Private Members' Business. - Registration of Potato Growers and Potato Packers Bill, 1984: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Before the change of business I was referring to the high level of potato imports over the last few years. Since 1978 there has been a twenty fold increase in potato imports. In 1978 only 4,000 tons of potatoes were imported. By 1982 this had increased to 85,000 tons. Most of these imports have come from places like Holland and Denmark whose climates, like ours, favour potato production.

Since 1980 and the harmonisation of the EC plant health legislation there is free inter-Community trade in potatoes. This makes it more imperative that we get our act in order in relation to the potato industry. This Bill is at last tackling some of the issues which will go a long way towards improving our industry. One of the reasons for the increasing volume of imports has been the inconsistency in the production of potatoes for the home market. This Bill will go a long way towards curbing the cowboys in the industry who have contributed to the short supply, high price potatoes followed by excess supply and low price potatoes phenonomen. In 1983 the average price per tonne to potato producers was £200. In 1984, despite extra prices and extra inputs, the average price was reduced to something in the region of £100 per tonne, this bearing in mind that the cost of production per acre of potatoes is around £1,200. The approximate yield here is six to seven tonnes per acre. This shows that it is not an economic proposition to be in potato production at present. The one big problem about the legislation before us is that we need a firm commitment from the Minister that this legislation will be implemented rigorously. Without that commitment it will not be worth the paper it is written on. We must make the effort to implement the Bill, unlike what has happened over the years with the 19 pieces of legislation that I have already referred to; we must change the scene in this area. There is no point in getting the serious producers organised if we allow the cowboys to come and go as they please and take advantage of a high prices year.

We will have to tackle the problem of varieties. Kerr's Pinks have an inbuilt problem of endemic disease and they give poor yields. We must encourage an orderly production of varieties that will increase yields and will be more suitable for the processing industry. Much progress has been made with the Pentland varieties in this area and they have become more acceptable to the housewife. A survey done by the Agricultural Institute last year shows that over 50 per cent of housewives are dissatisfied with the potatoes on offer. The consumer buys mainly on the marketing of the potato. Recent experiments of selling potatoes loose and allowing the consumers to choose for themselves, even at relatively higher price, have proved tremendously successful. We have all heard the stories of weight being made up with stones, dirt and diseased potatoes. This has gone on for many years. The report of the Fruit and Vegetable Tribunal of 1940 referred to the fact that potatoes for sale on the home market were not subject to restrictions of any kind and said that there was little doubt from evidence submitted to that committee of speciments of potatoes taken at random from bags sent for sale on the home market that these markets had been utilised to absorb diseased and other potatoes which would not be allowed to be exported and that for far too long the home market had been used to dump potatoes that had no other outlet. Ireland is a potato producing nation and nowadays we must bear in mind the appalling situation in which we are a net importer of potatoes with the exception of some seed potatoes.

Even in the area of seed potato production we have a long way to go. Some question marks still hang over bags of certified seed potatoes. I have had complaints as late as this year in relation to seed Pentland Dels coming from the Department whose size range was totally out of order. We should look to this and ensure that the service being given by the Department is what it should be.

This Bill is extremely good and I compliment the Minister for bringing it before the House. It is a far more important Bill than is obvious on face value. We are aware of the inter-departmental committee of Ministers considering the food industry, particularly the value-added end of the food industry. The potato chip and the crisp have had a very good history. The crisp was introduced by Joseph Murphy in 1954 when in a small Dublin warehouse he started frying small pieces of potato and manufactured the potato crisp. The word "Tayto" has become synonymous with the potato industry and we have come a long way since 1954. The processed potato in the form of the frozen chip industry has not been so successful mainly because we have not grown a suitable type of potato and also because of the lack of commitment to contracts by potato producers. If we want to make sure that the chip industry is a viable industry we will have to encourage commitment to contracts by farmers and producers in general. Getting in and out of potato production from year to year is no good and signing a contract for a certain acreage of potatoes means nothing to the manufacturer if the farmer changes his mind or opts to go elsewhere if he is offered a better price. We will have to be businesslike in relation to potato production.

The increasing consumption of the frozen chip has been tremendous as indeed has been the increase in the consumption of convenience foods. I suppose it is an expression of the busy life most housewives lead today. There is no reason why we should not be to the front in this industry and why it should not become of tremendously important value to us. Before we can get to that stage and encourage the businessmen into this we will have to guarantee sufficient yields of the right variety of potato to have a consistent supply for this market. We are heading in the right direction with the Pentland Del. They have been tested and proved elsewhere and they are very successful in the processed chip industry. We have had limited success over the years in the dehydrated mashed potato industry because the variety we have been growing is suitable but even this end of the market is reducing in favour of the chip industry which is growing out of all proportion and faster than people realised over the years.

I should like to refer to a few of the provisions of the Bill. Perhaps the points I have raised may be implicit in the Bill, but I know, for example, that some of the new co-operatives and producers would like the Minister to clarify a few points which could be very important if not cleared up now. The potato co-operatives and those involved in them having read the Bill as it stands are not clear exactly what regulations it will now be necessary for them to comply with for the importation of potatoes into our market. For example, will those who import potatoes be free of any registration in relation to their packing and selling? Will the agents, particularly the Dublin market agents who import potatoes, who are free to do so, still be free to re-bag and sell potatoes where they like without any stamp or registration mark on them? This whole area of importation is deserving of some clarification by the Minister. At present imports of potatoes to this country bear no declaration of variety or size. Perhaps we could ensure that they fall in line with the standards demanded of our producers. We should never apologise for, if you like, erecting barriers to improve the quality of imports, particularly if we are merely bringing such standard up to that we demand of our producers.

Free trade is very acceptable and necessary for an exporting country like ours but there is no way people should be allowed to import goods here of a lower standard than we demand of our own producers. I would ask the Minister to assure the House that the whole situation in relation to the importation of potatoes will be attended to and will come within the provisions of this Bill, particularly in relation to registration of the sellers and packers. The Canary Islands and Cyprus early potatoes imported here are imported loose and bagged in the Dublin market. There should be some control exercised over the agents involved. If we control the small producer down the line who wants to sell his potatoes direct to the shops and to the supermarkets, then the bigger agents in Dublin should be subjected at least to equivalent restrictions and should not be free to sell what potatoes they like without any tracing of their source.

A difficult problem obtains in the whole area of importation, an example of which arose this year in relation to cross-Border trade in potatoes when because Northern Ireland producers had their potatoes out of the ground before ourselves and were confronted by a shipping strike a huge amount of Northern Ireland potatoes ended up on our market. I should like to ask the Minister: what will be the position in relation to our neighbours in the North of Ireland? Will they have to comply with our regulations in relation to the bagging and selling of potatoes coming to this part of the country? Will those growers who grow under contract for the processors we hope to encourage into business also be subjected to these regulations? Will people who sell potatoes in bulk to processors and factories be controlled and will these regulations apply to them?

I should like clarification or confirmation that the £15 fee for packing and selling will be £15 for both, or for one or the other, and not £15 on each occasion. There is some apprehension felt among the co-operatives that we will charge £15 registration for the packer and £15 registration for the seller with the result that if it happens to be the one man he will be caught for £30. I feel that is not so but that its interpretation is not crystal clear. Perhaps the Minister would reassure us in that respect.

Perhaps the Minister might refer again to this £15 annual fee. We have been assured by him now that it will be a once-off fee. But if the whole system is not to be self-financing how does he intend to implement it as an annual fee? This will not be an issue in most cases. But there are many small potato producers here who would worry were they not free to grow their small acreages, selling their produce to the local greengrocer. Were they caught for a fee of £15 every year — or indeed a higher one as the Minister may see fit — they might find that to be a disincentive. It is for the smaller producer that this is of greater concern. Indeed, in years like this they could all be called small producers because the profit has just not existed. If he can at all I should like the Minister to give us some details of what sort of application it will be necessary to make to the Department for registration, as outlined in the provisions of the Bill. For example, will specific forms be issued and, if so, from where, and through which agencies, or will the farmer or producer concerned simply write into the Department?

I would encourage the Minister to insist that the acreage of potatoes due to be grown be shown on that application along with the variety intended to be sown which would help tremendously with the production of statistics. It would also help co-operatives and others by way of ensuring that sufficient acreage of the right variety of potato be grown, dependent on demand either from the processors or from the ware point of view. If there could be some statistical information included on such application forms it would render monitoring and control easier, directing growers toward varieties of which we need more and encouraging them away from varieties that perhaps are not so acceptable any longer.

I have referred several times to the implementation of the provisions of this Bill. Perhaps the Minister could tell us how soon after its passage registration will become compulsory. For example, if the requirement to register drags on month after month there will be little point to its provisions. Will there be a deadline by which all growers must be organised and registered? How does the Minister intend to ensure that all growers, big and small, have indeed registered? In particular what are his plans for the next year as the regulations get off the ground and the system gains acceptance among producers? What plans has he to ensure that everybody is complying with the provisions of the Bill, which constitute his wishes and I imagine those of most of us in this House?

There is no doubt but that the real tragedy of the potato industry is that we are not an exporting country. If the provisions of this Bill help us to organise our industry in such a way that we hasten the day when that will happen, we shall have done an extremely good job. As the Minister said, it would be a mistake to feel that registration and other issues included in the provisions of this Bill will constitute the answer to all the problems of the potato industry. However, there is no doubt but that they will go a very long way towards co-ordinating the industry and ensuring that the potato variety produced is that most in demand from the point of view of the producer and housewife.Solanum tuberosum is synonymous with Ireland; we have been over that ground before. Successive Governments have failed to develop its potential. I hope that at long last we are on the right road, that the potato industry will be synonymous with the best in Ireland because the potato itself has been associated with us for generations through good times and bad.

The very fact that we are discussing the provisions of a Bill affecting potato and vegetable production here must, in itself, constitute a move in the right direction. It has long been recognised that the extent of disorder and lack of co-ordination in this area of our economy could not be allowed to continue any longer. While the provisions of this Bill cannot and will not be seen as constituting the solution to the undoubted problems obtaining in the potato producing industry, they must be seen as a step in the right direction.

Some previous speakers have outlined the history and origins of our potato production and the role it played in the social and economic life of our country over many years. In the 1800s the potato crop constituted our staple diet. The Famine of the mid-1800s saw us lose many tens of thousands of our population through sheer starvation because of the effects of disease on production of the crop. That probably constitutes the most notable chapter in the history of the role played by potato production here. But, when we move on to the 1980s we must examine the co-ordination of potato production and the part it can play in our economy overall.

The Minister said that £25 million worth of potatoes and potato products were imported in 1982. That emphasises the need to plan and co-ordinate the production and marketing of the products involved. There is no doubt but that the industry has been bedevilled by a lack of proper planning and co-ordination. We have the classical problem of over-production in one year, poor marketing and poor presentation and the next year there is a shortage with a consequent escalation in price for the consumer. Consumers cannot understand how in 12 months there is such a great variation in the price they have to pay for the humble potato.

This is a problem which confronts the industry but solutions are not easy to come by. The proposed legislation will not provide even the semblance of the solution. Perhaps with other voluntary measures brought about by those involved in the industry it could provide the basis for proper co-ordination, presentation and marketing of the product. The major problem has been that when we have over-production alternative economic uses for potatoes are very limited. We have very high production costs compared with other EC members and it is difficult for us to compete with them.

The compilation and dissemination of information to those involved in the primary producing end is of paramount importance. For too long, growers have gone around willy nilly with no regard for the demand for potatoes. There was no feedback from the marketplace as to acceptable varieties of potatoes. If the Minister is serious about bringing in measures for the good of the industry it is of prime importance that a start be made in the marketplace and that consumers needs be identified. Tastes change over a relatively short space of time and the industry must gear itself towards these changes. Otherwise those involved in the industry will not receive a viable income.

The report of the monitoring committee on food imports in the Department of Agriculture stated that, in contrast with 1982, producer prices in the 1982-1983 season were the best due to plentiful supply. A feature of the market was that due to lack of storage much of the crop was sold direct off the field at harvest period, that is September and October, and gave rise to glut conditions and low prices. Existing storage is grossly inadequate and suitable storage, in particular long term storage which involves high capital costs, will go a long way towards combating imports. Their statement identifies the root of the problem in the potato industry.

Storage is a major problem. Over 75 per cent of producers grow less than one acre of potatoes. This leads to fluctuations in volume from one season to the next. When we relate the capital investment that would be needed to provide storage facilities to the size of holdings and the acreage under potatoes it will be seen that it is a non-starter as far as small holdings and small areas of production are concerned. The Minister and his advisers will have to address themselves to these problems.

The concept of a co-operative has been floated for some time. That would help to provide a vehicle for producers to streamline the industry. The industry has a long chequered history of production and because of the great variation from year to year producers tend to shop around for outlets for their potatoes. At the end of the day it will be a question of knuckling down and recognising the advantages that involvement in a co-op would bring. It has been long recognised that continuity of supply is of prime consideration for supermarket buyers and other outlets. They need a supplier who will guarantee them a supply of good quality potatoes. A person who will supply this year but not next year is no good to them or to the industry.

As regards the registration of potato growers and packers there are a number of questions which we will deal with by way of amendments on Committee Stage. Chip production is a very important aspect of the potato industry. It is another way of presenting potatoes and making them more attractive to people. It is unfortunate that the geographic location of our chip processing facilities is not as good as it might be. In the Louth-Meath area where a considerable amount of potatoes are produced annually there is a big demand for chip processing facilities. Hopefully, the IDA and the Department of Agriculture will recognise the need for such a facility to give a ready outlet for local, well organised producers.

We have been told that producers will be obliged to put a number on the bag or package. Those involved in the industry hold the view that it would be more desirable to have the name, address and registration number of the producer and the packer on the bag or package. If that is done it will be easier to identify the problem areas and get to the root cause of the trouble. Consumers would then be able to identify those who are doing their job properly in the marketplace and act accordingly. That may convince those who are not doing the job as well as they should to take the necessary steps to improve the produce and the presentation. We hope to table an amendment concerning that on Committee Stage.

I agree with the view of the monitoring committee on food imports that storage is vital. If producers get the required area for storage they will have the regulatory mechanism that is sorely needed in the industry. We should eliminate the process of producers selling out of fields or pits. The day of picking potatoes at the side of a ditch on a cold winter's day is long gone. The storage problem must be tackled and grants provided to encourage people to provide that facility.

Those involved in the industry have complained to me about the level of VAT on potato bags. I understand the VAT rate applicable is 35 per cent. If that is the case the Minister of State should use his influence with the Minister for Finance to change that rate immediately. I should like to detail what happened to the industry from 1970 to 1980. In 1970, 76,000 hectares of potatoes were grown but in 1980, 56,500 hectares were grown. Those figures relate to the North and the South. We cannot consider the future development of the potato industry without taking into account production in the North. The outlet for potatoes here, apart from human consumption, is very limited because of the cost involved in producing them. For many years potatoes were used for feed for cattle and pigs but they have been replaced by milled cereals because there is greater emphasis on getting weight on animals. An Foras Talúntais, and agencies involved in research and development, should look for an alternative. We should not meekly accept that there is no possibility of getting an outlet to absorb potatoes in years of over-production. I hope research and development work continues in that area. Any advancement would be of considerable benefit to the potato industry.

One matter that is affecting agricultural production in general is the curtailment on the recruitment of staff to the advisory service. It has long been recognised that the advisory staff have given great help to those involved in agriculture but due to a curtailment on recruitment the reduction of field staff is continuing. That will have serious consequences for farmers. Vital decisions about changes in different lines are being made by farmers and they need the specialist advice and guidance of instructors. Any curtailment in that area will inevitably rub off on vital decisions taken in the agricultural industry. The Minister should look at this area immediately. The impact of these cutbacks will be felt in four or five years' time. Such a move in the country's primary industry is serious.

The research work of An Foras Talúntais on new lines of potatoes is a slow process and I hope there will be no cutback on the money or personnel needed for this work. We must be looking for potatoes that will be more attractive to the consumer and more productive for the grower. There is a provision in the Bill for the registration of growers and packers but I should like to know how the Minister proposes to control the potato purchasing merchants who buy potatoes from registered growers and sell them through their own distribution network. Is the Minister satisfied that the Bill covers those people adequately? I am not sure it does. I will deal with the other points that concern me about the Bill on Committee Stage.

As other Members are anxious to contribute to this debate I will be brief. I should like to give a strong welcome to the Bill. The Bill, coupled with the establishment of the national potato co-operative, with its 12 regional subsidiary producer groups, will provide the bones of a solution to what is a very serious problem. The worst problem is in relation to imports. In 1982 we imported more than £25 million worth of potatoes in one form or another. This year imports amounted to £30 million. The fact that we do not have proper statistics reflects the need for registration. In two years we have imported more than £55 million worth of potatoes and, according to the AFT report of 1981-82, we have 90,000 growers. In 1980 under an EC directive our outlets for selling potatoes were opened to all our competitors. The game rules were changed and we were unprepared. We need more professionalism to beat the best at their own game.

In the course of my work with the Committee on Small Businesses I spoke to hoteliers and restaurateurs about the proportion of Irish to foreign goods they bought and they were vehement, without being prompted, about the quality of Irish potatoes. Retailers also told me that they cannot get the quality they want. I was told that it was all too common to have mucky stones in the bag to make up the weight. There is also the problem for the producer. One year there is a famine and high prices and the next year there is a glut and low prices as happened this year when potatoes are selling at £60 a ton. What we need is a planned approach to this problem and the co-operative will be a basis for this planned solution.

If this is a success it will provide a remedy for the tomato, onion and apple industries. We are importing approximately £500 million worth of food each year. One out of every three and a half food products is imported. This is ridiculous in a country which has climatic and other conditions necessary to solve the problem.

This is a simple and straightforward Bill. The identification section is very valuable, as is the £1,000 fine and so on. This co-operative will provide the statistical data needed for the industry to plan properly. The only statistics we have apart from AFT studies are the CSO figures and often when they are issued they are too late to be relevant.

I have some specific queries on the Bill. Will there be any exemptions? Will people with one-tenth or one-quarter of an acre be exempt? What will be the date of commencement for registration? Will the 1985 crop be covered? Will the penalties be applicable to both wholesalers and retailers who buy potatoes which are ungraded and unregistered? Will they be liable to the £1,000 fine? Are sales to certain contract caterers or hospitals liable for registration, or will they be exempt?

If the Department are not serious about implementing this Bill, we might as well forget about it because many people will invest a great deal of money and if the cowboy and rogue operators are allowed to continue to flood the market at cheap prices there will be no future for a planned potato industry.

If we want this Bill implemented we must look at the staff. My understanding is that the potato section in the Department has a staff of five senior people, a total inspectorate of 40, but where will the people come from to implement this Bill? Let us look at the track record of this Department and their implementation of the Food Standards Act, 1977. Most of these regulations are honoured more in the breach than in the observance. That Act covers potato grading regulations for mechanical and disease effects on potatoes and there is a £200 fine or six months' imprisonment. It is notable that the day before this Bill came into the House there was a prosecution under that Act. Prosecutions have been very haphazard and I suggest that this Act was not properly implemented. Because the penalties in this Bill are £1,000 I suggest that the penalties under the Food Standards Act be increased from £200 to £1,000 so that there will be conformity.

There is a consensus in the potato industry that it is essential to deal with these rogue operators. It is very important from the commencement of the operation of this Bill that the Department make it very clear that they mean business. If they establish precedents and turn a blind eye to this and have a half-hearted attitude to the other, nobody will pay any attention. The price of doing that is what happened in the 1984 production year. The cost of producing potatoes is around £200 an acre, depending on how intensive production is, and on the Dublin market this week potatoes can be bought at £60 a ton and a particular purchaser will take them for £40 a ton. That is one way to ensure that good, efficient, intensive producers get out of business. That is the price of not implementing the present legislation.

I wish to turn now to the national potato co-operative because a Bill, regulations and red tape will not solve anything. We must have a plan. The 12 localised producer groups will be concentrated in the main growing areas, each having one representative on the national co-operative council. I understand John Aherne of the IFA will be chairman and John Tobin of ICOS will be secretary and it is already registered with the Friendly Societies. In County Wexford there are 30 to 40 growers involved with a total acreage of 600 to 800 planned, 20 acres each: the national total is 160 growers and about 1,900 acres.

To understand the potato co-operative and the industry it must be realised that there are two stages of development. The first is to establish packaging and grading centres and in the Leinster area where there will be six producer groups, the packaging centre will be in Carlow. The centres will be able to take in 50,000 tonnes per annum. All this will be financed as follows—one third by the Irish Agricultural Wholesale Society, one-third by the producers and one-third by grants. The packaging and grading centre will produce a quality product that can be sold to retail outlets but there is a problem as regard grants.

Grant aid is only available for expenditure in excess of £75,000. We must lengthen the storage season to ensure that we get out of the present cyclical problems. Even though there are double grants for disadvantaged areas the fact is the Department only give a meagre 8 per cent, the minimum to utilise EC money. There is a specific problem for the storage of potatoes. Special loaders and buildings with air ducts and vents are required. Grant aid for this area should be looked at so that we will have a quality product all year round.

The processing area is crucial. We can talk about the Dutch and the British industries, but how did they succeed? They identified one factor, that is, if you want to make money out of potatoes you must ensure that 50 per cent of the crop goes to the ware trade. By "ware trade" I mean potatoes for table consumption to be sold through shops and the Dublin market. That rule has never applied here. The other 50 per cent must be taken up by the potato processing industry— potato powder products, crisps, frozen or oven-ready chips and so on and this is where the problem arises. If one has a crisp processing project one gets a grant from the IDA but if one has a frozen chip product industry, the Department of Agriculture give a grant. the whole area is in a mess. There is no planning for potato processing and if there is to be a future for the potato industry it is essential that we have the processing facilities to take up 50 per cent of the crop. The Dutch and British have made it clear to every Irish person who went there that that was the key to success.

Stage two of the national co-operative's development is to carry out a major feasibility study into the processing opportunities that exist for 50 per cent of the potato crop and to look at export potential. This will cost £500,000. This is a great deal of money. It is vital that the IDA, the NEA and An Foras Talúntais provide the money for this feasibility study so that we will get the proper information about crisps, chips or whatever. The co-operative should know before the crop is harvested where the potatoes will go.

Last year we imported £14 million worth of frozen chips and this year the figure will be even higher. I would like the Minister to give a commitment that the necessary resources will be made available for this feasibility study. I wish to stress — because many potato producers are not in the national co-operative — that it will not be a monopoly; it will be an organisation consisting of a number of growers and there will still be independent larger growers who will also be registered. This Bill will bring order out of chaos so that both the independents and the co-operatives will have a future.

The co-operative must be based on 100 per cent commitment in loyalty. Previously, when there was a scarcity of potatoes, farmers sold to other producers and buyers. They had no loyalty to regular buyers and Erin Foods went out of business for that reason among others. We must have contracts for tonnage based on share capital. You should not be able to dispose of shares except through the co-operative.

The area of the £100,000 payment is still due from the Minister's Department to the co-operatives. It is very important that this money should be paid without delay. At the moment Irish potato producers are going around with two bags of spuds in the boot of their cars. The Dutch are so busy producing and looking at the quality, variety and productivity of their acres that they do not have time to deal with marketing end and they leave it to the IAWF. The whole concept of the separate marketing structure is essential.

The main varieties of potatoes in this country are Kerrs Pink, Records, Golden Wonders, King Edward and some new varieties. I should like the Minister to clarify whether seed production is dropping as I hear some very alarming reports in that regard. I understand that all the main Irish varieties are totally unsuited for processing. Therefore, you cannot plan for a future processing industry if there is no variety suitable for it.

Does the Minister agree that An Foras Talúntais, ACOT and the Department of Agriculture are fragmented as individuals are working on hypotheses, studies and lectures but nobody is working in a concerted way to do anything. There is a ban on the import of Northern Ireland seed products. That is a pity as they would be a great help in improving our variety production here. I hope that the Minister will ensure that the necessary sources will be made available for research and development in the area of variety.

I strongly reiterate my welcome for the Bill as it is the beginning of getting our act together in this area. We must lengthen the storage period which is the kernel of the problem, have a planned and controlled supply of potatoes and an outlet for them. Unless the Bill is enforced and unless there are cash and incentives for the national co-operative, there cannot be total production of potatoes in a pre-planned, utilised fashion as they have in Holland. If we do things properly, the rewards will be great in terms of employment, balance of payments, agriculture, incomes and consumer satisfaction. I hope this Bill will be implemented without delay and that it will reverse the tide of the food import scandal.

I have been requested by the Whips to ensure that each suceeding speech will not exceed ten minutes so that everybody who wants to speak will get an opportunity to do so.



I also welcome the Bill and if anybody thinks this legislation is unnecessary, he merely has to examine the last three reports which were carried out by An Foras Talúntais in the Irish potato industry. The reports included the quality of potatoes offered for sale at retail level in 1982-83. We also had a report concerning potatoes and the Irish consumer and the competitive position of the Irish potato industry. Those reports made very sad reading. Of 288 samples evaluated from November 1982 to May 1983 in the Carlow-Dublin region, not one passed the test or came up to the standard of the Irish Potato Marketing Board regarding the export market. Mechanical damage was excessive in most cases and they also failed because of lack of grading and sizing. We had a very lucrative trade in the export of seed potatoes since the war and during that time Counties Donegal, Monaghan and Louth were the seed producing counties. We were top of the list then and had no rejections because of mechanical damage. The potatoes were graded and selected and were some of the best exported to Spain, the Canary Islands and Israel. For a number of years potatoes were scarce in Israel and their inspectors came over to Derry, inspected potatoes and passed them in most cases. We have not attained that standard since and I have suggested here on numerous occasions that the Irish Potato Marketing Board should have had control and responsibility for ware potatoes or at least have given assistance, advice and direction in that regard.

The crunch came in 1980 when the EC directive withdrew the protection which we had up to then. It allowed other countries to compete on our domestic market. Our neglect in streamlining the industry before and since 1980 invited that type of competition to such an extent that it almost wiped out potato growers here. In 1982 we imported £25 million worth of potatoes and it was then that the Department realised that the potato industry would be extinct in a few years if some measures were not taken. Out of the figure I have mentioned, some of £12¼ million was in respect of processed potatoes in various forms. We had competition from a large processing plant in England. If we processed potatoes we could provide thousands of jobs. We have discussed import substitution very often in the House and Ministers say that in most areas we can only reduce imports by a small amount. However, in potato and potato products we could substitute imports completely and this is why the Departments have been remiss in not identifying areas where there could be complete substitution by creating the conditions where people could get into the business.

The Minister mentioned varieties. I was involved in the potato business for many years. I remember meeting Department officials and I told them that I did not think there was enough emphasis on the production of potatoes, not just for the home market but for export. The answer was that it was a small percentage of total agricultural production. But it was important because it was labour intensive and it was in an area where we could have created many jobs. However, we failed in that respect.

It is generally accepted that what we want is additional storage. I remember in the late sixties as a member of the Irish Potato Marketing Board going to Perth at the invitation of the British Potato Marketing Board. We saw the harvesters they used and the grading procedures. At that time they were spending enormous amounts in providing large brick buildings for storage for the growers. We are short of storage — it is estimated there is a shortfall of between 50,000 and 100,000 tonnes of storage capacity. That matter should have been attended to before now but better late than never. Additional storage capacity will have to be provided if we want to compete and to have products in the off-season periods. When we visited Perth I remember that with the air conditioning they used it was easy to have the correct temperature for potatoes.

As was mentioned earlier, FEOGA funds are available. The Minister should consider matching those funds pound for pound, especially in the Donegal area which is most suitable from the point of view of soil and also the areas in Dublin. Many farmers in my constituency depended on potatoes as a cash crop in the fifties and sixties but with the changeover to dairying they went out of potato production. However, now it is possible that many may revert to potato growing. It was a system of farming where rotation was possible. In many poor areas it is very suitable to have such rotation and in this connection potatoes are ideal to grow in rotation with grain. FEOGA aid is available at the rate of 50 per cent in disadvantaged areas and I as the Minister to consider carefully the suggestion of providing pound for pound in respect of that grant aid.

One of the biggest problems with regard to the marketing of potatoes is that of mechanical damage. In the reports it was indicated that growers should be informed of what precautions to take to avoid damage. Potato growers are very careful and if the conveyors had the proper rubber adjustments on the diggers they could practically eliminate mechanical damage. Defective tubers are causing many of the problems so far as quality and marketing are concerned. We have good quality potatoes but they are badly presented and they are getting a much lower price than inferior quality, well presented Dutch potatoes. That is something we will have to remedy.

The main points of the Minister's speech show that the industry is totally disorganised, that the distribution system is extremely poor, that there are inadequate facilities for storage, packaging, grading and processing and there is an unequal supply from year to year. All of these weaknesses in the industry led to £25 million being spent on the import of various forms of processed potato foods in 1982. That is a shame because we have the best soil and climate for the production of potatoes. I hope the Bill will help to improve that situation.

State funding for the setting up and promotion of a marketing board for potatoes is long overdue. I hope it will be successful. The presentation of the product to the consumer is also given significant consideration in the Bill, as is the registration of all growers. This means that the people who produce a bad product will be traced in time. All of these factors are important.

The Bill is important from the point of view of the protection of the interests of consumers. However, it does nothing to protect the person who contracts to produce potatoes for processing at the various processing outlets, for chips, crisps and even for mashed potatoes. In the past year in my constituency we had such a concern that went into receivership and large potato producers suffered almost to the point of total bankruptcy. There was no protection for them and neither is there any protection for them in this Bill. Perhaps what I am saying is outside the ambit of the Bill but it is something that must be considered seriously in the future.

In my view in company law the financial institutions are given preferential treatment but there is no protection for the providers of the raw materials. Nowhere was that more evident than in the recent closure of the Clover Meats co-operatives where producers who had supplied goods in good faith found that the cheques were dishonoured. The same situation has occurred with regard to potatoes. I should like to draw the attention of the Minister to that point. The banking and lending institutions benefited for a long time from the endeavours of the farming community. They made large profits and I regard it as a shame and even immoral that large-scale investment by farmers can be so shabbily disregarded by the lending institutions in times of crisis. The protection of such a high capital risk crop as potatoes must be considered seriously in this context.

This Bill proposes to institute a national potato co-operative. In essence this means the producer toes the line in regard to the marketing and presentation of his product to the consumer. One hopes that only a good product will be put up for sale. My main fear is that the farming co-operatives are too fast becoming the property of the financial institutions. The producers are losing control and, consequently, in times of financial difficulties there is a lack of sympathy and concern for the hard-pressed producers. This was never more evident than in the past few weeks in my area. Farmers cannot afford to lose the money they have earned to the banking instutitions. Therefore, the farming organisations quite rightly are demanding fair play from the banking institutions for the producers who supplied products in good faith to the Clover Meats group. In my view existing company law permits the lending institutions literally to rape these people of their hard-earned money. It is one thing to legislate for proper production and marketing standards but it is equally important to legislate for reasonable protection of the interests of those who supply the co-operatives with quality products.

I ask the Deputy to deal with potatoes.

I am developing the point. The Minister further proposes in the Bill to introduce penalties for those who do not conform to the regulations laid down. I agree with that but I disagree with the fact that there is no reciprocal penalty for those who are responsible for malpractices from the wholesaler to the retailer in terms of price and quality of product. There are jobs in the industry. The poundage of potatoes consumed here is quite high, both in respect of chips, crisps, and potato mash. It is in that form of product that the greatest level of competition from within the EC is now becoming apparent. For that reason one can reasonably conclude that this Bill is being requested by the farming organisations.

The quality of the similar Irish product is consistent with the imported product but in our supermarkets we find those products in abundance, from the Netherlands, the UK, Belgium. If we are sincere about job creation let us be patriotic and buy Irish produce, whether the potatoes be in chip form or in crisp form. Those people who stand up and scream about the recent attitude of the British Prime Minister to Ireland should be told to buy Irish produce. In that way you would silence all your critics because there is a reluctance for people to peel fresh home grown potatoes. It is far easier to go into a supermarket and buy a packet of processed chips or crisps. We should give greater consideration to where these products are grown and processed. We have a good quality product at home.

When this marketing board are in full operation I hope that will be the case. I welcome the Bill despite its shortcomings. There is lack of protection for people who commit themselves to growing potatoes on contract. People who send not only potatoes but other crops to factories under contract have had serious losses. The Bill was needed to bring order into the marketing of this product, which has become the staple diet of our people throughout the years. The failure of this crop 150 years ago changed the course of our history, and let us hope this Bill will alter the course of potato production and ensure a just reward for producers and consumers.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute, as I welcome the Bill, which gives Members a chance to discuss the potato industry. A number of Deputies said that the industry is in chaos and personally I do not think this legislation will contribute much to improving it. The 1977 Potato Standards Act provides for regulations which, if properly and rigorously applied, would eliminate the need for reports like that of an Foras Talúntais recently which stated that not a single sample was found to be within the regulations.

I cannot see how the mere registration of growers and packers will improve the position if the will and commitment are not there rigorously to implement the regulations and enforce them so that consumers will get something better than the mechanically damaged and disease affected potatoes now presented in supermarkets. The onus is on the Department of Agriculture inspectorate to insist that the consumers will be provided with properly graded good potatoes.

There has been a call or a demand by large growers for registration. They felt that the registration of growers and packers would ensure that maverick or cowboy dealers would be kept out of the industry. I hope, however, that the small potato producer who grows an acre or perhaps less will not be squeezed out, because he has been the backbone of the industry. I hope that in times of surplus when such growers would have a share of the market the Act will not be used restrictively against them.

We have some very large potato growers and they seem to be the ones who have the lowest yields and the most damaged potatoes. The Forus Talúntais survey found that mechanical damage contributed to a very large extent to the unacceptability of potatoes by consumers. Page 26 of the report states that the most important of the technical faults was mechanical damage, though the level of defective and diseased tubers was very high. The report recommended that a national damage awareness publicity campaign should be launched to try to bring down damage levels to an acceptable level.

I cannot see how the mere registration of growers and packers will improve the technical quality of potatoes or consumer acceptability of them, but at least it will let everybody know who is in the business. It will therefore be possible to trace those who infringe the regulations and ensure that they will be put out of business. It will give those in the industry, particularly those in charge of it, knowledge of the amount of potatoes in storage at any time. It is important to have that knowledge. Above and beyond those technical provisions a great deal remains to be done to make the industry comparable with that of the Dutch in terms of cost of production and of quality.

In regard to the ware sector, a few changes could have significant effects. First, we need higher yields if we are to compete properly with imports. Our present yield is only 75 per cent of Dutch yield. If we improve that yield the Dutch will find it uneconomical to sell here. We need better policy to improve harvesting — I spoke earlier of how badly harvesting damages potatoes. We need better storage facilities, particularly from March to May, to ensure that potatoes will be kept properly towards the end of the potato year. We need a labelling system similar to the Guranteed Irish label through which potatoes would be given the description of having a guaranteed Irish quality. If the consumers were buying Irish potatoes of a guaranteed quality they would know they had a product which was above the normal run of the mill.

On the processing side we have seen Erin Foods in Carlow and in Skibbereen and we have seen frozen chip factories running into financial difficulties and generally capitulating to competition from abroad. One of the main reasons is the type and variety of potatoes we have which are unsuitable for processing. We have not come to grips with contract growing which we will have to do if we want to get the processing sector properly organised. We need new processing technology. The old freeze dry technology is long since gone. We need improved marketing. There is no point in producing or processing a product unless you market it properly. Those objectives can be achieved and higher standards can be achieved if we have a product identification scheme.

I know the Minister of State is committed to the industry. I know this from his work as Minister of State and as a member of the Cork County Committee of Agriculture. If he were allowed by the Department of Finance to get additional resources to promote and organise properly a national potato co-op and a producer feeder group to that co-op, we would be well on our way to having a proper potato industry.

I welcome the introduction of this Bill by the Minister. It should have been introduced long ago. The comments made by the Minister of State in introducing the Bill are true. Everyone knows the potato industry is far from perfect. I reckon that we are only skimming the surface of the full potential of this very valuable industry. The recent survey carried out by the Department of Agriculture showed clearly that fewer than half of the potatoes grown had adequate production facilities. Poor presentation, lack of adequate attention and wastage are the chief culprits of the industry.

Well presented potatoes and potato products from other member states are making inroads into our domestic market. We imported over £30 million worth of potatoes and potato products in 1983. That is appalling in a country with the reputation of having the finest climatic conditions in the world for growing potatoes. Not only could we produce sufficient supplies to satisfy our home market, but we could gain a valuable export market and export trade. The quality of the potatoes in all the other European countries is far below the eating quality of the Irish potato. We are only skimming the surface in capitalising on that good quality potato. Potatoes were a vital food in this country for centuries since Walter Raleigh first introduced the potato to Ireland. When the blight wiped out the crop in the late 1840s a famine similar to the one in Ethiopia today befell our country.

Taking all the facts into consideration, it is vital for our potato growers to make an all-out effort to capitalise on this very valuable industry and produce a product which can stand up to international competition. Proper handling and storage facilities are essential. Second best quality will not do. Only the best quality product can survive. Proper marketing is also vital to ensure that market gluts do not develop, thereby ensuring that a stable price will be realised for our Irish potatoes.

In the past the Dutch have proved that they could sweep the market on different occasions by producing a well-presented package containing poor quality potatoes. The Department should foster and develop a potato processing industry to produce all our requirements of frozen chips, croquette potatoes, potato mash, crisps, and so on. Why not investigate the possibility of providing such a factory in south-west Cork? Why not utilise and re-open the vegetable factory co-op in the town of Skibbereen? The structure of the factory is there. All it needs is the installation of modern machinery to put it into production. This would utilise all our surplus potatoes and rectify the market gluts which frequently occur. It would also be a great help to our economy.

The establishment of co-operatives to supervise the handling and storage and regular sale of the potato crop is vital. Quality is vital if the product is to maintain its rightful place against European competition. In other words, we must take the mud out of the spud. That is the clear-cut issue facing our Irish producers today. If we are to gain the markets, and if we are to gain the confidence of the Irish housewife, we have to produce an excellent product because the competition is very keen.

We must also ensure that a sufficient foundation stock of high class seed potatoes is readily available to our growers. Good seed is the basis for successful ware production, but good seed must be accompanied by good husbandry. ACOT have an important role to play. The main deficiencies in Irish potato production lie in the area of harvesting, storage and marketing. Weather conditions play a prominent part in harvesting. There is a tendency to harvest too late. This involves the risk of deterioration. Careless harvesting and handling causing damage to tubers do not help the quality of our crop.

I welcome the Government's recent decision to authorise the expenditure of £100,000 this year to assist in launching a national potato co-op. I should like the Minister to elaborate further on that project. He should give us more details about these co-operative societies. Where will they be placed? Under the sectoral programme for potatoes, EC and national aid are available for new storage facilities and the modernisation of existing storage facilities and for grading, handling and brushing facilities. The aid consists of 25 per cent FEOGA grants plus 8 per cent Department grants, making a total of 33 per cent. This applies only to co-operative groups and not to individual farmers. I ask the Minister of State to make this aid available to all potato growers who register under the new scheme. That is not too much to ask.

But £100,000 will not go far.

Up to 1980 it was possible to exercise official control over the import of all potatoes. Following the implementation of the EC Plant Health Directive in that year, control of imports of potatoes from EC countries has been lifted and even with the power of selection and eating quality of Irish potatoes, we imported 80,000 tonnes of ware potatoes in the year 1982. This is a challenge which we have to meet and it can only be met if the Irish producer is prepared to supply the housewives with constantly good quality potatoes, properly graded, well presented and competitively priced.

The Dutch producers are our chief competitors and have a number of advantages over Irish producers. They have a much higher yielding variety called Bintje. They have only 15,000 growers compared with 90,000 here, with a total acreage under potato three or four times greater than that of our producers. The Dutch also have very good storage facilities and their products are well presented, brushed, cleaned and graded.

You could not eat them.

This is a step in the right direction, but I hope that we will follow it up in ensuring that Irish potato growers are put on a sound footing to be in competition with their European counterparts.

I may not take my ten minutes, because there are several other speakers who are anxious to contribute. At the outset, I consider it to be an absolute scandal, that at this hour of the night we are expected to debate a Bill of such magnitude. It is a kind of "Get it over with and get it through the House" attitude, with little consideration being given to its importance.

On many occasions, both inside and outside the House, we have debated the scandal of the importation of £500 million of food, such as vegetables and potatoes which we ourselves could grow. Not alone should we not be importers, we should be exporters. What is happening here tonight is an absolute farce. There are several other who wish to speak on this Bill tonight and it is not good enough that the debate will be foreshortened.

I have heard it said already and reiterate that a survey was carried out at the request of the National Prices Commission in 1977, with particular reference to the growing of potatoes. Our report was prepared by An Foras Talúntais which consisted of studies on grading systems in three European countries — Germany, the Netherlands and Great Britain, and on an evaluation of quality and retail prepacks. It was found that all three countries had a compulsory grading system. The German and Dutch schemes were operated by the Government inspectorate, while the British scheme was the responsibility of the British Potato Marketing Board, a Government-sponsored agency.

Again in the autumn of 1982, An Foras Talúntais were requested by the Department of Agriculture to carry out a study of the Irish potato market with the following terms of reference:

To study the quality of home grown main crop potatoes during the 1982-83 marketing year from the point of view of the acceptability to Irish consumers, having regard to the availability, quality and price of competing imports and to make such recommendations as they consider in the matter.

At last we have this Bill before us and on those points, I welcome it. It is very vague and a beginning only. I hope that the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture will have the political will and, more important, the political muscle to support this beginning. I am firmly convinced that the Minister is fully committed and I wish him well. I guarantee him our support in facing these enormous problems. I should like to quote from a report from An Foras Talúntais, to put the whole matter in perspective:

Potatoes are the most important tillage crop in the Netherlands, for instance. They occupy almost 25 per cent of the tilled land. Production is so intensive that a strict rotational programme must be followed. In Ireland, potatoes occupy little more than 7 per cent of the tilled area and are clearly a much less important crop than in the Netherlands. In recent years the area under ware and seed potatoes in the Netherlands has been increasing while in Ireland it is falling. The area under potatoes in the Netherlands is about three times the area in Ireland.

It seems that we cannot find accurate information on potato acreage. An Foras Talúntais give the figure for 1983 as somewhere between 98,000 and 123,000 acres and that is a very wide gap. From that point of view, the registration of growers will be a significant advantage. At least we will have an idea of the acreage.

Deputies tonight have been talking about gluts on the one hand and valleys on the other. There is no stability in potato production. One year, producers are successful and the next year everybody wants to get in on the act. This has caused most of our problems. One year, potatoes are going for nothing and the next year it could be the other way around and imports would be very desirable. We must clear up this aspect.

The market here apparently requires 890,000 tonnes and there has been a shortfall on what has been grown in the past years of 85,000 tonnes. It is remarkable that we must import so much, but that is because we do not know where we are going. This constitutes an enormous loss to the national economy of something like £25 million per year, as was mentioned earlier. I understand that figure rose to £30 million last year. In the Netherlands, for instance, there are 15,000 growers who produced four million tonnes from 250,000 acres. Believe it or not, they exported one million tonnes. That is at a profit. Surely there is a lesson there for us.

I welcome the Bill and wish the Minister well. I ask him to use his political muscle to ensure that this Bill does not just stay as it is. It has a long way to go and I want the Minister to ensure that it does.

I would remind the Deputies that the Minister of State, Deputy Hegarty, must interrupt the debate at 10.20 to conclude the Second Stage debate. It is now 10.07 p.m., which means that there are 13 minutes left.

At the outset, I could not in all conscience unreservedly welcome this Bill. It worries me because there is no indication that it will in any way affect the import of potatoes from Northern Ireland. The situation in that respect is very serious and it is important that we have this register, as the seed potato people have had for the last 30-odd years. However, it is pointless having that register if people who grow potatoes outside the State can export them into this part of the country unlicensed. It is interesting, and indeed alarming, to note from the Minister's speech of last week that £25 million worth of potato products are imported into the country. We have an obligation to try to find a substitute for these, because import substitution could resolve many of our problems.

I ask the Minister what plans he has for the subsidisation of potatoes, as has been introduced in Northern Ireland in the recent past. About 60,000 tonnes were withdrawn from the market there and a subsidy given. Those potatoes, in turn, must now be dyed. I would ask the Minister to investigate and let us know — if not tonight, at some future date — what the Department have done and will do to ensure that those dyed potatoes are not regarded. Anyone with practical experience will know that it is possible to dye the top layers and have a sheet of plastic underneath so that anything under that need not necessarily be dyed. These potatoes will find their way into our markets. It is only natural that people will try to do this but we must protect our own producers.

In the short time available, I ask the Minister of State how he would classify a small farmer who grows a couple of tonnes of potatoes and may well barter those with the local shopkeeper or co-operative to obtain the basic essentials for his family. Is that man selling to the local shopkeeper and is it right that he should have to pay a licence fee of £15, as would the larger producers?

How does the Minister propose to implement this legislation? How difficult will it be to administer? Is it proposed to appoint new inspectors or will this work be done by existing staff? Does the Minister have the power to bring in regulations requiring a subscription, as in the case of people involved in seed potatoes? I understand they pay about £5 per tonne. I should like the Minister to clarify whether there is any possibility of such a subscription being required.

I am afraid that unless drastic steps are taken 1984-85 could be a repeat of 1982-83 when potatoes were dumped into the sea. The Minister must consider a floor price. If this is not permissible under EC regulations, he should tell us how the British and Northern Ireland authorities can do it. It would eliminate the peaks and valleys. I want an assurance that there will be proper control of imported potatoes and that they will be subject to the same regulations which apply to home produced potatoes.

I welcome this simple Bill which enables the Minister to expend £100,000 to support the Irish Co-operative Movement in creating 12 regional co-ops. The Minister has clearly identified the problems of potato marketing. We must start at the beginning and it is vital that we should have adequate research to ensure that we are producing the right potato for the Irish market and that we get the maximum yield. The Department of Agriculture and An Foras Talúntais should be in a position to identify clearly the areas of the country where we can get maximum yields or where it would be profitable for farmers to specialise in potato production. We should have information at our disposalvis-á-vis market trends. It is vitally important that the Department should assist the co-ops in research into quality, varieties and market demands.

The ICOS must be complimented on pioneering this project, particularly their secretary, John Tobin, who has given much time to it. If the Department do not back them up the same thing will happen as in the case of the Western Potato Co-op, Erin Foods and others, due to fluctuations in the market place.

There must be an incentive for the producer. He must know what he will get for his potatoes and what demand there will be in the local area, as well as knowing how long these markets will last. It is vital that the co-ops should be able to store the potatoes, display them and sell them on the local market. If we are not organised in this way to produce the right products we will not be able to compete with foreign imports.

I support my colleague, Deputy Gallagher, in saying that a weakness of the Bill is that it will do nothing to prevent smuggling. Year after year foreign potatoes come in through Derry, Greenore, and other places and there is nothing in the Bill to prevent this happening.

The Department should have information at their disposal to ensure that the farmers will have the incentive to produce. It is also of vital importance that the consumer should have information throughout the year, on similar lines to the type of information provided in the mornings by Bord Iascaigh Mhara in their fish market reports. Consumers should know what they will have to pay for potatoes each day.

It is vital to utilise scientific and technological progress to ensure that the right type of potato is produced and processed in such a way that fast food outlets and others will utilise Irish potatoes rather than foreign imports. Until we get total support from the Department we cannot hope to provide for the Irish potato the type of stable market which it requires.

I welcome the Bill. I would point out that some of the criticisms of the Bill were not relevant because they related to what was omitted from the Bill rather than what was contained in it. We should appeal for more legislation in this area as a matter of urgency. The marketing situation is extremely haphazard and this is causing people to pause when they think of the heavy investment required for potatoes. The fluctuation in supplies will continue and a floor price will have to be established. This point was made by Deputy Treacy and others. People should know where they are going pricewise before they invest.

The import situation is grave. Small villages which I thought would never see an imported potato now have Netherlands potatoes in net bags stacked roof high at a time when normally our supplies should be available. Import substitution would be worth £25 million.

Today I went into a supermarket to see how matters stood. I saw a 4Ib, bag of chipped potatoes imported from West Germany and selling at £1.19. We must consider also that our punt is not very strong against the Deutsche Mark.

We have the soil, we have the seed and we have a tradition of co-operative action. We also have the scientific backup. Studies are being done in genetic engineering and bio-technology whereby it may be possible to grow potatoes from seed rather than from seed potatoes. That will come before the end of the year and will facilitate the cultivation of the potato.

Official Department of Agriculture policy in relation to applied science is partly responsible for what has happened in relation to this £25 million import bill. In my own area there was a concentration on dairying to the exclusion of everything else. I have spoken on a number of occasions about a possible national campaign emanating from the Department encouraging people to plant even their own gardens. In order to give good example I did so myself this year with fantastic results in productivity. One of the evening papers pointed out that the "spud" trade is in chaos because of illegal imports from the Six Counties. I warn the Minister, through you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, that action should be taken about it because we are very much exposed to these subsidised potatoes of poor quality being put on the market for the Christmas trade.

I am very grateful to the Members for their contributions to the debate. I regret that time is short. A measure of the interest in this is that people stayed on to this late hour to discuss it. With all the points made I would not have a hope in hell of covering the entire scene, but I hope on Committee Stage that we can take it point by point.

In the North they are supposed to have their own controls on dyed potatoes, but our Customs and Department inspectors are constantly seeking out illegal imports. A point was made about new inspectors and existing staff. Staff other than potato staff will be re-deployed initially. The £15 revenue will be related to the cost of administering the scheme and everyone will have to pay. That does not mean the small grower supplying the small shop. More than likely he is obeying the regulations anyway. The standards of such people are usually very high, so they have nothing to fear.

Many Members mentioned the right potato. That the housewife is influenced by the visual impact is proved by the popularity of the Dutch variety which is mentioned as a poor variety. We will have to consider high yield varieties in order to be able to compete with this type of potato. Pentland Del and Cara, which is exporting so well at the moment, were mentioned. Both are excellent varieties. They are high yielding and we should encourage their production.

I must continue to repeat that we cannot really stop imports. We are in a free trade situation. I accept that this is only a beginning and we have to take on other countries at their own game. The importance of the co-operative has been acknowledged by various speakers. This Bill covers ware potatoes only; it does not cover potato chips or potatoes for processing. The processor has his own way of dealing with this and a tare system is in operation.

Some Members mentioned exemption for hospitals. There are no exemptions. Anyone selling to a hospital, a shop or whatever, even from a parked trailer, must register. We will have a simple application form and a simple questionnaire about varieties and proposed acreage. The committee mentioned are anxious that we would be able to budget reasonably well in advance for the tonnages that would be required. The shops and supermarkets are very forthcoming in stating their requirements and they are also anxious where possible to use an Irish product if it is as good as the imported one, but it must be good. At least one supermarket in the city has adopted a system of "pick your own" where the potatoes are in open trays. One speaker said that housewives are buying potatoes in this way even though they are probably half as expensive again as they would be in other places.

About 85 per cent of growers are packers already, and they will have their own registration number, the idea being that a grower who grows specifically for a packer may bring the potatoes along in trailers and the packer brushes, cleans and prepares them for the market. The 15 per cent of growers who are selling direct to the market will be directly responsible for the product.

What about the potato merchant?

If the man is purchasing them ready packed those potatoes will have to carry the grower's registration number and the trader's name on the bag.

What is the objection to the grower's name being on the bag?

This has been considered by both growers and merchants. One reason that I cannot see as sensible is that if a good grower had a particularly good product the housewives might go direct to the grower. Be that as it may, we did not get very far with that.

Will the Minister consider an amendment on this on the next Stage?

We will consider any amendment. We had some very difficult legislative problems with this simple legislation and I would not like any seize-up on any amendment that would delay unduly what we are trying to do. Imports will be subject to all our grading regulations, and that is important.

A major problem is the lack of storage, and with that in mind the co-operatives are examining the possibility of utilising existing stores for grading and packaging. I believe that in the south-east developments have been fairly dramatic along those lines, though not so much in centralised storage. Storage generally will have to be in localised areas, and you do not have to be a big co-operative to get a storage grant. All that is needed are five growers to qualify for the storage grant. It is hoped to implement the legislation for the 1985 crop. I hope to deal with other points on Committee Stage.

Deputy Noonan referred to section 5 under which the Minister will have power to make regulations. Apart from the purpose mentioned in section 5, namely the keeping of records by registered growers and packers, regulations will be resorted to for the purpose of settling or altering the fee to be paid by applicants for registration and regarding the information supplied by applicants and middlemen in addition to the names and addresses. I cannot foresee at this stage what other purposes may be served by regulations, but as time goes on there may be a need for further regulations. It is precisely to cater as far as possible for the unforeseen that the provision for making regulations has been inserted in the Bill. The alternative would be the much more laborious process of amending legislation and, as Deputy Noonan pointed out, any regulation made would have to be presented to each House of the Oireachtas, either of which would have the power to annul it.

This is only a beginning but a real beginning. The significance of it is that it is not emanating from our Department. The demand for this type of legislation came from the growers' organisations who had been dealing with the sort of problems we have been talking about, a year of scarcity when people made a great deal of money followed by a year of over-supply. They want to try to regulate this market so that we will have a budgeting of what we need for the ware market. No ware scene is complete without a processing arm. With the help of the IDA and a number of interested people we are considering the possibilities here. We may not be able to situate it exactly where Deputy Sheehan has in mind, but the processing side is vital.

(Limerick West): He is too far up now.


There is too much salt.

A processing arm is vital to take the over-supply, but the biggest scandal at the moment, as Deputy Wilson pointed out rightly, is that all of the supermarkets have a large quantity of inferior potato chips and in that area we have a great deal of scope for improvement. I do not mind telling the House that the only problem that I have found so far is that the project would have to be so big. Because the machinery and other equipment are so expensive we would need, in addition to supplying the home market, to engage in the export trade also. A small operation in this area is not sufficient. I recommend the Bill to the House.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

At 8.30 tomorrow evening.

(Limerick West): We agree provided the Minister will accept amendments tomorrow.

The Chair will allow amendments to be submitted but I cannot say whether the Minister will accept those amendments.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 5 December, 1984.