It is only neighbourly co-operation. Johnstown Castle's contribution to agriculture predates considerably the establishment of AFT and on that basis I would like to be allowed some parochial reminiscences. Johnstown Castle estate, four miles from Wexford town, was founded by the Esmonde family in early Norman times. They were dispossessed by Oliver Cromwell after 1649. Within a generation after Cromwell the estate passed in to the hands of the Grogans. History repeated itself in 1798 when once more the family were on the Irish side. The then owner, Cornelius Grogan, was hanged together with Bagenal Harvey and others on Wexford bridge for complicity in the rebellion. Grogan had been one of the main shareholders in the company which had built this first bridge over the Slaney in 1790.
Fortunately, the Grogan family managed to recover the estate after its forfeiture and by the middle of the eighteen hundreds are to be found actively involved again in the main developments in the Wexford area. These included such projects as the reclamation of the sloblands in Wexford Harbour and at Kilmore Quay as well as the building of the first harbour at Kilmore Quay. On their own estate the Grogans built schools as well as houses for their employees. The great famine of the 1840s had little impact on the area because of the enlightened and broadly based agriculture in the Johnstown area.
The last private resident at Johnstown Castle was Lady Maurice Fitzgerald who died in 1942. She gave a lifetime of service to the local community in the area of public health. Her grandson, Mr. Victor Laken, and her daughter-in-law, Mrs. Jefferies, presented the estate to the Irish nation for use as an agricultural college and research centre in 1945. The reasons they had to present it would do little to enhance the story, so we will just make the point. The Johnstown Castle Agricultural College Act, 1945 contains the details of the gift. Many of the staff who had worked for Lady Maurice were taken on to the staff of the new college. The last of these, Mr. Thomas Kelly, retired only in 1987 after 51 years at Johnstown. The pride these staff had in the history and achievements of Johnstown as a private estate was carried over in the new role as a national soils and grassland research centre. Many new research and technical staff were taken on and trained both at home and abroad and soon established Johnstown's reputation in soils research.
When the Agricultural Institute was founded in 1958 Johnstown provided their first director, Dr. Tom Walsh, as well as many of the skilled staff who established the new research facilities at Oakpark, Grange, Kinsealy and Moore-park. Another wave of young graduates was taken on in the early sixties who now form the backbone of the present research programme at Johnstown. They are ably assisted by an excellent team of technicians. Wexford and, indeed, the country can be well proud of the service the staff in Johnstown have given. Through attendance at conferences, publication of papers and participation in joint EC research programmes, they have made Johnstown known as a centre of excellence in the areas of land appraisal, soil fertility and trace elements, to name but a few.
The study of soil types, soil fertility and the lime and fertiliser requirements of grassland and the main tillage crops has been the core activity at Johnstown in the last 20 years or so. Parallel with this, methods for soil and plant analysis have been developed and tested and then put into practice on a routine basis. The popularity of the analytical services which have been developed are now such that around 100,000 soil samples and 30,000 plant samples are received each year from farmers in agri-business. Regular exchange of standard samples with other major European laboratories and continuous improvement of laboratory equipment has enabled Johnstown to compete with the best. In fact a new block of laboratories was opened in the seventies.
The staff at Johnstown are now justifiably concerned that lack of funds and staff may strangle future progress. In these fast moving times information comes only to those research centres and researchers who have something to give in return. A great deal of the exchange of scientific ideas and information takes place in contact at meetings and informal visits to research centres.
Last year when I had the honour of being Minister of State at the Department of Finance with particular responsibility for the Office of Public Works, while on a visit to the Netherlands I met a young scientist who had worked at Johnstown for some months as a student botanist, Dr. Mattias Schouten. He became interested in Irish bogs and their conservation and he raised tremendous support for this cause in Holland. It was he who had organised the function that I was attending, namely, the handing over of the ownership of a number of intact Irish bogs to the Government. The bogs had been bought with money raised mainly by Mattias's committee in Holland. We may all recall the great pride and pleasure we experienced when our colleagues in the Netherlands, scientists and ordinary people with environmental concerns and general environmental interest, actually invested their own money to preserve some intact, raised and blanket bogs in this country. The germ of that idea started through a young student scientist studying at Johnstown on an annual exchange and becoming interested in Irish bogs. It is perhaps to date an undocumented area of Johnstown's involvement in this most worthwhile venture.
Much of the research activity at Johnstown is neither glamorous nor photogenic. I will be critical of the institute of AFT for a moment. Much of the difficulty we are now experiencing, and which has been obvious for the last few months, has arisen because the public relations of An Foras Talúntais has not been what it should be. We can accept that perhaps the scientists and the inner circle of those in the know knew what was going on and appreciated the enormous range of activities at the different centres but the average politician, the man in the street, people living in villages adjacent to these centres, had no appreciation or understanding of the contribution of these centres to the Irish economy, particularly to Irish agricultural output and indeed to environmental output and tourism also. I think AFT recognise that they were perhaps a little reticent in relation to pushing their own cause and highlighting it to the public. I am afraid this awareness has come very late. It has made our job and the job of impressing on the Minister and the Government the necessity for adequate funding and the importance of the research programme more difficult.
As I have stated, the research activity at Johnstown is neither glamorous nor photogenic. The best ways of using animal manures, the study of different types of nitrogen fertiliser and the most suitable ways of correcting zinc deficiency in cereals are some of the matters currently under investigation. Each one refers to the multi-million pound problem. If we take the example of sulphur, Johnstown researchers found that as grassland productivity was increased in some areas of the country sulphur deficiencies were starting to show. This was being compounded by a lowering of the sulphur content of fertilisers. The correction of this sulphur deficiency is reckoned to be worth about £75 million to Irish farmers each year. In other words, the results of this programme in Johnstown Castle — the knowledge of how to correct sulphur deficiency — is worth £75 million per annum to Irish farmers.
Johnstown has played a major part in other areas concerning lime, fertilisers and animal manures. The amounts of money involved in this area annually are very considerable. For example, over £300 million is spent per annum by farmers on nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium fertilisers. Animal manures — in this case we can only estimate the value in terms of increased production through their use — have cost the agricultural community £80 million. In regard to lime, we are often criticised, particularly since the lime subsidy was removed, for not using sufficient lime but about £10 million a year is spent on lime by Irish farmers. Just under £400 million is spent per annum by Irish farmers in relation to corrective action through fertilisers of one kind or another. Johnstown Castle's contribution to this area has been immense and indeed has been documented on many occasions through scientific publications both here and abroad. It is necessary not just to know what minerals or fertilisers are needed to correct deficiency but you must know, depending on the different types of soils and on weather conditions, when to spread; you must know how to spread without causing further health or environmental hazards to the community and you must know how to minimise leaching into water courses and into ground water supplies generally. All of this research has been done in Johnstown Castle.
Nitrogen fertilisers make up a major portion of these costs — as I have said, £300 million is spent on nitrogen fertilisers alone — and therefore it is most important that studies on nitrogen fixation and on the fate of nitrogen in the soil be continued. I hope this most important aspect will be recognised by the new farm body for all our sakes, particularly for the sake of the agricultural community and for the sake of our exports to Europe. There are also important public health aspects attached to nitrogen which need more study. I have referred to them briefly — the threatened pollution of ground water and our water sources generally.
In the last decade the number and variety of contract research projects have increased considerably at Johnstown. Some examples are: the forage map of Europe has been produced at Johnstown Castle for the EC; work has been done for the IDA on the agricultural implications of an electrolytic smelter at Ballylongford in County Kerry; a resource survey of the south-east coast of County Wexford was carried out for the ESB; a survey of stud farms at Tully and Barretstown Castle was carried out for the national stud and a study of the feasibility of using Italian ryegrass to produce sugars suitable for fermentation to ethanol was done for the EC.
Grass dry matter is a real commodity worth at least £1,000 million annually. It is the principal food for cattle, sheep and horses. Down the years Johnstown Castle research has played a key role in improving the productivity and management of our grassland. For the future it is certain that grass will continue to be the main source of feed for our livestock. Nonetheless, research is also being broadened to include the possibility of using grass as a feedstock for ethanol production.
Some years ago farmyard manures and slurries were considered to be a nuisance and of little value to farming. Research at Johnstown has shown that this is not the case and that, if properly recycled, they can have an annual value to farming of about £100 million. Their proper use also means that pollution of rivers, lakes and ground waters is prevented. Research work on the best ways of handling and using animal manures is still in its early stages and a lot of work is still required. A new method of injecting slurry into the soil is at present under test at Johnstown and looks like a good solution to the problem of smell associated with conventional slurry spreading.
Johnstown Castle staff have worked on various agricultural projects overseas. Projects of varying duration from two months to one year have been undertaken in Lesotho, the Sudan, the Azores, Trinidad and Zimbabwe. Students from some of these countries have also received specialist training at Johnstown to enable them to undertake long term management of development projects in their home countries.
I welcome the fact that Johnstown Castle Research Centre is included for special mention in the Bill. It is surely sensible to make full use of their excellent staff and facilities. Down the years the staff, from the top to those working in the laboratories, the technicians and those on field work in the farms, have responded to the needs of farming and agri business and built up a respected role for Johnstown as a soil and grasslands research centre of excellence.
I hope we can trust the future of Johnstown Castle which will be in the hands of this new farm Bill and the Fianna Fáil Government. I honestly feel that if everybody could be privy to the information concerning the work being done, the broad scope of that work and its relevance not just to the agriculture and food industry but also to the environment, the marine world and the tourism sector, we should have no fear for the future of Johnstown Castle. Until the Minister confirms that to be so, his ominous references to the rationalisation of countrywide physical resources for one, and the promise to concentrate on the essential services and those of lower priority secondly, make us all wonder what he has in mind, not just for Johnstown but the other centres of excellence which comprise AFT and ACOT.
We cannot be sure what the future will hold for any centre until the Minister indicates exactly what he means by an essential service. Surely the list I have outlined in terms of the achievements and research work at Johnstown must be an essential service. Grassland is the basis of agricultural production in this country. One of the basic premises of the Treaty of Rome was that we should concentrate production in areas of greatest natural advantage. The work at Johnstown Castle on soils and grasslands generally must, I contend, be classed as an essential service and I urge the Minister in replying to the Second Stage debate to confirm that this is so. Will he please indicate what services being provided by either ACOT or AFT are "of lower priority" and which does he intend to reduce to phase out altogether? Will he let us know what he has in mind?
In Wexford we are lucky enough to have another research station at Clonroche, the National Soft Fruit and Beekeeping Research Station. I do not have to remind the Minister that fruit growing technology is constantly changing. If Irish growers are to remain competitive, it is essential that they have easy access to the most cost-effective growing management systems. The results of the research programme at Clonroche are made know to growers through serving ACOT fruit advisers and by groups visiting the station. Indeed, the programme at Clonroche and its liaison with ACOT shows how effectively ACOT and AFT have been disseminating to farmers information gleaned through research at AFT.
Clonroche is the only station in the country servicing the soft fruit industry. There are approximately 900 soft fruit growers in the country, of whom about 420 are in County Wexford. They employ between 10,000 and 12,000 casual employees during the picking season. In addition, there would be another 150 employed seasonally at intake depots. I do not have to remind the Minister that fruit growing fits in well with tilling activities and provides on-farm income consolidation. In many cases fruit growing is capable of generating a second family farm income. In County Wexford between 300 and 320 hectares of strawberries are grown annually yielding 2,400 tonnes per annum, of which 1,400 tonnes are exported. We are extremely proud of our annual strawberry festival which takes place in Enniscorthy in the first week of July. An additional 280 hectares are grown for the fresh and processing markets in other regions.
Research results from abroad have to be modified and tailored to suit Irish soil and climatic conditions. We cannot make a case for abandoning our own indigenous research in the soft fruit and beekeeping areas in this country, being an island with a temperate climate, because of the differences in our climate and soils. To take on board the results of research done in other countries would not suffice as the results would not be directly applicable because many of the parts of the equation would be quite different when it comes to the Irish scene.
Clonroche continues to act as a centre of excellence in soft fruit and beekeeping setting attainable production targets for the industry. For strawberries, for example, the national average is 3.7 tonnes per acre and Clonroche yields 8.3 tonnes per acre — there is room for a lot of improvement in the national average — and for honey the national average is 17 lbs. per stock and in Clonroche they get 50 lbs. per stock.
The practical benefits of research need to be highlighted. I made this point in passing when I was talking about Johnstown and it can also be made about most of AFT: they have not sold properly to the general public what they have been doing. Unfortunately, too many of us were unaware of the enormous and most important contribution they were making to our economy. Results of trials in 1986 and 1987 producing strawberries for the April to June fresh market have clearly demonstrated that there is a growing system which will produce high quality cost effective yields capable of displacing the increasing volume of imported fruit. In addition, Clonroche has set new standards in presentation and packing for the soft fruit industry. There is now renewed confidence in growers' ability to supply the Irish consumer with the type of fruit required and at prices comparable to those offered by importing agents.
The Single European Act which, after a few hiccups, was passed by this House last May or June, confers direct responsibilities on us in this area. The European Community plant health frontier directive for intra-community trade in strawberry, raspberry and blackcurrant plants will come into effect in 1992. Plants moving in trade between member states must be accompanied by a plant health certificate. AFT provide certified nuclear stock and diagnostic support services to enable the Irish plant producer to comply with these regulations.
I could continue to emphasise the enormous contribution of Clonroche to the soft fruit industry in relation to fertilisers, pesticides and preservation generally. The station facilities at Clonroche are used for in-service training by ACOT advisers. Close contact is also maintained with the IDA, Córas Trachtála, co-operatives and commercial interests. I must ask the Minister to confirm his intentions for the future of Clonroche. Does he consider that they provide an essential service? I consider it to be an essential service, as do the soft fruit industry. It is the only station in the country providing research and advice for the soft fruit industry. Is it possible that the countrywide physical resources the Minister intends rationalising might conceivably include Clonroche? I would ask the Minister, please, to be honest and frank with us, as I requested earlier. The Minister knows exactly what he has in mind. I would ask him, please, not to quote the new Authority to me. Let us have the facts now so that we can get our act quite straight and be frank with the people on the ground on whom we depend to provide such important services for the future.
Many of us have received information by way of publications, circulars and letters of one description or another from different interested parties since this Bill was mooted and indeed since the 1988 Estimate was announced in the House last autumn. I might refer to some of them because there is tremendous merit in the information being disseminated to us as Deputies from the industry itself from, as it were, the top table to the people on the ground, to the different unions and so on; they have all rallied and promoted their causes. Frankly it is my opinion they have done what is right because none of us was sufficiently aware of the work being done on the ground by ACOT and AFT.
The views of the Agricultural Science Association were circulated in February of this year to all Members of the Oireachtas; I am sure I can assume that. They state that the position on the issue is very clear: to survive, farmers must now focus all of their expertise on efficiency, quality, marketing and good business management of their main enterprise and examine alternative income sources to supplement it. There are 30,000 farmers only, or one in five, here capable of competing in the present hostile market environment. That is quite a frightening statistic. There are a further 55,000 farmers, one in three, capable of competing if adequate support services were available to them; in other words, if the Minister's commercial intentions for this new Bill are not such that the services are priced out of the reach of those 55,000 farmers who could compete had they adequate support services. If, by commercialising all farm support structures, farm advice services, we will pitch the advice that will be coming through from our research teams to the top end of the farm market only, to the larger farmer, we will be doing the country an enormous disservice and will be writing the destiny and fate of the smaller, family farm which has been the backbone of farming here for the future.
The Agricultural Science Association go on to say that it is vital that advice and research are maintained and well funded to help farmers adjust and compete with their EC counterparts. No matter to whom one talks, or which body is presenting their views, we come back to that basic research done by Yale University, which is well documented in the latest publication from AFT — which says basically that we are now spending the lowest on agricultural research as a percentage of our agricultural output of any of our European competitors. The money we intend spending this year and in the future on agricultural research is the smallest amount of any of our European competitors. Yet all the bodies tell us, including the ASA, that we must have the advice and research well funded to allow farmers adjust and compete with their EC counterparts. The ASA say that these countries are less dependent on agriculture — we all agree there. Yet their support services are being maintained and even increased. Money spent to help farmers become self-sufficient makes better economic sense than money spent on income support when farms become non-viable. Frankly, that is the bottom line for the smaller family farms. Perhaps there is a higher percentage of them west of the Shannon but there is not a county or constituency that does not have the family farm as the basis of its economy. Perhaps we could exclude a few Dublin constituencies from that. But there is no one, even in the Dublin constituencies, who is more than one generation removed from a family farm somewhere in the country. Indeed they would be lucky if the distance they had to travel was to Dublin only or perhaps to Cork city. Too many of them, because of the non-viable position of family farms, have had to leave the country altogether. We must ensure that whatever steps we take here today, whatever measures we now put in place under the provisions of this merger Bill, will do nothing to increase that appalling problem of the number of family farms closing up shop, as it were, or of the numbers emigrating from the land. At present the figure is in the thousands per decade. If the provisions of this Bill drive more people from the land, particularly the smaller family farmer, we must re-examine them. If the Minister is pitching advice services generally, which will now be on a commercial basis, to those who can afford to pay, then he will be neglecting those most in need of that same advice. I repeat the views of the ASA: money spent to help farmers become more self-sufficient makes better economic sense that money spent on income support when farms become non-viable.
Does the Minister intend increasing expenditure on farmers' dole because he will be charging the 55,000 farmers capable of competing but who cannot afford to pay for the equivalent of what was an ACOT service? Is that what this Government intend for our family farms, the smaller farms, those on the border line of being able to compete?
Incidentally I began my contribution last week on the less serious note of pleading with the Minister not to proceed with the name of this Authority. That view is supported by the ASA and many others who have written to us. I might reiterate that plea. There are many alternatives being suggested. I suggested two last week — AFDA, the Agricultural Food and Development Association, or ACOTT, with a second "T", to allow for the inclusion of the Irish word for research "Taighde". Anything would be better than Teagasc. Frankly, if Members of this House have difficulty in relation to that how will it be sold as an acceptable logo to the man in the street, to the public generally? ACOT, the present body, have been very effective in selling their logo. We are all now familiar with their radio advertisements which come on at 9 o'clock in the morning, at 6.30 in the evening after "Farm Diary" and the other suitable points at which they are slotted in on the media. Their logo and so on has become acceptable in terms of the service they are endeavouring to deliver and indeed in terms of the excellence of what they have been doing. Whatever the Minister decides I would ask him: please, not the name of the Authority at present proposed in the Bill. That is all I ask.
The Agricultural Science Association state that all EC farm development schemes should be administered by the new Authority — I see they are even calling the new Authority AFDA — which would require the incorporation of the farm development service of the Department of Agriculture and Food. I have gone further, as my colleague and party spokesman, Deputy Jim O'Keeffe did. Not only should the farm development service be included with the new farm Authority but so also should An Bord Glas and the research arm of the Department.
The Agricultural Science Association continue to say that the one-stop shop concept would ensure more cost-effective utilisation of scarce support services for farmers. They also plead for the inclusion of the farm apprenticeship board in the new farm body. That is worthy of consideration and its implications should be teased out. Indeed we should have the benefit of the Minister's thinking in relation to it. The ASA, and indeed many others, decry the undue Ministerial control of the day-to-day operational decisions and insist that this be removed. I join them in that plea. Otherwise the Authority will not be dynamic and scarce resources will be used up in bureaucracy; that is self-evident. AFT and ACOT have not suffered unnecessarily from interference from undue bureaucracy. I would hate to see a layer of administration or interference now injected into these merged bodies which would mop up extremely scarce resources.
They make the point that, in addition to food research, which must be market-led and funded by the industry, research in relevant production areas must be encouraged and intensified, otherwise we will be importing out-of-date technology from our competitors. This basically comes back to what the Minister considers to be an "essential service." I take that expression from page 6 of the Minister's Second Stage speech. Without the benefit of knowledge of what the Minister or the Department consider to be an essential service we really cannot debate the issue. The Minister said that those services of lower priority will be reduced or phased out. Can he please indicate to us how he gives priority to the present services both in ACOT and AFT so that we will know what type of judgment to make in relation to his proposals?
A most interesting document has been circulated by ACOT. It was compiled by Tom Arnold, a senior economist with ACOT and many of the points he makes are worthy of consideration and a response from the Minister. Perhaps the most pertinent point comes back again to the budgetary issue of the new Bill. Mr. Arnold insists that a question which must be asked is whether those responsible for this decision — and this refers to the severe cutbacks in the budget — seriously underestimated the contribution which agriculture can make to economic growth. It appears that the Minister has, and to be fair it appears that he must have been, advised along these lines by the Department.
Mr. Arnold goes on to remind us all of the contribution which agriculture and food are currently making to economic growth in this country. We can agree with him when he says that it is by far our single most important industry in terms of the share of national income, exports and employment which it generates. The Minister in his Second Stage speech referred to the primacy of agriculture in the economy. Is that reference only aspirational? That is all it can be unless the Minister is prepared, if I may use the vernacular, to put his money where his mouth is. There is no point in talking about what you want for the Ireland of tomorrow, what is the best way to encourage eocnomic growth, what is the best way to stimulate GNP and which sector make the best contribution to GNP, if you choke the very body that the agricultural and food sectors will depend on for the future. They should be advised on the market-led approach and the new technological advances they should be using.
The Minister is proposing to establish a bankrupt body who if they were the private sector today would be insolvent and gone long ago. He is proposing to establish this body to help an industry that he and all of us agree has primacy on the Irish scene. I do not have to remind the Minister that exports play a vital role in paying for essential imports and in earning the foreign currency needed to repay our massive foreign debt. The £2.5 billion that this country earns from agricultural exports is in danger of being sacrificed by a bankrupt organisation which the Minister intends to establish.
One billion pounds is earned in tourism revenue. Tourists do not come to this country for the sun; they come for activity-based holidays or those who have gone abroad to earn a living come back to visit their families. Let us take those who come here to enjoy our environment and activity-based special interest holidays based on our natural resources which we who have been born and bred in this country all too often take for granted — our green fields, clean air, clean waters, beaches and beautiful forests. Perhaps we do not see these resources any longer. We look at them but we do not see them because they have been around us for too long but those who visit Ireland every year to appreciate these natural amenities see them all too clearly.
The research that is now needed in terms of the best way of maximising agricultural output and, at the same time, protecting our environment from the consequential waste disposal problems that result from intensive agriculture is perhaps one of the most essential services being given by AFT at present. ACOT, based on the information and research of AFT, have a most important farm environment service in existence. Will this be considered an essential service, to use the Minister's words? Will the farm environment service be a service that will survive the merger? Will there be room for it in the new Bill? Are the services which advise and help farmers in relation to pollution, the difficulties associated with the intensification of farm practices and the added pressures on the environment in relation to waste disposal considered to be essential services?
The Bill is but aspirational from beginning to end. In fact, it is probably very like the Bill that Mark Clinton might have introduced in 1977, a Bill that the Fianna Fáil Minister of the day opposed. Thank God for U-turns, at least we are all on the same lines on this occasion, if we have the money to see it through. The Bill is aspirational. There is nothing in it that anyone could possibly object to in terms of our hopes, wishes and aspirations for the future and, in particular, for the agricultural sector but there are no answers to the essential questions in relation to whether there is a future for this new body.
ACOT, in one of their documents, say we should prevent silage pollution. These are excellent documents and they provide excellent information. I accept that basically farmers are only now awakening to the difficulties of managing their units and farms and, at the same time, protecting the environment. In addition to what the food industry will demand, this will probably be one of the most essential research areas for the future. Primary products have reached saturation level in Europe but the demands in terms of the protection of our environment, waterways, rivers, lakes, air quality, grasslands, a future quality of life for the Irish people, apart altogether from our visitors, and the protection of our natural heritage, which is the most important part of our physical environment, will probably to a large extent rest in the hands of this new body. This is in addition to the advice they will give to farmers in relation to the type of practices and husbandry they should continue with over the years.
In 1973 a very interesting document was published by Dr. Tom Walsh. I mentioned earlier he was the first director of An Foras Talúntais, a Wexford man, from Piercestown in fact, the neighbouring parish to Johnstown Castle. May I again state, to have it on the record, that the second and present director of An Foras Talúntais, Dr. Pierce Ryan, is also a Wexford man, from Taghmon, and his family were very proud of the contribution of Wexford to An Foras Talúntais as well as to ACOT. It looks as if Dr. Pierce Ryan will be the last director of An Foras Talúntais. Dr. Tom Walsh is known particularly for a number of publications and indeed research generally on soil and grassland management and that area. He was also a good administrator. He was the director of AFT, a most important body as we have come to appreciate perhaps a little late but nonetheless we now do. I quote from a document entitledAdministering a Research Organisation in Changing Times by T. Walsh, Director. We have to remind ourselves that this document was written in 1973 just as we were about to go into the EC. He says that the OECD has aptly summarised the place of agricultural research today as follows:
Agricultural research needs to be seen in a wide and changing context, in relation to the structure of the agricultural industry, and to society as a whole, in relation to human needs for food, employment, and recreation in nature, and in the whole relation to the environment, as well as its relationships to science and technology.
Indeed we could well dwell on those words and hope that they will be as relevant to the new farm body, the new merged body that we are discussing here today, as they have been to both AFT and ACOT's role over the past few years. Dr. Tom Walsh went on to say:
In An Foras Talúntais we have always presented our activities in terms of well defined programmes and priorities.
What are today's priorities? The Minister says that he will concentrate on essential services and those of lower priority will be reduced or phased out. Would the Minister let us know what his priorities are and what he considers an essential service? I will continue to quote from Dr. Walsh's document:
We have asked for finance to carry these out, no more and no less.
This was in 1973.
I cannot help feeling, however, that in some instances our funding has been on the basis of some notion of what agricultural research used to be rather than what it now is.
Could I be impertinent and suggest that the 1988 Estimate of the Fianna Fáil Government for Agriculture has to be based on some notion of what agricultural research used to be rather than what it is now. If we are prepared to accept a reduction of 43 per cent in the budget of AFT and ACOT, we can only assume, as Dr. Walsh had deduced in 1973, that the funding had been on the basis of some notion of what agricultural research used to be rather than what it is now. Fifteen years later those words which relate to the Department of Agriculture's view of agricultural research and the basis of its funding are as relevant today. That is an indictment, I am afraid, of how we have treated agricultural research down through the years and indeed substantiates the findings of Yale University with which I started my contribution today.
We are still spending the lowest percentage of our agricultural output on research and advisory services in Europe, the main market for our £2.5 billion food exports. Our farmers cannot be competitive and cannot have the same advantage as their international counterparts, to use the Minister's expression when we are not allowing them that advantage and denying them research and advice. It further states in Dr. Walsh's document:
It is now fully accepted that knowledge is a production resource as well as land, labour and capital...
Planning in the modern economy is a complex matter and cannot be left to hunch.
There appears to be a lot of hunches in the Minister's Second Stage speech: "essential services"— would the Minister name them? "Those of lower priority will be reduced"— would the Minister please name them? "Rationalisation of countrywide physical resources"— where has the Minister in mind to close down, because that is basically what that translates to when we use vernacular?
Planning in the modern economy is a complex matter and cannot be left to hunch. It cannot be done in a rational way without scientifically established data and information... Intelligent national programming and the development of public policy cannot exist to-day without research-based information as an essential input.
The words ring so true even today.
It is a function of research to generate the required information. Only if we are equipped with such data can we hope to exert an influence on the rate and direction of development of the economy in the years ahead.
I ask the Minister to take note of those words issued 15 years ago but more relevant than ever today. Dr. Walsh further states:
Entry to the EC now exposes us to external influences stronger than we have experienced in the past.
Any Minister for Agriculture who has fought the Irish case into the night around the tables in Brussels will surely agree with Dr. Walsh's statement made in 1973.
If we do not equip ourselves, both our route and our destination will be determined for us by influences beyond our understanding and outside our control.
The application and utilisation of research-based information is therefore a major challenge...More effective mechanisms for information and technology transfer, that is basically disseminating the information that AFT gathered through research, through the ACOT services to the farmers, and the commercialisation of new products and processes can be accelerated.
Dr. Tom Walsh outlines that in developing our research programmes the basic principles that would have to guide our approach is that the maximum use must be made of the results of research which are available to us from outside; hence our emphasis on the international context. We must identify areas of need or potential where an indigenous research effort would be of benefit and undertake the necessary research. We must try to see that the results of research are integrated and used in commercial practice as widely and as quickly as possible. This could be the commandments for the bodies under the merger Bill 15 years later. It is unbelievable we have wasted 12 years because Fianna Fáil would not support Fine Gael's Bill in 1977 when we were trying to achieve just that.
The success of any research and advice programme, the success of any education based programme to young farmers will depend on the personnel. Good research depends on good ideas. Good ideas as Dr. Walsh says:
...are the product of an imaginative, creative people.
At present the imagination and creativity of most of the members of ACOT and AFT have been fairly well diluted, morale is on the ground. Dr. Walsh further says:
This can be achieved through a progressive personnel policy which provides an environment conducive to the development of creativity and innovation.
I doubt that is what we have at present.
It has been possible for us to attract staff of high quality both from home sources and from other countries.
With the voluntary redundancy scheme creaming off the best we have at the moment and those who are left not knowing what their future holds, I am afraid the whole area of personnel needs immediate attention.
In conclusion may I outline the points of the Bill which I and my colleagues find unsatisfactory: the name, the board, the ministerial power, the Minister's proposals for the county committees of agriculture. What will be left in their wake and what will replace them? This is perhaps one of the most important issues we have discussed for a long time in this House. We all agree on the importance of the agriculture and food industry and the contribution it has made and can make in the future to the GNP and the economy generally. I ask the Government to please make what are now all the aspirations a reality and answer the most pertinent questions with regard to funding and what their priorities are, which centres will stay and which will go and what the role of the new merged farm body essentially will be. I await the Minister's answers with interest.