Deputy McCoy was in possession. I understood the Deputy was aware that he was to resume the debate on this Bill. Since he has not shown, I have no option but to call another Deputy. I am calling Deputy Stagg.
Agriculture (Research, Training and Advice) Bill, 1988: Second Stage (Resumed).
In addressing this Bill I want to restate the policy of the Labour Party in this regard, which is encapsulated in a motion tabled by the Labour Party, as follows:
That Dáil Éireann believes adequate research and advisory services are essential to the development of our agricultural industry. Accordingly, Dáil Éireann instructs the Government to ensure that the proposals to amalgamate An Foras Talúntais and An Chomhairle Oiliúna Talmhaíochta, is implemented in such a way as will ensure the efficient delivery of services to agriculture, and that it will maximise the capacity for independent agricultural research. Dáil Éireann accepts that certain efficiencies in administration and delivery of services will accrue from the amalgamation of the two bodies, but does not accept that research and advisory services can continue to function if the staffing available is drastically reduced, as indicated in the Book of Estimates. Accordingly Dáil Éireann instructs the Government to ensure that no reductions take place in the staffing of An Foras Talúntais and An Chomhairle Oiliúna Talmhaíochta, other than those that can be secured on a voluntary basis, and other than those that are consistent with the continued delivery of a high level of efficient service and research. Dáil Éireann notes that the following alternative measures are possible:
—the seeking of additional savings in Departmental administration generally;
and not just the Department of Agriculture,
—the cancellation of the proposed £911,000 to be spent on office premises expenses;
—the reintroduction of the land tax, in the next Budget...
as proposed in motion No. 34, Private Members' Motions list No. 1. That motion tabled by the Labour Party is on the Order Paper and encapsulates the position of the Labour Party concerning the proposed amalgamations.
I want to state categorically that the Labour Party are not opposed to the proposed amalgamation between An Foras Talúntais and ACOT. In fact, we welcome it. However, the most important aspect, as we see it, is not the detail of the Bill itself but the funding for the new body. What we see is a cut of £15 million from the joint budgets of ACOT and AFT, and we believe this will have the effect of neutralising, as far as the consumers of these services are concerned, the tasks of AFT and ACOT.
I want the Minister to respond to this. I understand the Minister has given a specific commitment to the trade unions representing the workers concerned in AFT and ACOT that additional and sufficient funding will be provided over and above the £20 million provided in the budget. If this is not forthcoming, I am asking the other Opposition parties to take combined action to ensure that this Bill does not go through. I am not talking about a parochial issue such as that on which we voted last week where the combined Opposition voted together, but about an issue which affects the most vital industry in the country, agriculture. I am talking about a proposal that I believe will end effectively the training and education of young farmers who cannot afford to pay at the coalface for these services. I believe it will end the vital independence of research in this very important area.
I want to put on the record that I and the Labour Party regard agriculture as our primary natural resource. It is the area where wealth can be produced in great quantities. It is the area where many jobs can be produced. I recognise that at present jobs and wealth are being produced in great quantities in this area. I want to put on the record my support and that of my party for small and family farms. I want to nail the oft expressed lie that the Labour Party are farmer bashers. I am the son of a small farmer in the west, and proud of it. I understand the awful degree of poverty that exists in the farming community. I want to explain to the House that the calls from the Labour Party for an equitable tax system recognise clearly that in rural Ireland there is real poverty among members of the farming community.
The objective now should be not to cut back on training and advice on education, not to cut back on research and development, but should be to do the reverse of all these things. If this Bill goes through without adequate funding it will be impossible to do that. In the area of agriculture there can be increased production. Research and development should be such that we do not continue to produce high priced goods which nobody wants for storage in large warehouses until they are rotten and are of no use. In my own constituency there are often sides of beef and mountains of butter stored in large warehouses at a huge cost, next to council estates. The residents in those houses cannot afford to buy these goods in the shops and goods are being stored at huge expense to rot. We can improve standards by providing appropriate training and education for farmers and their families. If we have the proper marketing, more jobs in downstream processing can be produced. I recognise that the Government have an excellent policy in this regard, but this proposal without funding will have the opposite effect to the Government's intentions.
I refer the Minister to a document produced by Tom Arnold, a senior economist in ACOT in which he asks: "Is agriculture being written-off?" I am sure it is not the Minister's intention that it should be written-off. I appeal to the Minister to go back to his Cabinet colleagues and explain that the funding being provided is not adequate to do the job and to ask for the finance to do the job properly as he committed himself to do to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions representatives and the unions representing the employees directly.
What we are facing is a 40 per cent cut, an unplanned hatchet job in research and development. There will be redundancies of between 800 and 1,000 and redeployment of between 400 and 500 persons will now probably be required. The effect is that we will not have an advisory service which will benefit those who need it most. About 50 per cent of farmers have below 50 acres and they require a service on a regular and organised basis, a service which they do not have to buy at the point of delivery. If that is to be the criterion, those who pay will get the service and the people who cannot pay will not get it.
A cut of £15 million makes both organisations not viable. Those organisations are in an awful limbo. The Minister should take the advice of Deputy O'Keeffe who spoke last week and appoint a director for Teagasc immediately so that the task in hand can be continued. The investment in trained staff will not be lost and their redeployment into paper pushing in the Department of Agriculture and Food will not become a reality. That must be examined and dealt with as soon as possible.
In relation to research, any research programme, to be effective, must have proper funding and proper staffing and a degree of independence I am concerned about some aspects of the Bill. My main concern is funding. If adequate funding is not provided, this new body cannot operate effectively. Many of my concerns can be dealt with effectively in the House by agreement and by amendment. The cuts in State funding for research in food and agriculture are arbitrary and unplanned. State funding for research and development in food and agriculture is much lower, by two to six times lower, in Ireland than in other European countries. Cuts in State funding for research and development are in direct contradiction to the Government's plan for development and job creation in the food and agriculture industry. Food research is a prerequisite for the development of this industry which must compete with highly sophisticated companies on international markets.
Whatever merits there are in a merger between research and advice and education, the merged organisation has little hope of providing the expected support and services to the industry if it is starved of funds at its inception. Over production means that the demands on research are greatly increased. Improvement in products, efficient production processes, the development of alternative enterprises and of marketing must be achieved through research and development programmes. There is to be a funding cut of approximately £15 million. A re-allocation of this total amount is necessary but anything less than £10 million will make the organisation non-viable and unable to generate the required level of self-funding. About 32 per cent of the 1986 AFT budget was generated from operating receipts and fees for services. In that situation the importance of the funding, staffing and independence of the research area is vital.
Section 14 of the Bill relates to disclosure of information. Concern is being expressed in particular by senior staff about the unnecessary regulations. The record of AFT on confidentiality shows that they have scrupulously honoured the necessary confidentiality in their dealings. In sections 19 and 33 the role of the Minister seems to be all-pervasive. This policy will reduce the credibility of the researchers which will result in a reduction in their earning power. If it is seen that the hand of the Minister or the Department is laid heavily on the researchers and what they can do and say, the possibility of the services being taken on a commercial basis will be reduced.
The main concern of staff in the industry is about redundancy and the ability to deliver the service they delivered previously. In relation to funds, if we divide the amount provided by the number of staff stated by the Minister to be required, we will find that there will be no funds left to do the things that the body is supposed to do. When replying will the Minister refer to the commitment made to the unions about additional funding? If I cannot get a positive reply I intend to vote against the Bill on Second Stage to indicate my displeasure and the unacceptability of this Bill because the required funding has not been provided.
We are faced also with redeployment and redundancy. The difficulty of the limbo in which both organisations are at the moment and in which the new organisation is until they come effectively together, is that staff do not know what is the best thing for them to do. They do not know how the new organisation will shape up, and a form of intimidation is being practised by the Department rather than by the Minister, though the Minister's name probably will be attached to what has been seen as intimidation. People are being told that they opt now or miss their chance. We should hasten slowly in that regard because we do not want to drive out of the existing organisations the best people who will be required by the Minister if the new organisation is to be effective.
There is a wide-ranging, long-standing argument between the representative bodies and the Department about the transmovement of staff between the administrative and technical grades and I am sure the Department can argue that this is a great break-through in that technical staff will be moving into the policy-making area. That may be so, but we do not want to hasten so fast as to have the effect of denuding what should be the technical area of technical staff who will be required if we are to have an effective body.
ACOT have as of right worker representatives on their board. No facility exists for such representation on the new board. It is highly desirable to have the involvement of the staff through their representatives on the board of the new Teagasc. The Minister can under legislation going through the Seanad at the moment nominate Teagasc as one of the bodies who will have that representation. If we do not get a commitment from the Minister on that before the end of Second Stage I will be tabling an amendment enabling the staff to be represented. However, I hope the Minister will take that on board and ensure that it will not be necessary to table such an amendment and will give a commitment that the new legislation going through the Seanad will be used in regard to this new body.
In regard to section 8, I am concerned about the powers of the Department of Finance. My interpretation is that the Department of Finance will be able to interfere in the most intimate way in the day-to-day workings of the new body. Not alone will they be able to decide on the number and type of employees in the new organisation, they will be able to decide how they can be moved from one area to another. I do not think the new organisation with that type of stricture if my interpretation is correct — if it is not, I am sure the Minister will tell me so in his reply — can produce the plans required by the Minister and the Bill.
In winding up I want to restate the importance I attach to the agricultural area. It is the major resource we have, the major producer of wealth and the major earner of foreign currency. We must recognise that and the need to develop that area not just for farmers and their families, though including farmers and their families, but for the common good. What happens in agriculture affects every citizen of this State. It is very much in our interest and the interest of all sections of the community to ensure that agriculture is fully, properly and thoroughly developed and marketed. Funding is required for that job and the funding at present being made available is not adequate to the needs. Agricultural exports are worth more than all the industrial exports put together. If we compare investment by the State in that area with the investment in job creation in the industrial sector we will see that agriculture is coming out a very poor second, or fourth or even fifth, in that category.
I say positively I will support fully, as will my party, the proper funding of education and training of young farmers, the delivery of a proper advice service to farmers and the funding and staffing of a proper research and development service. If the Minister's reply on funding is negative I will be seeking the support of the other Opposition parties — I am not talking about shadow boxing, I do not go in for that type of play-acting — to vote down this measure until the Government are prepared to provide the proper funding. I believe in doing that the Minister will be honouring his commitments both to the industry itself in the Government's policy position on that and to the representatives of the staff. If that is done this Bill can go through this House with some minor amendments we hope will be acceptable, a tidying-up operation effectively. In principle I accept the measure. It is the funding I have difficulty with.
When we look at this Bill we begin to look back at what has happened in agricultural development for a long number of years. The Bill changes some of the old Acts going back to 1908. It represents the first attempt to bring into line and to bring together the research and educational ends as far as agriculture is concerned. I hope that in the future the Minister might even see it practicable to go further in that not alone should AFT and ACOT as we knew them be amalgamated but he should, as he will have power to do under this Bill, examine the possibility of taking the farm development service into this arrangement.
None of us speaking on this Bill can but pay the highest praise to AFT and ACOT for the work done through the years. The old committees of agriculture which existed prior to the setting up of ACOT were probably a better organisation than ACOT because their members were responsible to the electorate. They were made up totally of county councillors who had to face the electorate at least once every five years. The work done by AFT down the years has been of great benefit to Irish agriculture. They have been responsible for many of the developments we have seen. Their work with regard to land drainage which has taken up a major portion of their time, farm buildings and research on animal diseases has been of enormous benefit to the country.
The problems I see here are not in regard to funding which Deputy Stagg has mentioned. I believe sufficient funds will be made available by the Minister and, while the initial sum may not be what everybody would like to see, it is there to set about getting the organisation up and running. The work at the moment being carried out by the two organisations could better be done by one organisation. Therefore, I have to give my full support to the setting up of this new research, training and advice committee or organisation.
When this merger was proposed people said that many of the people engaged in both services would leave. Fortunately, the number of people who sought redundancy from both organisations was much smaller than many thought it would be. Under the new organisation the work being carried out by both ACOT and AFT will be better co-ordinated. We have come a long way in agricultural development especially since we entered the EC, but now we find that many of the things we relied on for our main source of income in agriculture are over-produced. It is time for us to put in the necessary research, to have new products researched and developed. I welcome the fact that this Bill will give even the private sector the opportunity of making a contribution towards the work being done at the research end.
I want to refer to the work being done at present by AFT and in particular to the work being done at the research station at Ballinamore in my area which is probably the most deprived area of the country so far as the land quality and social structure are concerned. That station are carrying out research in the areas of mixed stock, dairying, drainage, grassland and machine mobility on wet land. Their research and work helped many farmers in 1985 and 1986 when we had two disastrous summers. They have also given the people in that area an opportunity to see at first hand the sort of work that is done. The farmers in that area have benefited from the work that has been done by AFT. I know it will not be the Minister's responsibility to decide which stations are closed or which stations are kept open under the new scheme but I appeal to the new directors to see to it that at least one research station is maintained in that area which has suffered greatly due to climatic conditions and the natural condition of the land.
I want to refer to the future structure and board membership of the new body. I note that it is intended that five members will be appointed by the Minster. I know that when it comes to appointing people to the board the Minister will appoint people who have the knowledge and ability to put the best foot forward in the development of agriculture. I note that it will be an 11 member board and I hope that those members will be taken from the various regions of the country. There should be no imbalance in the membership of the board, whether they are from the east or the south. Fair representation should be given to all areas of the country. Different areas have different problems and I hope that the new board in their wisdom will see fit to set up a regional subcommittee who might meet on a regular basis to advise the board on the problems facing the regions.
If we want to compete in the future against the Danes, the Dutch or any of our agricultural competitors in Europe, it is necessary that the young people who are entering agriculture should be better trained than the people they will be competing against on the Continent. There is a need, and it has been there down through the years, for people who are appointed to boards, to have a direct interest in what the board are about and I hope that every member of this board will have a thorough knowledge of agriculture, whether it is on the research and development side or the educational side.
We should at this stage look at the need for further research in agriculture. As I said earlier, we have been looking for a number of years at the standard type products. Indeed, it is sad that an agricultural country like ours is still importing enormous quantities of food, food which could be produced here at home and food which we are capable of producing. I hope the advances which have been made in research into food processing will yield benefit to us and that we will eventually become a net exporter of food products and that the enormous amounts of food which are imported will be stopped. It is ridiculous in an agricultural based economy like ours that people are importing bacon from Denmark, slicing it and then reselling it out of the country. That is the sort of thing we can well do without.
In view of the fact that there will be major problems in the dairy sector, we should now be looking at alternative uses for the milk being produced at present. We are going to have quota restrictions in the short term at least and alternative products based on milk will have to be examined. After all, there will be no way in which smaller farmers will be able to survive if they do not engage in some type of farming which will give an above average return.
I note that the new organisation will have responsibility for a certain amount of veterinary research. AFT have done a good job in this area. They have been well funded by some organisations in the private sector and I hope that funding will continue. I believe they will also have to deal with the enormous problems of pollution which is threatening our environment. Agricultural pollution is something none of us wants. If farmers are helped they will be only too willing to deal with the pollution problems which have been identified in many areas. Many of these pollution problems have caused a certain amount of agitation between local authorities and farmers but I feel it will have to be a role of the new organisation to try to sort out these problems.
The new organisation will have to do a lot of research into other forms of farm income. They will have to be in a position to provide advice in relation to farm tourism which could become one of the major sources of income for farmers who will not be allowed to develop in the ordinary way. I believe there is an enormous market out there for farm holidays and angling and tourism holidays associated with farming and living on farms. Many farmers have made a substantial amount of money from this secondary source of income and this has allowed them to maintain themselves on some of the smaller farms in some of the more scenic areas of the country.
I hope the new organisation will look at the need for product development in the other sectors. The pig industry is crying out for added value products which could be sold if we were in a position to research the market for them and to produce them. I hope the new organisation will also look at forestry which may become a source of income for farmers. Indeed, I would say that there is no farm which does not have at least a few acres of marginal land which could be used for tree planting. I hope advice will be available for farmers who wish to pursue this activity.
I hope people who will be redeployed will understand that they are not being redeployed due to victimisation or anything else but because of the need for rationalisation. They should understand that the Government can no longer fund organisations indefinitely. We know that charges will be imposed for the services of the new organisation and I think farmers have come to expect this. Many farmers, especially the larger developed farmers, for the past number of years have employed consultants to give them specialist advice on a number of areas. This could be an area where farmers could be given an incentive to use the knowledge that will be available under the new organisation. The Government should look at the possibility of giving some assistance to smaller farmers in the disadvantaged areas to make use of the services of Teagasc. Some farmers, especially smaller farmers, feel left out and that they do not have a role to play in agricultural development. We all know that is not the position. However, some small incentive should be given to them to use the services, let it be a percentage of the fees incurred, an extra rate of headage or other grants that are paid in the disadvantaged areas so that these farmers would set about using the knowledge that has been amassed by the organisations down the years. By doing this we could help people to become involved in producing what is wanted. There is no use in farmers continuing to produce agricultural products which are not wanted in the market place. It is imperative that they be trained to produce what the customer wants.
In the coming years, I believe we will see shortages in certain sectors within the European Communities. This new organisation will be in a position to help Irish agriculture to move with the times and to help it to develop to a stage where it will be able to compete with its European competitors and to make full use of the advantages which we have in this country.
Recently attempts were made to use scare tactics with regard to some of the products from this country. We must accept, and Europe must accept, that we have the cleanest air available in Europe at present. We are in a position to produce the most natural agricultural products. We are not like our counterparts in Germany, Holland and Denmark who are into total factory farming. We should try to exploit the advantages we have over our competitors, and this organisation will give us the opportunity to do that. It gives us an opportunity to become a leader in the production of quality food. Quality food will command a premium price. Agriculture is our number one industry and it is up to us to decide how we want it to progress.
This Bill is the first attempt that has been made to link the research and training organisation with the advice organisations. The Bill will give us within ten to 15 years the best educated and most knowledgeable farming community in Europe, because that is what we want to become. Agriculture is our main source of foreign earnings and is our number one industry. I was saddened to hear Deputy Stagg say that he felt the Government action with regard to funding meant that agriculture was being pushed on to the backburner. I think this Government, on coming to office, identified agriculture as one of the chief areas in which we could expand and create jobs. The Government are proceeding on that line. This Bill shows their confidence in the line they have taken. While we may have slight reservations with regard to odd sections of the Bill I believe that in general it will shape Irish agriculture for many years to come.
On the one hand the Bill sets out to rationalise agriculture and on the other hand it sets out to develop agriculture. The Bill is there to help take our farmers, our farming community and the agricultural business on towards the year 2000. It is the sort of initiative which will show dividends in the years ahead. People, for their own selfish reasons will find sections of the Bill to knock and they will find reasons to knock it. However, let us be realistic: we cannot allow a situation to continue where two organisations such as ACOT and AFT, which are responsible for the major portion of agricultural research and training, to remain apart. We have a unique opportunity in the Bill of taking them both together. It is the sort of forward thinking, if used properly, which can be of enormous benefit to the agricultural community. In addition it will be of enormous benefit to the financial state of the country and it will help to maintain the growth that we expect and need in the years ahead. Agriculture is our prime industry and it is up to us to make sure that the people involved in it, whether it be at the farm gate end or at the processing end are market leaders.
I welcome also the fact that we can sell throughout the world any knowledge gained from developments which take place under the new board. We have had many developments down through the years which we did not make full use of. To put it mildly, these developments were pirated by other countries. However, let us now be in a position to carry out the necessary development and to copyright it as far as international agriculture is concerned. If we do that we will continue to be the leading producer of prime quality unpolluted food in Europe and the world.
We are not convinced that the decision to merge ACOT and AFT was necessary or that it is going to make any difference to the efficiency of our agriculture. However, we are not opposed to the Bill provided we are satisfied there will be no compulsory redundancies or that the quality of agricultural research and training will not be affected.
The Bill is coming before the Dáil at a time when there is a greater need than ever for Irish agriculture to modernise and to adapt to the changing market needs. The present methods of producing from the land will need to change within the next few years. Change will also be forced on farming because of the present levels of intervention payments, which will not continue indefinitely. Farming has been badly served by the Governments holding power since the State was established. Since we joined the European Communities especially, farmers were very badly advised by the Department of Agriculture who told them to continue the traditional practice of producing milk with a high level of output in summer and a very much reduced level of output in the winter months. The pattern of milk production prevented the serious development of markets for the much more valuable and saleable short life milk products. Converting milk into long life products which were very much in over supply in every market meant that the Irish milk products were not only sold at the lowest market price but to a considerable extent below the market price, at the intervention price.
The present summer-winter pattern of milk production means that beef also comes on the market in cycles. It means that a steady market to process meat and meat meals cannot be developed. A substantial percentage of our output either follows milk into intervention storage or is shipped out on the hoof.
Those who negotiated our agricultural interest in the EC betrayed the true national interest, especially by, first, agreeing to the exclusion of canned and cooked meats from MCA payments; secondly, by agreeing to the payment of EC subsidies for the export of food to underdeveloped countries which facilitated the export of live meat. This has caused serious job losses in the meat processing industry. To all Governments holding power in this State since it was established, except in the early years in Government of Fianna Fáil, the economic war and later the World War Two period, farming meant beef and milk, and little or nothing else. This pattern meant that ever fewer people were employed on the land. We had fewer people employed per acre than almost every country, including the USA. There is a need to improve the quality of our research and education services to ensure that our agricultural food industry is properly developed and to enable us to take advantage of the land and ensure that a proper food industry is established to provide jobs for our people. We are not convinced that a simple merger of AFT and ACOT will achieve this.
Land is our greatest natural resource and should be a rich source of new jobs. In fact, our land is under-used and the potential job creation from it and from the food processing of industrial crops has been developed to a marginal degree only. The present system of financial aid to farmers, combined with the existing structure of the Common Agricultural Policy, will not bring about a substantial increase in marketable output; nor will they 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 products, either timber or horticultural.
Rather than a simple merger between ACOT and AFT, the Government should have gone for a single Government agency which is vital for the development of the agricultural sector as a vital industrial sector in our economy and as one with enormous job creation potential. That agency, the Agricultural Development Authority, would have responsibility for stimulating investment, farm modernisation, diversification of production and the development of food processing, production and marketing. They would also take over the State's role in respect of land use policy, research, development and training. In addition, the disease eradication scheme and the various grants for infrastructural development of the land would be administered in accordance with the priorities of the Authority.
The Agricultural Credit Corporation are needed to finance farm food development on a planned basis. The sugar company should revert to their sixties role of development of a serious food industry and An Foras Talúntais to scientific research and to use land to produce and improving the quality of soil and the use of fertilisers best suited to our conditions, rainfall and so on. There should be a central planning and development unit to plan extensive development, the growing of industrial crops — flax, bamboo, New Zealand flax and other crops of like nature. This section would also be responsible for the developments like the manufacture of leather and rawhides.
Bord na Móna should be used to develop forestry and industries related to forestry. The manufacture of paper and other wood products should be their responsibility. An advisory council should be part of a farming and food development authority and they should be made up of the farming organisations and trade unions, with members employed in farming and food processing. It is unfortunate that there has not been recognition of the need for this more radical approach to agriculture by the Government, but we do not propose to stand in the way of the new body and we hope it will be successful.
There are a number of specific points I want to make in relation to this Bill and the body that it is proposing to set up. Like many others, we believe that a better name than Teagasc could be found for the new body. That is not a word people find easy to use and even within the Irish language I am sure that it must have been possible to come up with a better name, or initials. I hope the Minister will look at this question.
Why should the new body not be given an active role in the campaign to eradicate bovine TB and brucellosis? The campaign to end bovine TB has been one of the greatest scandals in the history of this State. More than £1,000 million has been spent on it in the past 20 years. Yet we are no nearer to the elimination of these diseases. Vets have made huge sums out of the campaign. Are we to continue to pay them indefinitely? Why could not this Government provide a service for the testing of animals in opposition to the vets? This could help to fund their other work intake area of research and education.
We are also concerned at the terms of section 8 of the Bill which effectively gives the Minister for Agriculture and Food and the Minister for Finance the power to decide the number of staff to be employed by the new body. Flexibility in this area is desirable to enable the new body to adapt to changing circumstances. We have seen in the past few months how a similar section in the Ombudsman Act, 1980, has been used to deny the Ombudsman the staff he needs and, effectively, to undermine the office of the Ombudsman.
We are particularly concerned that there is no provision for the election of worker-directors to the board of the new body. That is a retrograde step and is in conflict with the trend in other semi-State bodies. It is a particularly astonishing decision, as there were two staff members on the board of ACOT who, by all accounts, made a contribution to the smooth running of that body. For a body who will be involved in research and education, staff are their most important resource. The establishment of Teagasc will involve major changes for those who have worked for ACOT and AFT and the involvement of staff representation at board level is essential.
The reduction from £35 million to £20 million is not going to mean a massive reduction in the services and affect the farming and food industry generally. However, I should like to give one or two examples of the very valuable work done by AFT at Moorepark, near Fermoy. Under the heading of animal health, research projects at Moorepark to identify sources of calf mortality resulted in improved management and disease control programmes which, through the reduction of brucellosis and other diseases, resulted in a national calf loss cut from 14 per cent to 10 per cent. The direct annual saving is estimated to be in the region of £24 million, with an added value of £16 million. The researchers tell us there is still room for major improvement. The Moorepark Research Centre in Fermoy have developed a technique for incorporating dairy produce into a chocolate bar. The bar centre contains other dairy products and flavourings and does not contain preservatives. The biotechnology unit there, together with UCC, has developed a commercial starter system for cheese manufacture. I could go on and on indicating the very valuable work being done.
Now we find that the research staff group at AFT are very concerned about the effect of job reductions on the essential research programme in agriculture and food. Some 250 staff, including over 20 per cent of the research staff, have applied for the Government's voluntary early retirement scheme to date and this was offered to all staff in AFT because of the 43 per cent cut in State funding. The loss of these staff will have serious effects on research and services to farmers. Areas particularly badly hit are dairy cow, sheep and pig husbandry, animal breeding, feed and silage analysis, vegetable crops, soils, mastitis control and agricultural waste handling. The Government's unplanned cuts in funding to AFT have threatened these essential research services to agriculture and food. Unless the level of State funding for research is restored further damage can be expected.
For every £100 of exports generated by manufacturing industry £54 is paid for raw material imports and £17 goes overseas by way of repatriation of profits leaving £29 net in the Irish economy. On the other hand, for every £100 of agricultural exports, imports account for £18 and profit repatriations are negligible, leaving over £80 in the economy. With the input content and the profit repatriation of industrial exports taken into account, we see that the net export value of agriculture, which is £20.5 billion, is very close to that of industrial exports.
If cuts in the agricultural support services of the scale proposed are implemented, the prospects of generating the additional wealth and maintaining employment levels in the food sector will be greatly diminished. These cuts could be seen as a strategic error in the quest for national recovery. To undermine the future technological base of the major wealth producing industry in the country does not make economic sense.
Since Johnstown Castle Centre is based in my own county of Wexford I would like to say a few words on this new Bill. At the moment agriculture is at a crossroads. We are in an era of quotas. Generally farmers are confused. They do not know what road to go down. They do not know whether to stay with milk with all its problems or look at tillage which had many disastrous years. Too much of our land is in the hands of older farmers which is not in the best interests of the country.
The Minister is right to amalgamate ACOT and AFT. It is necessary at present that farmers get the best value for money and the Minister is going about it in the right way by co-ordinating the training and education facilities available to farmers in the future. I would like to compliment the Minister and his junior Minister for taking this decision and for the work they have been doing in agriculture in the past year.
We had a report some time ago, the Cashman report, which outlined the role of agriculture, training and education in the future. The Government decided that research and advisory services should be under the control of one authority which meant the coming together of AFT and ACOT. There is very little disagreement about this decision. This course of action is long overdue and will result in a more cost effective service to farmers.
I come from a county which is recognised as one of the most progressive farming counties in Ireland. One could not say that the development of farming in the last nine or ten years has been in the best interest of that county or nationally. Too many farmers are in serious financial difficulty. Too many have not developed along the lines they should have in relation to the overall development of the industry. The importance of agriculture to Wexford can be best gauged by the fact that recent studies there have shown that 75 per cent of economic activity in that county is dependent on agriculture, horticulture and other related industries and services. This shows that there is a staggering dependence on agriculture as a source of employment and earnings. Although the contribution of the industrial sector is important, a major contribution from the agricultural sector is essential if significant economic growth is to be achieved. Our dependence on agriculture stems from the fact that the country's main natural resources are a soil and a climate well suited to the development of agricultural production.
The milk industry has developed over the past ten years. Unfortunately, we are now in the era of quotas and farmers must be encouraged to diversify into other products related to milk. This is where the new training and education authority must be to the forefront. There are tremendous opportunities for farmers in related spin-off industries if they have the advice and facilities to diversify into those areas.
In sheep and tillage there have been significant developments also. Sheep is an area where there has been tremendous development in some counties in recent years. There is a good subsidy scheme for farmers and generally farmers have increased sheep production significantly. This is also an area where diversification into other areas is possible.
Training in agriculture is vital in providing the knowledge and skills required to operate the farm business efficiently in the future and to enable farmers to maintain viability in a highly competitive environment. The certificate in farming has been one of the major success stories of ACOT. The introduction of this course ensured that agricultural education in Ireland was brought in line with that of our neighbours in Europe. We also have the 180-hour courses and the socio-economic and enterprise courses. They will continue to be administered by ACOT and are important for the development of agriculture.
In the area of marketing this country has fallen down. ACOT has been striving to improve the marketing of agricultural produce by giving numerous demonstrations of quality requirements for specific markets, arranging meetings of growers and grower groups with wholesalers and retail chains and liaising closely with co-operative factories and other marketing outlets. This was important and will continue to be important. It is important that the resources available to the Minister continue to be placed directly in the area of marketing and research.
It is also worth noting that the overall value of horticulture continues to increase year by year. I would like to pay tribute to Deputy Séamus Kirk, the Minister with responsibility for this sector, for the effort he has put into this whole area, for striving to encourage further development of the horticultural industry in which the main products are soft fruit, mushrooms and field vegetables. There is ongoing development in beekeeping and polythene-type glasshouse production. Recognising the value of horticulture to the national economy this Government, in the very short time they have been in office, have established a body called An Bord Glas to look after the needs of the industry at a time when the creation of jobs, particularly those based on native raw materials, is of paramount importance. This is an opportune time to examine the prospects for further expansion in areas where no quota restrictions exist.
Alternative land-based enterprises must be established if many of our existing farms are to be maintained as viable economic entities. The basic fabric of agriculture in this country has been the family farm. Unfortunately, there are not enough opportunities at present on the family farm for the son or the daughter to remain there and earn a decent standard of living. They are competing for the small number of jobs that are available on the market. It is important that this new Authority will encourage farming families to diversify into other areas of production so as to ensure that the son or the daughter is able to make a living and to remain part and parcel of the family farm which has always been very much to the forefront in agricultural development. It is imperative that every possibility be examined to sustain feasible employment on family farms.
The soft fruit industry has developed almost unnoticeably and with very little help from Governments and Ministers over the years. This industry is beginning to play a role of increasing importance in the provision of extra revenue for many people and particularly in the sunny south-east. Wexford is regarded as the home of the strawberry industry. For many farming families or even for the person with an acre at the back of the cottage the strawberry industry is very important for economic survival. In an average season, approximately 3,000 tonnes of soft fruit are produced by 600 growers from a total planted area of about 1,000 acres. Of the total output about £2 million worth, or 70 per cent, is exported to England. Most of the output is supplied locally and a large amount of the money earned finds its way back to the producers and to the thousands of people employed in the harvesting of the soft fruit crops in that area. It is estimated that pickers alone earn in the region of £500,000 annually and this is very important to the general welfare of families in the south-eastern region. I have seen all my life in that area of the country many families going as a group to pick the strawberries, the blackcurrants, the raspberries and so on. The money earned helps to pay for school books, school uniforms or the education of the children for the following year. The soft fruit industry has proved to be a very important and very worthwhile industry in that area.
The soft fruit industry has developed in an orderly fashion in response to a market opportunity based on the contract system. Unfortunately, the price of fruit sold for processing tends to be at the lower end of the scale because it is monopolised by a certain number of fruit importers or fruit salespersons on the other side of the water. The Minister, Deputy Kirk, and the board should consider seriously the development of the soft fruit industry and should put more and more emphasis on securing lucrative market outlets for fresh fruit, yoghurt, frozen food products and so on. There are tremendous opportunities in that whole area for development and, if developed properly, it will give an opportunity to small farmers in particular to earn a decent living for their families in the years ahead, particularly taking into account the problems in other areas of agriculture at present.
The Clonroche Research Centre is of paramount importance to the development of the soft fruit industry. I would encourage the Minister to ensure that this research centre continues to expand and develop. I hope he does not intend, because of the streamlined developments of the new board, to close, or to undermine the importance of, Clonroche Research Centre in County Wexford. The centre is to the forefront in developing the fruit growing industry which is constantly changing. There is a need for the advice and for the new fruits being developed there. The research programme at Clonroche is of an applied nature yielding practical, pragmatic information. There are no constraints whatsoever on the production of soft fruit or honey in the EC at present. The market is buoyant and prospects for expansion are good for home markets and especially for export markets. There is considerable potential for soft fruit as an alternative crop. The expansion of this industry will depend totally on our ability to compete on export markets. The research and development programme at Clonroche is a key element in this regard and is of immediate and applied benefit in leading growers to more cost effective methods of production. It is also the centre of the bee-keeping research and development industry. That is an area where there are tremendous opportunities for the development of honey. As I said earlier, I would ask the Minister to ensure that the Clonroche centre is retained for future development.
Another very important aspect of the new Authority is to undertake and promote agricultural research and development. I want to emphasise that findings and recommendations must be such that they can be assimilated into existing farming techniques in a practical and down-to-earth way. In the introduction of new legislation affecting our most important industry, the needs of the people must be the prime consideration. It is fair to say that the provision of advisory services and research backup is a prerequisite for the continued expansion of the agricultural industry. The value of such services is well appreciated by the farming community. To give an example of the appreciation and the interests of the farming community in that area, when ACOT found it necessary to introduce charges last year in my own county, the farmers of County Wexford came forward and paid the moneys that were being sought for the advice that was being given.
Whatever charges may be introduced for services in the future it will be important to ensure that the smaller farmers, or those in serious financial difficulties, who may be in need of advice, will receive it regardless of their ability to pay, in addition to their training and educational requirements. These services should not be provided solely to those who can afford to pay for them. The Minister would need to examine that aspect carefully. I know of many small farmers who could well do with the advice and services to be made available by the new authority but who may not be in a position to pay for them. It is important that the Minister should cater for those people in a caring, compassionate way and in the best interests of agriculture generally.
Johnstown Castle has been part and parcel of agricultural development and research here for many years. It was presented to the nation in 1945 by the Laken family for use as an agricultural college and research centre. I compliment the Minister on having included Johnstown Castle in the provisions of the Bill before us, clearly demonstrating its importance to the nation and farming generally. We could not allow this debate to conclude without paying tribute to Dr. Tom Walshe who pioneered the way for the education and training of our young farmers. He is a national figure, with a deep love of the land and its farmers. It was he who foresaw the need for this nation to compete and take its place on the world stage in an agricultural sense. People generally and farmers especially should be thankful for the vision he showed in the development of agriculture over many decades. It is only right that our appreciation of his work should be placed on record in this House.
The areas of work in which Johnstown Castle has engaged have included grassland since over 90 per cent of our land is grassland, in turn providing 90 per cent of the feed for our dairy cows, sheep and beef cattle. Therefore, it will be seen that Johnstown Castle should continue to be the main research centre for this commodity with the prime objective of maximising its contribution to our economy.
Each year our farmers spend £300 million approximately on lime, fertilisers and trace elements, which account for approximately one-sixth of their total farm inputs. It is important that the comprehensive research programme in these essential nutrients be continued as a basis of optimising fertiliser use strategies. The new authority should continue to play a watchdog role in preventing spurious fertiliser products coming onto the market.
Johnstown Castle also has the only independent professional laboratory providing soil and plant analyses in this country. Each year 100,000 soil and 30,000 plant samples are analysed, the major objectives being to provide a scientific basis for fertiliser-lime usage and a diagnostic service for crop-animal problems. This service should be continued. If it is found necessary to impose charges so be it.
There is much talk nowadays about pollution and criticism of farmers, contending that they are polluting our soil, rivers and waterways. I believe it is very difficult for farmers to control this problem. Because of the general nature of our land development I believe it is a problem which will be with us for some time to come. It is only natural that we should endeavour to combat and/or control it. However, my sympathies are with the farmers in that endeavour because they have not the resources or financial support required to counteract the pollution of our waterways. In recent times the Johnstown Castle centre has been helping to combat this problem in County Wexford and the country generally, playing an expanding role in the areas of control of soil and water pollution. It is a service that should be used by the Departments of Energy, Agriculture and Food and others. The amount of work undertaken in this respect by the staff of Johnstown Castle, on their own initiative, should be recognised by the Department, extended and developed and the necessary finances given to them to continue this most important work. Undoubtedly it is the wish of us all to maintain this country free of pollution whether of the air, soil, or water.
With the advent of agricultural quotas and surpluses it should be recognised that an increasing proportion of farms will sink below the viability threshold, leading to rural depopulation. Here I am quoting from a report of An Foras Talúntais entitledA Role for the Future: Johnstown Castle Centre Wexford where it is said:
Programmes are required to identify areas of the country at risk, and to devise measures to solve the problem. This requires the development of computerised databases on physical resources (e.g. soil quality, climate, nature and intensity of land use, farm structure) and on economic/social aspects which are essential for integrated rural development and planning.
This report says further:
Under the Johnstown Castle Act (1945), Johnstown Castle estate is to be used for agricultural education and research. In the new organisation Johnstown Castle's role in the whole area of agricultural education can be expanded.
I appeal to the Minister to ensure that this centre, which has provided tremendous service to farmers over many years, is developed and expanded further in their interests.
I note from the provisions of the Bill that the Minister will make ministerial appointments to the new authority. Like Deputy Ellis I hope such appointments will be made on candidates' merits only. In the past there have been too many people appointed to various boards by Ministers of different Governments, some of whom had not the ability to run a huckster's shop, let alone enhance the relevant boards or industries. I ask the Minister to consider seriously such appointees to the new board, ensuring that they will have a valuable input. It should be remembered that the new authority will be enormously important to the future development of our agriculture. Indeed, I contend that the whole role of agriculture in our economy in the future will be dependent on the expertise and efficiency of this authority. I hope all parties will give the new authority the support they deserve. It is my hope that they will receive support from the farming organisations and people generally which will ensure a more enhanced agricultural scene in the future.
I wish to preface my remarks by asking the Minister for Agriculture and Food and the House if agriculture has been written off. The recent severe cuts in the budgets of ACOT, who provide agricultural education and advice and An Foras Talúntais, who provide agricultural research, raise some major issues of public policy. It must be asked if those responsible for this decision have seriously underestimated the contribution which agriculture can make to economic growth. If this is so, it may be time to remind people of the contribution which the agriculture and food industry are making to the economy.
The research and development programme of An Foras Talúntais has made a significant — indeed unique — contribution to the agriculture and food industry over the past three decades. If these industries are to continue to make progress, to prosper and develop in these competitive and technological times, a strong, efficient public funded research and development organisation is essential.
The proposed cuts of 43 per cent in State funding for An Foras Talúntais, coming on top of a 25 per cent cut in real terms since 1981, will directly counteract the planned development of agriculture and food as competitive, efficient and employment-generating industries. There is no way that the services provided by An Foras Talúntais and their ongoing research and development programme can survive the proposed cuts. The merger of An Foras Talúntais with the educational advisory agency, ACOT, will have serious detrimental effects on research and development unless specific provisions for the support of those activities are incorporated in the new organisation.
Why does Ireland need research in the food and agriculture area? It is clearly evident to everybody concerned that it is needed to provide the basic knowledge for Irish conditions, to solve the day-to-day problems of the industry and to take immediate steps to cope with future problems. It is also clearly evident that we need an agency to evaluate the whole range of new techniques, products and ideas coming from home and abroad. Research and development will come to an abrupt halt if the planned cuts of 43 per cent of State funding to research in agriculture goes ahead. The vital services will be disrupted, in fact many services will be unavailable and the end result will be less money in the pockets of the farmer and less revenue for the nation. There will also be more unsolved problems in the agriculture and food areas. It is clear that the work of An Foras Talúntais on a daily basis covers a wide area of problems, including the best silage system for wet land, the implications of farm practices for the environment, the best crop variety for different soils, the best milking machine liner to prevent mastitis in herds, the marketing and processing of new food pellets, thorough investigation to ascertain if residues of agri-chemicals persist in food and other various problems confronting the food industry today.
I am pleased that the Minister with responsibility for food is in the House. He comes from my constituency; he is a hardworking Deputy who understands the problems confronting the farming organisations but he is completely hampered by the lack of funds. He is in charge of a vital ministry but, alas, he has not received funding from the national purse to carry out the good work he should be doing. Does the Minister understand that we live in an era in which information is the basis of power and money? Does he realise that the major part of research helps to generate information and, even more important for a small country such as ours, to tap into the international pool of information that is available in the EC and other organisations throughout the world? This can only be accomplished by research workers whose experience and training enables them to accumulate the vital information that is published daily world wide. The fundamental task facing those engaged in research is a modern, efficient and competitive food industry trading in world markets and the creation of a production industry where efficiency and low cost production of a fixed quantity of product is the main goal. If we do not follow a vigorous, forward looking research programme on the lines to which I referred, we will, slowly but surely, stay behind our competitors in Europe and other parts of the world.
Everyone with a knowledge of agriculture realises the contribution of the research and development programme of An Foras Talúntais to the promotion of our agricultural products. The effects of the work of AFT are clearly visible to farmers, co-operatives and everyone concerned with the food industry and the national economy. The drastic cuts in State funding act against the interests, not only of the staff of An Foras Talúntais but of farmers, the food industry, consumer interests and, ultimately, the drive for national growth. There is no doubt concerning the intentions of the Government in relation to agriculture. The cut in the budget for ACOT and AFT for this year clearly shows that the Government have decided that agriculture is now treated as the Cinderella industry. To reduce the staff of both organisations by 50 per cent, while demanding much smaller reductions in the numbers of civil servants employed in the Department of Agriculture and Food is a retrograde step as far as the agricultural industry is concerned.
Every industry depends to a very large degree on a research and development programme. Without it, there will be no growth in any industry. Cutting research for agriculture is a criminal act. It is clearly evident that AFT in the past 30 years have built up a tremendous reputation among research personnel in many countries. In addition they have contributed to the vast improvement in Irish farm production and brought a great many farmers from a state of mediocrity to excellence in a short period of time. The advisory services will be remembered for having motivated farmers who were reluctant to develop their farm enterprises.
Since the setting up of ACOT services have improved and a good proportion of farmers have willingly paid for services. That, in itself, amounts to a confirmation of appreciation of those services by the agricultural community. However, it appears that both organisations are to shed a large number of personnel. They are the people who can encourage future development in our agricultural and food industries. It is wrong that our farmers should be deprived of their services. I should like to know who advised the Minister for Agriculture and Food to take this daft decision, and it is a daft decision. It is very difficult to understand the thinking behind that move.
Some years ago it was suggested that the Department of Agriculture wanted more than 1,000 civil servants to leave. It was said that the Department were completely overstaffed. However, it is clearly evident that that request was not heeded and that the redundancies did not materialise. We can assume that the power of the group involved has won the day over the farming community and that those non-productive people are to remain while the number of personnel of An Foras Talúntais and ACOT, who have played such a vital role in the formation of a sound agricultural policy and imparted such wonderful advice to our farmers, will be drastically reduced. In many cases there will not be any personnel available to provide services for the farmers.
In a Government where the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance are former Ministers for Agriculture it is hard to understand the attitude to the problems of Irish farmers. It would be interesting to know if the former president of the IFA was aware of these cuts when he welcomed the famous economic three year plan. As a Deputy from an agricultural area I would be amazed to think that any person with responsibility for agriculture, and representing the views of the farming community, would agree to an economic plan that would have detrimental effects on agriculture, the country's most important industry. The Government seem to have written agriculture out of their records.
While the majority of people agree that spending had to be curtailed in a proper fashion they would all consider it madness to cut back on a productive enterprise such as agriculture. Money invested in agriculture will always be repaid, unlike the investment in well subsidised foreign industries. We all know of the huge number of foreign industrialists who were attracted here in the past two decades and given lucrative handouts. They were set up in different regions by the Industrial Development Authority but after a few years in existence they folded up and those at the head of the concerns left the country with stuffed wallets at the expense of Irish taxpayers.
The Minister must realise that every viable farm unit here — I expect the Minister of State will agree with me — is a miniature factory generating employment from the farmyard to the mart, to the creamery, to the processing food factory and to our meat factories. Farms contribute in a big way towards creating jobs. Why is the Minister so naive in his comments? Why is he turning a blind eye to this valuable industry? Why is he killing the goose that is laying the golden egg for our economy? Surely it is time to call a halt to this policy of fiscal rectitude when it is affecting the nucleus of our economy by cutting finance for research and advice while, at the same time, keeping desk jobs? That is not a sound policy for any Government to pursue. Certainly, it is not a sound agricultural policy. It is well known that there is overstaffing in many State and semi-State institutions which is being dealt with gradually. There is little necessity to have a multitude of supervisors if the number of workers is being cut drastically.
If the number of staff of ACOT and AFT is being halved, surely the number of monitoring personnel in the Department should be reduced by 90 per cent. One must question, reluctantly, the judgment of the Minister for Agriculture and Food in this instance. Creative people are being sacrificed while those who examine reports and check expenses are being retained. It is clearly evident that the Minister does not have the power, the courage, the tenacity or the drive to outrival his Cabinet colleagues. It is a sad day for farming when our Government take decisions that do not benefit agriculture. One must look with appre- hension to the future. Is it the intention of the Minister to push back our farmers to a subsistence level of existence? I should like to warn the Minister that growth in agriculture planned by the Government will not materialise if the proposed cuts in the budget for ACOT and AFT go ahead.
It is a waste of time for Government Ministers to refer to the development of the food industry against EC competition if farmers do not efficiently produce quality goods with the help of ACOT advice and AFT research. The proposed cuts, if implemented, will eventually leave a topheavy bureaucracy with little to do because farming activity will grind to a halt. I should like to warn the Minister that if he proceeds along the lines he has advocated, his action will result in 55,000 farmers being wiped off the production line here. It will be the greatest annihilation of any industry in western Europe. The Estimate cut advocated by the Minister is the worst blow yet to the farming organisations, coming at a time when farmers had no hesitation in paying their share as requested by the Minister, for the services of AFT and ACOT instructors. I would remind the Minister that farmers have contributed almost £1 million in charges to ACOT during the past year. What other industries outside agriculture are contributing to the national purse for advice? If civil servants in their inner sanctums were as adaptable as ACOT have been they would be a very dynamic group, but the annihilation of ACOT and AFT is proof of their closed minds. It is a very limited strategy.
The results of this move will soon be clearly evident. Some 50,000 farmers with potential for development will not survive without intensive advisory efforts by the Department of Agriculture and Food. Any cutback in advice and research will have a detrimental effect on production. If we cannot gear up to meet the competition from the Danes, the Germans, the Dutch and the French, if we kill the goose that lays the golden egg, we will annihilate the farming population and sound the death knell of the economy. Rural development as a whole is at stake. The famousProgramme for National Recovery provides nothing for agriculture. I wonder if the Minister for Agriculture and Food and the Government are aware of the unprecedented decline in farm output and its effects on the national economy and on employment. It is evident that they are more interested in voluntary redundancies, wiping out jobs that will never again be filled rather than creating jobs for young people who are fast disappearing to the emigrant ships and airliners. What future can our industries offer in terms of jobs? Jobs are being vacated under the voluntary redundancy scheme by people who are being given golden handshakes and these jobs will never again be filled. Surely that is not a policy for prosperity. Surely it is not the correct policy for any Irish Government.
The Minister for Agriculture and Food must recognise that agriculture is in a very serious position. The Government have failed hopelessly to capture any sizeable amount of EC regional funds for rural development. They are pussyfooting on the very important question of the reclassification of disadvantaged areas. By European standards the greater part of this country could be classified as a disadvantaged area but the Minister has failed hopelessly to make a break-through in this important matter. In fact the disadvantaged areas scheme is to be cut this year from £62.6 million to £58.2 million. Is this progress? If we are to convince our European counterparts of the necessity to enlarge the disadvantaged areas we must be seen to be putting our own house in order and to be meeting their contributions pound for pound. We must let them know that in relation to the disadvantaged areas we are only skimming the surface. I am amazed that the Minister is not taking steps to rectify the serious imbalance.
The committees of agriculture are being abolished. This is the first step in the Government's plan to silence the democratically-elected voice of Irish farmers and the voice of the farming organisations who have nominated members on those bodies. They are being told to shut up and that the committees are to be wiped out of existence. I have had the privilege of being a member of a committee of agriculture for the past 25 years. These committees were watchdogs for the Irish farmers whom they served with distinction over the decades. They paved the way for the upsurge in the agriculture industry but now they are being annihilated by a native Irish Government whose dictatorial attitudes are clearly evident. They want to silence the hard-won privilege of freedom of speech. Is it the intention of the Taoiseach and the Government to wipe out any forum which has the privilege of criticising their policies? Do they think they can run the agricultural industry from their cosy, plush, carpeted offices in Kildare Street?
The committees of agriculture were the main cog in the wheel of success. They expressed the views of the farming organisations and of the people at the grassroots who were born and bred on the land of Ireland. Who better to advise the Minister than the people at the grassroots? What is the Minister saving by this draconian action? Does he realise that these committees constituted a valuable forum for farmers to air their grievances so that they could be passed on to the Minister's advisers and to the Minister himself for adjudication? I appeal to the Minister for Agriculture and Food and to the Minister of State, Deputy Walsh, who is a member of the Cork County Committee of Agriculture. He has been a former chairman, like myself, of that committee——
He should resign.
——and he played a very important role in the farming organisation and in the farming policies dictated by that committee. I make this appeal to him as a friend, even at this late stage——
——to have a re-assessment of the Minister's action in abolishing those committees. If he proceeds with the AFT-ACOT merger, he should at least make provision for the county committee to meet monthly along the same lines as the committee of agriculture and thereby play their part in formulating and implementing the future agricultural policies of this country. I appeal to the Minister not to silence the democratically elected voice of the Irish farmers. Do not silence the democratic voice of the farming organisations through their members on those committees. They have played an outstanding role in furthering agricultural development in Ireland. There is much more they can do. Their advice could be a good guideline for the present Minister or any future Minister who follows in his footsteps. Do not close the door on this very valuable information. The Minister should keep it open; he has the power and the ability to do so.
I firmly believe that research should be separated from education and advice. The arguments for this have strengthened in recent years with the increasing emphasis on food research and the addition of value beyond the farm gate. This was one of the decisions reached in the most recent analysis by the Cashman committee in 1986. Whatever new organisation is created to service agriculture and food, they must recognise the different natures of research, education and advice. The independent thinking that categorises research must be fairly and squarely secured by legislation similar to that in the AFT Act of 1958, guaranteeing independence to initiate, conduct and report research, a separate budget for research and staff representation on the board of the new organisation. There is an overwhelming call in the agricultural world for a revaluation of the proposed cuts and for the implementation of proper structures for research in a merged body if we are to have development and job creation in our main industry — that is agriculture.
Perhaps it would be opportune for me to remind the Minister for Agriculture and Food and the House of the real value of our agricultural industry. Agriculture is by far our single most important industry in terms of the share of national income, exports and employment which it generates. Exports play a vital role in paying for essential imports and earning foreign currency needed to repay our massive foreign debt. The gross value of visible exports increased from £4.1 billion in 1980 to £9.5 billion in 1986. Over £7 billion comes from the so-called modern industries, many of which are attracted by our low tax regime for manufacturing industry. The remaining £2.5 billion comes from our agricultural exports. The crucial question is, what is the relative contribution to the economy of the £2.5 billion worth of agricultural exports compared to the £7 billion of industrial exports?
In assessing the real value of exports to the economy, account must be taken of the import content and the profit repatriation associated with exports. The import content of many of the modern industries is substantial. An IDA study on manufacturing industry in Ireland a few years ago showed that the Irish raw materials used as a proportion of total raw materials amounted to 33 per cent for chemicals, 17 per cent for electronics and 28 per cent for manufacturing industry. By contrast, the food industry sourced 87 per cent of its raw materials domestically. Profit repatriation from the modern industries was £1.3 billion in 1986 or 17 per cent of the total value of the exports from these industries. High profit levels are being earned by a limited number of modern industries but some 75 per cent to 80 per cent of these profits are being repatriated to parent companies overseas.
For every £100 of exports generated by the manufacturing industry, £54 is paid for raw material imports, £17 goes overseas by way of profit repatriation leaving £29 in the Irish economy. For every £100 of agricultural exports, imports account for £18 and profit repatriation is negligible leaving over £80 to the economy of this country. Surely, it is clearly evident to the Ministers concerned if there is to be a future for the economy it must come from a vibrant, sound, economic agricultural policy.
When the import content and profit repatriation of industrial exports are taken into account, it shows that the net export value of agriculture is £2.5 billion and the net export value of industrial exports is £2.28 billion. Clearly it is the total spending power generated by an industry or firm which determines its value to the economy. In this regard the IDA study referred to above shows that for 1983 the agricultural and food industry accounted for more spending power than the rest of the manufacturing industry. The figure for the food industry was £75,000 compared to chemicals £32,000, electronics £22,000 and mechanical engineering £16,000.
Some of the modern industries with the most spectacular export performance contribute rather less than is realised to overall employment. For example, the office machine industry increased the value of its exports from about £250 million in 1980 to over £1.8 billion in 1986 and during the same period employment increased by just 2,000 to reach 6,400 in 1986. In contrast, and this is very important, the agricultural and food industry with exports of £2.5 billion in 1985 provided employment for 214,000 people directly. Surely, that is clear evidence of the value of the agricultural industry to this country. The Government in theirProgramme for National Recovery recognised the continued importance of the agricultural and food sector to the economy. The target of ACOT and AFT provides an opportunity to redirect agricultural research and advisory programmes so as to maximise their contribution to that recovery. However, this opportunity will be realised only if the merger is implemented in a carefully planned manner and due recognition is given to the financial needs of the new organisation — and not by the reduction of £20 million in the Estimates and in this year's budget.
If the agricultural industry is to make its maximum contribution to economic recovery, certain key developments must take place. The most important of these are, selective expansion of the beef, sheep and horticultural sectors, a major effort to improve product quality and a serious commitment to rural development programmes. The major policy facing Irish agriculture is the need to increase our beef cow herd. If we do not succeed in increasing that, we will fail dismally in giving our national economy the injection it needs.
Because of our reduced milk quota the number of dairy cows is expected to fall by at least 250,000 over the next couple of years. If we do not replace them with beef cows we will end up with underutilised grazing land and idle meat plants, that is, if the Minister for Agriculture and Food does not heed the warning I am giving him here tonight. In a recent AFT projection it is stated that the national cow herd could be increased to over 2 million by 1991 if proper consideration were given to this problem.
If the Minister for Agriculture and Food is genuine in his attempts to revitalise the agricultural industry let me make this appeal to him: abolish the off-farm income limit in the cattle headage and beef cow schemes which are operating in the disadvantaged areas. Let those road workers, fishermen and others who own small farms throughout the west develop those farms to the best of their ability along the lines I have advocated. If their incomes go over the limit, do away with the off-farm income limit and instead give them the opportunity to play their part in making those small farms viable which would help them to rear their families in rural areas where they are fast disappearing.
It is a well known fact that the small farmer will be an extinct species in a few years time if the Minister for Agriculture and Food does not take steps to safeguard this very important element of Irish society. It is also a well known fact that the Minister for Agriculture and Food reduced the off-farm income limit from £6,400 to £5,700 this year. In other words, any farmer who has an off-farm income of £5,700 will not be able to avail of the cattle headage or beef cow schemes. It is actually a question of cutting a twig to beat yourself. The Minister of State should convey this message to the Minister for Agriculture and Food. If the Minister for Agriculture and Food acts as I have suggested he will give an incentive to the agricultural community to bring up the cow herd numbers. If we do not do so now we are bound for a downward trade. If we continue to sell off our milk cows because of over-production of milk it is clearly evident that the day will not be too far away when we will have to import cattle from Great Britain and the Continent to keep our meat factories going.
Already, moves are afoot to import calves into the country and the Minister for Agriculture and Food is well aware of this fact. Yet, he sits idly by and takes no steps whatever to rectify the serious anomaly which exists today. If positive measures are not taken, the projected cowherd number for next year is 1.8 million. The difference in national income between the two scenarios is almost £200 million per annum. It is also the difference between 10,000 and 20,000 farmers remaining viable or slipping into the social welfare net. In addition, the 1,000 extra jobs projected by the IDA for the beef industry over the 1988-92 period will not be realised.
The further inevitable restrictions on output due to the CAP cutbacks and the securing of the maximum unit price through quality production will become of major importance. Quality food production has to start on the farm and there is still a great need for improvement at this level. Much of the investment in the facilities for food processing has been made already. What is now needed in order to fully capitalise on this investment is a more market-led approach. This should dictate the actions of farmers, processors and those marketing the products and should involve better communication between the different sectors in the food marketing chain. Producer groups also have an important role to play in this regard.
The pay-off for achieving success in these various areas will be high. Agricultural output could be £300 million per annum higher if such policy initiatives were taken and this money would be spent principally in the country. It would have a highly beneficial effect on the gross national product. Thus, far from being the Cinderella industry of the economy, the food industry would be able to give far higher and faster returns than any of the other economic sectors. If we get an adequate response it will be translated into real wealth and jobs in the country. If cuts in the agricultural support services on the scale proposed by the Minister for Agriculture and Food are implemented, the prospect of generating additional wealth and maintaining employment levels in the food sector will be greatly diminished. These cuts could be seen as a strategic error in the quest for national recovery.
To undermine the future technological base of the major wealth producing industry in the country does not make commonsense to me. As a Deputy who was born on a small mountain farm in south-west Cork, and I am proud to say that I still own that farm, I know only too well the hardships which farmers have to undergo in an effort to survive on such small farms. I know only too well the vital role which these small farmers are playing in the economy today. I know only too well how they utilise every foot and yard of ground which is available to them. They are not like their rich neighbours——
——in the Pale who have no need to plough the headland which the Minister of State, Deputy Walsh, like his forefathers before him, has to do on his uneconomic holding in west Cork.
There are no ranchers down there, Paddy.
I know only too well that if these people are not given special advantages they will not survive, and I see very little hope of this Minister giving them these advantages.
Farmers with very small incomes will be squeezed out because there will be a lack of agricultural research and advice available to them. I have said it before and I will repeat it, I dislike the move to do away with the small man, especially the small farmer. Why should small dairy farmers be subject to the same reduction in their milk quotas as the large farmer with a 250,000 gallon quota? Everybody knows it is uneconomic for any dairy farmer to survive — and nobody knows this better than the Minister — on a quota of less than 30,000 gallons. It is hypocrisy of the highest order to ask a farmer with a quota under 30,000 gallons to reduce output at the same rate as the farmer with a milk quota of 250,000 gallons. Is there justice in that for the man who already has an uneconomic quota, who can hardly afford a pair of shoes or clothes for his children? Is it right to ask that man to tighten his belt further? Do the Ministers concerned want to squeeze him out of existence, because that is what they are doing as, in one case, Minister for Agriculture and Food and in the other, as Minister with responsibility for food? If the Minister wants to make cuts in milk quotas and to create a national reserve, he should start at the top and leave the man with the uneconomic quota alone. Give him an opportunity to rear his family. We were not all fortunate enough to be born ranchers. We were not all fortunate enough to have been born into families with large farms and quotas of 250,000 gallons.
There is an odd one creeping in here.
Deputy Ellis spoke eloquently on the amalgamation of An Foras Talúntais and ACOT and advocated the amalgamation of the Farm Development Service with those two bodies. On the other hand he stated that the committees of agriculture were more efficient than ACOT. I would agree with the latter part of his statement but I cannot agree to a further amalgamation. God knows we have had too many amalgamations already. Everybody knows when we created the health boards we created monsters which are costing the country countless millions of pounds. The same thing will happen with the amalgamation of AFT and ACOT. Do not let any Minister be foolish enough to amalgamate those two bodies with the Farm Development Service. It is hard enough to get the farm development grants from the Department at the moment because there is up to nine months delay in the payment of these grants. The farmers are told these grants will be paid when it is practical to do so. I would like the Minister to spell out the meaning of the word "practical" as far as the payment of farm grants is concerned. He must realise that farmers have to pay the contractors when work is completed. He has to pay for material used in farm buildings but the Department tell the farmer the grant will be paid when it is practical to do so. These delays can be for nine, ten and even 12 months.
The Deputy is exaggerating.
I should like to elaborate on the necessity of having the right people with vision and business acumen nominated to the new board, not party hacks who know nothing about agriculture——
——and who know nothing about the difficulties facing our farmers. Some of those people in charge of certain sections in the Department could hardly tell the difference between a cow and a bull.
The Deputy is thinking about Bord na gCapall.
No, he is not.
I have no faith that the right people will be nominated to that board. For that reason I am afraid it is doomed to failure unless I can get a guarantee from the Minister that the right people will be nominated to the board.
With this proposed amalgamation we will be losing some of the best brains in agriculture. The Minister knows that in the Moorepark Institute, a guiding light for agriculture, we are losing some of the best brains in agriculture today. I believe more than 250 of these officers are seeking voluntary redundancies. Why? Because of the unsecured tenure of office and the amalgamation of jobs as a result of the merger. This means the agricultural industry will be much poorer and the farmers will miss the advice and guidance they have received to date.
I ask the Minister with responsibility for food to ensure that the best brains in those bodies are retained at all costs. I want him to ensure that the provision of adequate funding for Darrara Agricultural College in my constituency is not impeded and that that college will continue to help young farmers play their part in the economic life of this country. Any reduction in the number of staff employed in the agricultural colleges would be a stunning blow to the agricultural industry. When restoring the farm installation grants the Minister should reduce the qualifying criteria to 0.50 man working weeks to ensure that the people who can benefit most from that scheme will avail of it.