Before I reported progress last night I was speaking about the growth in the sugar industry. It is encouraging to note that there was an increase in the acreage of beet grown this year in the Tuam area. There was a 39 per cent increase over the previous year. Some of our young farmers have played a very important part in this increased acreage of beet. It is a very encouraging sign that the Sugar Company and Macra na Feirme are involved in beet growing competitions which takes place in the small farms in the west. I hope young farmers are encouraged through this scheme to grow more beet.
I also hope that the company's land bank is available for young farmers. I am sure the Land Commission could be prevailed on to make land available to the Sugar Company for beet growing. There is not sufficient publicity given to the land bank. The Minister for Agriculture last night did not seem to realise the significance of the land bank, which consists of over 1,000 acres and could be leased for beet growing. It is very important that it is given to small farmers who have not any suitable land or perhaps have not any land at all in which to grow sugar beet.
It may well be that it is from the small farms in the future that the Sugar Company will obtain a supply of sugar beet and it might be from those farms that the increased acreage will be obtained. I have read a number of articles in recent weeks. One article in particular gave the views of a large farmer in County Carlow in relation to his own farming enterprise. He had mixed feelings about the sugar beet crop. Last year he had 140 acres under beet and this year he was down to 40 acres. He stated he was moving into winter cereals and was definitely phasing out the sugar beet. He said he was not happy with the strain of seed or with the system of payment by the Sugar Company as he thought it was unfair. Those matters should be very closely examined.
It is important to have research undertaken into a suitable strain of beet seed. The Italians have developed a particular strain of seed and I understand they have got a significant increase in the yield per acre. The development of the Italian sugar industry over the last few years has been extraordinary. There are many areas of similarity between Italy and Ireland. I know that the Sugar Company are involved in research and development. This has improved the return to growers, but much more needs to be done in this regard.
I cannot talk about increased acreage or about research and development without referring to the western development programme introduced by the former Minister for Agriculture, Deputy Ray MacSharry. This scheme will make available extra acres of land for beet growing. The sugar beet crop can make a major contribution to cleaning the land and improving and building up fertility. I do not believe the crop will be grown if the Tuam factory closes. Despite what the Minister for Agriculture says about his efforts to transport beet, it will not be grown. The BGA and the workers action committee in Tuam as well as everybody who has an interest in Tuam and the west of Ireland want a long-term commitment to the sugar industry. All those people believe that the acreage of beet can be increased. The Galway committee of ACOT have stated that another 5,000 acres of sugar beet could be grown without having an adverse affect on the livestock population. The Minister for Agriculture did not state last night what he was prepared to do in the event of this increased acreage.
I read in the paper about an interview with Deputy Sherlock who said that in the event of an increased acreage he was prepared to view the situation concerning the Tuam factory in a different light. I am very glad the Deputy said that but I would be happier if the Minister for Agriculture had said it. Last night the Minister spoke about providing alternative industry in Tuam. We have over 2,000 people unemployed in the Tuam area and 600 people unemployed in the town of Tuam. He also spoke about employing consultants, which I consider to be a fruitless exercise. He said that Tuam would be included in the review but he also said after we met the Taoiseach in a deputation that he would be taken aback if the consultants had a different view to the one he had.
There are people in the Government who talk about the importance of planning. I was very interested to hear Deputy Michael D. Higgins talk about the importance of long-term planning. How can they talk about long-term planning when they are only giving a 12 months' reprieve to the Tuam factory? I believe there are many Deputies in the Government benches who are very unhappy about the way the Minister for Agriculture has handled this situation. They are very unhappy at the way he has tried to keep the announcement of the closure a secret and are also unhappy he did not take some positive action. Deputy White went on record as stating that the Minister did not come to grips with the situation. He stated on 15 September last that the Tuam factory cannot be allowed to close. He also said: "There are some yes-men but we are not all yes-men in the party."
I ask Deputies who have similar feelings to those of Deputy White to consider the drastic situation for the people in the Tuam area if this factory closes. I ask those Deputies to accept this motion. Even though it is put down by the Fianna Fáil Party it is not political in that sense. If they cannot vote for this motion I ask them to abstain and save the sugar factory in Tuam. We need this factory. It was put there for socio-economic reasons. It will be a big blow to the west and the people in the Tuam area if this factory closes. It will be a psychological blow to the area and to the whole west. I ask that the motion be accepted and that the factory in Tuam be saved.