Deputy Cotter was in possession, he has eight minutes left and is desirous of sharing his time.
Situation in Agriculture: Statements (Resumed).
I wish to share my time with Deputy Hogan.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
Where is the Minister for Agriculture and Food?
I want to ask him a very serious question. He should not have gone fishing. He should be here to listen to certain allegations.
That is not true.
Let us have an orderly debate.
I want to refer to the application which has been made to the EC for the extension and reclassification of handicapped areas. It is widely agreed — inside and outside my constituency — that the application for Cavan and Monaghan is an utter and complete disgrace.
I want the Minister of State, Deputy Kirk, to convey to the Minister what the people in Cavan and Monaghan are saying. Ministers in Cavan and Monaghan have now lost their freedom of movement; the Minister for the Marine, Deputy Wilson, the great classical scholar, could notveni, vidi or vici last week at a meeting of farmers in Cootehill. He had to attend a minor meeting somewhere else. It is a disaster and I hope that the Minister will answer my questions before the debate concludes. Will the Minister resubmit an application for Cavan and Monaghan, particularly for Monaghan, because the application asks that severely handicapped areas should be increased from a figure of 23 per cent to 28 per cent? That has been regarded by the people of Monaghan as either a mistake or an example of base political connivance. I am of the opinion that it is the latter but the Minister could enlighten me.
Questions are being asked in Monaghan as to why Longford is being reclassified at 100 per cent. The same applies to Roscommon and Galway. People have said that the Fianna Fáil Party are trying to re-establish themselves in Longford and Roscommon having had some problems in the recent past. People also say — Deputy Leonard will verify this — that Fianna Fáil have three seats in Cavan-Monaghan.
We will keep the three seats.
There is no other reason and Deputy Leonard is trying to hide——
I am not hiding behind anything.
Deputy Leonard told farmers the other night that he had nothing to do with this, that it was the Government who did it, but he managed to get some of his little corner into the severely handicapped area. At least the application is in. I have told the people of Monaghan — and I will tell them again — that Deputy Leonard is conniving in this. Then you come along and you appear like St. John or somebody like that, when you are appearing in public. You have to take the responsibility as well, and let us not forget it.
Deputy Cotter, you appreciate that the record will show that you are addressing the Chair.
I am sorry.
I would not feel that I correspond in any way to——
I have to admit that I am losing the cool because the application from Monaghan is absolutely disgraceful. Deputy Hogan is waiting to get in so I will have to sit down, but I appeal to the Minister to reapply on behalf of Monaghan. We want our Minister to have free movement throughout the constituency again. We want Deputy Leonard to be able to resume a normal life.
Deputy Leonard does not have to reply. I am sure that Deputy Leonard appreciates the sensitivities of his colleague towards him.
Farmers are experiencing the worst incomes crisis since the thirties. That has been agreed by Teagasc which is under the Minister's control. The Minister for Agriculture and Food has been warned by Fine Gael, the farm organisations and others since 1989 but he decided to ignore all the danger signals and try to bluff his way through the various problems that were appearing on the horizon in relation to agriculture. Teagasc indicated that in 1990 the average fall in farm incomes will be roughly 21 per cent but that there will be even more dramatic falls in some of the agriculture enterprises. For example, a farmer operating on a two year calf to beef system would need to be able to sell cattle over 600 kilos after two years in order to make even a small profit of £18 in 1990. A farmer totally dependent on cereal would need to produce at least two tonnes of spring barely per acre in order to break even. A committed farmer has estimated that one would need 250 acres of cereal production just to meet family obligations and commitments.
The Minister should consider the future of the small to medium sized farmers in the context of the changes being discussed at the moment in the CAP and in the GATT negotiations. Immediate action is required to assist these farmers if we are serious about preserving the fabric of rural society.
Fine Gael have put forward realistic proposals to meet the present incomes crisis in farming. Listening to the Minister here today one would think that we can only wait to see what Commissioner MacSharry can do in relation to the CAP and the GATT negotiations. When Fine Gael/Labour were in Government in the eighties and there was a weather crisis affecting farm incomes, we doubled the headage payments and provided low interest loans for people in the beef and cereal sectors. We are asking this Government to have the courage to do something similar in a situation that is far worse than what occurred in the eighties. Low interest loans of 10 per cent from the EMS system are available if the Government underwrite the exchange rate risk. Fine Gael are also in favour of declaring the entire country as being disadvantaged in order to alleviate the divisiveness about which my colleague Deputy Cotter just spoke.
Studies have been carried out by the Minister for Agriculture and Food, the DVO offices and the Land Commission in relation to disadvantaged areas, but can the Minister explain why some of the best land in the country has been proposed for inclusion while some of the worst land has been excluded? Will the Minister tell the Deputies who leaked this information around the constituencies to tell the people why they have not been included in this scheme and to admit that there will not be an appeals system to give the Minister for Agriculture and Food a second chance?
The Deputy should ask his colleagues about the previous review.
The Minister for Agriculture and Food has had three years to devise a proper proposal but all he has done is to send officials and inspectors about the country and at the end of the day no explanation has been offered to the farmers about how they are being treated under this scheme. The Minister should indicate that the incomes crisis throughout rural Ireland has been recognised by the Government and that a special case is being made by the Minister to the Commissioner to ensure that Irish farming will get a special deal similar to the deal Deputy Deasy, when Minister for Agriculture, succeeded in winning for the dairy farmers in 1984.
I wish to share my time with Deputy Leonard.
Meat is a major natural resource and an export earner. There is a very low import component so that almost all income generated accrues to the economy. The annual value of meat to the nation is £1.7 billion and of that exports are valued at £1.3 billion. About 85 per cent of beef is exported as is 60 per cent of sheep and 30 per cent of pig meat. There has been a depression in the trade over the past 12 months. Difficulties of an unprecedented scale have impacted mainly on the beef industry. However, the meat industry has registered significant achievements and we can overcome the current difficulties and exploit our strengths as we face into the last decade of the century.
In relation to the beef sector, while producer prices have been affected, we must not lose sight of the fact that the enhanced intervention arrangements secured by the Minister have acted to avoid a virtual price collapse in this sector. The Minister must be complimented for his negotiations in that regard. This safety measure was negotiated last year and there was not any crises. We are now seeing the benefit of it. It is estimated that the total intervention tonnage, including the safety net volume, will amount to 225,000 tonnes in 1990. This is equivalent to 750,000 head of cattle. There is no doubt but that this measure has adverted a very serious problem in the cattle industry. In the first two weeks of October, 72,000 bullocks went into intervention and it is estimated that in the last two weeks of October, 93,000 additional bullocks will have gone into intervention.
BSE has received a lot of publicity. I appeal to the press and to the media who are probably listening to me in the back rooms of this establishment to ensure that there is no media hype about BSE outbreaks. We have very few outbreaks of BSE at the moment but we have had BSE for as long as I can remember. It used to be termed "the staggers" in cattle but now it is called BSE and mad cow disease. We are giving too much credence in the press to the dangers of BSE. While BSE is an indigenous problem it has clearly created difficulties for Irish meat in the marketplace and the marketing challenge facing the meat industry in the wake of BSE is accordingly much greater. I welcome the Minister's clear statement on this matter and the reassurance this has given. In this context, the Minister's swift action in moving to ensure access for Irish beef to Iran is most welcome and I look forward to continuity in this important market.
As well as the difficulties created by the BSE scare pressures have also arisen due to the Gulf crises, the GATT negotiations and the reunification of Germany. The latter means that East Germany will have access to EC markets which will lead to some difficulties. There is no doubt but that these are unforeseen difficulties and their effects, especially on producer incomes, will have to be minimised to the greatest extent possible.
In relation to the pressures arising from the American position in the GATT negotiations, the Minister is to be complimented for steadfastly resisting any effort for a piecemeal dismantling of the CAP. While it is accepted that we are entering a new competitive environment where the market will more directly influence the returns to producers and to the economy, we cannot accept demolition of the gains that we have secured under the CAP. If there are to be changes, they will have to be reasonable and gradual and compensated for in terms of their affect on producer incomes. There will also have to be a realistic attitude adopted by the Commission.
I believe that we have the strength to go forward to secure and enhance the place of this industry in the marketplace. Our breeding herd is at its highest level for a decade. More particularly, the suckler cow component of the herd has increased by some 30 per cent over the past two years, thus further enhancing the pre-conditions for growth in the quality sector of the market and increased market penetration in the future. The headage payments, which we have fought to maintain and increase, have undoubtedly contributed significantly to this.
There is one further feature which is worth bringing to the attention of the House. Counties Mayo, Sligo and Donegal have registered the highest rate of continental AI inseminations in the country. This must be a very positive indication of increased numbers of the right quality of animal which will be required in the future. If we are to sell quality we have to produce quality, and that starts with the primary producer.
In marketing terms, half of all the beef we sell in Europe is sold in boneless vacpac form, and this despite fluctuations in supply over the eighties. In addition, our meat export industry has achieved a high level of penetration of the top retail outlets in Europe. All the parties to this very welcome progress are to be complimented, the Government, the Minister, his Department, the processors and producers and, of course, CBF, the meat marketing agency, who have done an excellent job.
Much attention has been focused on the beef industry's particularly high dependence on third country markets. These markets have, however, made a tremendous, positive contribution at a time of rising EC beef production and when put in the context of Ireland's high export dependence and seasonality of production. Access to these markets must continue to be maintained and the Minister must be supported in his efforts to have export refunds granted on exports to the potentially lucrative Japanese market.
The emerging trade environment, nevertheless, highlights the need for the industry to achieve a better balance of exports as between the EC and third country markets. This can only be accomplished by more intensive investment in the marketing of Irish beef in Europe and by building on the sound record achieved by the industry and CBF in recent years.
It is also important to realise that Irish beef enjoys an excellent reputation and it is of paramount importance that the message of a country with a high disease-free status and natural, extensive production methods be got across to all our customers and potential customers in all markets. As I have said on many occasions, I would welcome recognition of the quality of Irish beef by other countries.
Our sheep sector has greatly improved and there has been an increase in flock numbers. While prices are down this year by at least 20 per cent a cushion has been provided by the Minister in the payment of ewe premiums. He is about to make a third payment in the ewe premium, amounting to £30 per ewe. This is a very important measure for the sheep producers and the Minister must be complimented on it.
Like other speakers, I regret that we have not been given sufficient time to debate this issue and I hope we will be given another opportunity to debate the crisis in agriculture before the GATT talks conclude. I would welcome such a debate because we do not have sufficient time in this debate to discuss the problems in our greatest industry. Sharing one's time is not a proper way to debate this major industry. I call on the powers that be to make time available for a proper debate. I appeal to Members on the other side of the House to help the Government during these trying times instead of criticising the Minister.
It is helpful criticism.
No solution has been put forward by that side.
We produced a ten point plan.
We will help the Government just as much as they helped us.
No alternative solution has been put forward and when it is it will be examined by the Minister and included in his proposals, if appropriate.
I put forward an alternative solution today.
The Government have done a good job in a very bad year and if it were not for the Minister, and Commissioner MacSharry in Europe, we would not have achieved what we have achieved today.
God help us.
I want to advise Deputy Leonard that he has less than seven minutes.
I am glad to have an opportunity to make a few observations. The Minister has been confronted with very serious problems in the agricultural sector over the last couple of months and I compliment him, and his junior Ministers, on the effective way they have dealt with them. There is no doubt but that they were swimming against the tide in trying to deal with the problems in the meat industry. Many problems came on stream in that industry at the same time, the BSE scare, the GATT talks, the Gulf crisis and the developments in Eastern Europe, which will lead to more problems in the years ahead.
It is ironic that after almost 17 years of membership of the EC there is such a poor demand for some of the products we thought would be in great demand. Mention was made at that time of a market of hundreds of millions for our produce but our expectations have not been realised. When our markets in Iran and Iraq were cut off our meat had to be put into intervention. I am thankful that we have this intervention safety net. Intervention is not the answer as it will have to be disposed of at some stage.
Many questions have been raised about the way meat plants are being operated. There is clear evidence that they are raking off excessive profits at a difficult time. Before becoming a Member of this House I worked in a co-op. If difficulties were encountered at all times they tried to give the maximum amount to the producer but now it seems they take what they want and give the producers the rest. At present there is a male beef premium and I appeal to the Minister to make an effort to get a heifer premium. The English market is very slow and because the animals are lighter they would not be suitable for heavy weight intervention if that were available. Therefore, I ask the Minister to make an all-out effort to get a heifer premium to give some relief to people who find that they have many animals on their hands and are finding it very hard to dispose of them.
I would now like to refer to the less favoured areas scheme. I have to say I was very disappointed by the results of the last survey.
The Deputy got a bit of his own backyard in.
A further 5 per cent of County Monaghan has been included while the total amount covered in County Cavan has also been increased to 61 per cent. I find this very hard to understand because when surveys were carried out in the past we were told the fact they were milk-producing counties would militate against them. When I worked in Monaghan Co-op 4,000 farmers out of a total of 6,500 farmers were involved in milk production. Following the introduction of the restructuring and milk cessation schemes in 1987 and 1988 this figure dropped to 1,980 people. Therefore, that argument does not stand up.
In relation to the survey, we have been told it was carried out using the data of the Farm Advisory Service network, the facts sheets were completed by agriculture officers on farms and the decisions were made on the basis of that information. It is my information that the data of the Farm Advisory Service network relates more to regions than to countries and one would find it very hard to convince me that one could relate it to counties.
The farm organisations and others carried out a survey on a number of DEDs. All I ask is that when the results of that survey are presented to the Department that they should correlate them with the information on the facts sheets completed by the agricultural officers to see if there are variations. In the interests of fair play this should be done.
If you were in danger of losing a seat in Cavan-Monaghan it would be done.
I would now like to refer to the facts sheets. They contain various headings such as poultry, commercial, agri-tourism, mushrooms and so on. Many developments have taken place in the county which have led to an increase in incomes but we should remember such development requires massive borrowings and repayments to banks. I am quite satisfied that cognisance was not taken of this fact. I ask the Minister to correlate the information. In the interests of fair play this should be done.
I am sorry but I must advise the Deputy that his time is up. I thank him for his co-operation.
If this debate has confirmed anything in my mind it is that the attitude of Members of the Oireachtas has changed. I think it is now accepted that there is a crisis in agriculture. Significantly, Members on the Government side of the House, one after the other, have admitted this. I suppose we must congratulate those who have lobbied them in their constituencies, the IFA, the ICMSA and the Irish National Farmers' Organisation. It is obvious they have been successful because they have managed to convince the Government side of the House that there are problems in agriculture. Each of them has admitted that there is a problem in agriculture and that many family farms in rural Ireland are facing a crisis. However, they have tempered their criticism by congratulating the Minister and our Agriculture Commissioner. I suppose all we can do is lay the blame at the door of the Minister and that of the Commissioner with regard to the GATT negotiations.
The Labour Party have a particular interest in this debate on agriculture. We hope this industry will sustain as many people as possible in rural Ireland where no jobs are available, because it is our belief that as many people as possible should be maintained on their own family farms where they are happiest, where they want to be and work in return for a reasonable income. To achieve such an income the farmer himself, his wife and many of his children have to join together to work on the farm seven days a week. This is the only way they can generate an income to educate their children and maintain their home. Therefore, they have not demanded anything other than what we thought membership of the Community would bring, a reasonable income.
This year small farmers in particular, especially dairy farmers with 25,000, 30,000 or 40,000 gallon quotas, have witnessed a dramatic reduction in incomes through no fault of their own but rather the fault of those who represent them in the Commission and the Council of Ministers. Unfortunately insufficient power is vested in the European Parliament, the members of which are elected by direct vote unlike those who represent us elsewhere in Europe who are nominated. Therefore, the decisions made behind closed doors in the Council of Ministers and the Commission do not always reflect the views of Irish farmers and those who represent them.
Agriculture is of tremendous importance to us given the number of jobs it generates, both directly and indirectly, in milk production, beef processing, cereals and so on. It is essential, if we are to maintain our place in Europe, that agriculture be protected, that we create as many jobs as possible in agriculture and maintain as many people as possible on family farms. My colleague, Deputy Stagg, has intimated some of the problems associated with CAP and the distribution from CAP. It is true that CAP will have to be reformed. It is also true that it has been condemned and criticised by many experts who feel it has not addressed the problem. I am concerned in 1990 that our criticisms of CAP could be misconstured by those who represented GATT, the CAIRNS Group and the Americans that in some way we are not happy with it and that would build up further momentum for the abolition and dismantling of the CAP system. CAP, with all it warts, brings into this country not just £1,000 million but £1,500 million to farmers, to the processing industry and indirectly to those working in it. If we are to change the system let us be careful that we do not throw out the baby with the bath water. Let us be careful to put something constructive in its place by way of income support or by way of family support.
It was interesting to listen today to people from the Fianna Fáil side suggesting that the families in agriculture could turn to social welfare to help them out of their dilemma. In to day's issue ofThe Cork Examiner I notice that the whole process, this odium of means testing social welfare, will preclude many family farms in financial difficulty from benefiting this year because they will be means tested on the previous years income. I would support Government speakers who have advocated that we should consider the family income supplement as being a suitable medium to transmit money from Government to family farms in difficulty. The reason I support that concept is that for the first time farmers are now paying PRSI and any other worker who pays PRSI qualifies for family income supplement if the family farm is big enough and if the income from the occupations is sufficiently low. There is nothing wrong with the concept of paying family income supplement to family farms if that is what is required.
With the consensus that surrounds this debate there is no doubt there is a crisis in agriculture. I know the Minister does not like the world "crisis" but it is a crisis. Each one of his own back benchers has admitted there is a major problem. One of the problems evolves around the diminution of the importance of the CAP system or the export refund system. Many of our exporters depend completely on the export refund system to sell their produce outside the Community where, apparently, they have no markets for it.
The Commissioner for Agriculture who conceded that there may be changes in the export refund system is tinkering with dynamite. The Americans are subsidising their own farmers at the rate of $20,000 per annum, the EFTA countries can subsidise their farmers and we are almost apologising for helping to subsidise the production from Irish farmers. To whom do we have to apologise? Surely, this was one of the reasons our accession to Europe was accepted by many as being a possible improvement, particularly in the area of agriculture. If those who voted for membership of the Community saw what was happening — dismantling the only policy we have, with a 30 per cent reduction being suggested by the Commissioner and argued by the Ministers, and the Americans seeking a 70 per cent reduction — they would ask where the negotiations are likely to get Irish agriculture and this country? If we lose what is a net contribution from the Community — not a deficit; the amount of money we pay into the Community as Irish taxpayers is negligible in comparison with what we get back — if we lose any of that money, without it being restructured and paid back to the source for which it was intended, we will have done a disservice to Irish agriculture and to those who voted for membership of the Community.
In last Sunday'sBusiness Post a document was published by an economist — they are not always right — who has touched on what has happened in Irish agriculture, particularly in relation to the GATT negotiations. The headline was: “American CAP Demands Threaten Instant Demise of 70,000 Irish Farms”. He said:
The Americans are not usually given to humbug but their latest stance on EC food subsidies is humbug of a most unusual kind. Effectively, they are ordering the EC to dismantle the entire CAP at a stroke while Washington continues to subsidise each of their 2 million farmers to the tune of $20,000 per annum.
I agree with my colleague Deputy Stagg that the Minister's speech today meant nothing and I am surprised that any Minister in a period of crisis would deliver this statement. In the second paragraph of his contribution he said:
Some of the decisions that will be required may be difficult but we must face the facts and avoid the futility of complaining about the revolutionary change taking place in agricultural markets in Europe and worldwide.
This is a statement from a man who is supposed to be representing the farmers of this country and those who depend on agricultural employment. That is from a Minister who says there is no point in complaining about the revolutionary change. I have seen nothing to replace anything they want to change in spite of the inequities that have been pointed out about that system of farm supports. When we discuss the matter with our colleagues in the Labour Party — urban or rural — for example, Deputy M. Higgins from Galway, he complains that 70 per cent of farmers in his area have less than 50 acres and 50 per cent have less than 30 acres. Many of those farms are fragmented and it is a task to survive, not to mention making a living. It is no wonder we are talking about trying to assist people through the social welfare code or through the family income supplement.
When we look at total exports from agriculture we realise how important it is. Agricultural exports in the previous year were about 16 per cent of our total economy and were valued at about £2,500 million. That figure cannot be joked at, it cannot be left aside as if there was not a problem. That is the value of our exports. Even if agricultural employment is falling — it now stands at about 15 per cent of total employment — the numbers of people are not counted properly. According to the tax man and the Minister, one person working on the farm is considered to be one person in employment whereas the average in any research we have done shows that in each family farm there are at least three people working. The tax man would not accept that because he is now talking about proper allowances for husbands, wives and children on family farms similar to any other PAYE worker. That will not be conceded because they are considered to be selfemployed. There are anomalies and we are trying, with our colleagues in the European Parliament — where we have the largest group and have some influence with the Commission and the Council of Ministers — to ensure that if there are changes in the CAP, which everybody is advocating, that they would be carried out in a programmed way so as not to devastate family farms and denude rural areas.
If there are to be changes in the transfer of resources from the wealthy countries in Europe to the periphery, we would advocate the use of the Structural Funds and the redefinition and classification of areas in the disadvantaged areas programme. This programme is now a fiasco. Nobody knows what the Government have submitted, although there may be some information leaked to Fianna Fáil Deputies. We have sought and failed to get any details of the areas. I want to know if Slievenamon, Slieve Felim, and parts of the Galtees and Hollyford are included. I could name several areas which comply with the criteria but are not in the scheme. If they were included Fianna Fáil people would have leaked the information. When the publication comes from Europe we will hide behind it again and blame Europe. Our understanding is that if the Government make submissions which comply with the regulations the European Commission will accept them.
We must have a national commitment to the additionality which is required to supplement income in the disadvantaged areas. If we do not address the problem of disadvantaged areas large groups of people will leave rural Ireland. They are happier there and want to remain but they will be forced to leave. They voteden bloc for membership of the Community in the belief that it was better to broaden our market rather than depend totally on one market in England. Admittedly the predominance of our exports still goes to England but it is better to have the broader market. Our beef and dairy industries have made the necessary changes. Perhaps we have been unfortunate in that we have vested too much influence in individuals who did not respect the credit and financial assistance given by Governments. They abused credit given to them and went off to other areas in the UK.
I want to assure family farmers that we will ensure that whatever changes take place in funding from Europe, capital flow will continue either through disadvantage payments or Structural Funds if we have to make changes in the CAP. We will not allow changes in the CAP to take place to suit the Americans at the GATT negotiations unless we have a guaranteed replacement. We on all sides of this House can discuss with farmers the means of ensuring that families will survive in rural Ireland. We politicians owe them that, regardless of the constituency we represent. I have regard to the representations made to me on this subject and I compliment the farming organisations who are experts in the area.
The Minister should not feel we are simply criticising him. We want to be constructive in our criticism. We have been more constructive than Fianna Fáil when they were in Opposition and we were doing our best. It was not good enough for them and we are giving them the dose they gave us. We offer our co-operation. If they do the job we will support them; if they do not, we will criticise them.
Thanks to the understanding and co-operation of the House, and especially the Minister of State who is forfeiting five minutes of his time, it is possible to call two Independent Members. Deputy Foxe will have six minutes and Deputy Garland will have four minutes.
I extend my thanks to the Minister for affording me the time. The plight of agriculture has been well aired today on both sides of the House. We are not merely speaking about farmingper se but about an industry which provides 25 per cent of our total exports and one in every six jobs in manufacturing. It is a sad reflection on us and on successive Governments that after 70 years of selfrule two-thirds of our farmers have an income of less than £100 per week. That was the case in 1989 and all the indicators are that this year that meagre income will be reduced by a further 20 per cent.
There are many reasons why the income is so low. Basically it is a matter of supply and demand. We have more goods than we can find markets for. We seem to have fallen down in securing markets for our products. There are other contributing factors such as the BSE scare. I compliment the Minister on his rebuke to the media for giving a very one-sided view of the disease. In England they have 200 cases of BSE per week while here we have had 20 cases so far, 19 of which can be traced either to imported cattle or to imported meal infected with the forerunner of BSE, namely, scrapie, a disease in sheep. The number of sheep in England is about 40 million and 20 per cent are affected by scrapie. When offal from those sheep is incorporated in to bonemeal which is fed to cattle, BSE occurs. It is most regrettable that RTE should night after night have thrown up on the screen the image of a staggering cow in a cattle yard. That would have an adverse effect on anybody and would instil fear in the housewife who buys meat. Such factors have contributed to the very low incomes which obtain in farming circles this year.
We talk about preserving the rural community. Most of our farms are far too small to provide a decent income for a man, his wife and family. The only way of keeping the rural community as we know it, even with current reduced numbers, is by further subsidies paid direct to farmers. Perhaps if more emphasis were placed on marketing it would make life much easier, rather than relying on the intervention system as we have been doing to a notorious degree over the years.
Regarding cattle and sheep headage payments, it would be better for the smaller farmer if those moneys were paid on a sliding scale, say a certain amount for the first 20, a lower rate for the next 20 and so on. In that way the smaller farmer would receive a higher percentage of what is becoming available to agriculture generally. It is my understanding that approximately 80 per cent of the subsidies coming to this country are distributed among a mere 20 per cent of our farmers.
There is no increase in headage payments this year.
I did not say there was.
The first thing that needs to be understood about the current agricultural crisis is that it is a real crisis. In fact, it is even worse than that portrayed by the media for a number of reasons. First, the 21 per cent projected reduction in farm incomes refers to gross income so that profits probably will be reduced by more than 21 per cent. Sheep and dairy farmers are being cushioned by delays in price falls while they enjoy the benefits of a couple of former good years. The prospects for 1991 and 1992 are even worse. In all, three sectors are affected. There is no escape for the farmer because he cannot change his production patterns. Most importantly, the crisis has been brought about by the accumulation of long term fundamental problems within the CAP which disaster was signalled a long time ago.
Since the early eighties the Green Party, Comhaontas Glas, have been warning farmers and the Government about the disaster in the offing but they chose to ignore our advice. All the rubbish we hear about sudden, unforeseeable problems is a total myth. Our overreliance on the CAP has led to the specialisation and over-production of products and poor marketing strategies. Our natural feeding régimes are often based on bought-in feed resulting in diseases, such as BSE, salmonella and so on.
There was also the stranglehold which Mr. Larry Goodman attained over many aspects of Irish agriculture. Quite fortuitously it appears that the Goodman menace has now been removed. When the dust settles on this quite extraordinary chapter in Irish agriculture the question must be posed: have the farmers who sold out their future livelihood to Goodman for a pittance taken leave of their senses? Have those farmers forgotten what their fathers and grand-fathers fought for in the early days of this century? Surely it was to thwart the Larry Goodmans of their day — who lived like parasites off the backs of farmers — that Irish farmers founded those great cooperative movements giving themselves a fair deal for the first time? The only conclusion that can be drawn from this lemming-like rush to embrace Larry Goodman is greed and shortsightedness.
I might remind the Deputy there is a well honoured custom in the House that we do not criticise any person — or company — who is not here to defend himself. I am sure the Deputy would agree that is the least we should do.
I will bear that in mind, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. The current position obtaining in the agricultural sector arose as a result of crisis mismanagement and the lack of any sem-blance of long term planning.
It is obvious that the outcome of the GATT negotiations, coupled with the Common Agricultural Policy reforms, will have serious implications for Irish agriculture affecting the very survival of many rural communities. All those people connected with agriculture are at a crossroads. The Green Party feel it would be unreal and illogical to persist to cling to the same policies which have been shown to have failed tragically. The Green Party urge all concerned to adopt and put into action policies aimed at providing healthy and affordable food from systems of sustainable mixed farming incorporating more natural, organic and bio-dynamic principles.
The Green Party accept that, in the immediate future, it will be necessary to maintain and perhaps improve certain supports, price mechanism and so on. We maintain that most of these should be put in place for a short interim period during which alternative structures and systems would be put in place thereby reducing dependence on outside forces, increasing farmer control and influence.
It is not too late to reverse years of mismanagement and abuse. Unless decisive action along the lines recommended by the Green Party is undertaken immediately to get farmers off their present treadmill, rejecting current trends towards mass production and low quality cheap food, many rural communities will cease to exist and rural Ireland will become merely an historic place to be perserved for and exploited by tourists.
May I make a point of order, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle? I want to bring to the attention of the Minister of State that two Deputies stated in the House that we always had BSE in the form of "staggers". That is an extremely dangerous statement. When replying I would ask the Minister to correct that point because it has serious implications for the whole of the beef industry.
It was timely that we should have had this debate on our agricultural industry, particularly when the GATT negotiations, the whole progression of the discussions taking place within the context of the Uruguay Round, are due for completion at the end of this year.
Even without having listened to the sentiments expressed in the course of this debate we all appreciate and realise the immense importance of the agricultural industry to our economy; its importance goes without saying. Indeed, the importance of the Common Agricultural Policy and the market support mechanisms contained therein have played a fundamental role in the development of our agricultural industry since joining the Community in the early seventies. The Minister himself clearly recognises the importance of the Common Agricultural Policy and the market support mechanisms which are part and parcel of that policy. His role and input at Council of Ministers level will be geared to protecting the core of those mechanisms as far as possible.
We shall see.
The GATT negotiations are moving into an era in which the pressures and demands for liberalisation of world trade are self-evident, an era in which the economic forces that dictate such matters feel it is time they were examined. We have been examining these proposals very much from our perspective, gauging their impact on us in the long term. I should like to feel that the thrust of what Members have said in the course of this debate will be very supportive of the role our Minister for Agriculture and Food will play at the forthcoming Council of Ministers meeting in Luxembourg. We wish him well there.
The impression may well have been got from what has been said here today that really it is an individual Commissioner who is dictating and making the running at that level. The reality is that the Commission, as a body and the member states through the Council of Ministers — with our Minister for Agriculture and Food as our representative — are the people who make the input in consideration of the GATT negotiations. One can only speculate what would be our position had we not got a voice there — were we outside the EC — and the implications for us in these GATT negotiations, particularly for our agricultural industry. Fortunately we are a very active member of the Community, have been for many years, and will be making our voice heard at Council level.
The changes being proposed will mean effectively that there will be different proposals advanced for the operational programme for rural development. As Members will be aware, we have had a pilot scheme operational here for some time past. The information gleaned from that pilot scheme has been worthwhile particularly to the administrative staff who had the task of putting together the operational programme for rural development. That programme has been submitted to the Commission whose response is expected fairly soon.
Virtually every speaker touched on the designation and reclassification and a number of things need to be said to clear up some misunderstandings which seem to have arisen. On 4 February 1987 a submission by the then Government was lodged with the Commission proposing a reclassification of all existing disadvantaged areas to more severely handicapped status. The objective was to secure higher grants and greater benefits for cattle farmers residing outside the more severely handicapped area. I emphasise that no application was made to extend the existing disadvantaged areas, and when one considers that there has been a very significant increase in the areas, proposed for designation under that heading, one can readily appreciate the importance of the most recent submission which the Minister, Deputy O'Kennedy, made under this heading. We are looking forward to the Commission accepting and endorsing that proposal.
One could also glean from the contributions today that the matter of the identification of the areas for designation was done on some politicalad hoc basis. There was a clear scientific foundation for that, and the inspectors charged with the responsibility were given clear criteria within which to operate. It is inevitable that in a situation like this there will be areas that, unfortunately, have not been included and because, perhaps, they may not fall within the criteria an element of dissatisfaction will creep in. That is the position. The submission has gone to Brussels and we are awaiting a decision on the matter in the Department of Agriculture and Food. When it comes back the clear benefits to the whole fabric of rural society, and particularly to the agricultural industry, will be worthwhile and significant.
The Minister released the list he sent out to Brussels. Everyone has it except the Opposition.
I want to deal with a number of points Deputy Stagg raised. In recent years Ireland has been receiving around £1 billion annually from FEOGA. Over half our receipts are in respect of internal Community price support arrangements, including intervention, with some 35 per cent by way of export refunds and the balance attributable to the investment aid mainly to the food processing industry and, of course, under the disadvantaged areas headage payments.
It has been argued that the Common Agricultural Policy is responsible for certian wastefulness in that some 80 per cent of supports go to no more than 20 per cent of farmers. With the way the support system is structured it is, perhaps, inevitable that larger producers are paying a greater share of the support. One should not forget that the average farm size in Ireland is significantly higher than the Community average. No more than three to four countries have bigger farms, so the figures quoted are not necessarily to our disadvantage. Several initiatives have been taken in recent years to direct more CAP supports to the smaller and more disadvantaged farmers. Small farmers were exempted from the milk coresponsibility levy and various headage and livestock premium schemes are weighted in favour of the small scale producers. The Commissioner for Agriculture has taken on new responsibilities for rural development and is more than ever conscious of the needs of the more vulnerable smaller farmers. A scheme of aid for small arable crop producers has alrady been put in place and a special new premium for farmers in disadvantaged areas will apply for next year. The CAP will inevitably have to be adopted after the present GATT negotiations are concluded. There are already indications that the fresh approach to the CAP in the aftermath of the GATT will result in concentration of greater effort on categories of producers and regions having the greatest difficulty in adapting to the new situation.
Translate the system.
I heard Deputy Stagg early in his contribution say that imports of fruit and vegetables were valued at £1 billion per year. This figure is too high; in fact, it is about ten times more than we import. In 1989 the total value of fresh fruit and vegetables was £116 million. Of this £38 million was for products which we normally produce at home. The remainder, £78 million, was made up in very large part by bananas, citrus fruits and grapes which we simply would not be in a position, because of climatic considerations, to grow here. It is the clear objective of the new State board, who have responsibility for horticultural development, to substitute an even greater percentage of that £38 million in imports which we should be growing at home.
I have moved into horticulture. Let us dwell for a moment on the mushroom sector which really has been the great success story. The output for 1990 is estimated to be around £45 million; it would be near enough on par with the figures for potatoes and wheat. It is estimated the exports will be 27,000 tonnes and the value of the exports will be around £35 million. The export value of mushrooms goes a long way to match the £38 million of fresh vegetables which we imported in 1989. At present the mushroom industry is running a year ahead of the targets set for the industry by An Bord Glas. Earlier this year the industry had difficulties because of the decline in the value of sterling, and we are very glad to see that Britain has decided to join the EMS. That will bring much needed stability to pricing and will allow companies involved in exporting fresh mushrooms to Britain to plan with greater certainty and, as it were, allow us to take an even greater share over a period than the 16 per cent target we set in November 1988.
I would like to deal with the potato sector, an area that has come in for much political focus and discussion in and outside this House down through the years. We have always said there was a need to get co-ordination in the marketing end and I am glad to say that An Bord Glas in conjunction with the IFA have appointed a market co-ordinator in the last six months or so. His appointment is bringing steadiness and a sense of planning and direction to the industry. Under the operational programme for rural development which is with the Commission, we are hoping substantial aid will become available for the provision of storage facilities and various other ancillary requirements in the potato sector. That will help us go a long way in import substitution.
In the sector known as the hardy nursery stock — that is produce grown for sale in garden centres — there are great possibilities for increasing our exports. An Bord Glas and Córas Tráchtála have been working very closely to co-ordinate our exports abroad. I take this opportunity to say that I would like to see many of our local authorities employing professional help in the area of landscape design to ensure that many of the requirements in the hardy nursery stock sector can be sourced at home and the design work being carried out by them and the advice given as a result will see——
What is the difference between head staggers and BSE? The Minister should clarify it. One of his own backbenchers raised it.
Deputy Stagg, allow the Minister to utilise the last remaining moments available to him in this debate.
I must say I am at a disadvantage. I did not hear what the back-bencher said in relation to BSE, but I will take this opportunity to say that much of the adverse publicity which has arisen in relation to BSE and, as the Minister stated in this House, the use of the phrase "mad cow disease" instead of BSE——
The Minister's own back-bencher said head staggers and BSE were the same thing and that we always had BSE. It is on the record.
It is important to ensure that no unnecessary damage will be done to our meat industry, and there is an obligation on Deputy Stagg as Agriculture spokesman to play his part in ensuring that the image of our beef industry is right, that no damage will be done to it and that the image of our exports is protected at all costs.
The Minister has a part to play as well.
The Minister is absolutely wrong in what he said.
The time available for the statements is now exhausted.
Might I just ask the Minister to clarify——
I am proceeding to another matter.
It would be very serious if the wrong impression was given on this mad cow disease.