Céisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Farm Incomes.

Bertie Ahern

Question:

1 Mr. B. Ahern asked the Taoiseach if he will set out for each year since 1980 the average annual increase in farm incomes as determined by the Central Statistics Office. [19866/96]

The information requested by the Deputy is set out in the following statement:

Income from self-employment and other trading income:

Year

Average Annual Change

1980

-11.1 per cent

1981

+17.1 per cent

1982

+25.7 per cent

1983

+14.9 per cent

1984

+19.2 per cent

1985

-10 per cent

1986

-6.4 per cent

1987

+21.6 per cent

1988

+18.6 per cent

1989

+4.9 per cent

1990

-1.7 per cent

1991

-9.3 per cent

1992

+17.4 per cent

1993

+1.9 per cent

1994

+5.3 per cent

1995

+6.8 per cent

Is there an official estimate of farm incomes in 1996 or part of the year?

In relation to the manner in which the figures are compiled, they are macro-economic statistics based on the country as a global farm. Figures are submitted by large companies, such as Avonmore and others, and attempts are made on that basis to work out the accurate figures.

The figures for 1996 to date are not available. There is a time lag between the figures and the 1996 statistics are not available. As the Deputy will appreciate in terms of pounds and pence, the figures are based more on the Teagasc survey which in 1995 showed that the average family farm income was £9,644, or an increase of 6.4 per cent on the previous year.

It is interesting to note that the good years in farming since 1990 were times when, by and large, the Fianna Fáil Party was in Government. One of the best years was one in which I was Minister for Finance and I am grateful to the Minister of State for putting that information on the record.

Regarding the formulation of the statistics and the figures used on that basis for the national economic data, is the Minister of State satisfied that it gives a correct over view of the position in agriculture, given that they are gathered in a loose fashion from individual co-operatives and companies?

I sought information in relation to the accuracy of the figures and how they correspond with the Teagasc figures. As I said yesterday in relation to tourism figures, although two different methodologies are used, they compare relatively accurately to each other.

In relation to the growth in farm incomes, there have been a number of minus growth years but, by and large, the upward pattern has continued. For example, the gross agricultural income was £1.6 billion in 1990, £1.5 billion in 1991, £1.8 billion in 1992, £1.8 billion in 1993, £1.9 billion in 1994 and £2 billion in 1995. In addition, the method is used in conjunction with the inflation index. The Deputy asked about the period 1980-95 and, although I will not go through each year individually, the agricultural income in 1980 was £671.5 million using an inflation index of 100. In 1995, where the figure was £2.69 billion, the inflation index was 237.5. Therefore, a certain adjustment must be made because inflation has increased since 1980. However, even allowing for inflation, there has been a considerable increase in farm incomes in the period 1980-95.

I note the increase in farm incomes in recent years. However, the question about this year's farm incomes should be asked in the middle of next year. Can the Minister indicate whether farmers' incomes, which have dropped, particularly those of small farmers in the west who depend on livestock, will be assessed in terms of their real incomes this year regarding their eligibility for unemployment assistance and medical cards?

Please, Deputy McCormack.

It is relevant.

I can answer that because I dealt with it this morning.

I will rephrase the question if it will help the Ceann Comhairle.

This is a statistical question and policy issues should not arise therefrom.

If the Deputy had supported our Private Members' motion recently he would know the answer.

The Deputy is extending the question out of all proportion.

I am as entitled to make a mistake as the Ceann Comhairle. How can we ensure the real level of farmers' incomes in particular years is known in terms of their claims for other assistance?

Regarding the average annual increase in farm incomes, does the Minister of State's brief refer to the problems regarding the incomes of families involved in horticulture and the supply of vegetables to the Dublin market and elsewhere? Is the Minister of State aware that in many cases incomes in this area have dropped over the years? Many growers have moved out of the market gardening area as a result of low incomes. Is that referred to? What measures will the Minister of State take to rectify the position?

That is clearly an extension of the question.

The first part of my question is not.

I recommend strongly that we deal with that matter separately.

Will the Minister of State indicate how these statistical matters are transmitted to other Government Departments? Like Deputy McCormack, I am very interested in that, particularly from a health point of view. This morning I raised a case with the Western Health Board regarding medical card eligibility. The Chair will be interested in this matter in regard to Tipperary. There does not seem to be any transmission of information regarding the current difficulties experienced by the farming community. The reduction in their income is not taken into account by, for example, health boards because the transmission of information is not satisfactory. How is such information transmitted?

I deem that this is essentially a statistical question.

Great minds think alike.

I cannot permit any extension of the question into the policy areas in the area of health or other areas.

I accept it is a statistical question. The other questions were interesting and I am sure we will get an answer to them shortly.

Yesterday the Minister of State was able to give me statistical data based on tourism when the figures were up for the first half of 1996. Does the computer stop printing data when the figures are down? Is that the reason we are not able to get data on the massive fall in farm incomes for the first half of 1996? Having regard to that statistical data, can I assume the Minister of State will raise the matter with the Taoiseach to ensure that he will finally engage in trying to protect farm incomes, given that to date he and the Tánaiste have refused to become involved in this matter?

Apropos the circulation of information to other Departments, which I presume was within the compass of the question and my remit, Deputies McCormack and Geoghegan-Quinn are aware that the CSO statistical release is circulated not only to all Government Departments but to all Deputies. The document to which I am referring is the standard CSO statistical release covering the estimated output, input and income from agriculture for the period 1991-5. On the basis of the figures in the release, it is up to every Department to make whatever adjustments are necessary. As the Deputies will appreciate, from the point of view of medical cards those adjustments are dictated in the first instance by the Department of Health and secondly by the eight health boards.

Regarding Deputy Ahern's point on farm incomes, the question relates to the period 1980 to 1995. There has been a real increase in farm incomes of 29.4 per cent over that 15-year period after adjustment for inflation.

Deputy Ray Burke will see from the recent Labour Force Survey findings that there has been a further reduction in the number of full-time farmers. This is a continuing trend, not a phenomenon that happened in 1995. The number of full-time farmers has been declining. There has been a switch from full-time to part-time farming and so on. Agricultural incomes for 1995 amounted to an all time high figure of £2.069 billion.

The Minister of State should tell that to the farmers of north county Dublin who are suffering from a lack of support in the marketplace in relation to horticulture.

Regarding Deputy Ahern's question, the figures will be available in December.