That Dáil Éireann:
notes that recent proposals being discussed on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform will have a detrimental impact on Ireland's agricultural sector and that the suggested introduction of a Single Farm Payment will cost thousands of jobs and decimate agricultural production by up to 30%; and
calls on the Government to immediately publish its proposals and position in relation to these matters.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion which is one of the most important issues facing the agricultural sector and the entire economy. As has been noted right across the spectrum of the agricultural industry the targets are set out in the visionary document Food Harvest 2020. During the quiet month of August documentation was leaked from the EU to ascertain the response.
Before going into the detail of that documentation we must look at what the Common Agricultural Policy has achieved for agriculture and the primary producers in Ireland since 1973 and for Europe. It has been the backbone of the EU and certainly the backbone of the Irish agricultural industry. It is hugely important in any negotiations that take place in regard to the Common Agricultural Policy that we put them high on the agenda. We put them extremely high on the Government's agenda and on the agenda of this House because the whole essence of the Common Agricultural Policy is to ensure food security.
During the past 25 years, following our accession to the Common Market and subsequent decisions, food mountains and so on, we have witnessed the importance of the Common Agricultural Policy to maintain a vibrant agricultural industry and food security. It is clear that if we do not have a comprehensive Common Agricultural Policy we will not have food security or top quality produce on the supermarket shelves throughout the EU. Last year food exports increased by 11% to more €8 billion. The Government's target is to grow that figure under Food Harvest 2020 by €20 billion by 2020.
The various discussions that have taken place at European and Irish levels have benefited the export industry. However, post-2013, it appears the Minister will be chairing the talks on the conclusion of the Common Agricultural Policy and the decisions that will be taken. There is a need to ensure that the less well-off regions as well as the better regions of Ireland are properly safeguarded. We have had a system of historical payments, based on the reference years 2000, 2001 and 2002, which by and large have served us well and brought a large amount of direct transfer payments from the EU into Ireland and the agricultural sector. To an extent, this has allowed for certain planning at farm gate level in respect of decisions for the period.
Post 2013 and 2014, we have witnessed a tightening of the agricultural budget although the figure is more or less the same. We need to look at all aspects of what can be achieved in the food industry. Through better regulation we now produce some of the best quality food in the world. Farmers, the primary producers, have worked through a huge burden of bureaucracy. Comments from the agricultural sector on the bailout make it clear that we have complied with strict EU and Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food rules in recent years. It has paid off given that we have high quality produce that we can sell anywhere in the world.
In recent addresses the Minister has made it clear that the Dairy Board and all in the industry are gearing up for the emerging markets outside the EU, markets considered to be buoyant and those that are moving forward. While we must ensure we have a Common Agricultural Policy that rewards farmers, the primary producers, who are willing to produce a product that can be exported, agriculture is an export-led section of the economy which greatly enhances our national economy.
It is clear there are fears at farm gate level arising from the EU leaked documents. There is also a suggestion that the leaked documents will form part of the legislative proposals due later in the year. What I seek through this motion, and I thank my colleagues for allowing me to table it so early in the term, is to show how serious we are about agriculture. We would like to see the Department, the Minister and the Government's discussions built up and maintained. Prior to decoupling, there was a great deal of activity at farm gate level to find a way to gain an advantage from what was being introduced. Since August, people have been discussing leasing and so forth to try to ensure they can take advantage of the proposals when they come. This will cause confusion and uncertainty. Instead, we should ensure that the volume of direct transfer payments to Ireland in recent years be maintained, as doing so would be vital for our food and agriculture industries.
I will revert to the importance of CAP, but it would be remiss of me not to mention one of the most serious issues facing agriculture at the farm gate level, one that ties into decisions made at EU level, namely, the milk quota. A serious situation is affecting many dairy producers. While I am trying to refrain from making outlandish claims, it is troubling that two Teagasc publications, one in the last week of August and another in the first week of September, advised farmers how to stay within quota despite the fact there were still four, five or six months of milk production remaining. Making sense of this is difficult. In respect of many issues, we are tied by the EU-IMF agreement and required to become more competitive, seek export-led growth and so forth. Given the developments of the past ten to 15 years, it is important that we apply common sense. The majority of the milk produced is used in various products that are being exported outside the EU. We should give this matter serious consideration, given how the situation affects dairy farmers in particular.
Various documentation from official bodies and elsewhere has advised people to engage in cow leasing arrangements with farmers in the North who are working under the UK's regime and, as such, are 20% under quota. This makes no sense, particularly given how we have grown closer politically since the Good Friday Agreement. We share a land border with the UK, which is 20% under quota. Farmers are drying off pedigree stock and making decisions at farm gate level that will have a detrimental effect in terms of, for example, putting back calving times and so forth. According to best practice, what the training bodies are advising is a bad move. Farmers are making decisions to try to live within their quotas until 2015. In 2009 and early 2010, the national quota had not been reached in some time. The assumption was that it would not be reached.
This is a serious issue. Next week, there will be meetings in Brussels. Will the Minister prioritise this issue and seek a derogation? Europe is under quota and Ireland, a small island off its coast, is significantly over quota. Farmers are producing something that is exported outside the EU and is needed in the global market. It would help to increase our balance of payments. This makes economic sense in every way. The House and every part of the agricultural sector need to consider and address this matter in a commonsensical manner. The current situation is farcical.
In recent weeks, many dairy farmers who invested significant amounts have contacted me. They had been informed by their milk processors, co-ops and so on that they would not receive milk cheques between now and May 2012. These farmers have commitments to their banks, staff, contractors and suppliers and are drying off cows. Glanbia, people in better farmland and so on are drying cows off in the middle of July. This makes no sense. Will the Minister take this serious issue on board? No more than the Mulder quota, were it challenged under the Single European Act or other treaties, it would not stand. Producing milk would help us in our economic plight. We should explore the matter collectively.