Other Questions

Common Agricultural Policy

Ulick Burke

Question:

32 Deputy Ulick Burke asked the Minister for Agriculture; Fisheries and Food the discussions he has had at EU level regarding reform of the Common Agricultural Policy reform; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22027/10]

I apologise to Deputy Doyle on that particular issue but if there is any mix-up I will meet Deputy Doyle following Question Time and give him the exact details.

Does the Minister have any control over his junior Ministers? Is the tail wagging the dog——

No.

Since the first policy debate took place under the French Presidency in September 2008 on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy, I have been fully engaged with the EU Commission and my colleagues in other member states to present the Irish position. I have participated in all policy debates under subsequent Presidencies and I have had informal discussions with a number of my colleagues from other member states. I met the Agriculture Commissioner, Dacian Ciolos, in February last shortly after his appointment and I will have further discussions with him when he visits Ireland later in the year. At official level too, we have had contacts and discussions with our colleagues in other member states and with the Commission and I will have further discussions next Monday and Tuesday also.

Ireland was one of a group of 22 like-minded member states that signed up to a declaration in Paris in December last on the importance of a strong and properly resourced CAP in future. This is my over-arching view and one for which there is good support in the Council.

Although the legal proposals for the future of the Common Agricultural Policy will not be published until mid-2011, I will continue to participate fully in the upcoming discussions. It is at this point in the negotiations that the broad direction of future policy will be set and I intend to be actively involved. I will travel to Spain next week for the meeting of Agriculture Ministers under the Spanish Presidency where the topic for discussion will be the future of EU agricultural policy in the context of the EU2020 strategy. It was at the insistence of Ireland and some other member states that the European Council included a reference in the conclusions on its spring meeting on the need for all common policies, including the CAP, to support the strategy. The conclusions went on to state that "a sustainable, productive and competitive agricultural sector will make an important contribution to the new strategy, considering the growth and employment potential of rural areas while ensuring fair competition".

The proposed strategy was subsequently discussed by EU Agriculture Ministers and there was unanimous agreement that agriculture had a crucial contribution to make to the strategy in terms of sustainable growth, rural employment, territorial cohesion, mitigating climate change, economic growth, increasing exports and social inclusion.

In the context of the overall debate what significance does the Minister attach to the Commissioner's repeated assertion that the historical model for payment is indefensible?

It would be well known that the 12 most recently acceded countries to the European Union have voiced strong opposition to the current system of payments. They regard the current system as being unfair to them. That is their strong view and they have been very vocal in that regard. Some of the member states that would have been supportive of the historic model in the past are not propagating its value at this time either. As I said to Deputy Sherlock earlier, the number of member states that are strong in their support of the historic model is small, unfortunately.

In the context of this debate will the Minister agree there is a danger that we might slip back into a "one size will fit all 27 member states" approach? While the eastern European and new accession states may have a point, that does not necessarily mean their favoured option of a flat rate payment must be imposed on us. If we have to tweak our historical model, the single farm payment, the Minister might cast some light on his view of a rolling reference period of years for payment, for example, rather than the historical model which is based on 2000, 2001 and 2002. Has the Department given some thought to a rolling reference period?

I would have mentioned it previously both in this House and earlier during Question Time that the Department has been doing a great deal of work on different models. Our work is not complete. I can give the spokespersons some access to the particular data on a confidential basis if they can understand where we are coming from in that particular respect.

I have made the point continually and strongly, and I made it directly to the Ministers from the former eastern European countries, that they have a different cost base than us. If they were using our currency a euro would go much further in one of those countries from the point of view of production and income than it would in western European countries. They are not comparing like with like in that particular instance. We are opposed to the flat rate model but we must ensure we have different models in place and that we apprise ourselves of the best systems that can be put to use for our own farmers.

If we take the three fundamental pillars that will underpin CAP, namely, water management, biodiversity and climate change, an issue will arise regarding the whole pillar of rural development and whether income will be taken from direct payments to farmers and housed in a rural development pillar, which could see it going into an administrative function through various local bodies and development organisations. Does the Minister have a view on that at this stage? Has a clear Government position evolved on that aspect? Would the Minister acknowledge that there are reservations by farm organisations on the matter on the basis that they would not wish to see income being diversified into that area at the risk that it could go down the so-called administrative black hole?

I accept the point Deputy Sherlock made. It is one I have made consistently, that those resources must stay within the farm gate and they are not for rural development. I am very much of the opinion that resources voted to agriculture must remain, in whatever systems are finalised — we know what are our preferences — within the farm gate and not be broadened out into the wider rural economy.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

John Cregan

Question:

33 Deputy John Cregan asked the Minister for Agriculture; Fisheries and Food his views on whether there is a case for reducing livestock numbers as a solution to achieving emissions reductions here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21860/10]

There are compelling environmental and economic reasons why reducing Irish livestock numbers as a means of achieving emissions reductions cannot be justified. In the first instance, such a policy would be counterproductive in terms of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. Ireland is a leading exporter of beef and dairy produce and any shortfall of Irish produce, on EU or world markets, arising from a reduction in Irish livestock numbers would be replaced with produce from countries with far less sustainable farming systems than we have here and the replacement produce would have a far greater carbon footprint than the Irish product it displaces.

Our agriculture sector will continue to play a significant role in reducing national greenhouse gas emissions. Ireland's national target under the Kyoto Protocol is to maintain emissions at a level 13% above 1990 levels, for the Kyoto commitment period 2008 to 2012. The latest projections from the EPA indicate that emissions from the agriculture sector will be, on average, 8.5% below 1990 levels over the commitment period.

Irish farmers have clearly demonstrated a willingness to embrace new technologies and farming methods that are friendly to the environment. Farmers will continue to adapt further, when new cost effective methods to reduce greenhouse gas emissions come on stream. In that context, I remain confident that dedicated research at national level and collaborative research at international level, including research into increasing the carbon sink potential of the sector, particularly the carbon sink potential of soils, will yield new effective, measurable and verifiable means to off-set greenhouse gas emissions from the sector.

The economic argument against such a proposal is also compelling. The Government's view is that not alone is the agrifood sector our most important indigenous industry but the continued success of this industry will be a key element of our economic recovery. The significance of the agrifood sector to the overall well being of the economy cannot be overstated accounting, as it does, for 6.6% of the economy's gross value added. Over 150,000 people, or some 7.5% of the total workforce, are directly employed in the industry. With a turnover of €24 billion in 2008, agrifood exports represented 10% of our total exports.

According to the United Nations, demand for food will increase by 70% over the next 40 years due to a huge increase in world population. Ireland's sustainable, low carbon, pasture based production system is well placed to contribute to that extra demand. It would be wrong to forgo these lucrative export opportunities for a short-term gain in terms of national emissions reductions targets, especially when we know that the overall effect of reducing animal numbers in Ireland will be to increase emissions elsewhere.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. He has allayed some of my fears in putting down the question because I am seriously concerned about a further stock level reduction.

How can the responsibility for dealing with the emissions issue be reconciled with the fact that there is an increasing demand for food throughout the world as there are up to 1 billion people who are hungry? We are making a substantial contribution in that regard in that we have a substantial live cattle export trade and the agrifood sector which, as the Minister of State stated correctly, is hugely important. I realise we must strike a balance but I am inclined to come down in favour of positively discriminating in favour of the food sector and of continuing our stocking levels. Even the single farm payment, when we take away headage, has contributed to a decline in stocks. We should be working strongly towards ensuring that we can get the balance right and that we can support and, if possible, increase stock levels.

I thank Deputy Cregan for raising this issue and giving us the opportunity to address some of the concerns within the agriculture sector in this regard. As he alluded to, the agrifood sector is of significant systemic importance. "Systemic" is a word used quite liberally in other sectors but in terms of the agriculture sector, this has a turnover of €24 billion and 150,000 employed within the industry.

Deputy Cregan asked about our contribution to the future demand for food. In that regard, over 1 billion people in the world today already are suffering from hunger. The United Nations projections suggest that the world population will rise from the current 6.8 billion to over 9.2 billion by 2050. In order to meet the food requirements of this increase in population, the FOA estimates that demand for food will increase by 70% in that period. It is a considerable increase in demand. We are committed to increasing the agrifood sector's production in Ireland to meet some of it.

There are a number of Deputies offering. I call Deputy Doyle.

I am glad to hear that the Minister of State, Deputy Connick, has shown a level of common sense on this. There has been a simplistic approach by some who suggest that by reducing agriculture in this country, one can deal simply with our carbon emissions. There are many factors supporting why it makes good sense to cultivate the agri-industry and the livestock numbers.

I apologise as I must go to a meeting of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security on energy. However, an interesting presentation from those involved in anaerobic digestion, to both to the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and to the Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, makes the point that——

I will ask the question directly. There is a Cabinet sub-committee on energy security and climate change. If the Minister encourages and incentivises and, instead of using the €50 million to purchase carbon credits as an off-set, provided some of that money as priming money to get initiatives going, one can harvest methane, do away with the nuisance element of it, have an energy source and have a better fertiliser source. Has he any input into the Cabinet sub-committee? I would urge him, on the basis of what he has stated here, to do so.

I thank Deputy Doyle for raising the question. I will be raising the issue in one of the latter questions where we deal with the biomass energy. Anaerobic digestion is a part of that.

In 2006, as part of the national development programme, a commitment was given to the delivery of anaerobic digesters. In 2007, ten projects were given the go-ahead. Unfortunately, none of those projects have moved forward in that sector. I am concerned at that and I am having a look at it to see what, if anything, we can do in that regard because there is potential in that area.

If one's solution is to reduce the number of cattle, it is a simplistic way of looking at the problem and one is not looking at the problem of GHGs properly. That is a scientific view.

I would refer the Minister of State to TResearch, which is a Teagasc publication in this regard. Perhaps he might acknowledge that looking at the areas of animal genetics, animal management, animal nutrition and performance stimulants would be a better way to reduce GHGs like methane and that there is a scientific basis for doing that. Would he acknowledge that any proposals to implement the McCarthy report as it pertains to the scientific budget would have an impact on Teagasc’s operations and on reducing methane emissions potentially in the long run? We need to take a more lateral view.

I am astonished Deputy Sherlock has time to read the TResearch magazine. I must try to make a little time to get going at it. At this stage, I think I will have to stay up all night.

I acknowledge the fact that there is a great deal of science going into the agrifood sector in terms of our production, something I welcome. I would be concerned to see any impact on that from a cuts perspective in an area that I have already highlighted as having considerable potential for further food production and a growing market, particularly when the agriculture sector is one of our indigenous industries. I would be keeping a close eye on that particular matter.