Other Questions.

Food Industry.

Sean Sherlock

Question:

49 Deputy Seán Sherlock asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if she will make direct financial supports available to farmers markets here to encourage their growth by way of marketing and advertising initiatives. [27069/07]

Support for the development of farmers' markets is included under the village renewal and development measure in Axis 3 of Rural Development Programme, Ireland, 2007-2013, which programme is operated by the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív. The aim of this measure is to provide appropriate small-scale infrastructure to enhance the economic and social attractiveness of villages, small towns and the surrounding countryside. The development of farmers' markets has received support across the country from the local action groups delivering the Leader programmes for 2000 to 2006 and is provided for under the new programme. The selection process for the local action groups to deliver the Leader-type measures under the new programme will commence shortly. I understand that funding to networks of producers to market, promote and advertise themselves and their markets at local level is currently provided under the Leader programme.

There are now something like under 130 markets in Ireland today, a number that has grown from a very small base over the past five years. Bord Bia estimates that the farmers' market system has an annual turnover of €28 million and, clearly, there is potential for the system to grow its share of the Irish food market in coming years.

The Government is committed to supporting local and regional food and both Towards 2016 and my Department's Agri-Vision 2015 action plan include measures in this regard. One of our commitments under the programme for Government is the encouragement of more direct selling from farmer to customer by restoring and promoting a national network of farmers' markets. In this context, my ministerial colleagues and I have participated at events such as launches of new markets to champion the scope of this route to market for the overall benefit of our food industry and our local communities.

Bord Bia, which operates under the aegis of my Department, works closely with other State and local agencies to exploit the growing opportunities for farmers' markets, recognising their current and future importance as an opportunity for direct selling by farmers and food entrepreneurs.

Bord Bia has supported and will continue to support these markets through relevant advice and information, which is now available on its new small business website, www.bordbiavantage.ie, and through the development and implementation of nationwide marketing campaigns.

The main vehicle for farmers' market marketing in Ireland this year was Bord Bia's sponsorship of "Fresh from the Farmer's Market", an eight-part television series shown on RTE 1 between April and June 2007. This programme featured markets and producers throughout the country and achieved strong viewer ratings throughout the series. The programme has now been sold to other television networks overseas, including the UK, Australia and New Zealand, and has been shown on flights inbound from the US. This has helped to showcase the strong and vibrant farmers' market network in Ireland and indeed highlights one of the many wonderful food tourism attractions of Ireland, the food island. In addition, it has assisted in driving consumer traffic into farmers' markets — both domestic traffic and traffic from tourists. Given the positive response to the first series, a second series is currently in production and will be shown in April 2008. Bord Bia is the main sponsor of the show, strengthening this marketing platform.

My Department is also currently surveying every known farmers' market in the country to ascertain and compile a detailed database of statistics. This information will then be used to guide Government policy at both local and national level for farmers' markets going forward. We are also looking at international examples in order to import some strong ideas and structures that will work for the already blossoming farmers' market system in Ireland.

I will allow supplementary questions on this matter.

I thank the Minister of State for his verbose answer and his advertising blurb for RTE. I appreciate the fact that Bord Bia and the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs through the Leader programme are doing much to encourage farmers' markets. However, on the ground, many farmers' markets are striving — I will not say they are struggling — to boost their popularity locally. Much of this work is done through voluntary effort. While programmes are in place through Leader to help them, if some sort of direct support was made available to them for advertising through local media, it would be of great assistance to them.

Judging from the Minister of State's answer, he is not telling me that his Department necessarily will be directly responsible for that and I accept this point. I also accept the fact that there is serious potential within this country for the growth of local markets. Will the Minister of State consider the idea of direct finance for marketing and advertising?

The Minister of State will give a brief answer.

I would love to put my hand in my pocket and give money directly but state aid rules must be taken into account and we must be cognisant of this reality. That said, I am conscious of the need to co-operate with, for example, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, which has overall responsibility for local government. I am promoting the remit of local government in respect of food. With this in mind, I am working with officials in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government so that we can jointly financially sponsor measures, for example, to ensure that running water and electricity are provided and that sufficiently central locations with parking and other necessary nuts and bolts are in place to give the market every necessary advantage to be successful.

On 13 November 2007, I will attend a local food conference in the Park Hotel in Mullingar, at which Deputy Sherlock might be present. I look forward to seeing him there. I will deal with that issue on the ground.

The Minister of State is almost a walking billboard.

In January, I will organise a forum with city and county managers where we can harmonise and bring some consistency to the way in which farmers' markets are organised throughout the country. That is all part of the help which is both practical and legal for me to give.

I will look at other areas, for example, indirect payments such as the organic farming grants, which, again, are of major assistance to people on many of those stalls, and REPS financing. Indirectly, hopefully, we can show that we have the financial as well as political commitment to developing farmers' markets.

Grant Payments.

Denis Naughten

Question:

50 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the value of inactivated single farm payment entitlements which are to be returned to the national reserve; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27066/07]

The regulations governing the single payment scheme provide that farmers for whom single payment entitlements were established had to activate those entitlements in 2005 by submitting a single payment application in that year. Entitlements not activated in 2005 are surrendered to the national reserve. Additionally, having activated their entitlements in 2005, farmers are required to use their single payment entitlements within three years and any entitlements not used for three years are surrendered to the national reserve. In order to use entitlements each year, farmers are required to declare one hectare of eligible land for each entitlement held. The total value of entitlements not activated in 2005 is €4.5 million.

In March 2007, my Department wrote to farmers who had not used their entitlements in 2005 or 2006 reminding them that, if they did not use them in 2007, these unused entitlements would be surrendered to the national reserve. The final figure for the value of entitlements unused for the three years will not be known until processing of the 2007 single payment scheme is completed.

My Department will again write to all farmers who hold entitlements and have not used them in either 2005, 2006 or 2007 to give them an opportunity to submit any observations they may wish to make. Any observations made can be taken into account before a final decision is taken to permanently surrender the entitlements to the national reserve. It is possible that some farmers were not in a position to use the entitlements for reasons offorce majeure — exceptional circumstances — and in such cases, the entitlements in question will not be forfeited to the national reserve.

I accept the point made by the Minister of State that there may be legitimate reasons that someone could not activate them in any of the three years. After the Department goes through this subsequent process and a fund of between €4 million and €5 million, as is probable at this stage, is still left there, this money should be ring-fenced for hardship cases.

A young farmer who applied under the national reserve was given the princely sum of €6.58 per entitlement. This young farmer has spent a significant amount of money on reclamation and this is his entitlement, which is virtually worthless, particularly when indexation is taken into account. Where genuine cases of hardship and cases where people have got a raw deal exist, will the Minister consider ring-fencing those moneys to help give those people a decent single farm payment?

Under EU regulations, young farmers must be the number one priority. We can look at other situations subsequently.

I gave the example of a young farmer who receives €6.58 per entitlement. This will not encourage anyone to work full time in agriculture. Will the Minister of State examine these situations? Aforce majeure programme existed in the past to deal with these issues. In the case of people who have suffered a raw deal, will the Minister of State consider their cases sympathetically and ring-fence that element?

Will the Deputy pass on the details of that case so that we can examine it?

I have a few of them and would be only too happy to pass them on.

EU Legislation.

Simon Coveney

Question:

51 Deputy Simon Coveney asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the implications for Irish Agriculture of the EU announcement on restrictions on the use of pesticides. [27128/07]

In the context of the thematic strategy on the sustainable use of pesticides, the Commission has proposed legislation on the marketing and use of plant protection products. These proposals include a number of initiatives aimed at reducing the risks to the environment and human health associated with use of plant protection products.

This proposed legislation is subject to the co-decision process, involving both the EU Council and the EU Parliament working in parallel. The EU Parliament adopted a position on these proposals at its plenary session on 23 October which refers to use reduction, prohibitions or severe restrictions, etc. However, the Council has not yet completed a first reading of the legislative texts concerned. Consequently, there is no agreed EU position at this time.

The Department is participating in the ongoing discussions at Council. The current Commission proposals do not contain any plans to impose severe restrictions except where deemed absolutely necessary following scientifically sound risk assessment. Since the Department already carries out such risk assessments during the authorisation process for pesticides, the current proposals from the Commission present no significant additional negative implications for Irish farming.

Can the Minister ensure we do not have a repeat of the nitrates directive fiasco, when farmers had no idea what was coming down the tracks? In a hurried manner, we put together a national nitrates action plan

The Deputy is misrepresenting the situation. For ten years they knew what would happen.

A band aid approach was taken.

That is rubbish.

It is non-recyclable rubbish.

During the last European elections we had many farmers' meetings at which concerns were expressed about restrictions on pesticide use. Having been in the European Parliament, I know that Ireland is at a disadvantage as a large agricultural producer. Most views and legislation in the European Parliament are led by the consumer. We must ensure Ireland communicates its perspective as an agricultural producer so that we take commercial farming into account. There is a concern that, because the Minister of State has expressed views on a GM-free Ireland, we are moving towards an organic Ireland. This would make commercial farming a thing of the past in respect of responsible pesticide use, herbicide use and so on.

Where is that coming from? It is GM propaganda.

I wish to raise this matter at an early stage to ensure farmers and farming representatives are kept in the loop on this issue. Concern, particularly among arable farmers, is growing.

I am aware of those concerns because I speak to farmers, as does Deputy Coveney. Sometimes it is not the fault of farmers that they are given incorrect information. The GM lobby is strong in Brussels and I understand that Deputy Coveney hears them regularly communicating the message that GM crops are a way of not using chemicals. The opposite is the case, as held by objective studies. I do not buy the idea that GM crops are a way of avoiding chemicals.

Many farmers are minimising pesticide use for reasons of cost as well as human health and environmental reasons and consumer pressure. I have visited a number of farms where biological controls are tested and are working quite well. This issue does not relate to what was proposed, namely a 50% cut in pesticide use. It refers to reduced risk, a far more complex issue that must be worked on through consultation with farmers, agronomists and those who have a scientific base for what they are advocating. I give a commitment that no decision I will stand over will be made in the dark, without consultation with farmers. It is vital that farmers recognise that consumer pressure is in favour of less pesticides and that scientific means, which do not involve GM, allow for far better plant protection with less pesticide through breeding various strains. For example, part of the directive deals with integrated pest management, the prohibition on aerial spraying, the designation of areas of greatly reduced or zero pesticide use and measures of risk reduction through harmonised indicators. It is quite complex and involves training and certification for professional users of pesticides.

The national plan is the key issue the Government must examine.

Absolutely, but it is more complex than referring to levels of use. The directive does not refer to levels of use but of reduced risk. This is far more important to bear in mind and will not be implemented without consultation with farmers. I assure the Deputy of that.

As long as it is not a reduced yield.

I am aware of the time constraints. Given that the legislation is at the stage of a first reading at the Council of Ministers, is the Minister aware of the range of pesticides that will come under the ambit of this procedure?

Time does not allow me to go into the full range because it is quite extensive.

Saved by the bell.

I look forward to an opportunity to discuss it without the time constraints of Dáil Éireann.

Can the Minister circulate the list?

We can provide the list.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.