This topic has been reasonably well aired in the House on a fairly positive note and I should like to maintain that trend. I am in favour of the Bill. When Mark Clinton opted for this merger in the early seventies I supported it at that stage because I felt then, and still do, that both organisations had so much in common they should have been together long ago, but we shall not go into any recriminations — there are enough of those going around.
One of the problems of this country is that there are so many people doing the same thing. I remember a stage when the universities, the Sugar Company, ACOT, AFT and even co-operative movements were all carrying out the same type of experiment. That certainly was a waste of resources. This type of getting together is vital in a scenario where resources are very scarce, or non-existent. The Minister of State has been quite positive and understands the scene, but I must tell him that I do not see the merger succeeding without some extra money. That is a prerequisite, a minimal requirement, for success without which we shall have massive lay-offs and massive closures.
Parochialism was mentioned this morning and I am not going to become parochial but, as Minister, I knew quite well the good work that was going on at Moorepark and Kinsealy, Oak Park and, indeed, on the ACOT site at Kildalton, where we persuaded the people to become involved in convincing overseas processors that Ireland could produce potatoes suitable for chips. One would imagine that would not take proving, but they did need to be convinced. At that time we were dealing in many varieties of potato most of which, like Kerr Pinks and Golden Wonders, were not suitable. We embarked on a very long programme and it took us about three seasons before we got it right and we had a variety called Pentland Dell. That would not have been possible without all the co-operation we received, not only from Kildalton and Moorepark but with the product being taken up at Kinsealy and processed.
We produced chips for visiting processors. They sampled them and admitted that our potatoes were as good as, if not better than, those they had been using. When you are talking about processing, you are talking about offering comparatively low prices so we had to be talking about totally different tonnages. The brilliant history of Moorepark has yet to be written. In the past ACOT and AFT were working so hard, like many others, that they did not have time to talk about themselves and a great deal of their work is not recognised.
We must remember the old days of dairying and the clean milk campaign. That is now in the history books but it was a massive campaign. Subsequently, we had the dairy programme for the control of antiobiotics, ensuring that we produced good quality milk and that the product was suited to the various byproducts such as butter, cheese, yoghourt, ice cream and so forth. All that work is ongoing and side-by-side with it there has been a great deal of research into silage and silage additives and types of cows. One might think that all that work has been done and that there is no need for any more; far from it. In this whole area of co-operatives — and this is a nice change — these bodies now find themselves no longer able to expand to pay for the higher costs and wage bills. They are locked into a situation where they may have to lay-off people unless they take up the challenge of creating more downstream products, new ideas like more soft cheeses, more of what is going on at Imokilly co-operative in regard to Regatta cheese. That whole area must be explored if the co-operatives are to stay in business and maintain a reasonable level of employment.
This shows how vital Moorepark is and that is where the work done there scored in the past. They have products waiting to be marketed but they are not going to be able to continue that work without resources. I am not saying that they had all the necessary resources when we were in office — they always had to operate on a shoestring budget but at least they had that budget. That is something we must bear in mind. More than ever, we need the research and development facilities of Moorepark and the dairy industry if our major co-operatives are to continue and get more and more into the marketplace. Perhaps in the past intervention was a lazy way out. We could glibly and gladly put our butter and milk powder into intervention. In some cases we could be said to have mistaken intervention for the marketplace. The big advantage was that we did not need to have marketing people. One could put the product straight in and be paid, but that is no longer the case. Now more than ever it will be much tougher and tighter, not merely for dairying people but for people in the meat business also, to survive and expand.
The whole meat vacuum pack scene is changing so quickly. I remember a time when one could get rid of ordinary frozen carcases anywhere in the world, but now because there are some entrepreneurs who are getting into the top of the market we are regarded in Germany as the highest of high-class producers. That would not have been attained without the help of AFT and ACOT in producing the right animal, in developing it along the lines of high quality and very selective breeding. Legislation was introduced and the whole breeding programme is now controlled. An Foras Talúntais and ACOT are doing a very good job. Some despondent people say that we are at the end of the line with regard to beef production but nothing could be further from the truth. It is an area in which there is plenty of room at the top. In Germany in particular we are very highly respected in regard to quality although I am not so sure that we deserve all the praise we get. At least we have a reputation for very high class, hormone free beef, free from all sorts of additives. There is the wonderful CBF image of grass and clover which enhances that feeling. However, to maintain and develop our position, it will be necessary to take a lot of care. We must protect the market and the way to do so is to have an independent agency working side by side with the industry and doing the job it was set up to do at farm level from production to processing.
The United Kingdom went down a different road from us in regard to breeding programmes and they went completely overboard on Holstein. Now, because of the hormone problems, they find that that breed is not suitable for the purposes they originally intended. More through good luck than good judgment we are fortunate in that we stayed with the old British Friesian because that is the basic animal used here for the production of beef which has proved more than satisfactory when crossed with various beef breeds.
We all know what the Department of Agriculture, ACOT and AFT have done in regard to the sheep industry. Ten or 15 years ago you could not persuade a farmer to depart one inch from Suffolk and Oxford Down carcases which they thought were the be-all and end-all of the industry. Indeed, the local butcher thought the same but when we expanded into the French market, there was a total revolution. Much smaller sheep were involved; I heard a farmer ask if they were rabbits, but that is the sort of animal which is now required and which makes money. Thanks to ACOT and AFT we worked on that breed and quite a number of farmers are making a lot of money. Of course, some farmers went into it too quickly and are not making so much money and this is where ACOT and AFT come in. Figures in a farming newspaper or leaflets do not give enough information in regard to sheep farming. There is much more to breeding sheep and this is where day-to-day attention by ACOT and AFT is vital.
Grain is a difficult area and it is not so long since we were talking about good yields of barley at around 38 cwt. to two tonnes. We must thank the people in the institute and the Department of Agriculture who have worked so well in this area. However, there are now cutbacks, price restrictions and levies and we seem to have got the worst of both worlds. Perhaps we could have borne a levy on milk if we were allowed to produce more of it and we would be quite happy to have quotas in grain if we were allowed to maintain the price. It is not too late for the Government and the Minister to look at exemptions for malting barley because there is an unlimited market for top class Irish malting barley in the European market place and there is no justification for imposing levies or penalties.
We are an island nation and we are entitled to be self-sufficient and to be allowed to produce sufficient quantities of milling wheat for our own requirements without incurring any penalty. That applies to the six Northern counties as well. We are also taking a hammering in regard to sugar quotas and that should not be tolerated. We must point out to the people in Brussels that we should be allowed to expand our sugar acreage to cover the requirements of the six Northern counties, as much of the sugar is coming from outside the Community. ACOT and AFT have done good work in the past and have co-operated with farmers and the Department of Agriculture.
That brings me to my pet hobby of producer groups, some of whom were quite successful. However, they are the way forward. I am not casting aspersions on An Bord Glás and I am prepared to examine any programme which, if it works, should be supported. However, we should not lose sight of what has been done since 1982-83. At that time, farmers were literally throwing the Dutch potatoes into the sea and there was open war. I had to answer some very difficult questions in the House and I decided to set up producer groups. Legislation was introduced covering the registration of potato growers and packers and, thanks to that, we now have the basis of an organised potato industry. Before these groups were set up, you could not trace a culprit grower but now the legislation ensures that only good potatoes come on the market. However, we have a miserably small market for our potatoes and indeed there is a glut. Supermarkets and others do not appear to be able to differentiate between varieties of potatoes. In other words, if a housewife wants Golden Wonders she must be prepared to pay for them and the same applies to Kerr Pinks. On the other hand if she is prepared to settle for Pentland Dells she will buy them at a reduced price because it is possible to get double deals on them.
The system was working out very nicely and the national potato co-op was set up under the aegis of the IFA and supported by the Department. However, the marketing arrangement did not work out. Those involved in marketing pulled out and left potato growers high and dry. I should like to appeal to the Minister once more to look at this matter. I welcome the potato promotion that is in operation at present but something more is necessary. We must remember that the horticultural co-op, established at the same time as the potato co-op, proved very successful. That group have progressed to such an extent that they can boast of being able to get their produce into the four corners of Ireland at reasonable prices. They can claim that they are able to satisfy the demand of supermarkets and please consumers. That great achievement is due to the efforts of people like Michael Mahon of the IFA and Colm Warren chief executive of the group. Their achievement is all the more noteworthy when one considers that they were given a pittance to carry out their work.
Bad and all as the potato co-op proved to be, at least we succeeded in selling the concept of co-operation to farmers. Farmers are slow enough to get together when produce is scarce and they can have separate deals with their local supermarkets but in the long term it is important that they co-operate. This year is an ideal time for them to get together again while we have a glut on the market. I suggest that the Minister, those involved in horticulture and the farming organisations should get together to discuss potato production. The only reason potato growers got together was that they were so far down the road, but they were passed out by those involved in horticulture. It is important that potato growers and those involved in horticulture join forces and take over the entire scene.
We will not solve the problem by establishing new boards or leaving it to the Department. The only people who can sort out the mess that occurs annually are those who are involved in potato growing and the horticultural sector. People must try to work out contracts based on market requirements. We must also aim to have a processing outlet in the future but it is important that we do not concentrate on processing because the farmer supplying those factories will be growing for that market only. We cannot say that the surplus from potato production could be taken up by processors. That will not happen.
I was interested in the campaign started some years ago by ACOT and AFT. It is a pity that it did not continue because it concentrated on an area where the industry has failed. We are all aware of the campaign at present against what I call wholesome food, the campaign against dairy products and meat. Many people say that sugar is bad but if we were to accept that and other advice we would not be eating anything at all. In my view we were not aggressive enough against those campaigns. Our dairy coops produced dairy spreads and so on but did not mount an aggressive campaign. ACOT and AFT got involved in a campaign but they did not get the type of support they were entitled to. Our dairy co-ops should have spelled out the advantages of their products. The human race has survived by consuming large quantities of the products that are being condemned today and nobody will convince me, and many others, that a change in our diet will mean we will live any longer. A healthy lifestyle is what this is all about. Our forefathers lived for a long time on a diet of large quantities of salty beef, spuds and cabbage. They also consumed plenty of milk and country butter, which did them no harm.
I am in favour of the merger, of a tightly knit organisation working on the development and production side. However, I am worried about the number of personnel that will be left in the new organisation. The Minister did not tell us if 1,000 or 500 officials will lose their jobs. I am concerned that we will lose the top officials in those organisations to other countries because of all the uncertainty about the merger. Such highly qualified people are scarce and it is worth noting that the top officials in the institute have a worldwide reputation. I can recall visiting the breeding station at Beltsville in Washington and hearing of the reputation of ACOT and AFT officials. If the uncertainty is allowed to continue I do not think those officials will stay.
The Minister should state clearly the proposals he has in mind. It is irrelevant what the new organisation is called because it can survive irrespective of the name. In the past some of the names of similar organisations could not be pronounced but at least the name of the new organisation, Teagasc, is easy to pronounce and spell. It is important that the new organisation is properly funded and if the Minister considers it necessary to introduce a Supplementary Estimate to do so he will have my support. There is little point in proposing a revolutionary organisation if it is not funded properly.
We have heard a lot of glib talk in recent months about the income of farmers increasing by 17 per cent. Years ago when I was arguing about the price of green peas with the Sugar Company I was told that I was getting 7 per cent more from them than was available on the market but my response to that was that 7 per cent of nothing was nothing. Farmers are working from a very bad base after the disastrous years of 1985 and 1986. We had to rescue farmers in those years. The House had to give support to farmers who could not work their farms. I accept that the dairy farmer who has a reasonable quota is doing fairly well and that those who have set up beef units will survive but tillage farmers are having a rough time. They have not had a 17 per cent increase in their income.
However, it is important to stress that farmers can move into other areas of production and that is fortunate. We salvaged the remnants of an Irish food processing industry. I am not taking much credit for that. We all recall that Erin Foods closed down Midleton and Mallow. The plant in Carlow, an excellent one serviced by farmers owning the best horticultural land in the world, has closed. However, we salvaged the nucleus of that industry and I worked hard on that. I see no reason why we should not expand into the midlands where we have the finest farmland in Europe for this sort of development. We must find out how best to help farmers to stay in business and give young farmers some encouragement to stay here. It is hard to convince them that there is a future at home.
I am very encouraged by the company established in Midleton and Mallow who have an entrée to the British market. I should like to see that company expanding further with the help of farmers in the region. There is a market of 50 million across the water and this company probably ranks at number two or three in that market. Acreage does not really matter. It is a question of motivating them to expand.
It is very difficult to establish a new enterprise. I must be the greatest living expert on the problems encountered when starting something new. I am not blaming the Department but there is a number of people in high places who have a problem for every solution. Perhaps these people have a place but it is a pity we do not have more positive thinking. The system is partly to blame. A person who looks for some financial assistance will be told to wait until the Book of Estimates has been prepared, but at that stage all the State funds have already been allocated. What the nation needs is an investment policy. We have the National Development Corporation, the IDA and other agencies who are doing a good job but when a group of people come together with an idea which requires a lot of money they run into difficulties.
Let us take the flax industry as an example. About three years ago I was in Brussels deputising for the then Minister for Agriculture, Deputy Deasy. A document had been produced on the flax industry and it was decided, because of its potential, to support the industry to the tune of £250 per hectare for the foreseeable future. This was music to my ears and those of many others. We set up a programme with the help of the Department of Agriculture, ACOT and AFT and carried out some trials. The second year trials were perhaps too ambitious in that we grew 150 acres. However, we proved that we can do what was done in the 1890s when 70,000 or 80,000 acres of flax were grown. A change occurred when manmade fibres took over but demand is growing again. We spent approximately £80,000 on these experiments but last year the Germans spent £2.4 million on experiments in flax. Our budget was tiny in comparison but we achieved enough to convince everybody that we can do it. How do we get this enterprise going? Who will set up a plant? I do not believe it should be a textile factory. The initial stage is agri-related business. We are having discussions with Waterford Co-operative to see if they will take it on and I hope a small project will start this year. Certainly I will persevere. We must have a policy whereby people with the right ideas will be funded on an equity basis and allowed to start this type of business, forming a co-operative of farmers and growers. We are not talking about making linen. There are groups in the north of Ireland screaming for Irish scutch flax. There is no such thing as Irish linen. All the flax used in the linen industry here comes from Normandy. If for no other reason we should put a lot of effort into this project.
There are other possible enterprises which could be established. There is a market in Paris for 2 million rabbits per annum. We will have a small project ready in the near future but we are experiencing great difficulty in setting it up. We keep meeting the guy with the problem for every solution. Of course, such people have responsibilities but it is vital to give new enterprises the support they need.
The CAP is coming under unnecessary criticism from uninformed people. Basically it was designed to bring up living standards in Ireland and other regions of the Community to proper levels. That has been achieved and if there is one criticism which could be levelled at the CAP it is that it has been too successful. It achieved its objective too quickly and some people may have got the wrong ideas. Provision was made for intervention but it was never intended that intervention would be the market-place. On the whole, however, the CAP has been a success. FEOGA, which is an aspect of the CAP, is vital to the survival of this economy.
I am not sure that we should be so tolerant of some of the GATT agreements. The nations who negotiated these agreements contribute much to Community funding and have a lot of muscle. Because of GATT agreements we are being asked to cut back and farmers are going out of business. If we made one mistake in the sixties and seventies it was that we did not look more to the Dutch and other Europeans and adopt their methods of production. We were trying at that time to find out how much milk we could get from an acre of grass, but the Dutch were pumping sugar beet pulp from Sacramento into their cows to bring up gallonages in readiness for the time when there would be a quota system. As a grass producing nation we should have nearly double our present quota.
Earlier this morning we had a debate on funding for the Third World. I have some knowledge of the famine in Ethiopia because I worked on the FAO Committee of the Council of Europe for a number of years and I was appalled at the amount of waste in the distribution of food to Third World countries. While people are starving it is wrong for a Christian community, as the European Community professes to be, to tell us to set aside land and not use it. These are wealthy nations which spend plenty of money on armaments and yet they tell us that this is costing too much. Surely, if Third World countries in a time of famine cannot use frozen beef and butter they could use grain. Let us use the land that is to be set aside for Third World countries and let us show some real concern.
Another way of using the land to be set aside in this small country of ours is to get into forestry. There are parts of the country which are totally unsuited for anything else. There are many a husband and wife team who would love to get into forestry but they have to wait 30 years for a return. With the money they will receive for setting aside land along with help from investment companies they will have a terrific opportunity for doing so.
I have made a few positive points this morning just to prove that we are not at the end of the line as far as agriculture is concerned. I hope I have made that clear. One might think that at my time of life I should be getting a bit despondent; on the contrary, I now feel stronger than ever that this island has always benefited from adversity. We never rolled up our sleeves until our backs were to the wall. I will not listen to platitudes from any side of the House about how well we are doing. Our backs are to the wall and there is only one way we can get out of our difficulties and that is to produce competent, well educated top-class young farmers and we will not do so without ACOT and AFT.
I will not even mention that Fianna Fáil objected to the legislation I brought in to impose a charge for the services provided. Basically, I saw nothing wrong in doing so. The good fellows were already going elsewhere for services and paying for them. I do not think that is important but what is important is that top class and specialist services should be available to young farmers. Those services are now available. A few moments ago I referred to rabbit production. ACOT provide a specialised service to producers in the initial stages in order to see if it can be done. We need ACOT advisers who can assist a young farmer, if he has a programme for his bank manager, by going through that programme line by line, if necessary telling him he is being far too optimistic and does not know what he is talking about and then drawing up a programme which will succeed.
We now need An Foras Talúntais more than ever. Consumer patterns are always changing and the housewife is supreme. There is no point in telling a housewife from Berlin there are no hormones in the meat or that they will not do her any harm. That does not matter, it is her perception of things which counts. That is why it is so vitally important that we adhere to all of the things that will ensure we produce top quality food. I am a long time around and I know that we will not do it without expert advice and the devotion of people who work in the laboratories. The programme must be ongoing and I can assure the Minister I will be very co-operative. If anything occurs which affects the future of ACOT and AFT I will come into this House and scream at the Minister. I appeal to him to find sufficient funds to keep that organisation going in this most crucial of times for Irish agriculture.