When I spoke on this Bill last week I made the point that I did not intend to be repetitious but to concentrate on some of the more general features as they would impact on agriculture in terms of its productive capacity, and I drew attention to the serious contrast that exists between the aspirations for employment creation in agriculture and the food industry and the cuts that were taking place. I said that the shedding of 1,000 jobs nationally could have the effect of letting the market dictate those to whom agricultural services would be directed. I drew attention also to the impact on western agriculture and gave some details of the existing programme in relation to agricultural advice and research in such counties as Galway and Mayo.
I find it difficult to understand how any serious Minister for Agriculture and Food can suggest that the proposed development targets for western agriculture that have been outlined in one study after another from the original seminal study of Dr. John Scully to the present day are achievable at the level of the cuts now being suggested. In a very few minutes this evening I want to make a few more general points. One that to me is very important, and I repeat it because I have stressed it previously is that in moving towards a system where by agricultural advisers will have to generate revenue for their services, inevitably those who can afford to pay the charge will be able uniquely to capture — so to speak — the research functions of what was up to now a State function. Many people who work in the field in agriculture have told me that their ability to generate an income from, let us say, farms in the west is extremely limited.
I will give the approximate figures given in a number of different studies on west of Ireland agriculture. If I remember correctly, over 70 per cent of the holdings are under 50 acres and perhaps half are under 30 acres. They have a very high degree of fragmentation. The soils and drainage in many of these farms are deficient and they are remote from the market. Most of the economies of scale in agriculture do not prevail and there will be a massive withdrawal of farmers who are below the line of commercial farming.
Contrary to what many people may think, I have experience of living on a small farm, having been reared on one in County Clare. Since I have lived in County Galway, I have had a number of dealings with the county committee of agriculture and, indeed, at one time decided to use an opportunity I had because of the strange, fortuitous way of political fortunes, when I held the balance of power in Galway County Council, to nominate someone who was not associated with my direct political life to the county committee of agriculture. I refer to Professor Michael Cuddy with whom I have had a number of discussions about the workings of the county committee of agriculture. He drew my attention to the kind of discussions that took place in that committee. Those committees function very well and they provided a very valuable source of information on the way that agricultural proposals impacted on the ground. Dr. Cuddy later carried out a very valuable study on the impact of the different Community Directives in relation to retirement, land structures and so forth and the obstacles to their implementation in western agriculture.
I should like to advise the Minister of State that a committee dominated by members of his own party in County Galway were among those who unanimously passed a resolution opposing the abolition of the county committees of agriculture and the cuts in relation to AFT-ACOT. I wish to pay a tribute to the brave members of Fianna Fáil who put the interests of their neighbours, the small farmers in the west, before party loyalty on that occasion and who drew attention to the effects of these savage cuts.
I want to raise a few more points which have arisen in the debate but which have not been explained so far. The projected budget of ACOT for 1988 was a £10.5 million State source contribution, £3.9 million from local authorities, £2.8 million from EC funding, £1.5 million for charging for services, £2 million from miscellaneous sources and £9.5 million from AFT. The total expenditure comes, in the case of ACOT, to £20.7 million but the expenditure for 1987 and £29 million. This leaves a shortfall of £8.3 million for the projected activities for 1988. I should like the Minister to state how this shortfall will be adjusted and how much will be met by moneys which the advisers will have to collect.
If you take the calculations in the case of County Galway, with which I am familiar, it means that advisers would be asked to collect between £5,000 and £7,000 each. If you ask advisers how they will generate this income they will very quickly tell you that they can only do so by cutting out visits to those who are unable to pay. The way it now works is that advisers pay one visit and, if the charges are not paid, they will not visit again. We need to be very clear about this. In County Galway, it will have the effect of reducing the number of advisers from 35 to 23 and it will also endanger a number of outlying stations and advice centres. Not only will this have an effect in structural terms in abandoning the entire social case for bringing those below the development line up to development, it will also have another effect in so far as it will lead to a great demoralisation among the farming community. It is very difficult to swallow all the guff and rhetoric about western packages and integrated programmes while at the same time being asked to accept the withdrawal of research advice.
This is against all the evidence of what is achievable by the impact of the advisers. All we have to do is to look at the time when we had a shortfall in fodder and how quickly it was gathered in these counties. It was directly attributed to the activities of the advisers and of the people working within the institutions which will now be merged, ACOT and AFT. I should like to say,en passant, as somebody who speaks Irish in this House, that it is a most monstrous abuse of the language to call something that is given in its English appellation, Agriculture (Research, Training and Advice) Bill, 1987, Teagasc, An Foras um Thaighde, Oiliúint agus Comhairle Talmhaíochta agus Bí. I ask those who draft these strange terms to have some respect for the language and to realise that the use of the term Teagasc in this way, followed by a hyphen, with a jumble of neologisms in the Irish language is in no way related to the English translation. Teagasc, as all of us who have been involved in it either as a verb or a noun know, is an abuse of the language. It is a minor point but if one is involved in the butchery of the State institutions responsible for advice and training, we might at least, like a good elegant butcher, have respect for the terms given to the operation.
There will be, of course, in the national effect of the cuts in the new merged entity a number of very serious national effects. Let me put it simply because I want to leave time for other contributions and this Bill should come to a close soon. There is the notion that the last thing you should do is to plan. These proposals represent the death knell of any orderly arrangement for increasing productivity in the basic agricultural sector or of developing value added if you are talking about the food industry.
I should like people to explain how it can be planning to toss figures into a so calledProgramme for National Recovery and, at the same time, dismantle the research and advisory infrastructure that might enable people who are below certain productivity levels, to achieve new levels of targets. It is rather like saying that we will withdraw everything which might have facilitated or expanded productivity but, at the same time, uttering some kind of prayer that the food industry is the thing. Those people are wandering around the country repeating those statements like mantras, 3,500 jobs in tourism while the tourism promotion budget is cut back and a whole series of daft arrangements are set up to make it impossible for people to come here and spend their money on recreational fishing and so on. Equally, in relation to agriculture we are going to create a food industry but we will, of course, cut out thousands of farmers who might have access to advice. Where has such a policy worked? There is no place in the peopled earth where such strategies have worked.
I compliment the Government on addressing the issue of the food industry because we have lost so many potential jobs by not harnessing and capturing the employment potential of value-added in the transition from agriculture to food. How will we do that if at the very base of agricultural productivity the Government are withdrawing services? The Government may say they will concentrate on those to whom the advice will now be directed. As far as I can see they will fall into categories, those who will be able to pay the charges and get a minimal level of advice and research and the people in the upper commercial level who will now be able to get unique access to those who have left AFT and have set themselves up in consultancy firms. The myths might go like this: will they generate the productivity to create the capacity for the food industry to expand? I invite the Minister, and his advisers, to look at the statistics for agricultural production here and say if they are the people who are producing more per acre. Of course, the evidence is that they are not, that the most intense productivity levels per acre are concentrated in the middle ground. It makes no sense to be moving to an American-style agriculture and to be saying at the same time that we are hoping to create more jobs in farming and in the food industry. It is an absurdity.
What we are witnessing is a rhetoric that stands as a substitute for planning, cuts that are real, the removal of more than 1,000 people from the advisory and research functions in agriculture and the total withdrawal of research and advice from those who need it most urgently if they are to develop and retain their farming households in areas that have been neglected over the years. There is nothing as bad as killing by hypocrisy. I do not believe that this is a malign attempt. I believe it is a case of people having no concept or commitment to planning stripping away the planning infrastructure, the advisory and research infrastructure. Those taken together are little less than disastrous.
As other speakers mentioned, an outside study of AFT and ACOT has been carried out. It studied the deployment of staff within those agencies and how they might be best deployed in the future. There has been no attempt in the speeches from the Government side to refer to the distance between what is now proposed and the suggestions made in that outside professional study. There is no recognition of the very considerable stripping away of staff that has taken place since 1982 within the institutions that are affected. In 1982 there were 1,030 people involved but 193 of them have gone. There were further cuts between 1985 and 1987.
The expert opinion in agriculture, obtained from those who do not have any axe to grind, is that money spent on advice and local research is well spent. The decision to remove the local input by getting rid of county committees of agriculture will be disastrous. When I began in politics I visited the Maam station and had a conversation with the dedicated official who was developing a certain breed of sheep. However, that project has been closed down. It was relevant to the area particularly to those involved in sheep farming but somebody decided that that activity should be removed from its natural ecological locale to somewhere else. There were other innovations which were opposed initially by conservative people and it is my belief that members of the agricultural community are no less conservative than others. Those innovations related to the use of helicopters for staking, seeding and fertilising the land but what will happen to them in the future? Is the Minister going to tell me that those services will continue after he has allowed the market to dictate the flow of services and innovation into the agricultural sector?
What will be the relationship in the new order of things between Teagasc and the local authorities? Who will take up the gap in contributions? Is somebody going to tell me that the hard-pressed local authorities, facing cuts between 12 per cent and 14 per cent, will be able to put more money into gaps left by the cutbacks in finance? That will not happen. Agricultural advisers, and those who work in the area, tell me that there are among those on whom they call farmers who cannot be asked for money because they do not have it. I have looked at suggested changes in the delivery of advice in a number of countries and what is unique in ours is the abrupt changes in overall agricultural emphasis in the past ten years from different commodities. That shows the absence of a long or medium-term commodity policy. Those changes have been introduced in a very short period of time.
When right-wing governments, the equivalent of ours, took office in other countries they did not attempt to bring in a single year such drastic changes in the infrastructure of agriculture. In Britain, and elsewhere, they have allowed a longer period of time for the changes. The shortest period is about three years. What will happen to the great developments that were taking place in relation to different sectoral activities in the western counties? I am thinking of the programmes that were developed between the county committees of agriculture and those who were administering the advisory function. Is anyone telling me that they can stay in place? I am thinking in particular of the different sectoral activities that were brought into being by an inspired staff at the Galway office.
The ACOT corporate plan for the period 1986 to 1990 had as its main theme, better and not just more. That is a most admirable aspiration if one is talking about the transition from agriculture to a food industry because it addresses the question of quality. In Galway specific targets were established for dairying in relation to building up the yield per cow by 30 gallons per annum, the reduction of calf mortality and the improvement in the quality of milk. In relation to cattle, there was an emphasis on a reduction in calf mortality and an increase in suckler cow numbers annually by 6,000.
In regard to lowland sheep, there was acceptance of the target of increasing ewe numbers of 268,000 by 13,000 per year. Eighty per cent of finished lambs were to be of a higher quality. There were specific programmes and schemes aimed at hill sheep and there was a tremendous effort by way of education to deal with the problem which Scully had identified. There have been great changes since his work of nearly two decades ago. He identified the fact that very many farm operatives had little access to post-primary education. An attempt was made to ensure that all new entrants to farming would have at least some sort of certificate in farming. A great number of special short courses were being run to enable people to return.
Then there was another curious arrival on the scene, An Bord Glas. Literally translated it is the green board, whatever that might mean. It is presumed in this House to have something to do with vegetables. In horticulture specific targets were established for the organisation of centralised purchasing and more adequate marketing and branding. In County Galway when these proposals are implemented less than half the number of farmers will have access as heretofore. Under the existing scheme of things, even with the cuts, since 1982 there had been an increase in all the areas I mentioned.
Milk yield had increased by 40 gallons per year per cow. There had been a 2 per cent reduction in calf mortality and there had been programmes in relation to mastitis control. In addition 90 per cent of all farmers with more than five suckler cows were visited and there had been encouragement to use continental AI. Prices of lambs had been maintained. There was no glut but rather an orderly production for the market. Ewe numbers increased by 7 per cent per year in 1985 and 1986. Mountain sheep programmes had been established, including a cross-breeding programme. Fertilisation, spraying and fencing schemes had been introduced using new technology. Five thousand farmers participated in short courses in 1987 in County Galway. In that year three groups of students were awarded certificates in farming following a three-year course. In the horticultural area there were a few new producers of mushrooms.
Where a development programme had been established by ACOT nationally, it had been interpreted in terms of a number of specific targets across sectors in that county. The achievement of these targets had been brought about by the available staff who visited people living on small farms and encouraged them. There was a demonstration effect as the targets were achieved.
It is little less than scandalous to ignore the social consequences of the removal of advice and research. It is little less than scandalous to say to people who had the advantage of an academic training but who put on wellingtons and went out along bad roads to small farms that they are to be moved back and that some of them are to be relocated in administrative areas. They have told me they will not choose to sit at desks.
This is the madness of taking a gross figure and saying it has to be cut from the budget of two merged organisations, AFT and ACOT. It is madness to think that this new body, Teagasc — whatever that might be — can operate with fewer staff and abandon so many people in the agricultural community. We are asked to believe this is a good thing. It is a good and progressive thing for this Government to be interested in developments in agriculture, horticulture, fisheries and the food industry but if they keep on setting targets and, at the same time, refuse proper planning and remove the capacity for production and for the creation of value added, people will say this is just another area of failure. I do not want to wish failure on this country. I am interested in the maximisation of the employment potential of agriculture and the food industry.
Let us consider the land use map of County Galway and the small number of commercial farms. Figures show that between 70 per cent and 80 per cent of all the products of that county are exported without any value added whatever. The same applies in most of the western counties. There is the inevitable regional loss of that employment. How can we say that the remaining commercial farmers will be a sufficient base for production to fuel that kind of employment potential? Nobody in his senses can operate like that because it does not work. Economic historians and economists dealing with the land problem here have drawn attention to the fact that it has a highly regionalised structure. There is a lack of explicit planning in relation to agricultural production. It was quite mad to say that volume production of milk in its day which suited a pattern of Munster agriculture was somehow suited to the fragmented small-scale farming in most of the western counties. It is equally mad to say that we will be able to benefit from any kind of merged social and regional funds, integrated packages or whatever, while we walk away from the agricultural capacity of farms below a certain level in these counties.
For all these reasons the Labour Party are opposing this Bill on Second Stage. We believe we are not talking about a very significant innovation. We are talking about cutting jobs and reducing access to services, as well as the limitation of services to a very much smaller group of people. Even if one accepted the arguments for the new merged institution, it is not only its name that is an absurdity. to what extent has the independent research function carried out by AFT been removed into the new institution?
The references to the Minister in the text of the Bill indicate an entirely different relationship when compared to the independence and autonomy of research enjoyed by AFT. There are many other new features and changes in structure which would cause worry, even in an operational sense. The biggest issue is the idea of removing so much money while, at the same time, creating a new entity and removing so many people from the advisory service who had overcome many obstacles in securing access to small-scale farming in particular. Their removal will be little less than disastrous.
I shall conclude by simply saying that it is becoming almost unfashionable now to think about unemployment or the consequences of unemployment or emigration. In the fifties, in most of the agricultural communities there was an average emigration between the age cohorts 15 to 19 years and 20 to 24 years of between 40 and 55 per cent and even in the period when out-migration stopped the end of the fifties to the seventies, there was a continued out-migration, if you like, from rural communities. Since we joined the Community we have less than 40,000 farm families living and gaining employment from agriculture. If we were to try to create employment, there was and is an enormous capacity from agriculture and the food industry. There were enormous benefits also. The raw materials were there. We still have these. The possibilities for gaining every possible job slot were there and are there.
This was in quite a contrast to an industrial policy which, over on the other side of the economy, was filing last year £1.254 billion in tax breaks to the private sector to try — to use an agricultural image — to get the sick cow of the Irish private sector to get up on her feet and give a dribble of milk. In 1986 we spent £997 million and so forth. Even when we have captured significant foreign investment we can see that the outflow of profits running at £1.5 billion, joined now by the so-called patriotic Irish savers of about £500 million in savings flowing out of the country, there is great advantage in agriculture in that the basic commodity is here, the activity is here and the advantages still exist. I agree with the Government that there is an enormous advantage in developing the food industry but you will not develop it if you cut back on the very basics that are necessary for creating a more productive agriculture.
All the evidence was that if you drew a line through the total number of holdings, the greatest capacity for expansion in productivity was below the line rather than above it in terms of farm sizes. Equally, in relation to that expanded productivity, the employment content was very much higher below the line than it was above the line, in terms of size of farm holding. It is the employment potential of agriculture and the food industry that is being endangered by these disastrous proposals.
I speak in absolutely no negative sense at all. I doubt how anybody can be serious about planning the expansion of agriculture and the food industry and, at the same time, say you can withdraw resources from it and restructure them in so much more an administrative way, rather than in a research way or in a way that will deliver the services on the ground. You will not make Irish agriculture productive by withdrawing back to desks and telling the people who achieved the targests I have listed that they will now be able to achieve them by doing sums on paper. That has been a recipe for disaster in relation to our industrial policy and what will inevitably follow from this will be a return to and an increase in the levels of emigration from the Irish rural communities.