Many farmers in west Limerick are in danger of losing their livelihoods if there is no intervention to alleviate the crisis brought on by the disastrous summer. Will the Minister immediately introduce measures to alleviate the crisis in a large area of west Limerick? In this area only 58 per cent of the fodder required has been harvested and 11 per cent of farmers surveyed by the IFA have less than 30 per cent of their fodder harvested.
The extent of the crisis can no longer be ignored. The excellent survey conducted by the IFA exposes in stark detail the terrible situation being experienced by farmers in Athea, Glin, Shanagolden, Ballyhahill, Ardagh, Newcastle West, Templeglantine, Tournafulla, Mount Collins and Abbeyfeale. The land in this area is very wet, cattle have been indoors for as long as two months, and farmers have been unable to sell those cattle because of the prices. There are also difficulties in other areas of the county which must be addressed.
The crisis forced farmers to graze 31 per cent of silage fields from which silage is not now available. Thirteen per cent of farmers were forced to use winter fodder prematurely. All farmers stated that the quality of the fodder saved is poor. There has been a fall-off of 10 per cent in milk yields, and 18 per cent of farmers were forced to destock as a result of the bad weather. Thirty-nine per cent of those surveyed had not sourced winter feed. The estimated drop in the income of farmers in the area for 1998 is 26 per cent. The drastic situation needs urgent action and ministerial intervention.
A multi-faceted approach is necessary to enable affected farmers to survive. This must involve the Department of Agriculture and Food, the co-operatives, banks, the Revenue Commissioners and community services. I fully endorse the following proposals which have been made by the Irish Farmers' Association: the immediate payment of headage to include a once-off increase; REPS payments to be made immediately without inspections; a reduction in the retention period for suckler cow and beef premia so that farmers who are forced to destock before the end of the period will not lose premia; the cost of feed and fertiliser to be reduced — the cost of nitrogen has increased by between £10 and £20 in recent weeks; improved credit terms from the co-operatives and dairies; banks to give special credit terms to farmers who are finding it difficult to make repayments — the Minister should open negotiation with the banks on this issue immediately; superlevy bills to be deferred by dairies for at least 12 months — the Minister should raise this issue with the dairies; dairies to refund penalties made where work was not carried out under the dairy hygiene regulations.
The £10 million which has been proposed for the farmers will be useless. It will be worth roughly £400 to each affected farmer and will buy only 20 round bales of silage. How does the Minister of State propose to distribute the £10 million? We have not seen any proposal yet as to how this will be distributed.
The freefall in cattle prices this week is nothing short of frightening, but the freefall of the Government inaction is a disgrace. Some animals are worth £250 less than a year ago, with some values falling by £170 per head since last June. The Minister's answer is to get 592 tonnes of meat into intervention over the next fortnight, which is equivalent to 1,800 cattle, when 40,000 cattle will be offered for sale in the same period. Even more frightening is the fact that some farmers put cattle through the mart ring yesterday and did not get a realistic bid.
I agree with Deputy Connaughton's statement, which he could not make in the Dáil yesterday, that the initial enthusiasm for the much sought after live cattle trade to Libya has now turned to deep seated anger as farmers have not been told by the Minister why there is a hold up, or if this market will reopen in the near future.
What is the exact position with the Iranian market? The Minister should intervene on the basis of the IFA survey and its proposals to alleviate the situation in County Limerick.