do not come in for subsidisation to the same extent as cattle. I think that cattle at present prices are quite capable of standing on their own feet and do not need subsidisation as such. Unfortunately, again it is to the big people the benefits go.
By and large, the farmers are doing a good job. They are prepared to follow any lead given but the time has come for new thinking on the overall pattern of agriculture which is a very valuable industry and plays a major part in our economy. But we have reached the stage where the ordinary citizen is no longer able to subscribe increasing help in the future. The pattern of help given to the producer must, I think, come in future from within the present structure. We cannot go on subsidising for ever and at some stage we must face the end of the road. I think we have reached it already. The taxpayers cannot carry increasing burdens any longer and the increases that are necessary within the productive field must in future come from within their own scheme of things. Our production figures per acre are the lowest in Europe and countries with which we are competing are producing many times as much per acre as we are out of land not as good as ours and in climates that generally are not as good.
The Minister should consider the question of the processing of vegetables. The sale of imported goods by supermarkets is a serious danger to our balance of payments. There is too much prepared food coming in from countries that are not paying the trade union rates of wages we have to pay. Some of these commodities come from South Africa and Hong Kong. These channels should be closed and steps should be taken to preserve the market for home producers. Some of the large food processing firms, or packaging firms, bring in imported materials. They buy a certain amount of home-produced materials and because of that, the finished article is supposed to be Irish. This matter should be examined because there was a very considerable increase in imported foods last year over the previous year. It is an awful state of affairs that a country which is one of the greatest food-producing countries, and certainly the producer of the best food, in the world, should have to import food. There must be some way of improving that position.
The cost of feedingstuffs, particularly for bacon production, is too high. In my constituency, the producers, with whom I am in very close touch, were getting along reasonably well until early this year when the balanced ration went up from 30/- to 35/-. That increase meant that there was no money at all in pigs. The increase occurred somewhere along the line. Probably high transport costs affected the position. There is room for examination of this matter and I would ask the Minister to investigate it as quickly as possible.
I should also like to draw the Minister's attention to a matter raised yesterday by Deputies, namely, the question of milk tests. It is causing grave concern in my constituency because farmers believe they are not getting the grading to which they are entitled. I would ask the Minister to arrange that in each creamery a sample of the milk will be handed to the farmer's representative at the same time as a sample is taken by the creamery manager. The ICMSA should be in a position to provide personnel for the purpose of making spot checks. I am given to understand that in Kerry creameries last year a certain figure was paid for milk which averaged 1/8d a gallon. There has been a considerable increase in wages to managers and creamery personnel. The only source from which this could come is the milk but there was no corresponding reduction in the price of milk. That would give reason to believe that tests are not carried out as they should be. Many farmers believe that they are paying for the installation of expensive plant in the creameries and for the lorries and various other equipment. A system should be inaugurated which would satisfy the farmers in regard to these tests. Samples could be taken. There could be spot checks and the results could be checked with the creamery returns at a later stage.
I should also like to draw the attention of the Minister to the question of the warble fly dressing. A number of cows have been affected. Calves were lost, not immediately following the dressing, but within a fortnight or a month. I would ask the Minister to insist on absolute care in regard to this dressing. I believe that the material is all right but that perhaps the animal is not quite fit for the dressing at the time it is applied. The Minister should keep a watch on this matter because there have been losses, not to a very great extent but, unfortunately, to people who could least afford them.
I should like to compliment the Minister on this document which has helped us all to follow the various statistics. I would ask him once again, when the time comes, to give us a more comprehensive picture of the value and the output achieved as a result of the colossal sums of money we have channelled since 1958 into agriculture and I would ask him to prevent this change-over from one type of farming to another. I know that agricultural advisers advised people two years ago that grass was the thing to go into, but, unfortunately, too much of our land has been switched from tillage to grass and milk production. A balance should be maintained. There is too much switching and too much money is being put into machinery of one kind and another. A stocktaking of the general position and a new pattern for agriculture are necessary.