Agriculture (An Chomhairle Oiliúna Talmhaíochta) Bill, 1986: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The role and functions of An Chomhairle Oiliúna Talmhaíochta (ACOT) are set out in the provisions of existing legislation. Under section 15 of the National Agricultural, Advisory, Education and Research Authority Act, 1977, the authority may.

(a) provide advisory services designed to assist farm families and others engaged in agriculture to make the best use of their resources and to encourage, through better practices and management, increased output and income and higher standards of living generally;

(b) take steps to encourage, through co-operative effort, improvement in the economic and social conditions of those engaged in agriculture;

(c) take steps to ensure that the results of agricultural research are made known as speedily and widely as possible;

(d) adopt measures to ensure that those engaged in agriculture are informed of schemes and facilities for the development of agriculture.

In addition ACOT provide for the agricultural education and training programmes for new entrants to agriculture as well as the adult population already engaged in farming. The Certificate of Farming is the most important course in the educational programme but it is supplemented by other appropriate courses. Also in those farms where socioeconomic factors like age or family circumstances are major obstacles to development ACOT now provide a socio-economic advisory service.

The role of ACOT is to provide programmes aimed at helping the farming community to utilise all their resources as efficiently as possible. The whole question of resource development — human and physical — is of course central to the Government's broad policy and strategy for national economic recovery. ACOT are seen, therefore, as an important agency in developing and utilising our agricultural resources. Despite current budgetary difficulties and EC surpluses in some of our main commodities, there is considerable scope for greater efficiency in the production of existing output and for the encouragement of alternative farm enterprises in areas where further expansion is not possible.

It is against this background and in the context of the need to develop and utilise our existing resources and strength to the maximum that the proposal for the introduction of some charges for advisory services must be viewed. The broad aim of the Government is to ensure that as far as possible cost-effective advisory and educational resources will be maintained.

In turning now to the Bill before the House, may I preface my remarks by reminding Deputies that the measure is precisely the same as that introduced by the previous Government and has been at Second Stage at the dissolution of the Dáil. I would like to acknowledge the role played particularly by the former Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Deputy Hegarty, who is at present in the House, who had brought the Bill through the Dáil on Second Stage before the Dáil terminated. What I am doing now is effectively reintroducing the same legislation in a way in line with what Deputy Quinn suggested just now.

The purpose of this Bill is to enable ACOT to charge for agricultural advisory services provided by them subject to the approval of the Minister for Agriculture. I do not think there is any necessity for me, in the present circumstances of extreme pressure on Exchequer resources, to go into a lengthy justification for allowing ACOT to make such charges. The provision and maintenance of a nationwide on-farm service, staffed by highly trained professionals, are necessarily expensive. This year ACOT will require public funding amounting to almost £23 million from Exchequer and local authority contributions. This represents almost 80 per cent of their budget. While ACOT have in recent years pruned a number of their services of lower priority and have decreased staff numbers correspondingly, the fact remains that the operating costs of their farm advisory services are substantial and likely to remain so. The Government regard it as imperative, in present circumstances of the public finances, that ACOT should be enabled to secure a reasonable contribution towards their costs from those who benefit directly from their advisory services.

The existing legislation does not empower ACOT to charge fees for advisory services and, consequently, I am introducing the present Bill to make appropriate amendments in the relevant Acts. The intention in the Bill is to enable ACOT to require suitable and reasonable contributions for these services.

While this legislation may enable ACOT to charge for advisory services, it also provides that any such charges and the criteria on which they are based will be subject to prior approval of the Minister for Agriculture. Furthermore, should the Minister consider, in the light of changing circumstances, that any fees or charges should be varied, or indeed terminated, the legislation will enable him to direct ACOT to vary or terminate them.

Some may think that the introduction of charges will be a disincentive to some farmers to seek advice from ACOT. I believe there is now a much greater awareness in the farming community of the need and value of appropriate technical and management advice. In the planning and development of well-run and efficient farms the right professional advice can be invaluable in securing the desired results. Accordingly, advice should be viewed as an important farm input. All inputs should, of course, be cost-effective and I am confident that technical and management advice will continue to be cost-effective to the user.

It is the intention that the charges made for ACOT services will be reasonable and applied in an effective and constructive manner. There will be full consultation between my Department and ACOT prior to the introduction of any charges in relation to their level and the criteria used in their formulation. As my approval is ultimately necessary for the making of charges, the Bill provides adequate safeguards that the overall interests of the agricultural sector will be fully taken into account in the determination of the fees which ACOT may charge.

I am satisfied that the provisions of the Bill provide adequate safeguards to achieve the objectives of the Government for the promotion of the efficiency of Irish farming and assisting it to develop to its full potential. To the extent that increased income is generated under this measure to augment the considerable funding already provided from public finances, ACOT's ability to service the need of the less developed farmers with potential for expansion will be enhanced. I commend the Bill to the House.

First, I wish the new Minister and his Ministers of State well in their difficult role in looking after the interests of Irish farmers. It is only fair to say at this stage that two of the Ministers of State with whom we worked for the past four years were at all times quite constructive, maybe a bit cynical at times but that is part of the role of the Opposition. We certainly did some very constructive work and had quite a few achievements, some of which can be forgotten very quickly.

I accept that this is our legislation. There are a few aspects of it on which I would like to comment. We should look very briefly at the whole ACOT-AFT scene in so far as value for money is concerned. Agriculture is changing rapidly. Hitherto we could look very placidly at operations such as dairying, beef production and so on and say: "We will go more and more into dairying, make more money and we do not have to worry very much about anything else." Had we taken some advice earlier on probably we would be much bigger in dairying than we are at present. We now have a totally new ball game in so far as we have peaked in dairying. There are limits to what we can do in beef and, in fact, there are limitations right across the board.

When we look at the dilemma of young farmers at the moment in not being able to get sugar beet contracts we realise the real limitations of Irish agriculture and the role ACOT have to play in this new changing scene. With the reorganisation of ACOT much has happened. It took a long time and possibly the right thing was not done. I said and I repeat in this House that Mark Clinton's original idea whereby the two organisations would have been blended into one was probably the best option of all. There would not be the sort of duplication that exists with regard to research and putting research theories into practice. We must live now with ACOT and AFT working closely together and endeavouring to improve the lot of farmers.

The idea of a general practitioner type of ACOT adviser we had in the past is no longer acceptable. ACOT have recognised this and have now come up with some of the answers. They now have specialists in beef production, dairying and tillage. Slowly but surely these specialists are being accepted by farmers. The green CERT course is very popular. It is nice to think that these courses are now linked with some of our EC benefits. Farm accession is linked to the green CERT course and any tax concessions that are available from the Government are also linked to competence in farming. That is only as it should be. People should not get these benefits too lightly.

With the tough competition we have not merely among ourselves but also from overseas, we need to be tops at our job. There is no point in saying the job is easy or that we have a better climate than anybody else. It galls me at times when I read that it is so easy for us to produce all sorts of things that we are not producing especially with regard to horticulture. We have a fairly unfavourable climate for a wide range of horticultural crops. We have a fairly inclement climate. No one knows better than those of us who have grown these crops unsuccessfully during the years that we do not have that much on our side. With an enlarged Community, with Spain now in the Community and with the Mediterranean climate which they have, we now have more and more competition to contend with.

ACOT would need to be much more aggressive in the marketing scene. It is not good enough any more to tell farmers we will help them to produce X, Y and Z ACOT will have to get involved in the marketplace. There is very little point in producing frozen peas, French beans or any other crop if there is no market for them. That is the big difficulty we are experiencing all the time. It certainly has been a problem for me and for my predecessors and that problem still exists. Whether we like it or not the Irish housewife is not over-concerned about where the frozen foods or the vegetables come from; she is concerned about quality and about price. In many areas we have upped our quality over the past number of years. The quality of our vegetables has improved considerably. Everybody, especially people in this House, can take a bow on that. In 1982 when I became Minister of State there was almost a civil war when Irish farmers dumped Dutch potatoes into the sea. At least now we have ordered marketing and we have the national potato co-operative, admittedly a struggling co-operative. We have for the first time, with the co-operation of ACOT, a register of potato growers and we can keep tabs on these people. We can compliment ACOT on having helped with this registration.

Incidentially, we cannot boast too much, because many people have not registered. If farmers are to be charged for services they will be looking for and be entitled to a better service. They will be more critical and the service will need to be much improved. Some experienced farmers will be in need of expert advice and will be expecting to get a much better service. I can see a great involvement for ACOT right through to the market place.

I should like to see ACOT becoming involved in producer goods. In the last couple of years we have succeeded in getting producer groups going in horticulture and potatoes, not before time. These groups are still small and centred in Dublin, Meath and Louth, but they are moving down to the south east and Cork. However, they are not getting the support they deserve. ACOT must rally around these producer groups, to help them get their products into the shops and supermarkets. Regretfully, quite a number of our trading people are not one bit concerned about where the food comes from. The tendency is to have a telex machine and perhaps a small office staff with the aim of getting the container load or whatever from the cheapest place possible. I keep saying that it is not the Dutch who are responsible; it is Irish people who are bringing the goods over. Irish traders, some of them prominent, have not the commitment. Some have the audacity to bring in vegetables in bulk and put them in their own bags, giving the impression that these are Irish potatoes and other Irish vegetables.

The Minister of State mentioned an Bord Glas. When this board unfolds, I shall be very constructive in my approach to it. The weak link is getting the produce into the shops and the stores. That market is being controlled by people who to a large extent do not mind very much where the food comes from. After much difficulty and a great deal of help from the ACOT advisers, we succeeded in reformulating both Midleton and Mallow Foods. We got a processing operation, admittedly a very lean operation going. It was very tightly funded. We got 2,000 acres of crops growing and created a little employment, but unfortunately at this moment almost the entire produce of last year's crop is sitting in a cold store, costing about £1 per pallet per day. At the same time, Irish merchants are flooding our shops with foreign produce. There is no point in blaming the Dutch, the Danes or anybody else. The blame lies with Irish merchants who have no interest in promoting Irish goods. Very few shops are supplying Midleton packaged foods. That is the real role of ACOT with the farming organisations, with those who have already set up these horticultural co-operatives, to make no apologies for bringing Irish foodstuffs into our shops and supermarkets. We can offer first class goods at the right price. If we are to charge farmers for services, that is the sort of service they will be looking for.

I am sure many Members on both sides of the House have had the same experience as I have, that farmers are no longer prepared to take the same sort of risk with new crops that they might have taken ten years ago. The reason is that they have to budget much more carefully than in the past because they are living in a tough scenario. Their input costs are still relatively high and they must be sure, first that they will be paid and, secondly, that they will get an adequate return for what they produce. Whether it be parsely, frozen peas, cauliflower or one of the more labour intensive crops, the growers must know what their profit margins will be like. The role of ACOT and AFT is vital, because these people must cost out for the farmers the entire programme, the cost of the crop, the likely yields, the varieties of seed that they should be growing. They must be able to point out that through the IFA controlled produce groups the farmers will be able to sell their crops. One of our toughest difficulties is trying to dispose of what we produce.

The dairy people with quotas are happy enough and those in efficient beef production are reasonably satisfied, but for the younger farmers and those not fortunate enough to have these very substantial quotas and contracts it will be a very tough scene, although not an impossible one. In the past we succeeded well in exporting much produce to the United Kingdom. The beginning has been made in some areas, for example with mushrooms which were highly successful. There is great scope in that market for quite a range of products. We have already attempted with some success to bring some produce into the ethnic Irish populations in Manchester, Birmingham and Coventry. Success will come about only if we have a first class advisory service. Farmers will respond reasonably favourably to a change. Quite a number are now paying quite substantial sums to private advisory companies which have been set up around the country. They are getting the necessary specialised advice. The challenge is there for ACOT. They have been highly successful in my own area and that success is growing in the Dublin area on the horticultural side. Their improved services are very much in demand.

Originally on Second Stage we talked about farmers who could afford to pay. I hope it would be the Minister's intention that advice would still be available to farmers who could not pay for it. I should like that clause to be put back. I was adamant at the time that that clause should be included in the relevant legislation. I had a reason for so ensuring. I do not think any farmer should be regarded as a lesser citizen if for one reason or another he is unable to afford to pay for such a service. Indeed, a formula was worked out at the time as to how such a scheme could be devised.

ACOT have served the Irish farming community well over the years. In my area there was only one adviser covering the whole of east Cork. He got to know all the local farmers and generated much enthusiasm. I had hoped that the revitalised ACOT would regenerate that enthusiasm but that does not seem to have been happening. I should like to see advisers going out among farmers somewhat more, getting to know them better. Those advisers now have substantial office accommodation and are inclined perhaps to remain there hoping that farmers will come to them. I should prefer to see them putting on their wellingtons again, getting out to farms, having discussions with farmers, seeing for themselves at first hand what is taking place. From the point of view of weather, we have experienced two of the worst years in living memory. The chances of our experiencing another bad year are about a million to one so, hopefully, we can look forward to better weather this year.

Some of our markets have stabilised but there are many challenges ahead. There is an element of the unknown about such challenges. For example, there is now the question of rabbit production, something at which people might have smirked a couple of years ago had one mentioned the subject. It is now big business in the United Kingdom and in France. A few people here have moved into that production. Many more would do so if there were sufficient advice available about that whole production scene. It is an area of production in which ACOT and others would need to update their thinking.

With regard to new projects, there appears to be a vacuum between production and marketing. In the future we need to get farmers, their advisers people like the IDA and CTT together so as to ensure that from the farmer/ACOT point of view and from the point of view of AFT we can produce competitively. Then the IDA and CTT would be able to say: we believe you can sell your product, these are the types of customers that exist, these are the prices they can afford to pay. At present that type of liaison appears to be missing in any new proposal. Such proposals come forward so quickly now we must be prepared for them. For instance, one area in which we are experiencing difficulty in getting moving is that of soft cheeses. For a number of years now AFT and ACOT have been conducting a number of projects on farmhouse cheeses which has led to the production of very good Camembert, Brie and that type of cheese around the country. The snag is that marketing costs are astronomical. It should be remembered that we still import approximately £12 million worth of these cheeses. These could be produced here but there is a need to involve the larger co-operatives who would handle their marketing. ACOT, with the help of the co-operatives, would need to work out a formula to ensure a satisfactory marketing policy.

We introduced this Bill. We envisage an ever-increasing, sophisticated farming scene, with that type of expertise and advice I have mentioned being readily available. It is not longer a case of an ACOT adviser advising farmers on the amounts of fertilisers they should use on their farms. All of that is old hat; farmers know exactly how much to use and when to use such fertilisers. The advice now needed is: how will a farmer work out financially at the end of the day if he goes down that road. That is much more difficult advice to give. It is very easy to say to a farmer: if you do X, Y and Z you will get three tonnes but there is no point in getting three tonnes if he loses at the end of the day. The type of advice now needed is much more sophisticated. It must be better researched and this will need increasing numbers of specialists on the part of ACOT. Indeed, people are to be commended on endeavouring to devise ways and means of putting that advice into practice.

In fairness it should be said that the county committees of agriculture have been constructive in their suggestions. The Department worked closely with them over the past four years. They had mixed views about charging. There is the fear that if a charge is introduced people will not avail of the service. Experience has proved the contrary. For example, all farmers in Normandy are charged for services, a flat rate of approximately £90 to £100 to join the club, be they big or small. One is not charged according to one's valuation or acreage. One is charged approximately £90 to £100 and for that one receives good advice. Indeed, one is entitled to seek a particular adviser or type of advice. There is no hassle about it. Where such charge has been levied it has been shown to work. At the end of the day the farmer will feel that he has the right to criticise an adviser if the advice does not prove to be correct. I would hope that ACOT would strengthen their activities in the future. It is my wish that, with the aid of this House, we would help them to look after the interest of our farmers.

The first thing I want to say about this Bill is that I am sure everybody subscribes to the success of ACOT and of agriculture. But I must confess to having been very alarmed as I heard the arguments unfold this morning because they are unfolding in what I can only describe as a relatively aspirational way. People are wishing farmers well, wishing ACOT well, wishing agricultural advisers well; we all do. The fact of the matter is that we have clear evidence from several other countries in Europe as to what has happened when charges for agricultural advisory services have been introduced. There is indeed a body of research put together in Holland as to what happens when advisory services are restructured in a fee-paying way. I might quote one example, the one most appropriate. In Finland — a country often quoted in this and the other House — when charges were introduced the total number of people availing of agricultural advisory services dropped to 22 per cent of those before their introduction. That is simply a fact.

Following on from the point made previously, that one hopes the advisers will get out to the farmers and spend less time in their offices, unless they have the gift of St. Martin de Porres — being in two places at the one time — how are they to get to the farms since travelling allowances have been cut back? I find myself unable to make these connections. If we want to get farm advisers out to the farms we should be facilitating rather than obstructing them by eliminating their travelling allowances. This debate about giving ACOT the ability to levy charges raises a number of fundamental issues. For a start, the debate is taking place in an atmosphere in which there has been an organised narrow-minded, backward-looking opposition to farm tax. Anybody who cares about the development of agriculture as a resource and who is concerned about adequate rural income can accept that there are farmers who are able to pay tax and that there are thousands of farmers who are living in poverty and who are below the tax threshold, however reasonably it might be structured.

About 75 per cent of all farms in the constituency I represent are under 30 acres and perhaps 35 to 40 per cent are under 15 acres. My constituency has serious disadvantages in terms of soil, access to markets, drainage and in terms of social characteristics such as access to and participation in education and so on. As a subsection of those there are tiny smallholders in the Galway Gaeltacht for whom it has not been possible to provide veterinary services. There have been repeated applications to the Department of Agriculture, to the advisory services, to educational services and professional bodies to assist in this regard. People are locked away in small holdings and are unable to benefit from any of the farseeing policies for the improvement in animal husbandry, in disease eradication and so on.

Effectively, because we have decided not to have a tax on an equitable basis, we have to introduce a whole series of regressive piecemeal badly thought-out charges which will affect the productive capacity of agriculture. If one were to say that the needy could be catered for but that people with over a certain valuation should pay charges, I would agree but before agreeing I would ask "why did you not charge tax and why do you not separate out the issue of tax from the issue of the use of agriculture as a productive asset?" By introducing charges we will reduce by perhaps one-fifth the most vulnerable category who are consuming agricultural advisory services at present, but something else will happen. If we introduce charges and some people pay and others do not, the pressure will be put on the agricultural adviser and anybody else applying services that the person who pays will be entitled to see the adviser most often because he is paying for it. Of course that will not be true because the adviser's education training and so on has been provided already from general taxation and the charges will be an additional increment. By paying that additional increment one would be able to put additional pressure on the adviser. How can anyone but conclude that the introduction of the charges will both shrink and distort the quality and volume of advisory services available in agriculture, with inevitable results for the productive capacity of agriculture.

Over the last several years Deputies in this House have spoken about commercial farmers, development farmers and about people below development capacity. Obviously the people who will not now see an adviser, and who do not see an adviser often enough will be the people below development capacity. Within the development capacity category, perhaps one third of those have been persuaded to take up advisory services. These people were reluctant to take advice but they were wooed to the notion that they could farm more efficiently and that they would have more flexibility and adaptability. How can the imposition of charges do anything but reverse what has been the previous policy of agriculture spokespersons in this House up to now. It is not logical.

In relation to the overall cut in ACOT funding in 1987, if we are talking about people making adequate rural livelihoods, we have to move away from strict economic criteria based entirely on income. The notion of a socio economic adviser was a very good one because it enabled people to link agricultural advice with other realities in farming, particularly on small farms. This would also take account of health and ageing characteristics and the need for land mobility and so on. All of that will be reversed or will be made far more difficult. If we continue the present tendency of cuts in ACOT funding, who will now be able to train for a career or a livelihood in agriculture? The figures coming out in response to the proposed cuts in ACOT spending are suggesting that one of the things that are going are the scholarships for agricultural colleges. In 1985 in County Galway, 53 young people were able to attend agricultural college under scholarships. One of the responses to the 62 per cent to 65 per cent cut proposed in the ACOT budget, as it will affect County Galway, is that these scholarships will be wiped out. The more public educational programmes in agricultural, demonstrations, exhibitions, assistance given to agricultural shows and so on will be cut. Overall in the country we are taking out of the advisory services available the education side of agriculture which might have been a powerful input to making agriculture more productive. In 1987 it is proposed to take something between £2 million and £5 million from agriculture. I deliberately say between £2 million and £5 million because there is a heavy uncertainty as to the amount of money available from the European Social Fund into agricultural training education and development. Because of this uncertainty the cuts proposed may be at a higher level than those we have read about so far.

In relation to the aspiration that the advisers get around to the farms, unless the price of petrol is going to fall dramatically, it will be difficult to see the advisers getting to more farms, when their travel grants are cut by 25 per cent. There are a few other small points that might as well be made. There is in the Minister's speech the well meaning aspiration that one hopes that all farmers will continue to be advised even though they will be paying for it whether or not they can afford to and that all farmers will receive advice whether or not the agricultural adviser is able to put petrol into his car to get to them and that all farmers whether or not they are paying will not put pressure on the agricultural adviser arriving on the farm and that the person who cannot pay will be in exactly the same position as the person who can. This optimism is encouraging but it hardly substitutes for proper planning in agriculture.

The Minister said that the aim in this legislation was as drafted by his predecessors in office, and let us leave out that partisan view. He want on to say:

The broad aim of the Government is to ensure that as far as possible cost-effective advisory and educational resources will be maintained.

How can advisory and educational resources be cost-effective unless they are measured against some target? What is the target? Will they have failed if fewer people are availing of the advisory services, or will they have succeeded if some of those who are still using the advisory services continue to do so? What is the meaning of the phrase "cost-effective advisory and educational resources will be maintained"? If you say honestly, as did Paddy Hogan, one of the greatest Minister for Agriculture this State has known, that you help the strong man and the devil take the weakest, that is one aim and the cost-effective advisory and educational resources can be maintained to achieve that aim. But is it the aim to secure as many rural livelihoods as we can, particularly for people with less than 50 acres? My view is very simple. The small farmers have become an army propping up a number of people at the front who are able to avoid paying farm tax and avoid responsibility in the larger society. Now they are seeing the personnel of the State helping the very people they pushed out in front, the strong commercial farmers, while they suffer. Their children will suffer because their chances of making a livelihood in agriculture and outside the commercial sector will be severely damaged.

Is it not agreed that there is hope for greater mobility from traditional farm practices? In fairness the Minister accepted this in his speech. If that is the case and choices have to be made both within and from agriculture into different patterns of activity, surely there is a need for more advice and more services being available. What this is saying is that agriculture is to be exempted from any scheme of progressive taxation, but it will be included in a system of regressive taxation in which increasingly the small farmers and the people depending on them will be allowed to slip into rural poverty. All over rural Ireland there are people with commercial prospects who are just about able to manage, or are slightly better off at the moment, and who will be able to afford to pay for the advisory services which will be available to them. There is nothing Irish about this. It happened in Finland and it has been studied and recorded at the University of Wargeningen in Holland. It has happened in every European country but the one dramatic example I quoted was Finland where participation in advisory services was at 22 per cent before the introduction of charges. All these figures can be checked and tested.

It might be said that nobody is so irresponsible as to do what I am suggesting to Irish agriculture and Irish rural life but the truth is that if there is to be discrimination in favour of the poor people, why is it not included in the Minister's speech? For example, in relation to some of the environmental grants the poor law valuation criterion is still used. Why not say that for farms below £60 PLV, there will be no charge and that the advisory and educational services, will not be distorted so as to exclude all the people with valuations below that figure? That is not in the Minister's speech and it is a very serious erosion of parliamentary responsibility in relation to agricultural policy.

The argument is that ACOT can come up with proposals but they cannot implement them. They send those proposals to the Minister for approval and he may, at his discretion, decide which proposals he will accept. I should like to know what social philosophy is behind those proposals. If there is to be an exemption, I should like to know now what the cut-off point will be and which farmers will be exempted so that they can continue to participate in advisory and educational services. It is highly appropriate that we get this information here. Not only is ACOT vulnerable in relation to what is now being proposed as regards charges, but in a knock-on way local authority contributions will be imperilled by what will be proposed in relation to local authority funding. However, that is for another day.

I will now deal with this measure as it affects the people in my constituency. Everybody agrees that land as a resource should be used to the best advantage, that as many people as possible should be moved into the category of potential development farmers and that commercial farmers should be allowed to expand, but everybody knows unless he lives on Mars, that there is a land use pattern. In parts of the country there are larger farms with better soil, better orientation towards marketing and better drainage. I am speaking of farms made up of one holding. They are completely different to the farms in the 12 western counties. The figure for fragmented holdings in the 12 western counties is around 40 per cent. This means that just over half the people in farming hold their land in one parcel. It is the people with fragmented holdings who are being told they have seen the last of the advisers. We must insert a specific policy exemption for them. I want to record in their own language gur tharla sin cheana san Ghaeltacht. Is fíor-fhada ó chonaic muintir na Gaeltachta atá ag plé le cúrsaí talmhaíochta aon chomhairleoir beag no mór. Ní fhaca siad duine leis na blianta.

I visit Carna, Lettermore or Lettermullen and may speak to a woman whose family have emigrated. She may have one person at home, or nobody at home, but she has a couple of fields and a few acres. What is she supposed to do for advisory services? What happened for years was that a dedicated vet, until he went broke, delivered his services free or for the £1 or £2 people like her could pay. The people in the Department of Agriculture allowed a situation to emerge where practically no veterinary services were available in the Gaeltacht, despite all the lip-service which has been paid to our culture and our national future. The people who live in those areas were abandoned. What will happen now is that that model will be extended into the other impoverished rural areas. I want to repeat that I am not saying no one should ever pay for anything in Ireland. I emphasise there should be adequate farm tax of a progressive kind for those who are able to pay. If that existed, we would not be having these highly regressive, unproductive, backward, discriminating measures in agriculture.

This is my first occasion to address the House and I wish to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your appointment as Ceann Comhairle. I also want to take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister for Agriculture and his Ministers of State on their appointment. I assure them of my support and the support of my party, the Progressive Democrats, in advancing the cause of agriculture.

I regard us as members of the board of Irish agriculture incorporated. We are here to provide a framework and a climate to produce wealth for agriculture, not verbiage. Because of the present position and the difficulties farmers and themselves in, and taking into account the major contribution agriculture makes to farmers' income, employment, and foreign earnings, this is not an area in which to play party politics. Nevertheless, when the Bill before the House today was introduced formally last April it was opposed vehemently by the then Opposition spokesman on agriculture. He said:

I am appalled that the Minister for Agriculture is not here to present this Bill which will affect the vital interests of agriculture over the next number of years. The advisory services are paramount in relation to future agricultural development.

He said:

This Bill will push back the cause of agriculture for many years. It proposes an unusual and sinister taxation on farmers and it proposes to negate the powers of the board of ACOT irrespective of what the Minister of State said in his brief speech this morning.

Also on the same day——

Will the Deputy please give the reference?

You will have to forgive me, a Cheann Comhairle, as I am not yet familiar with the procedure of the House.

If the Deputy could indicate what he is quoting from, it would be helpful.

The Official Report. Volume 365, column 481.

Turning to the Bill itself. we would like to know if there is a scale of fees in operation or have they been proposed? Will travelling time be an important factor in the charging of accounts to farmers with distance being a priority? Will farmers have to suffer because of the distance between their farms and the homes of the ACOT advisers or from their places of operation? How are the proposed charges to be collected? Will there be a yearly charge or will they be on the basis of so much per visit? Will there be different fees for individual farmers? How will they be assessed? Will there be an agricultural card like the medical card with each farmer assessed and entitled to so many services depending upon his circumstances? I suggest there will be difficulties in the implementation of these fees which will have to be arbitrary.

What about the disadvantaged areas? Will collection fees be introduced into the disadvantaged areas which require a lot of help. I have to agree with the previous speaker who asked whether we are going to help these people to stay on the land or drive them from it and have to pay them social welfare benefit and find houses for them in the towns. I suggest that we must have another look at these fees especially for people in the disadvantaged areas to allow them to stay on the land and maintain it.

I am disappointed to see that there will be no further inclusions in the disadvantaged areas this year. I believe that the disadvantaged areas hold the key to keeping people in the poorer parts of the country. Not alone do they relate to the grants which are available, such as headage grants etc., but they also relate to the kind of alternative industries which are being proposed today and which are being proposed by ACOT and the Department of Agriculture generally. They need as their base some kind of packaging or processing plant close to the area of production. The fact that these areas are classified as disadvantaged entitles them to major grants for plant and equipment and for the training of personnel. It is very important to realise that many of these alternative industries and ones other than traditional will depend to a large extent on the marketplace, as other speakers have pointed out, and on production and packaging in local co-operatives within those areas. The benefits will be twofold. Not alone will they accrue to the farmer directly but they will also accrue to the co-operative. If a farmer becomes a member of a co-operative it will give him independence in the packaging and processing of the produce from his own land.

Speaking about ACOT and their small budget, what would happen if we were to charge people participating in AnCO courses? It is a matter of education. Advice is education. It is a direction of your business. AnCO are directing people into careers. We are doing the same thing in agriculture. We are trying to maintain people on the land by giving them advice. There is a strong case to be made for charging people on commercial farms for professional advice in terms of buildings and layout, crop rotations, etc., but when we talk about certain parts of the country which are disadvantaged in terms of climate, soil types, infrastructure and know-how we are talking about something entirely different. The reality is that if we withdraw help from these people we will have to find it for them in terms of social welfare payments.

While I agree with some of the sentiments expressed by previous speakers with regard to ACOT and the marketplace I must point out that we should first take the fresh market. We are part of the European Economic Community and we are in free competition with other member states. The first thing we must do is to ensure that no fresh produce whatsoever is imported into this country. We should put all our strength and know-how into being in the fresh market, be it in the greengrocers or in the supermarket. It is my information that there has been a big swing to fresh produce in supermarkets. We were not getting our fair share but much of that difficulty was of our own making. There is no point in making the case that shopkeepers and supermarkets are not stocking Irish produce and saying that RTE are accepting advertisements for foreign products. The sale is being made in people's homes. The shops have got to stock the products for which there is a demand. We have a tremendous advantage in being what is termed in Europe as a "green country". We are relatively unpolluted and we have the opportunity to grow the fresh produce which has a higher added value content and which has a higher sales premium in the marketplace. The difficulty has been that we have not been producing what the customer wants.

In that regard the smaller farms and poorer areas can exploit their potential because growing fresh produce is more labour entensive and needs more man management than, say, the large ranch type farms which have large herds of cattle in milk production. The Minister said that, despite current budgetary difficulties and EC surpluses in some of our main commodities, there is considerable scope for greater efficiency in the production of existing output and for the encouragement of alternative farm enterprises in areas where further expansion is not possible. I would say to the credit of the farmers that the difficulties we find ourselves in today are not of their making. They were encouraged in the seventies to borrow money to expand and told that there would be a big market and a bottomless purse in the EC. As a result farmers invested millions of pounds and agricultural production increased a couple of hundredfold but now they are in a difficulty. They are trapped by the money they borrowed and by the assets they have which in many cases are virtually non-productive. Those who advised them, who produced the policies or gave them the money continue to hold their jobs and are relatively unscathed. We have a duty to support those farmers in their time of difficulty.

Withdrawing ACOT services across the board will not help farmers in their difficulties. We must remember that there is a social aspect to the call by ACOT advisers. They give farmers a certain amount of confidence in what they are doing and encourage them to make changes. The PDs support charging fees in principle for State services to those who can afford to pay for them because of the dire state of public finances. At the end of the day there is no such a thing as a free service because they have to be paid for by somebody, in this case by the taxpayers.

Charging fees will have a good effect commercially because those who can pay will avail of the advisory service to a greater extent. It will also have the effect of putting the advisers on their toes. I have no doubt that ACOT who are the specialists are in a position, in consultation with farming organisations, to devise a fair scheme. I accept that smallholders should be exempted from these charges. Those people are not in a position to pay fees but they are entitled to an advisory service. The fees should be varied from year to year to take into account the increase in the cost of providing the ACOT service. The PDs maintain that there are no free meals in this society, somebody has to pay and it is only right that in hard times those who can afford to pay must be asked to do so on a fair and equitable basis. We support the Bill but we will be anxious to scrutinise certain fees when they are introduced by ACOT.

I welcome the opportunity to make a brief contribution on this legislation. It is important that Members when discussing any matter of interest to the agricultural community should acknowledge the contribution made by the advisory service to the development of that industry over the years. That contribution has been immense in terms of the amount of progress that has been made in the area of research. In that regard it is worth noting the advancements made in the dairy sector. When I was involved in Macra na Feirme the old style agricultural advisory service proved of great benefit to rarmers. The results of research carried out by specialists like Dr. O'Grady in Moorepark was conveyed to farmers by the advisory service and led to a great improvement in the dairy sector. I do not think anybody will dispute the fact that we have some of the most efficient dairy farmers in Europe and that that significant development is as a result of the dedication of those involved in research and the advisory service.

It is important that the House recognises that any money voted by the House for education or research in the agricultural sphere is more than repaid in terms of returns to the nation. We are all aware of the increase in the volume of agricultural exports and the benefit that accrues from them to our economy. We should recognise that farmers were very eager and willing recipients of the advice given to them. They have always displayed a tremendous commitment to the industry for their own benefit and the benefit of the nation. The advisers who worked in close co-operation with the farmers were, in effect, development officers because of their involvement in local communities. The investment in agricultural education was more than repaid through agricultural exports.

The agricultural community were always anxious to learn, improve their living standards and the overall efficiency of the industry. We must recognise that our entry to the EC provided us with a base on which to build the agricultural industry. There was a lot of controversy at the time of our application to join the EC but there can be no doubt that the agricultural industry and our economy benefited significantly from our membership and is continuing to do so although on a somewhat reduced scale. It is ironic that the response of Irish farmers to call for increased production by good farming techniques has resulted in the introduction of a quota system for most of our agricultural products. I must express strong criticism of the treatment of our marketing position within the EC. The real problem facing agriculture is that the opportunity for expansion no longer exists. A quota applies to most of our agricultural products and that automatically restricts potential for development in that industry. It is because we depend on agriculture that we should endeavour to renegotiate our position in the community in regard to that sector. Unless we can come to some satisfactory arrangement within the European Community to give us an increased share of the European market, then there will not be any real scope for improving our agricultural industry or saving many farmers who are in extreme financial difficulties.

It is worth putting on the record the findings of a well researched document circulated in March by the Conference of Major Religious Superiors. A survey on the level of poverty and hardship all over the country showed that households headed by a farmer comprised some 29.9 per cent of the total number of all poor people. That is a sad reflection on the level to which the agricultural industry has declined in recent years. Surely it must strike a warning note for those of us in this House who have a say in the formulation of agricultural policy for the future. We must take note of the fact that farming income has been declining at a frightening rate. We must look to our European partners to provide us as a matter of urgency with the opportunity further to, develop our agriculture and help to raise the living standards of the people who are so far below the poverty line.

One of the great problems is the lack of alternative enterprises. An agricultural adviser may be asked what area of agricultural production can be developed which will give an economic return, but the sad reality is that there are few, if any, areas in which agriculture can develop successfully. Milk and sugar are subject to quotas and the profit margins in relation to beef are so slight that a person who has borrowed to undertake this enterprise will not be able to make a profit.

This is the background against which we are discussing this Bill. We must consider where agriculture is heading. I welcome the new Minister for Agriculture and the Ministers for State. They are all dedicated and committed public representatives. The Minister for Agriculture will benefit from his vast European experience and what I have been saying today is very relevant to him. I urge him and the new Government to commence negotiations immediately with our European partners to get some kind of special concession for Irish agriculture. I have no doubt that the Government will take seriously the problems affecting the industry. Even though we are improving efficiency and output, we are not significant contributors to the overall European surplus — in fact, we are minimal contributors to it. Because of the dependence of our economy on agriculture it should be possible to renegotiate our entry in terms of the development of the industry for the future.

Reference was made by previous speakers to the level of imports. I am pleased the Taoiseach decided to give a special recognition to the very serious problem of large scale food imports. We must immediately tackle this matter, not only by reducing the level of imports but by substituting with home production in order to generate employment. At the end of the day it is a matter of whether we can be successful in providing employment for the maximum number of people in their own country.

Horticulture and forestry are two areas which have potential for job creation and for reducing the level of imports. I welcome the appointment of Deputy Seamus Kirk as Minister of State with responsibility for horticulture. As our spokesman in Opposition he displayed a great willingness to familiarise himself with every aspect of the horticulture industry and I have no doubt that this sector of our economy is in safe hands.

Another aspect of the development of agriculture in the European Community is the milk cessation scheme. The number of farmers who opted for this scheme under regulations introduced by Brussels is frightening because it reflects the soft option which that scheme made available to farmers who found themselves in serious financial difficulties. It is sad that the farmers who opted for this scheme are in this position and are mainly smaller producers. The bureaucrats here or in Brussels have now decided that those who have applied and been accepted must stay within the scheme; they will not be allowed to opt out. I have come across cases of farmers in recent weeks who had applied for inclusion in the milk cessation scheme but have now decided, because of the reorganisation of their farms, that they would like to opt out. By doing so they would be making more flexi-milk available for farmers who did not succeed in their original applications for inclusion in the scheme. Bureaucracy has reached such a level in Europe and at home that the people who want to opt out will not be allowed to do so, even though other farmers are anxious to be included. I make a special plea for some kind of sanity to prevail in relation to this matter. I know of one farmer who has a milk quota in the region of 100,000 gallons and who applied for inclusion in the scheme because of family circumstances. He now wishes to remain in the scheme and there are many other farmers who will not be allowed to participate because the milk is no longer available to them. Surely it is within the scope of officials in the Department of Agriculture and in Europe to devise a readjustment of this scheme to allow those who wish to leave it to do so and to allow others to participate?

The farmers who are in serious financial difficulties today are those who responded to the call to improve their efficiency to increase production. It is not their fault that the markets have gone wrong and that they are restricted by quotas. Some kind of assistance must be provided to help to alleviate the short term problems which some of our most progressive farmers face at present. They responded to the call to increase production, the nation benefited as a result but they are now left carrying the can.

I am glad to have had the opportunity of speaking briefly on the Bill and I am confident that the Minister for Agriculture will face up to the crisis existing in the agricultural industry.

Deputy Farrelly rose.

Deputy Sherlock has been offering for some time and the Chair now calls on him to speak. I ask Deputy Farrelly to accept the position.

I offered twice.

The Deputy must be patient; he will get an opportunity to speak.

On a point of order——

There is no point of order, I am calling Deputy Sherlock and I ask Deputy Farrelly to resume his seat.

The advisory service clearly has a crucial role to play in improving the efficiency of farmers and it is not unreasonable for ACOT to charge for these services where necessary. People are charged for all sorts of services, students are charged examination fees, there are fees for planning applications and people are charged for water and refuse services. Indeed, in some areas, people are charged for borrowing books from libraries and all the charges to which I referred are paid mainly by people who already carry a heavy PAYE tax burden. On the other hand the failure of successive Governments to ensure that farmers paid a fair share of taxation has been well established. In 1985 the average PAYE worker paid £2,490 per year compared to an average of just £672 per year by farmers, an average of £47.9 per week from the PAYE worker and an average of just £13 per week from the farmer. As we know, the vast majority of farmers do not pay any tax. Many farmers have said quite openly that they pay in the region of £500 to the local accountant but they do not pay anything to the State.

When farmers pay so little tax it is reasonable for ACOT to charge for an advisory service which can contribute to increased profits and wealth. It is also worth nothing that not one penny has been paid on land since 1982. We hope, however, that ACOT will offer a sufficiently flexible system of charges to ensure that small farmers who are genuinely in need and who would have difficulty in meeting charges will not be prevented from getting the necessary advice to help them to improve their efficiency and earning power. There is a need to examine the way in which grants and other financial assistance are paid to industry and farmers. At a time of economic crisis, when spending cuts are being increased across the board, there is need to look at the generous tax concessions and grants available for industry and agriculture, particularly where they do not lead to the creation of additional jobs. Grants to industry and agriculture should be linked to productivity and if they do not result in increased productivity, the grants should be withdrawn.

There is also a need for a total review of our agricultural policy and the various agencies which exist to meet the needs of farmers. There has not been a replacement for the Land Commission. Many farmers are working uneconomic holdings and require land in order to be viable in the immediate years ahead. However, there is no help for them in this regard but when land is offered for sale the people who were crying wolf yesterday are able to buy it. There is an urgent need for the implementation of a policy which will enable people who do not have viable holdings to be able to acquire land at a reasonable price. Land is being bought up by those who already have very big farms and who are obviously very wealthy.

Macra na Feirme are taking a new initiative in regard to agriculture which is very welcome. I refer particularly to the demand for an increase in beet acreage. It has been stated publicly that the A quota for sugar was not filled in eight of the last 14 years. There must be diversification, if people want to take up tillage farming or grow beet there should be a radical approach to the question. Many land owners who now opt for beet growing would be very glad to increase their quotas if they were given the necessary contracts. Land is our greatest national resource and should be a rich source of new jobs. However, our land is under-used and its potential for job creation from food processing and industrial crops has been developed to only a marginal degree. The present system of financial aid to farmers, combined with the existing structure of the Common Agricultural Policy, will not bring about a sustained increase in marketable output or ensure the most productive use of our land resources. They have also failed miserably to develop a comprehensive system of industrial and marketing linkage between the producer on the land and the consumer of food, timber or horticultural products.

We believe that the creation of a single Government agency is vital for the development of the agricultural sector and that it would have enormous job creation potential. That agency, an agricultural development authority, would have the responsibility for stimulating investment, farm modernisation, diversification of production, the development of food processing, production and marketing. They would also take over the State's role in respect of land use policy, research and development and training. In addition the disease eradication scheme and the various grants for infrastructural development on the land would be administered in accordance with the priorities of the Authority. In future all State aids for agriculture should be related to farm plans, national production priorities, value-added production and employment potential. The new Authority would be the executive authority of the State in this sector and would have on their board representatives of farmers' organisations, trade unions, various development agencies and the State itself. They would be similar in structure to the IDA but would have a specific development role in relation to agriculture.

Excuse me, Deputy, but you are straying slightly from the terms of the legislation which we have before us.

Gabh mo leithscéal. Tá mé beagnach críochnaithe. We have some of the best land in Europe and favourable climatic conditions but we have not got the return from agriculture that we should have in spite of all the money that has been put into it. Radical initiatives are needed and the creation of an agricultural development authority would be the first step in that direction.

First of all, let me congratulate you, Sir, on attaining your high office. I am sorry that the first time you are in the House in that role we have to come into conflict, but we have been here since the debate started and Deputy Sherlock arrived on the scene just before you came into the House.

I would not use the word "conflict" but rather "a friendly misunderstanding".

It is one of these things that we will work out in time between the Whips. Let me congratulate the Minister and the Ministers of State who have been appointed and wish them well in their portfolios in the coming months and years. I intend to be brief because a number of my colleagues wish to speak on this Bill and time is against us.

It is interesting to note that here we are talking about a Bill which was first introduced into the House on 10 April 1986 and we have heard already here quotations of the then agricultural spokesmen from the main Opposition party at the time who are now in Government. I quote from one of the present Ministers of State who said as recorded in column 504, volume 365 of the Official Report of Thursday, 10 April 1986:

I oppose this Bill. I call on the Minister to withdraw it and abandon the campaign for financial withdrawal from the agricultural industry. I believe this Bill will spell the death knell for ACOT.

Even though 11 months have elapsed it is interesting to see that the commitment was made then and that if there was a change of Government this legislation would not see the light of day. Now it is back on the floor of the House. I accept that the cost of services across the board in agriculture right down along the line has always been a problem. We all accept that there were never and will never be free lunches. Of course it was different, going back a few years, when the farming community were paying rates and certainly they were paying for these services with the type of cost incurred then on the basis of the rate bills they had. Now that that has changed it is no surprise to me that this proposal here has not been reversed by the new Government because in other areas where there are charges similar circumstances have prevailed. In opposition all these charges would be abolished, but when that party arrived in Government none of these charges was ever abolished.

I have two things to say in relation to the charge. I do not mind the charge being implemented provided the farmers have the service. We have a serious problem in my constituency because of the Government embargo from 1981 that we have today, in that two members of ACOT staff have retired — that is a substantial number in any one constituency — and there is no replacement. In an area where agriculture is so improtant and where ACOT officials have so much to contribute to the future of agriculture the embargo in this area should be lifted. I ask the Minister of State to take note — because I am sure his constituency has similar problems which extend right across the country — and to lift the embargo where it is involved in the educational sphere. The educational sphere that has developed in agriculture over the past few years is as important as the RTCs and so on.

In so far as this charge is concerned the Minister at the time emphasised that the formula was to be worked out in regard to the payment of this charge concerning farmers who could afford to pay it and other farmers who could not afford to pay it. We know that thousands and thousands of farmers over a period of years — not just two years — have had incomes far lower than £4,000 a year and when this charge is introduced and becomes law they will have to do without the service of ACOT in any shape or form. This must be taken into consideration.

I would like to make another point. I have been chairman of the ACOT committee in Meath for three-and-a-half or four years. The taxpayers in Meath provided substantial buildings. Three different premises were provided at a substantial cost to the ratepayers of the county. At the takeover the committees of agriculture gave these buildings free, gratis and for nothing to ACOT. From that time — I will take 1986 in particular — we in our county, out of the ACOT allocation to the county committee of agriculture, were asked to pay for the rent of the accommodation that we gave free, gratis and for nothing to ACOT and which was paid for by the taxpayers and ratepayers of County Meath, and we had to pay for the staff who attended at our meetings at a cost of in the region of £4,500 or £5,000 out of our contribution.

I would like to see the overall cash proposal abolished and the amount of money given to the other end of the scale to services and the grants that we provided for shows and promotions in other areas. The Minister of State, Deputy Kirk, will know exactly what I am talking about and his Department must address themselves to it immediately because on the allocations we have received if there are not changes in the next week we will find that by the middle of this year the ACOT committees will have to be abandoned. I would not like that to happen.

I cannot emphasise enough that farmers must have a service and instructors available to help them. I do not think we can stand by this charge if there are areas where ACOT staff have not been replaced due to retirement. I appeal to the Minister, following the introduction of this proposal, to look at that area immediately so that ACOT staff will be replaced the same as teachers and so on are replaced. The embargo should be lifted for those staff. There are not many of those vacancies but where there are there is a big problem and farmers cannot avail of the services we are asking them to pay for. We must be realistic and very fair to everybody. I would appreciate if the Minister would take that on board in his reply.

First, I would like to congratulate not alone yourself, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, on your appointment but also the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Seamus Kirk with whom I have worked over the last number of years preparing agricultural policy documents. If he applies, as I am sure he will, the same effort to this post I have no doubt he will make an outstanding success of it. I wish him well.

We have an opportunity in a Bill such as this to have a look at ACOT and the agricultural services generally. It gives an opportunity especially to somebody from the smaller farming areas to look back at the massive changes that have taken place in agricultural development in the past number of years. It has not been nearly as pronounced in the better farming lands of Munster and Leinster because they were traditionally grain, pulp and milk producers. In the other 12 western countries there have been changes in the small farming enterprises that existed in the war years to milk and beef production. They now have to re-examine their development and in order to survive have to move to other areas of production. There never was a greater need for advice and instruction than is the case now. It is important that that advice be made available. There have been changes in the agricultural structure, in marketing and in production. The family farm which is so much part of the structure of this island is in a serious position. In the past number of years it has not been helped by the withdrawal on a continuous basis of development aid to the small or medium sized farmer. The emphasis was placed almost completely on the big farmer. With the introduction of the super-levy there has been a restriction on milk and beef production and it looks as if that will continue.

Other areas should also be examined. The party which I represent have examined a number of those areas. There has been great development of afforestation. Substantial grant aids were given in this area — the highest in the EC in respect of any area — but many of those grants were not taken up for a number of reasons. The people were not traditionally timber producers even though research indicated a high rate of growth and that it would be an area with great potential for development. As I mentioned earlier, we have fruit and vegetable production and we have schemes for agri-tourism. That is one area which could very well be used to good advantage in the 12 western counties. We could develop further our production of milk, meat and poultry products. There has been a development which is very pronounced in my own constituency, that is mushroom production, an are which has provided thousands of jobs in the growing, processing and compost manufacturing areas and which was mainly home produced raw materials.

Since the early fifties I have had close association with the advisory service in my own county. We have to pay tribute to them for the contribution they made to the changing face of agriculture. Many of the instructors and advisers went far beyond the call of duty to visit halls, meeting places and community centres during winter months. They were prepared to give of their time in that way without pay. Their contribution was substantial. The amount of advice and instruction was never greater. In the earlier years we had the family type farm which produces flax, potatoes, eggs, poultry and pigs. Within a small number of years these farms moved into the hands of the larger intensive producers. If that had not happened we would not be in a position to compete with our competitors in the EC where there is freedom of movement of produce. There was movement to milk and meat production areas in which there is now serious curtailment. Consequently, people will have to look to other areas of production.

When the cessation scheme and the super-levy were introduced the farmers in the 12 western countries who were only developing at that time and moving into milk production did not get the recognition they deserved in the allocation of quotas. I stated in this House very clearly my objections that they were not getting proper recognition and I have been justified in that criticism. There has been a large number of applications for the milk cessation scheme. There was only a 2 per cent take-up in some cases but in others the figure was 8 or 9 per cent. That is regrettable because many of our co-ops were built to cater for substantially increased amounts of milk. In any manufacturing industry it is the additional throughput that reduces the unit cost. A drop in the overall amount of milk would have serious effects in terms of the additional costs involved.

Mr. Kehoe from the Oak Park Research Centre of AFT wrote an article recently on seed potato production. In Counties Donegal, Mayo and Monaghan there was much growing of seed potatoes for export and in the midlands the emphasis was on early production. In Mayo and Monaghan it was a major source of income and in County Donegal it was the greatest source of income. Under the heading "Comment". Mr. Kehoe writes as follows:

Seed potatoes for export are one of the few agricultural commodities that can be expanded, provided we have a steady flow of new Irish-bred varieties. However, the area under seed potato production has declined from 6,500 hectares in 1964 to 3,300 hectares in 1983, while exports of seed potatoes have declined from 42,702 tonnes to 10,837 tonnes in the same period. Exports from Northern Ireland have consistently been much higher, and while they too have declined, they are still five times as great as from the Republic.

That is very hard to understand. A considerable amount of money has been spent here on research into potatoes. Several new varieties of seed potatoes such as Cara, Avondale and Red Cara are available at Oak Park. Before this the varieties were Edwards and Banners, but the market was not for these. The claim is that the potential is there and that this decline should be arrested.

Mr. Kehoe goes on to say:

Having arrested the decline in seed exports there is now considerable potential for expansion using the new Irish-bred varieties. It should be possible to reach the 1963 export figure of 53,000 tonnes within 5-6 years. This would demand a greater commitment from all the agencies involved. ACOT, Irish Potato Marketing, Department of Agriculture, AFT and particularly, the growers.

The structure of the Irish Potato Marketing Board is in place. ACOT and the Department of Agriculture should make a serious effort. It is an area in which there could be substantial increases in a very short time.

I was a member of a delegation which travelled out to Ethiopia last year from the Joint Committee on Co-operation with Developing Countries. The IFA and the Department of Agriculture had sent out 500,000 tonnes of Cara variety potatoes and we could see the lovely crops being grown in small corners, hand cultivated with a small spade or trowel and producing vigorous healthy crops of potatoes with great returns. If the natives received one cwt. of potatoes from the supplying agency the commitment was to return that one cwt. and the rest would be theirs. We found on our return that in the restaurant in this House the potatoes being served had not been grown here. That shows the scope for development.

The main trust of this Bill is concerned with charges. Nobody likes to pay charges, but we must realise the constraints upon the Government. I ask the Minister to recognise the areas in real need of development as regards afforestation and agri-tourism and on the fruit and vegetable side. There is a chance there for massive development.

There is also the proposal to provide natural gas to the Border regions and through my own constituency to Sligo. This would lead to a chance for development in the fruit and vegetable growing areas. I hope farmers moving into these areas will not be curtailed because of charges. This charging will have to be on a selective basis, with the emphasis on opportunities for development beneficial to all, to ensure the continuance of the family farm in those areas which have been in the past and still are having it very hard because the acreages are so small and the holdings are fragmented.

Over the past number of years the Land Commission have been virtually abolished. The Department of Agriculture must look closely at the aspect of land structure and land use. Some authority or body will have to be set up to examine and monitor the transfer of holdings of land, to prevent them from getting into the wrong hands. The Land Commission may have been a little slow, but they did much good work and did away with much of this fragmentation. It is a pity their efforts have been thwarted. I hope the Minister will understand the problems these people have, especially those with the initiative for development.

I call Deputy Sheehan. I might indicate to his colleague, Deputy Boylan, that the more senior members of parties are called ahead of young Members. There is general agreement that we might conclude by 1.30 p.m. Deputy Sheehan, in his characteristic succinct contribution.

I shall be very brief because much of of what I was going to say has already been said. I should like to congratulate you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, on your election. I wish you the very best of luck and an easy presiding over the 25th Dáil.

I look forward to working and speaking under your jurisdiction and in line with you.

Go raibh maith agat.

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this very important Bill. I have always treated agriculture as the high-tech industry of this country. However, it was never put on the pedestal where it should have been put, by comparison with other industries. This had a very serious effect on the output of our farmers in the past decade. They were not geared to meet their counterparts in Europe. We were lackadaisical in supporting the farmers in their demands for their rightful share of the national cake to enable them to take their place in meeting the challenge in Europe. We entered Europe with an agricultural community completely unprepared for the challenge they faced.

The Irish farmer is as good a worker, if not better, as his European counterpart. He did not receive the financial assistance to which he was entitled over the past two decades. However, in latter years we appear to have seen the light as far as aiding agriculture is concerned. Even though substantial strides have been made in that regard I remain unconvinced that our farmers receive the aid to which they are entitled.

We spend over 25 per cent of our income on food whereas our European counterparts spend approximately 20 per cent. There being now over 3,000 items on the average supermarket shelf, with more disposable income, customers devote increasing attention to all commodities by way of quality, presentation, taste and health aspects. With over 163,000 people engaged on farm production and 47,000 in the food processing industry it should be remembered that they are dependent on our ability to compete in our own and European markets. That applies not merely to our beef and lamb exports to France and Germany. It is applicable also to our bacon and potato production at home. It should be remembered also that the consumer lobby in relation to food and health will strengthen as time progresses both here and in Europe, exerting greater pressure on the food industry and on our farmers to produce the right type of product for our own and continental housewives.

I note that ACOT will receive £23 million from the Exchequer and local contributions which I am told represents over 80 per cent of their budget. I regard that as peanuts only to a major industry which can be so viable and of such importance to our economy. We are blessed with a climate for agricultural production second to none. We have farmers with the acumen and interest to promote their industry to the best of their ability. We have also agricultural manufacturers to ensure that their products are marketed and put on supermarket shelves.

If we are to be realistic in our approach to our greatest industry, agriculture, we must afford it priority so far as finance is concerned. The ACOT committees throughout the country are almost bankrupt, muzzled by lack of finance. They have not sufficient funds at present to meet the travelling and subsistence allowances of their members. I appeal to the new Minister for Agriculture and his Department to ensure that funds are not restricted for the education of our young farmers and making advice available to the farming community in general. If we want our farmers to compete with their European counterparts we must ensure that there will be no cutbacks in agriculture. The time is ripe for this Government to ensure that agriculture is placed on a proper footing. I realise there may be financial constraints generally. No matter how many hundreds of thousands of people are unemployed the Department of Social Welfare have never failed yet to meet unemployment benefits.

Would it not be better if the countless millions of pounds earmarked by the Department of Social Welfare for unemployment benefit and assistance were devoted to improving our one and only thriving industry? Would it not be better to see another 100,000 people taken off the dole queues and employed in the processing of our products? Would it not be much better if we ensured that this industry was placed on a sound footing rather than having it beg for crumbs at the Government table in order to remain in existence? I cannot see any sense in a policy of restraint on financial contributions to agriculture. I maintain that, through proper planning, we can ensure that our farmers can compete effectively with their European counterparts.

The farm installation grants for young farmers were a wonderful innovation. However, I question how many of those grants have been paid; as far as I know, very few. This means that such farmers' activities are curbed through lack of finance. Take the example of the poultry industry which has been completely neglected. Over 6,000 people are engaged in that industry here, constituting a considerable impact on endemic employment, particularly in the feed sector in which the poultry industry utilises 14 per cent of the provender milling output. Our poultry industry is involved mainly in the production of chickens, with poultry accounting for 25 per cent of our total meat production. We have almost 200 breeding and hatching facilities, including supply farms, the existing 19 processing plants having adequate capacity to handle the current throughput. The output of broiler chickens amounts to approximately 24 million.

There is the spectacle within the ACOT authority in Cork of countless numbers of supply farms stretching from Cork city to Mizen Head, to Dursey Head — the three large peninsulas — dominating much of the poultry industry. Now we are being told by ACOT and the Department that there will not be a poultry instructress nearer than Cork city to serve those supply farms. There is no sense in having one poultry instructress to serve that huge territory. It would be enough for the instructress to drive 80 or 100 miles in the morning and to drive back at night without giving instruction or advice to the supply farms. These things must be addressed if the industry is to survive. Our egg production has declined by 50 per cent in the past ten years even though we were told that instruction was being given to poultry producers to expand their production. Almost 35 per cent of our present egg consumption and 25 per cent of our poultry requirements are imported from Northern Ireland. Surely this is something that can be corrected.

In relation to bacon products we are only skimming the surface of the markets available to us. Anybody who takes a trip to the US knows there is a huge demand for Irish bacon products there. Irish Americans return to the US bringing 10 to 12 lbs of smoked Irish rashers because they cannot get anything like that quality at home, yet we have failed to avail of that market in the US. In Japan there is a huge opening for Irish bacon. We are very slow to cash in on these valuable outlets. There is unlimited demand for a special type of Irish ham in Italy. We are closing our ears to the demands. Are we really making an attempt to get agriculture back on its feet or are we impeding progress through lack of funds? We are importing almost 50,000 tonnes of frozen chips per year. This is a commodity that could be processed here. We are also importing over 50,000 tonnes of other processed vegetables. It is amazing that vegetable processing factories here have been closed down. A chip factory in Donegal was opened in 1981 and closed down a few years afterwards. It has reopened now under new management but how long it will last is anybody's guess. Surely a business tycoon with foresight, with the right backing from the Department could run a successful food processing business.

In Skibbereen a vegetable factory catered for the needs of the area but it was closed down over ten years ago just because the company were too slow to diversify from dehydrated products to deep frozen products. It is one of the finest processing factories in Europe and with a little bit of modernisation it could be put back into production. I hope our new Minister for Food who is a constituency colleague of mine will play his part in insisting that that factory be reopened and that we stop the unlimited importation of frozen foods.

We saw yesterday where a colorado beetle was found in a consignment of imported celery.

Deputy Sheehan, I would venture to suggest that you are widening the scope of the debate beyond that which is provided for in the proposed legislation.

I know, but I am only outlining the serious consequences which we could face through importing vegetables. No matter how they are monitored at the port of entry insects such as the colorado beetle can make their way in with serious consequences for our farming community.

It was parsley.

I am sorry, it was in a parsley consignment and everybody knows that parsley can be grown here under glass. I do not know why the Irish product is not bought but our Minister would want to investigate that and come up with an answer.

Before I conclude I will compare the incomes of Irish farmers and their European counterparts. Dutch farmers enjoy incomes at the rate of 250 per cent of the Community average, Belgian farmers 200 per cent of the Community average, Danish farmers almost 225 per cent of the European average, British farmers almost 200 per cent of the Community average, while the income of the Irish farmer is 10 per cent under the average of his European counterpart. Surely the time is right to give an income lift to Irish farmers. The agriculture industry will continue both here and in Britain when the last litre of oil is extracted from the Celtic Sea and from the North Sea. It is most important that we give credence to an industry which should have been given more credence before now.

I hope the imposition of the charges now envisaged in this Bill will improve the services. The disadvantaged areas should be exempt from those charges. It is hard enough for the farmers in the peninsular areas which I represent and in other disadvantaged areas to eke out a living for their wives and families in their small mountain holdings, so a special allowance should be made for these farmers. I appeal to the Minister for Agriculture to exempt small farmers from the charges envisaged.

A lot can be said in favour of the whole system of county committees of agriculture. I became a member of a county committee of agriculture about 25 years ago and saw how such committees worked. They worked very well in the interests of the farmers, in particular the small farmers. It is more than ten years since we changed the county committees of agriculture to the ACOT system. I have yet to be convinced that agriculture has progressed to any great extent since the changeover.

Instead of taking the agricultural instructor away from the agricultural community and putting him behind a glass panel in an office, I hope any future Minister for Agriculture will ensure that these instructors are out in the field advising farmers on the right type of grass to plant or animals to breed and giving them the advice they so badly need.

Perhaps the Minister in his wisdom will reintroduce the lime subsidy scheme for small farmers along the western seaboard. There are farmers in my parish who are over 100 miles from the nearest lime kiln. They are denied the right to add sea sand to their soil because we are told it might interfere with the environmental protection of the area. In view of the colossal charges being levied on those farmers to apply lime to their land, again I appeal to the Minister to reintroduce the lime subsidy for the farmers in the disadvantaged areas.

I congratulate the Minister, Ministers of State and the Leas-Cheann Comhairle on their appointments. I agree with what Deputy Sheehan said about exemptions from charges for small farmers. No one likes to talk about imposing charges on farmers or on anybody, but I hope the Minister will see his way to direct ACOT to be selective in the types of charges they impose. The Minister must approve these charges but he can vary or terminate them in any way and can direct ACOT to do so. That is very important. At present farmers have to pay veterinary charges and will have deductions in their grants for farm visits, but this Bill will impose certain charges on them.

I am not just talking about the £1 million which will be charged for services. There are £1 million in savings and £3 million hopefully to come from the European Social Fund. I understand the saving will be made by the elimination of scholarships to agricultural colleges. This is very worrying because those £600 scholarships are availed of by farmers' sons who are coming back to work on the land. Since advisers' travelling will be cut by 25 per cent, this means they must spend more time in their offices. We want them to be out on the farm helping and advising farmers. I understand from the ACOT committee in Galway that there is no guarantee that this £3 million will be continued. I hope the Minister in his reply will give some information about the money from the European Social Fund.

Earlier I mentioned selectivity. One of the areas to which we are all looking forward with great excitement is the establishment of Bord Glas. We hope that board will be instrumental in replacing half our horticultural imports. The board should be helped by bodies like An Foras Talúntais and ACOT. I would not like to see any producer group being charged fees for that type of advice. This is an area where we want to see progress. In the past few days we have heard a lot about the importation of parsley and the £87 million worth of horticultural produce which we imported last year. These matters are of concern to this House. Fianna Fáil are setting up this board to tackle this problem and to try to replace half of these imports by home produced products within five years. This is a realistic target and this is an area to which we will be devoting a great deal of our time.

The Minister spoke about the socioeconomic programme for ACOT and we would like to see more people involved in this area. In Galway we have three advisers, one involved in poultry. When we are talking about advising farmers, whether it be on horticultural problems, the normal advice they give, or the new socio-economic role, it is important that we have the necessary manpower. Galway is a very large county and the relationship between the adviser and the farmer is very important. We would not like to see any charges being introduced which would affect that relationship.

When negotiating price fixing in the EC, I hope the Minister will be able to get money for cattle headage payments. It is very unfair that only parts of County Galway are considered as severely disadvantaged areas. A road often divides two farms, one farmer getting the headage payments for all his cattle while the other does not qualify. It is very important that the Minister gets these benefits for all the farmers in my county.

We have seen from the Estimates prepared by the previous Government that there has been a £5 million cut in the provision for ACOT, that there was no provision for cattle headage payments in the severely handicapped areas, and that there would be a reclassification of existing areas. I hope the Minister will announce the Government's decision on these matters as soon as possible because these headage payments are not made until the end of the year or even early the following year. There are farmers in County Galway who have not yet been paid their 1986 grants. The Minister has a very important job to do when negotiating price fixing at EC level and he should try to get all of County Galway included in the severely handicapped areas scheme to ensure that the cattle headage payments will be paid to all farmers in the area.

The Minister makes the final decision on the levying of these charges during his discussions with ACOT, but he should examine which areas can be exempt and see where he can be selective so that farmers will be helped by the practical and realistic policies the Minister will introduce.

I am now happy to call Deputy Boylan. I would like to indicate to Deputy Boylan that there is no time limit on him in contributing to the debate. I welcome him on the occasion of his maiden speech.

Thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Let me first extend my good wishes to you on your election and assure you of my full co-operation.

I have listened to this discussion this morning with great interest. I have a particular interest as I am a practising farmer. I want to say that I am both disappointed and concerned at the introduction of this Bill. I am disappointed because of the fact that it is a continuation of the stop-go policies which has been the hallmark of agricultural policies since the foundation of the State. It has been the case that policies of a vote-catching nature that had no long-term future have never been beneficial to the agricultural industry. Listening to the words of the incoming Taoiseach I had hoped coming into this House this morning that we were going to see a new administration who were going to move so fast that the rest of us would not be able to keep up. I had hoped the Taoiseach was talking of a forward gear or an overdrive and not of a reverse gear. It is a reverse decision to introduce this Bill.

I am concerned about the effect it will have on farmers. The Bill has been introduced by the Minister, Deputy O'Kennedy, and I wish him well, but we cannot forget that less than six months ago his party were totally opposed to this Bill and rejected it out of hand. They have now made a U-turn. The one thing the Minister needs on taking up office at this time is the confidence of the farmers. How can he receive that confidence if he outlines policies which are not going to last longer than six months?

What we need in 1987 is a policy which will take us through the next decade. There is a golden opportunity for our farmers in that there is a vast market out there. People have never been more health conscious and aware of the food they eat. We have the name and the climate for producing top-quality food. This morning while travelling up from Cavan I heard a news report on research into the Chernobyl disaster which indicated that we were very little affected by the fall-out from that disaster which spread right across Europe. The results of that research will bear on the minds of people on the Continent and Irish produce will be seen to be clean and healthy. However, we are not making the most of that fact.

Very constructive and worthwhile speeches were made here this morning when all aspects of what is involved were discussed but we are not getting down to doing anything about it. We have been talking about it for the past 25 years. There are many problems and I am aware of them. The Minister indicated — I hope he is wrong and not serious — that the funds to pay for the headage payments in the newly disadvantaged areas may not be forthcoming. That has caused great concern in my constituency of Cavan-Monaghan. At very short notice, more than 600 farmers packed a hall in Cootehill on Monday night last. They did so because they were concerned about their future. The outgoing Government and the outgoing Minister for Agriculture, Deputy Deasy, gave a commitment that those payments were going to be made this year and they were looking forward to them. At that meeting one could not fail to be affected by the pleas from the heart of small family farmers in desperation.

People talk about taxing farmers and about farmers reneging on their tax commitments. No farmer wants to renege. It has never been his policy to renege on his commitments. He cannot afford to meet his commitments. On the issue of farmer taxation, as a practising farmer I believe that every farmer should make a return. There should be simplified farm accounts which would show clearly that the income that many people through ignorance, believe, is out there is not there. Many farmers live far below the breadline.

When a farmer of 35 to 40 acres who has a family, who has pride and decency, stands up in public and states that he cannot afford to put bread on the table things are at a low ebb. When a farmer stands up in a group of his neighbours and states that he had to go to the manager of his local co-op to ask for money to carry him over the spring months, things are at a low ebb. That is the reality. That is only one side of the small family farm. I accept that there are many big farmers and commercial farmers who are doing exceptionally well. They got off the mark in time and were able to receive the full benefit of our entry into the EC. They were able to develop when times were good but there are many farmers who were not in that position. There is a category of farmer in between who borrowed extensively and who is now left sitting with those borrowings and who cannot meet the repayments. These people are being hounded by the lending institutions. That is the reality.

I recall that back in the mid-fifties — it is important to refer to this — a land reclamation scheme was introduced by the late James Dillon, the then Minister for Agriculture, as a result of the Marshall Aid moneys. That was an outstanding scheme and was years ahead of its time. Unfortunately, because of political considerations and stop-go policies that scheme was scrapped. Had it been allowed to continue we would have been well prepared for the advent of the EC. Unfortunately, we were not. We have ground to make up and we can still do it. What we need is advice but that advice will not be available to the farmers I am talking about unless it is freely available. There is no point in talking about charges because they will not be able to pay them.

I am concerned that the Bill does not state clearly who will and will not have to pay. It may very well be that the categories of farmers I am talking about will not be expected to pay but that is not spelled out. Farmers have enough charges to pay. There are enough levies imposed on them. Any further charges will turn them off completely.

I want to pay tribute to ACOT and the role of the agricultural instructors. They have carried out outstanding work despite the restrictions placed on them and despite the shortages of staff. This has resulted in their spending most of their day in their offices doing paperwork when they should be out on the fields. That is not what they are qualified for. They should be out meeting the farmers and these visits should be ongoing when a relationship will be built up. An occasional visit is not sufficient. Because of the desperate position they are in, farmers need these regular visits from the instructors to advise and show them the other areas they can turn to, such as horticulture, rabbit and mushroom production, all of which have been referred to in this debate. There is plenty of scope but farmers need advice and confidence. They are sadly lacking in confidence at present.

They are the main points of the case I would like to make. I would like to refer to the problem of milk production and the milk cessation scheme. On the one hand, farmers have applied for the scheme but did not qualify while, on the other hand young farmers who are anxious to increase their milk production cannot get hold of this unwanted quota which is lying unused. I had hoped that today we would have got a restructuring programme off the ground which would enable those farmers to buy or lease that quota. That quota cannot be allowed to lie idle.

The Minister and his party were strongly opposed to this Bill and campaigned in the general election on the basis that those charges would not be introduced. The effect of his U-turn on the farmers, who are looking to him to lead them will result in a loss of confidence. For that reason, I am strongly opposed to this proposal. I look forward to more constructive proposals and discussion on the real problems that are facing our farmers at present.

I should like to congratulate Deputy Tunney on his election as Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I know, from previous experience, that he will give fair play and justice to all Members. I should like to thank Deputies who in contributing to the debate extended good wishes to me in my new office. I expect that support and encouragement will be forthcoming from many areas. The Bill before us gives the House an opportunity to consider in depth the role of ACOT and the importance of that body as an advisory council looking after the affairs of agriculture. As one who has been closely identified with agriculture for many years I fully appreciate the importance and commitment of those who have been involved in advisory work with ACOT for a number of years. They have been a vital cog in the development of our agricultural industry. They were to the fore when opportunities were presented to us by our entry to the EC. They helped our farmers and provided much needed advice. Today's debate has served to emphasise the importance of advice, research and education in the agricultural aector. It is vital that priority is given to those areas. There is a need at all times to encourage better management practices and techniques. We are living in an ever-changing world when the demands and requirements of the market place ordain that the primary producers in agriculture should be fully conversant with the needs of the time.

The whole emphasis in the years prior to and shortly after we joined the EC was on increased production but, unfortunately, the introduction of the quota system in the dairy sector, and other inhibitions on production, have posed a threat to farmers. Many farm enterprises are at saturation point. Many of those involved in dairying who made a considerable investment down the years now find that their capacity to produce more is restricted. The importance of ACOT personnel giving the correct advice on the direction farmers should go in those circumstances cannot be over-emphasised. Management decisions taken by farmers now will decide their position in years to come. There must be a continuing search for alternative farm enterprises. Some Deputies in referring to the potential for alternative enterprises for those involved in agriculture stressed that the help of ACOT instructors will be vital in that regard.

The day of making a quick decision to move into an alternative enterprise and regarding it as a solution to the economic problems of farmers has gone. We need forward planning and good management. Wise decisions will have to be taken to ensure that farmers know where they are going. They must be satisfied that there is a market for their produce. I have said many times from the far side of the House that the farm structure we have has in many ways inhibited the development of our agricultural industry. The average farm size has meant that the family farm is not able to give a sufficient return to support the family farm unit. It is an unfortunate fact of life that there has been a considerable movement towards part-time farming. That trend prevails throughout the Community and it appears that it will continue in the future. That change raises the question of the type of part-time employment that will be available for part-time farmers. Such employment should dovetail with the type of part-time farming practised here but it is not easy to come by.

I hope that ACOT personnel, AFT and other organisations concerned with agricultural development, apply themselves diligently to identifying prospects in this area. The importance of ACOT disseminating information on the progress of various R and D programmes carried out by AFT has been stressed by many Members. We have reached the stage where the approach in regard to agricultural commodities will have to change quickly. We must identify new products to be marketed here, in Europe and further afield. It is important that ACOT advisers help farmers in the marketing of such produce.

Marketing and organisation have been the Achilles heel of the agricultural industry for many years. The whole thrust and emphasis has been on production. The emphasis today should be on marketing and organisation.

I should now like to deal with the dilemma faced by the horticultural industry. Commentators have been focusing, rightly, on the volume of imports in that area. Earlier this week we heard of the colorado beetle finding its way to this country in a consignment of imported parsley. That insect could pose a serious threat to agriculture, particularly to our potato crop and plant health. I should like to deal with the restriction on farm enterprises and the implications that poses for downstream employment potential. Our dairy plants and creameries, because of the reduced output of milk and cattle numbers, will find themselves under-utilised, posing serious problems for those who invested heavily when times were better. The reduction in the number of dairy cows will, in turn, lead to a decrease in the number of calves born. That will have an impact on the number of cattle going through the system which will mean that our meat plants will not get an adequate supply. I have no doubt that employment in that sector will be reduced.

Before I adjourn the House I should like to thank the Minister of State for his congratulations to me and extend good wishes to him in his new post.

Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.