Agriculture (Research, Training and Advice) Bill, 1988: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

In the course of his contribution Deputy Browne, in referring to the sheep industry, told us that it was now very prosperous. I should like to remind him that we are only skimming the surface as far as sheep production is concerned. I am sure the Minister, and his Ministers of State, are aware that our mountain pastures are starved for the want of lime and fertilisers. We should endeavour to get the EC to provide funds to enable us to improve the fertility of our mountain soil. If we could improve the fertility of that soil we would be in a position to double our sheep numbers. That would prove of great benefit to our economy. We are all aware that if the mountains from Donegal to Cork were subject to aerial fertilisation the quality of the soil would be improved and our sheep farmers would benefit. Those people are engaged in a tremendous fight to produce fodder and food for their flock in winter.

I should like to ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food where he discovered the name for the new organisation, Teagasc. Was it not possible to produce a more appropriate name for the new body? How will the new name sell in EC circles? I am amazed that the Minister could not produce a more appropriate name for a body that is expected to do so much for agriculture. It is of vital importance that research projects which are of benefit to Irish farmers are not abandoned. I am thinking of the research project at Moorepark to identify reasons for calf mortality. That research could result in improved management of the disease control programme. If we can curb brucellosis and other diseases we will succeed in reducing the natural calf loss from 14 per cent to 10 per cent. The direct annual saving from such an improvement has been estimated at £24 million to agriculture with a further spin-off saving of £16 million. It is felt that there is still room for further major improvements in the research programme. I do not want to see that programme axed because of a lack of funds arising out of the Government's policy of fiscal rectitude. I do not want to see any reduction in the processing of 100,000 soil and 30,000 plant samples annually. I do not want our farmers to be told that there are no facilities available to test the soil of their land or to advise them about the type of artificial fertiliser they should apply. That is not progress.

We will make progress.

The Government are making progress at the wrong end.

The Deputy's party failed miserably when in Government.

If the Deputy was making progress in his Department he would not be in the position he is in now. We cannot forget that the research that was carried out in Grange made it possible for our silage farmers to use sulphuric acid as an alternative to formic acid, all of which was imported.

The Deputy has gone very technical.

The difference in the price was 50 per cent in favour of sulphuric acid. That resulted in Irish farmers saving £10 million annually in their silage operations. Such a proposal would never have been thought of by any official in Kildare Street. Were it not for the ability of the Grange research station Irish farmers would not be enjoying the bonanza they enjoy today. The Moorepark research centre have developed a technique of incorporating dairy produce into a chocolate bar which I am sure will prove very popular when it is offered for sale in our supermarkets. That product could not have been produced were it not for the fact that the Coalition Government gave the Moorepark centre adequate funds to carry out research. We ensured that there were no cutbacks as far as research was concerned.

The Coalition borrowed enough.

We had the future of agriculture to the fore in our policies but I am afraid that agriculture is bound for the doldrums under the present Administration. Research is vital if we are to maintain our place in the EC and international markets. Any let-up in our research work will have serious consequences for farming. If the essential services for agriculture are to continue under the new merged authority the Government must provide adequate finance. It is necessary that State funding to the new authority should be increased from the projected £20 million to at least £30 million for 1988. A major industry such as agriculture could not survive a reduction of £10 million in its budget and hope to prosper. Irish farmers cannot be helped to meet their EC counterparts if such a policy is pursued. Without adequate funding the proper services cannot be provided and the development of agriculture will be seriously affected with the following consequences, (a) major damage to the economy; (b) serious loss of employment opportunities and (c) fewer safeguards for the consumer. There is no doubt that a drop in the allocation to the new authority would have serious repercussions for the country's most important industry, agriculture. I urge the Minister to act before it is too late and to put our major industry on the pedestal where it should be.

I ask him to reconsider his decision to abolish the committees of agriculture. If he goes ahead with this decision he will be silencing the democratically elected voice of the people. Our forefathers fought over many centuries for three Fs — freedom of speech, fixity of tenure and free sale. By one stroke of the pen the Minister is doing away with free speech for the person who is elected to voice the grievances of his constituents at a committee meeting. There is much talk about the time when an alien administration affected freedom of speech in this country but today we have Ministers in a native Government doing exactly the same thing against which our forefathers fought and died.

If the Minister for Agriculture and Food cannot accommodate the committees of agriculture in this Bill, let him agree to my request to set up advisory agricultural bodies on a county basis to advise the new authority. It is never too late to change one's mind. The Government have made a few U-turns in the past 12 months. I urge the Minister to have some respect for free speech and for farmers. He should recognise the importance of agriculture as our major industry and remember that when the last litre of oil or gas is drained from the Celtic Sea agriculture will still be the backbone of the economy. It is vital that the Minister should accede to my request and restore the £10 million which he has hijacked from the industry.

The goose that laid the golden egg is a great survivor. It has been under threat in this House as long as I can remember. Deputy Sheehan, in his very colourful speech, killed that goose on at least three occasions.

The egg has been laid for the last time.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. The proposals contained in this Bill are fundamental to the future development of the agricultural industry and in helping us to achieve our objective of national recovery. I thank the Minister for bringing the proposals before us an I hope Members will avail of the opportunity of making their views known to him in relation to the proposed new authority.

There has been some criticism of the Bill and of the cut in the budget available to the new body. We have clearly demonstrated in areas such as health that the indiscriminate pumping of money into any service does not always lead to a corresponding improvement in that service. I have no doubt that the same is true of agriculture and of the funding of the services of this new authority. I have spoken to many people within ACOT and AFT who will admit to areas where greater efficiencies could have been effected in the past. It is a pity that it took strong and firm action on the part of the Government to compel agencies outside direct Government control such as health boards, local authorities and other local and regional bodies to look seriously at their spending patterns and to become more conscious of the need for greater efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Those of us who are associated as public representatives with some of these bodies have not been as vigilant as we might have been in insisting that management be more cost-effective in the spending of public money. Those days are gone and the Government are giving all of us a lesson in basic economics. We must live within our means and do without services which we as a nation cannot afford, at least in the present difficult financial environment.

This Bill will contribute to the elimination of duplication in agricultural services and will provide a greater opportunity for the co-ordination of activities in the vital areas of research and training. It will also provide an opportunity for a closer assessment of the cost-benefit of the operation, which must be part of every public spending programme for the future. Having set up the new structure and allowed it sufficient time to settle down in its new role, I would urge the Minister not just to be cost conscious but to consider the return which could be obtained for the nation from additional funding in certain circumstances. I would draw a clear distinction between areas of public expenditure which could be regarded as unproductive in terms of economic return and those which are developmental and which would give a return in terms of increased output and exports, which is certainly the case in regard to the agricultural industry. I have said on many occasions that every pound spent on agricultural advice and training is money well spent which will undoubtedly give a worthwhile return. I have no reason to change that view but I would add that we need to be careful that advice and training are channeled in the direction in which agriculture is likely to develop. This is not an easy matter to predict, especially when we see proposals from the EC to pay people to leave land idle.

I am confident that the operations of the new service will be closely monitored by the Minister. If it can be seen that further investment would give a corresponding return to the nation, then I hope the Minister and the Government will respond. The whole thrust of the Government'sProgramme for National Recovery is towards development. Fianna Fáil's commitment to agricultural development over the years is an indication of our awareness of the capacity of the industry to contribute to our national wellbeing. It may well be that the commitment of previous administrations was one of funding rather than adequate programming, planning and analysis of results. I suppose the TB eradication scheme is a classic example. The imbalance between administration and the actual delivery of services is another example of our failure to set and achieve targets. The big challenge facing the Minister and the new authority is, as has already been indicated, to get a reasonable balance between efficiency and output without affecting seriously the area of research in particular where returns are difficult to monitor, at least in the short term.

As a veteran in the area of agricultural development, I have no hesitation in saying that if it were not for the tedious and tiring work of our researchers the dairy, beef, cereal and beet industries would not be at the level of efficiency existing today. It is also important to note that all of this work and research was carried out specifically with an eye on Irish farming conditions and patterns. It is not the fault of researchers if marketing patterns have changed or some commodities are now in over supply. I must make special mention of the agricultural advisory services. From my experience I can say that the majority of the advisers employed in the services over the years have displayed a dedication far beyond the call of duty and have been responsible for the upgrading of farm practices, rural life and agricultural income which is now a significant factor in the development of our economy and which is planned to play an even more significant role in the Government's programme for development in the future.

It is also important to acknowledge the fact that farmers were willing and eager recipients of that advice and training and, in fact, in some cases were over eager in terms of their willingness and commitment to borrow and invest in the industry. Today many of them are paying a very high price because of the rapidity with which the economic climate changed during the period of their development programmes.

In discussing a Bill dealing with agricultural research and training it is important to acknowledge the role of voluntary organisations. I am thinking specifically of Macra na Feirme and the role which they played down through the years in providing a creative and receptive environment and very often setting up the structures for local advice and training. I also include in that vital category the organisation of Muintir na Tíre who played such a significant role in the area of community development. There are many homes in rural areas which would not have had the facility of a piped water supply, for example, where it not for the efforts of Muintir na Tíre. In this the centenary year of the founding of the great organisation I ask the House to recall the dedication and vision of their founder, the late Canon John Hayes, may he rest in peace. It is my view that if we had a renewal of the vision of Canon Hayes and the idealism which he generated the road to recovery would be that much easier.

Earlier in the debate today tributes were paid to Dr. Tom Walshe, former director of the Agricultural Institute, for his dedication to agricultural development. I would like to re-echo the sentiments which were expressed by other speakers in acknowledging that wonderful contribution and to say that we are very pleased that Dr. Walshe is still around and with us from the point of view of being able to give us practical and sound advice on the future development of the industry.

Before leaving the area of the contribution of voluntary organisations to the role of agricultural education, mention must also be made of the farming press, in particular theIrish Farmers Journal. I remember it as The Young Farmers Journal and I was associated with its early establishment. No other farming publication has made such a practical contribution to the development of Irish farming. At a time when we are concerned about the cost effectiveness of public spending I feel that the role of the journal will be of greater significance in the future. In a way it is in a better position to communicate the findings of modern research and management techniques to farmers on a weekly basis than the more formal statutory authorities. We are lucky to have such a high quality farming publication. I made the point earlier, and I do so again now, about the need to keep the operations of the body under regular review and to ensure that it is not inhibited in its work due to inadequate finance. If we do not do so and the organisation is unable to fulfil its role to the maximum degree possible, we will be undermining our own plan for economic development and, in particular, our commitment to the development of the food industry.

It is perhaps a hackneyed phrase to restate that agriculture is by far our single most important industry in terms of national income, exports and employment. Total exports for 1986 amounted to about £10 billion, £7 billion coming from the so-called modern industry and the balance of £3 billion coming from agricultural exports. However, the figures do not reflect the true value to the economy of agriculture. It must be borne in mind that the agricultural related food industry in Ireland uses 87 per cent Irish raw material in the production process which is also significant in terms of added value and jobs. By comparison modern manufacturing industry used only 28 per cent Irish raw material. One should add to this the fact that profit repatriation from industry, other than from agriculture, in 1986 amounted to £1.3 billion or 17 per cent of the total value of exports.

In the light of the above facts and when one adjusts the real value of exports to the economy, you are left with a situation where industry represents 53 per cent, or £2,284 million, and agriculture 47 per cent, or £2,053 million, not a very significant difference but when one takes into account the added spending power generated by the agricultural sector, agriculture emerges as a clear winner in terms of overall contribution to national development.

Naturally, I am not making a case against modern industry but I am more specifically highlighting the sometimes under-estimated value of our greatest natural resource, which is the land. The Government in theProgramme for National Recovery— the credibility of that programme after less than one year in Government has been vindicated in terms of achievable targets — planned for a progressive agricultural industry and an expanding food related industry. The Bill before the House provides for the structure and framework of a new dynamic research and development body. Its success will depend on the willingness to work the new system on the part of those who are employed in research and training and on the positive commitment on our part to ensure that they will be assisted in that difficult task.

The new body faces an enormous challenge in the face of a rapidly changing agricultural environment at European level. In the face of such changes we will have to plan and adjust in a way which will enable us to maximise the income from our land resources through added value, particularly in the food industry. We must ensure and plan that a major factor in all of that planning is the development of the industry for the purpose of creating jobs. At the recent successful Fianna Fáil Árd Fheis the Taoiseach reiterated Government policy on food processing as part of the Government's strategy for job creation based on the development of our greatest natural resource. I have no doubt that the Minister and his Department will pursue that objective with the same dedication and enthusiasm for development which he has displayed over the past 12 months.

This is a challenging time to be in public life and it is encouraging to note that national problems which up to a year ago seemed insurmountable can now be tackled and resolved. It is also satisfying to note the goodwill existing at all levels of society in relation to the corrective action which the Government are taking in the national interest. There can be no doubt that Government action and the positive Government policies of the past year have led to the creation of an economic environment in which agriculture can plan, expand and develop in the future. I refer specifically to the very substantial drop in interest rates and the control of inflation, two factors which have had a detrimental effect on the development of farming over the past decade. It now looks as if this environment will continue, and perhaps even improve, in the future and it is, therefore, a good time to plan the future development of the industry and to that extent the introduction of this Bill is timely.

One of the great challenges facing the new Authority, particularly the research side, is the need for research into alternative farming enterprises and diversification and research into existing agricultural products. Unless we succeed in meeting this challenge there is no real future for agricultural development and expansion in this country. The oversupply of the conventional products such as milk, cereals and sugar beet — and their control under the existing quota system — means that diversification and new product development are essential.

I should like to say to the Minister that the new Authority should be conscious of the social aspect in relation to retaining the maximum number of farm family units. It is important, and socially desirable, to maintain a reasonable balance between urban and rural development and the retention of the family farm unit is an essential part of that objective.

In conclusion I should like to say that if there is one single factor more than any other which is likely to undermine the short or indeed the long term development of agriculture, and consequently the economy, it is the dramatic decline in the beef cow herd. Projections would seem to indicate that the herd will be reduced to a level of 250,000. I do not have to remind anybody here who has an interest in the development of agriculture of the significance of that reduction so far as agriculture and the economy are concerned because it automatically leads to a corresponding reduction in terms of the number of calves born and this in turn is reflected in the beef industry, an area in which we have plans for the future development of food processing and also in relation to the contribution which the livestock exports — be they processed or otherwise — will make to the future development of our industry.

I am glad to have had the opportunity of saying these few brief words in relation to the Bill before the House. I wish it success. If properly utilised, it can be the foundation on which future agricultural development can take place.

Listening to each Government speaker I am reminded of a similar situation, it is as if a dog had suddenly discovered the bone of fiscal rectitude and merrily and gaily worried it to death and with each passing day, and each passing phase, recognised more and more the merit of such a bone but having only recently discovered it I can well understand that. I say that, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, because I cannot really understand how a dramatic cut in the funding of a particular industry, albeit under the guise of increased efficiency, can improve the service or the delivery of that industry.

I have listened with interest on the intercom to the debate on this Bill so far and I am amazed that speakers seem to come forward, again and again, setting forth the merit of a reduced budget in order to improve the efficiency of an industry which is now recognised by everybody as a linchpin of our economy. Everybody will recognise that efficiency is called for and everybody on this side of the House will fully accept that any move towards efficiency or rationalisation or greater delivery of services to the people to whom the services are directed is to be welcomed. However, I must ask a few pertinent questions. It is accepted, and is repeated as often as possible, that the food industry is now of major significance to us. I am sure the Minister of State, whom I am glad to see in the House, will explain the matter further at a later stage. I have not yet heard an explanation as to how at this very crucial time for that industry, which is in many ways a fledgling given the competition it has to face, this so-called rationalisation will improve the situation from the industry's point of view. I think that rationalisation in this case is another name for a dramatic reduction in the budget.

We all accept that cuts must take place if we are to live within our means but we should be very careful as to the extent we go with these cuts particularly in an industry which is very much the foundation stone of our economy. If we are to live up to all the expectations, and the aspirations of the Ministers themselves, the proposal, in many ways, which is now before the House will do irreparable damage to achieving the goals we have set and to which we all aspire. That being the case I would have liked to have had more information from the Minister when he spoke in the House on Thursday last. I would like to have had more information from him on what his "down-the-road plans" are for the industry. We all know about the aspirations and we can all set out the platitudes but I would like to know what the nitty gritty is all about. I would like to know exactly what these proposals will mean in terms of the delivery of a research, education and advisory service to the industry, to the agricultural industry in general, to the farming industry and to the food processing industry. I have serious doubts as to whether it is anything more than a budgetary cut. I think that is all it is but it is well cloaked in a proposal to rationalise and create greater efficiency within the industry. If it is the former, the consequences will be disastrous.

I will now refer the House to a paper produced by Tom Arnold, senior economist in ACOT, in which he states that there is inadequate recognition of the contribution which the agricultural and food industry is making to the national economy. He argues, and I quote, "that the scale of the cuts in agricultural support services may represent a strategic mistake — it could undermine the contribution which the major wealth producing sector of the economy can make to national recovery."

Can the Deputy give a more specific reference to the origin of the paper?

It is a paper produced by Mr. Tom Arnold, Senior Economist, ACOT and is entitled "Is Agriculture Being Written Off?" Further bits of information emerge by perusing that paper. This was referred to by the previous speaker in a roundabout way. Mr. Arnold goes on to say that:

The gross value of visible exports increased from £4.1 billion in 1980 to about £9.5 billion in 1986. Over £7 billion comes from so called `modern' industries, many of which were attracted by our low tax regime for manufacturing industry and the remaining £2.5 billion came from agricultural exports.

Critics of the agricultural industry point to that and say: "Look how poorly agriculture is doing". What they fail to recognise is that agriculture is 85 per cent home supported. It is self sufficient in terms of raw materials. Everything that is called for within the industry is either produced at home or does not cost the economy a great deal. As everybody will recognise the element of repatriation of profits in this area is very small. The paper goes on to state and this is important in the context of the discussion which is taking place:

The import content of many of the modern industries is substantial. An IDA study of manufacturing industry in Ireland in 1983 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.

Almost 90 per cent of the raw materials for that industry were sourced here at home. That is something we might well overlook in our efforts to create an important industry and to target the markets that are available in Europe and the rest of the world.

I hope I am wrong but I am fearful that within the provisions of the Bill before us there could be a trap where we could find ourselves caught in a situation where insufficient finances are available to this very vital industry at a time when they are most required. If that were to happen, and I have no wish that it would, I implore the Minister and his Minister of State to do all in their power at Cabinet level to divert the necessary funding to this industry and to ensure that we have the kind of return for effort and investment I have just mentioned, and which was outlined in Mr. Arnold's paper.

Further, and much more interesting, on page 3 he says:

For every £100 of exports generated by manufacturing industry, £54 is paid for raw material imports and £17 goes overseas by way of profit repatriation, leaving £29 net within the Irish economy. For every £100 of agricultural exports, imports account for £18 and profit repatriations are negligible, leaving over £80 in the economy. When the import content and profit repatriation of industrial exports are taken into account, it will be seen (Table 1) that the `net exports' value of agriculture (£2.05 billion) is very close to that of industrial exports (£2.28 billion).

When all the inputs, the sources of the inputs, the repatriation of profits and so on are taken into account, and one balances against the other, our agricultural industry is still on a par with all other combinations. That is something I hope is not lost in the course of this debate.

Let us face it. Many products become obsolete but I doubt if food will become obsolete. As long as there are people, they will have to eat and every passing day brings new trends and a greater emphasis on research and development. If we omit that factor or overlook any of those areas, we will leave ourselves open to the strong thrust of competition which is coming from our competitors in Europe and elsewhere. If we are not awake to that threat at this stage, if we allow our financial position to override our judgment in terms of what is required for the industry over the next number of years, we may pay a very heavy and harsh price for it. I would hope that within the ambit of the Bill the Minister can ensure that sufficient emphasis is placed on the importance of the industry and be in a position to make available to the industry the necessary research and advisory services that are required. If that does not happen, another problem arises.

If I might digress for a moment, many critics of agriculture and the agricultural industry — I have often heard them in this House — refer to the easy lifestyle enjoyed by the agricultural community; yet, amazingly the number of people leaving the land increases every year. If it is such a bed of roses, why are so many people leaving? It is not because everything is getting easier or the profits are greater. There is a lesson to be learned if we look at the facts and figures which are available.

At this time more than ever before, it is necessary to deploy to the farming community all the research, training and advice we can. Everything we can lay at their disposal is important so that they may adapt to the changing scene and be prepared, as our competitors are, to venture into new areas. If they do so, they must have at their disposal the necessary back-up services and information.

Another area which worries me is this. When cuts take place they appear to take place where they hurt most, where the actual delivery to the services take place, right at the delivery point; in other words, the inverted pyramid system. This means that under various headings we can arrive at a system where we have strong administrative bodies, a huge administration but on the ground where the services are most required the numbers seem to diminish. That is what is happening with AFT and ACOT. On the one hand, rationalisation is proposed but, on the other hand, it is very vague. We have a brand new rather longish name, something of a misnomer I would have thought. If it is meant to mean doctrine, one could put various interpretations on the doctrine. Nonetheless, the proposal is vague. It does not set out what is likely to happen in one or two years time. Many employees of the research stations have opted for redundancies but what will happen to the stations? Will they be closed down? Will they become white elephants? What worthwhile proposals are there to utilise those stations and to continue the important work they carry out? A number of alternatives come to mind.

In my constituency the peatland experimental station at Lullymore produced a number of fine documents and papers on their research into peatland and other alternatives, such as the utilisation of the terrain for tourist purposes. It would be a terrible pity to allow those stations to die and to allow the work and the research which were undertaken in those stations to be forgotten, to be buried in archives and never to see the light of day again. I hope that kind of thing does not happen. The availability of and the advice from the officers in those stations is very well known and their willingness to become involved with the local community has been long established. I hope whatever proposals the Minister has in mind he will take account of the tremendous work done in places like Lullymore, Moorepark and so on and that he will not dismantle these stations so that they are no longer a worthwhile entity.

Last Thursday the Minister said at column 318 of the Official Report:

The Government intend to provide our farmers, especially our younger farmers with at least as good an access to the knowledge and skills they will require as that available to their counterparts abroad.

That is a point I mentioned already. I am not so sure that is the way to do it. I am not entirely convinced that they will have available to them the same degree of services and back-up as their counterparts. The Minister goes on to say:

That is the reason we are expressly assigning a degree of priority to training and education in the merger Bill. We are attaching a similar priority to food research and development as a responsibility of the new agency. The two are complementary and the food processing sector is faced with ever changing consumer preferences and fierce competition on both home and foreign markets. The priority to be given to entrants into farming will not mean the exclusion of the advisory services, as has been suggested, but rather will ensure that the advisory services will be put to best effect by fully trained farmers and utilised in a cost-effective way.

It will be cost-effective anyway, because the budget will cut the allocation by 43 per cent, but the delivery of the services in tandem with that cost efficiency is the question that has yet to be answered.

In general one recognises and accepts any move towards efficiency and we accept that savings must be made where possible but it should not be to the detriment of a key industry or at a time when a greater dependency than ever is placed on that key industry in the economy. It is important to be efficient but it does not always follow that cutting our budgets dramatically will lead to cost effectiveness. It could lead to disaster.

In relation to the delivery of services to the people for whom they were intended Ella Shanahan inThe Irish Times on Tuesday, 1 December 1987 said:

In 1987, the Department of Agriculture will have spent £58 million of its £182 million estimate on salaries, wages and allowances. Next year, it will have £57 million for salaries, wages and allowances, a cut of just 2 per cent.

Meanwhile, ACOT, the farm advisory and education service, which this year had an £18.3 million allocation from the Department for general purposes, and the Agricultural Institute, which had an allocation of £16.7 million, must take a 43 per cent cut to £20 million between them.

I have doubts as to whether progress along that road will make an improvement in the efficiency of the industry. We could have an inverted pyramid system operating where all the administration is at the top but the Minister and the people who deliver the goods and services are at the bottom.

I am sure the Minister has already read the paper produced by Tom Arnold and I hope he will bear it in mind when considering this Bill. I would ask him not to dismantle the research and advisory services so that they become useless. I implore him not to proceed down the road of fiscal rectitude to the extent that he loses sight of the important contribution made by ACOT and AFT in the past. The Minister should recognise that the replacement body should be given teeth and full powers so that its services are available for the economy. If they are not, the economy will suffer.

Anything we can do at the present time to generate employment must be welcomed. It is generally recognised that research, marketing and product development are areas crucial to the food industry. That being the case, they are crucial to our exports and to the economy. Because of that, the Government have no alternative but to continue to invest in that area in the future. If we do not invest in that area we are cutting the proverbial stick to beat ourselves. I am sure that on Committee Stage I will have further matters to raise on this issue.

Mr. Kitt

I am glad of the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I am glad the Minister has amalgamated agricultural advisory training and research services. While other Ministers have talked about doing this, Deputy Michael O'Kennedy has actually brought in a Bill. This is the appropriate way to proceed with agriculture and it should have been done many years ago. One of the philosophies of the Fianna Fáil Party is to encourage as many as possible to stay in family farming. It is very difficult for farmers nowadays as decisions are made in Europe which put constraints on the family farm. There are constraints on the production of milk, beef and cereals. As the Minister said, the days of just surviving are gone. There is fierce competition and the family farm unit must compete with the best. Given leadership, our farmers have always been able to do a good job. I congratulate the Minister and his Ministers of State on the leadership they are giving to agriculture.

I am glad that this Bill gives priority to training and education and to the food research and development areas. These two areas are complementary and it is important that they be given priority. I do not forget the whole area of advice. Perhaps the very good advice that is available has been unevenly spread: some farmers have said that they have not been able to get advice. Farmers nowadays know that they have to look for advice. There is a question of a payment which farmers have made for this. I hope the advice is worth paying for.

I have the greatest of admiration for the people who work in ACOT. I was a member of a committee of agriculture. Under this Bill the committees of agriculture will be no more, but members of these committees can still give a great deal of local knowledge and advice, and I hope that advice whether through a body or committee will be available for farmers.

One of the biggest problems in agriculture is declining herd numbers which has been one of the topics in all the debates we have heard on agriculture. People involved in the meat factories and the food area have made representations to the Department concerning the suckler cow scheme and the possibility of a reduction in live exports, and have even suggested the import of calves and what is known as the once bred heifer scheme the possibility of taking a calf from a maiden heifer before she is sold off for beef, or a modified form of single suckling. The Western Research Centre at Belclare, Tuam, have done a great deal of work on this. People like Michael Diskin, Tom McEvoy and Dr. Joe Sreenan have carried out research on the impact on beef output and financial returns of twinning in the beef herd. They have identified the scarcity of calves as the greatest single limitation to expanding beef production and have pointed out that increased twin calving showed increased output as well as biological and economic efficiency in suckler beef enterprises. The An Foras Talúntais magazine indicates that at national level inducing twin calving in 100,000 beef and 100,000 dairy cows will give extra output of £92 million at the farm gate with an export value of £103 million. Those figures show how important this type of research is. In their conclusion they have shown how serious this whole question is to farmers. They have carried out much research on difficult calvings and calf deaths.

The Minister has pointed out, rightly, the very great necessity for educational training. He and many speakers in this debate have referred to the great work done by Macra na Feirme. Recently, addressing the Macra na Feirme national council meeting, he pointed out that he as Minister sponsored vigorously the case for the reintroduction of the scheme of installation aid for young farmers. I am glad the budget provided for the reintroduction of that scheme and I hope the new authority, Teagasc, when up and running will put young farmers' training at the top of their priority list of tasks. Half the cost of the installation aid scheme will be met a year in arrears from the EC Guidance Fund. The Government have stated that this scheme with the acceleration of land transfer will be of great benefit to young farmers.

One of the most encouraging things the Minister for Agriculture and Food has done since he took office was to negotiate in the EC for extra funding for various schemes of which the installation aid scheme is only one. I was glad to hear him announce that on 5 November 1987 he lodged a new proposal with the Commission concerning the disadvantaged areas scheme, one of the schemes which are of great benefit in the west, especially where extra headage payments are paid in severely handicapped areas. If the Minister is sucessful in getting a 70 per cent refund other areas can be brought in. I understand that approximately £60 million is paid out in headage payments and at the moment 50 per cent of that is refundable from Brussels. A higher refund, which seems possible in other countries in the EC, will mean headage payments across the board can be paid in all the western counties. The Minister has also succeeded in getting the western drainage scheme extended until the end of 1988, a considerable achievement which gives farmers to the end of this year, to finish drainage works which were held up because of the very bad weather of 1985 and 1986. We have also a proposal for a new western package. These are welcome announcements. The most important point about these types of schemes is that the money is going directly to the farmers. We have heard so often schemes announced when much of the benefit has been taken up in administration costs.

One area being investigated is agri-tourism. I was glad to hear our MEPs from all parties during recent debates in Europe talking about the way the Guidance Fund through FEOGA will enable them to promote many tourism activities through this kind of agri-business. I hope the idea of holiday making on farms will be promoted and taken up by farmers. We have constraints on every commodity now and new ways must be found for farmers to make income. I heard yesterday on RTE a woman who rang in to "Liveline" and described herself as a farmer's wife. She spoke of the difficulty of making ends meet and the whole question of farming being so time-consuming. Sometimes we forget how time-consuming it is and how a whole family can be involved in a particular farming enterprise. Therefore, these announcements of help from the Guidance Fund for agritourism are important.

In the past Ministers for Agriculture just talked about providing a great deal of money and so solving many problems in agriculture. Surely the greatest example of that is the disease eradication programme. I had a question down to the Minister at the end of 1987 to which he replied that gross expenditure on the whole programme up to the end of 1987 was £390 million. Even after taking away the receipts for the sale of reactors, recoupment from the EC and the disease levies which farmers have paid, we are still talking about a net expenditure of £260 million, a very high figure. That does not take into consideration an extra administration cost of £137 million. These figures remind us that we have spent a great deal of money on the scheme but are not making the type of progress we want on disease eradication. I hope the Minister will be able to take this on board and will be more successful than other Ministers have been in regard to it.

I welcome the Bill and hope that the merging of these two bodies, AFT and ACOT into this new body Teagasc will be very successful in giving leadership and proper direction to agriculture.

Let me start on perhaps not the most serious point of this merger Bill before us but on one that must come between many of us — including those in the industry — and our night's sleep, and that is, the name of the Bill. I implore the Minister not to foist the proposed name on what I hope will be a very successfully merged support group for the most important of all our industries. Other alternatives have been suggested. I have yet to meet anybody who favours the proposed name and I have yet to meet two people who pronounce it the same. It is not likely to be one which will do credit to what we hope will be a very worthy body.

Two alternative names have been suggested and I am sure that there are many more also. I want to mention two for the record. One is AFDA, the Agricultural Food and Development Authority, and the other is ACOTT, An Comhairle Oiliúna Taighde agus Talmhaíochta. I like the second name because I think the present ACOT have very successfully marketed their logo and it is out there in the forefront of the public in both urban and rural Ireland. It stands for something specifically related to what is good in agriculture. By adding a second "T" it would be very easy to distinguish what this Bill is all about in the minds of the public and, in particular, the farming public. As I said this is not the most important of issues but it is important that whatever the Bill is called readily identifies in the minds of the public what the Minister is trying to achieve. The different pronounciations of the name Teagasc do little for the contents of the Bill which I support in principle.

From 1960 to 1980 output doubled in our agricultural sphere, we quadrupled our use of fertilisers generally, we drained over one-third of our land and we modernised most of our farmyards. By any standards this was an extremely successful achievement for our country. Now in the mid-eighties we are faced with a different situation — market saturation, super-levies, quotas and with limited ability to increase production, particularly of primary commodities. However, the farming community continue to need more than ever soundly based research and educational advice as to how to proceed for the next few decades in relation to the most important of all our industries.

To date, AFT have provided the scientific research and ACOT have given the educational advice. We will be the only country in northern Europe who will have merged these two functions in the joint body we are now proposing. I do not say that by way of criticism but it is a fact that other countries in northern Europe have not proceeded along this road and have not thought it necessary to do so. I hope we have thought out clearly what we are doing and why we are doing it. I can see substantial benefits provided the new body are not choked at the start by insufficient funding.

Probably the most critical issue we have got to address in relation to this Bill is whether it can get out of the starting gate at all given the fact that there has been a reduction of over 40 per cent in funding for the two bodies for 1988. Many of the other contributors have been over this ground in detail but I think there comes a point below which we cannot get either an efficient advisory service or research service to back up that advice to the farming community generally. The only sin AFT committed over the years was that their public relations were extremely bad. Perhaps those in ACOT and some of the top farmers knew exactly what was going on in An Foras Talúntais but certainly the general mass of the public had very little idea what was being done behind the doors of the various institutes around the country. The fact is that marvellous work was done, work that kept us to the forefront in research and scientific development not just in this country but in Europe also. It is very easy to forget exactly how far the services of ACOT reached and how many countries they were involved in. I should like to remind the House of their achievements in that regard.

I can be forgiven perhaps if I draw many of my examples and much of what I say from my experience of the institute at Johnstown Castle which is on my doorstep in County Wexford. Anything I say pertaining to Johnstown Castle I am sure other Deputies with a similar knowledge of their local institutes could say likewise. I want to give some examples of how far the expertise of Johnstown Castle has penetrated European markets and indeed markets further afield. They have been involved on behalf of the EC in drawing up the forage map of Europe. They have been involved with the EC on the feasibility of using Italian rye grass to produce sugar suitable for fermentation to ethanol. They have been involved in projects in many other countries further afield. They have worked on agricultural projects from two months up to a year in Lesotho, Sudan, the Azores, Trinidad and Zimbabwe. Students from some of these countries have also received specialist training at Johnstown Castle to enable them to undertake long-term management of development projects in their own countries.

Our standing, particularly in the research field, is extremely high and one I am sure the Minister is as proud of as I am. Their sin is that the rest of the country, the general public, do not know and do not appreciate the regard they have been held in by others. Like many other issues here, perhaps they are looked on more favourably outside this country than within it. That is their fault: they have been a little reticent in blowing their own trumpet and in telling the public in layman's terms exactly what they are doing and that what they are doing is vital for the future of the agri-economy and the agri-business generally.

My colleague Deputy Jim O'Keeffe outlined his views quite clearly in relation to his support for most of the Bill and also his reservations about other issues. I should like to support his call for the inclusion of the Farm Development Service, Bord Glas and the research arm of the Department with the new farm authority. If we can achieve the concept of a total one-stop-shop servicing the total needs of the farmers, big and small, and the agri-industry generally, this will provide the sort of service they will need to see them safely into the next century. The issues facing farmers today are different from those they faced in the seventies and early eighties. We will have to be highly competitive and be able to produce our primary products and value-added products with the same high technology as is being done by our main competitors, particularly those in Europe. If the advice and research is not forthcoming, if our research arm is not ahead of the posse and our competitors, there will only be a very short time-lag before our farmers and the agri-business will pay the price.

Perhaps AFT have not sold themselves as they should have. However, we should remind ourselves of the extent of their involvement throughout the various arms of the institute. Doctor Pierce Ryan, the present director did this in a statement he made in December. May I say as an aside that Dr. Ryan is from Piercestown, County Wexford, virtually the same parish that Johnstown Castle is in, that he is the second director of An Foras Talúntais and it looks like he is going to be the last. Indeed the first director of An Foras Talúntais was another Piercestown man, Dr. Tom Walsh, whose eminence has gone far and wide beyond the shores of this country. He has been recognised in my home town of Wexford by the conferring of the freedom of the Borough for his services to agriculture and the agri-industry generally, a most deserved honour. I think I said that Dr. Pierce Ryan was from Piercestown, he is not, but he is a Taghmon man which is not too far from Piercestown. We are very proud of both these Wexford men and of their contribution to An Foras Talúntais over the years since it was founded in 1958.

As I have said, the only hope for the agri-industry is more efficient production of better quality commodities generally together with market led development of new and improved products. This will demand a high level of technology based on sound research. Dr. Ryan pointed out in December the broad area that An Foras Talúntais contribute to in the research field. Research carried out at Johnstown Castle on alternative sources of nitrogen have saved Irish farmers over £15 million per annum. In addition research there on sulphur has identified one million hectares of grassland which can increase production by over 15 per cent or by an extra £75 million per year for the expenditure of a mere £5 million on fertiliser. On the dairying front, Dr. Ryan has pointed out that the low cost, highly efficient production systems developed at Moorepark, Fermoy have been worth millions of pounds to dairy farmers. These farmers acknowledge this by their continued support to AFT on a voluntary basis to the tune of over £1 million every year. He also mentioned the fact that research by AFT provided vital information in securing the 4.6 per cent derogation from the milk superlevy in 1984. Indeed my colleague, the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Austin Deasy, as Minister for Agriculture, pulled off what was considered a major coup at the time at the Brussels table in getting this derogation for our dairy farmers. Again, I do not think the value of that derogation has really been appreciated. Perhaps with the wisdom of hindsight we can all see what an achievement it was. However, I remember at the time, if I can be forgiven for saying so, that the Minister and his colleagues when they were on this side of the House, were not rapturous about that success. We should remind ourselves just what an achievement it was. The country, and particularly the dairy farmers, owe a debt of gratitude to Deputy Austin Deasy for this triumph. In fact that derogation was worth some £400 million to the nation. It takes a lot to find £400 million. It takes a long time to earn and takes a lot of producing in terms of GNP. Yet over a conference table, with a few late night sessions and some hard-headed negotiations Deputy Deasy was not deflected from the path he set out on and came home with the 4.6 per cent derogation for Ireland.

We must also recall research breakthroughs in silage preservation by researchers at Grange, County Meath as we discuss the proposed merger of ACOT and AFT. The silage preservation research has saved farmers over £7 million a year and it has saved them about £12 million in imports. This is as a direct result of AFT's work. Indeed it has resulted in an Irish product directly replacing an imported product, the best of what we want for Ireland in the future with regard to import substitution.

With a reduction in cow numbers and the general shortage of calves the outlook for the beef industry could be disastrous. However, perhaps in the future there is light at the end of the tunnel, thanks to work being done by AFT generally. The necessary information on once bred heifers is available and it has been pointed out to farmers the direction in which to go. AFT's research on nutrition and feed formulation has given a 15 per cent improvement in the efficiency of pig production. This has saved producers about £15 million in feed costs annually in terms of today's prices. The AFT station at Oak Park has bred a new seed potato, Cara, and this has saved virtually the seed potato industry from extinction. This seed potato provides 6 per cent of the British seed potato market and it is the top variety in Israel, thanks to the work done at Oak Park. The ordinary Irish punters and, let us be honest, most of us in this House, would not be aware of these facts if they were not drawn to our attention. In 1985, Cara, the seed potato developed at Oak Park earned over £200,000 in plant breeders' royalties.

It is not only farmers who benefit from research done by AFT. As I have said, the dairy industry have benefited enormously. A new cheese starter perfected and supplied by Moorepark and used to produce 70 per cent of all cheddar cheese in Ireland is now the subject of a new commercial business in Cork. AFT research has played a vital role in the successful development of the mushroom industry. Since 1982 1,000 new jobs have been created in the industry and exports of fresh and processed mushrooms are now valued at over £17 million per annum. As Dr. Ryan has reminded us, for the future agricultural research and development must provide farmers, food processors and policy makers, that is us in this House, with the knowledge needed to adjust to national and international economic forces in the future. As the Minister is only too well aware, the international forces now more than ever dictate what the future will hold for our farmers, big and small.

Research and development must be concerned also with the effects of technology on the health and safety of producers, with the nutrition and health of our consumers, with the impact of production practices on the environment and with the general quality of life. The future for Ireland, particularly with regard to the value added in the agri-business area, the future of our tourism industry and the future of the marine industry, for example, depend to an enormous extent on how we handle our environment and how we appreciate it as a major national resource. For many years many of us on all sides of this House have given lip service to the importance of our natural resources generally. Far too rarely, I am afraid, have parties been able to deliver or have been able to turn aspirations into facts. We have not been able to turn them into hard pounds, shillings and pence which create jobs and involve import sub-which create jobs and involve import substitution and generally point to what we all want for the future of this country.

The Minister's proposal to merge these two bodies, as I said at the outset, meets with general support from most people concerned for the future of agriculture and the agri-business. As I have said also, we are the only country in northern Europe to merge both the education and advisory service with the research wing. I suppose it would be easy to ask how our contribution and how the money we spend on research and advice compares with that spent in other countries. Again I refer to the recent AFT publication and a most important article on the spending of different countries and different continents on these most important facets. In other words, what is the balance between research and advisory services in countries and what percentage of agricultural output is devoted to providing research and advice?

Yale University has done a most interesting study on this area, going back to the fifties right through to the eighties. Most countries of northern Europe, those most akin to ourselves so perhaps we can ally ourselves to them with regard to comparisons, have had a steady increase in the percentage of agricultural output that is going on research. Corresponding with this has been a reasonable decline in the amount of money spent in the advice area. The reason for this is quite obvious. However, I must say that the reverse is true in Ireland. We have had a decline in the percentage of agricultural output which has gone on research, with a proportionate increase in the amount that has been spent on our advisory services.

Debate adjourned.