Agriculture Industry: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]
The following motion was moved by Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív on Tuesday, 7 October 2014:
That Dáil Éireann:
— the importance of agriculture as Ireland’s largest indigenous industry;
— that Article 39 of the Lisbon treaty sets out the EU wide objective of ensuring a fair standard of living for farmers;
— the historic reduction in direct EU supports through the Common Agricultural Policy Pillar 1 with the single farm payment to Ireland reduced by €42 million per annum from €1.255 billion to €1.213 billion, approximately a 10% cut in real terms, with a further 14% decrease in Pillar 2 payments;
— that the long-term sustainability of the agrifood industry in Ireland requires an adequate and fair market price return for farmers;
— that the ongoing manipulation of the market by big supermarkets and large processors is driving down prices for primary producers; and
— the need to ensure a level playing field between all actors in the agrifood industry, namely, primary producers, processors and retailers with a fair return to each sector;
condemns the Government and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine for failing to protect farmers from unfair treatment by retailers and processors; and
calls on the Government to:
— confirm its role and the remit of the EU under Article 39 of the Lisbon treaty in supporting Irish agriculture and establishing and overseeing a fair, effective framework for the market to operate within;
— ensure that the Minister emphasises the protection of farmers as the cornerstone of domestic and EU agricultural policy;
— work with EU Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner-designate, Phil Hogan, to prioritise the re-balancing of power in the agrifood industry in order to ensure farmers get a fair, sustainable price for their produce;
— work, at an EU level, to ensure the objectives of Article 39 of the Lisbon treaty are fully achieved; and
— introduce a €200 per head beef genomics scheme payment in 2015 to support the vulnerable suckler cow sector.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:
— the importance of agriculture as Ireland’s largest indigenous industry;
— the successful negotiation of the new Common Agriculture Policy during the Irish Presidency in 2013 which secured Pillar 1 funding of €8.5 billion for Ireland in the period 2014-2020;
— the negotiation by Ireland of the €2.2 billion funding under the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, to which a further €1.9 billion was added by this Government; and
— the importance of export markets to a strong Irish agrifood sector;
— the dramatic increase in agrifood output and exports under this Government’s stewardship of Food Harvest 2020 to €10 billion;
— that the long-term sustainability of the agrifood industry in Ireland requires a continued focus on improving profitability on Irish farms and on competitiveness and efficiency along the supply chain;
— the success of the Origin Green campaign in this context; and
— the need to ensure a level playing field between all actors in the agrifood industry, namely, primary producers, processors and retailers with a fair return to each sector, recognising that this is a pan-EU issue, given the very high level of exports of Irish agrifood products; and
— the ongoing efforts of this Government to re-balance power along the supply chain, through the Competition and Consumer Protection Act 2014 and through the public consultation on the establishment of producer organisations in the beef sector, which are intended, inter alia, to increase farmer bargaining power in the supply chain;
— the Government’s continuing commitment to the development of the beef industry, including through direct investment in 2013 of more than €40 million for the beef genomics scheme, technology transfer and other measures, and the provision of €295 million for the beef genomics scheme in the draft Rural Development Programme 2014-2020;
— the establishment of a beef forum, increase in marketing funds for the beef sector and efforts to increase transparency on pricing and specification for farmers; and
— the Government and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine in their continuing efforts to develop the agrifood sector and improve the profitability of Irish farmers.”
- (Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney)
As a result of non-existent support for indigenous industry and a slavish enthusiasm for foreign direct investment, the agriculture sector is by far Ireland's largest home-grown industry and it is vital to us. To safeguard agriculture we must give greater support and protection to small farmers - not just large, intensive farmers - who may have to adapt to environmental pressures in the coming years. Farming will have to change due to environmental targets and we will regret it if we allow more small farmers to disappear through the cracks. Farmers need the support and protection of the Government to stay in business.
Fianna Fáil's motion makes reference to suckler cows and I support this aspect in particular as it is an area deserving of Government support. Suckler cow farmers are usually small farmers and it is not long since they received €8 a head for calves. The overall cap is now set at 50 calves - the farmer gets €20 a head for the first 30 calves and €10 a head for the remaining 20. This is some distance from the support the Government previously gave. The suckler cow scheme accounts for around one third of Irish beef calves and they provide the best quality beef in Ireland. Around two thirds of Irish beef calves come from the dairy herd but the quality is not as high, which is all the more reason the suckler cow scheme needs Government support.
The 2013 national farm survey published in May noted that the average family farm income in 2013 was almost unchanged from 2012 at €25,600. However, the average figure conceals dramatic differences between different types of farm. The average dairy farm income increased by 31% while non-dairy farms saw a decline in average income in 2013.
Irish farmers are being disenfranchised by processes that are occurring in secret - specifically, the EU-US transatlantic trade and investment partnership, TTIP, deal that is due to be signed in 2015. It has been very difficult to discuss TTIP in this House and the media has taken little interest but it is a serious threat to Irish farmers. TTIP will see huge quantities of US beef enter Europe, which will impact on Ireland's sale of beef to the rest of Europe. Regulation in this area in the US is very inferior to regulation in Ireland and Europe. In the US, growth promoting hormones may be used on cattle and we will not be able to produce beef as cheaply as the United States because we have tighter regulations. If the TTIP deal is signed, huge pressure will be applied in Ireland and throughout Europe to lower the standard of regulation to allow competition with the US. It is predicted that US food exports to the EU will increase by 120% by 2025 - this is double the projected increase in EU food exports to the US. Ireland will be on the receiving end of this because there is very little of value to Irish agriculture in the TTIP. Irish farmers should stand firm on this.
I wish to focus on the staffing crisis at Teagasc. The public sector embargo on recruitment and promotion has had a huge impact on the ability of Teagasc to deliver education and advisory services at a time when demand is growing on a daily basis. The number of people enrolling at agricultural colleges has rocketed and the need for innovation in the agri-sector is growing rapidly. Teagasc has taken a huge hit on staffing and the overall number has fallen from 1,600 in 2009 to 1,000 this year. This huge cut in staff has impacted on Teagasc's main areas of activity: education, advice and research. Regarding education, the number of college students enrolling in these courses has soared by 144% - it reached 1,500 this year and that is three times the figure of a few years ago. However, staffing levels have not kept pace and there is a shortage of teachers. Teagasc has indicated it may have to cap the number of students in such courses. It is difficult to increase class sizes in such circumstances and it might even be dangerous to do so because of health and safety issues relating to machinery and animals. The colleges in Clonakilty and Pallaskenry have been particularly badly hit.
The advisory service has been seriously affected and the number of staff there has fallen from 400 to 250 in the past four years. It is simply not possible to give the type of service necessary. Research has also been hit and six senior researcher posts have not been filled. It is a hugely important area and the Minister should lift the embargo immediately.
The agriculture and food industry in Ireland is probably the single biggest factor in the continuing recovery of the economy. It contributes €24 billion to the economy and is responsible for nearly 10% of Irish exports. Agriculture provides 7.7% of employment in Ireland and this figure increases to 10% when marketing and processing are included. In addition to its immense contribution to the national economy, agriculture has a broad regional spread and is the lifeblood of rural communities. Rural Ireland is home to what is becoming our most important industry, one that offers great potential.
Co-op marts are thriving and the live auction system allows a certain volume of stock to be sold and exported live, thereby providing farmers with a valuable force to counteract the dominant position of a small number of privately owned beef processing factories. However, the dominant position mentioned is compounded by the application and interpretation of questionable movement and labelling restrictions on mart auction livestock. These restrictions are implemented by processing factories and large UK retailers under the pretext of animal welfare and quality considerations but they have hampered live cattle exports from Ireland to the UK and stifled competition. There has been a negative impact on the price of such cattle at livestock marts.
Will the Ministers of State convey a very strong message to the Minister, Deputy Coveney, to urge him to do his utmost to address the ridiculous beef crisis and accelerate his endeavours to access new sustainable markets? Huge opportunities exist in the growing markets in China and India due to changes in lifestyle and more people choosing beef products. The live cattle export trade situation is exacerbated by the Russian ban.
The global demand for food is constantly growing and we have quality products to supply the market. Last weekend I saw the potential for quality food products in this country demonstrated at a huge food festival in Dingle. It was a great success with micro-producers who had a huge variety of indigenous produce. I am very sorry the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, was not able to attend but perhaps he will do so next year. It is going from strength to strength. I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, on her elevation.
There are eight speakers in the next slot, namely, Deputies Andrew Doyle, Pat Deering, Tom Barry, Helen McEntee, Michelle Mulherin, Noel Harrington, Martin Heydon and the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan. I presume the Deputies know how much time they each have so the clock will show the 30 minutes of the full slot.
I welcome this opportunity to speak on this Private Members' motion. I wish to clarify that the Pillar 1 single farm payment in Ireland will be reduced by €42 million over a six year period.
It has been stated in the House that food and food production are fundamental necessities of living, which means primary producers must always exist. As Deputy Stanley stated yesterday evening, one third of all farms in the country are not viable. As such, something is wrong with our model. To purely subsidise an industry without taking cognisance of the impact of this is not an effective way to give an adequate income to farmers. Farming is a business and several key measures must be taken to make farming a viable and profitable business. These include putting it in the hands of young trained people, but there is no mention in the motion of land mobility or access to the land for young people who are properly trained and focused, with the best of knowledge and research available to them, and with the support of other sectors such as banking.
Farmers should be given the power to negotiate and given a proper powerful position in the food chain. People are now prepared to show goodwill towards organising and legalising producer groups. We have seen how it can be done in a very effective way in Scotland with regard to shellfish production.
The evidence suggests the difficulties with regard to prices are improving. Four or five years ago, when the dairy milk price was at its lowest, co-ops were reducing the price. In the main these are farmer owned, but it is hardly likely the prices were being reduced by a cartel of farmer-owned co-ops. We should bear in mind there must be a balance in all of this.
The beef industry in particular is being discussed. This is probably the country's single biggest component of agricultural production and exports. Traditionally it has not been the most profitable, unless one goes back many years. There has been a difficulty because it has always seemed that for one player in the beef sector to do well it must be at the expense of another. I am involved in the industry, and there has been no proper trust, dialogue or respect between the various stakeholders in the beef sector. To this end everybody with a desire for a stable and secure beef production chain needs to engage positively with the forum.
Presentations have been made to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine by various farming organisations and other representative groups. It is noticeable that when organisations such as Macra na Feirme, the young farmers organisation, and the Irish Farm Managers Association, members of which are not generally landowners, come before the committee all they ask is for the gate to be opened so they can proceed. They do not ask for a leg-up over the gate; they want a taxation code and structure to allow them farm whereby they make a profit and receive income from production at the farm gate.
I am pleased to have an opportunity to say a few words on this important issue for Ireland. I am also pleased to see that Fianna Fáil has begun to realise the importance of agriculture to the Irish economy. For many years this was not the case but I am glad to see it is now.
Where did Food Harvest 2020 come from?
I come from a town in Carlow where the sugar industry was closed down by Fianna Fáil. The town has never recovered. I am pleased to see this evening that Fianna Fáil is beginning to remember the importance of this industry.
CAP reform has been one of the big issues in the past year and much has been made of it. Some people are critical of it and others are not. I am still waiting to see Fianna Fáil's policy on CAP reform. Deputy Ó Cuív suggested a €400 maximum amount per hectare should be allowable. Would Deputies Kirk and Moynihan agree with this? I am not so sure. Is Fianna Fáil in favour of the flat rate system?
What is Fianna Fáil in favour of? It flip-flops continuously on the issue. The farmers of Ireland-----
Deputy Deering might talk to his colleagues on the west coast.
-----need to know exactly where Fianna Fáil stands on this matter.
I know we are asking a lot of you.
Much was made during the year of the difficulties in the beef industry and nobody would disagree with this. As a result of the difficulties, round-table discussions were established and to a certain extent these have been successful and need to be built on. Having all the stakeholders involved around the table is essential. There needs to be transparency in the area and this will be very important. A recommendation from the round-table discussions was the establishment of producer groups, which Deputy Doyle mentioned. These will be essential to give farmers buying power, which is very important.
The Competition and Consumer Protection Bill is another aspect to the motion. This time last year the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine did much work in this regard and discovered a number of anomalies. It published a report which recommended a statutory code of conduct. At the time I favoured this, but a Bill was passed in the summer which means regulations will be introduced and these will have more teeth. I encourage the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, to introduce these regulations as soon as possible to ensure we have fairness in the system. I welcome the comments made last week in this regard by the European Commissioner-designate, Mr. Hogan. I congratulate him and wish him well. I have no doubt he will carry the Irish flag high throughout Europe and unlike Fianna Fáil in the past, which refused to take up a particular position-----
-----he will not be found wanting in this regard.
Who is briefing that fellow?
I welcome the opportunity to speak on agriculture. I represent the active farmer, which is important because we have many inactive farmers. What I do not like about the motion is that it represents a compensation culture, which is not where we want to go. What are the results of a compensation culture? Our beet industry is gone because of compensation. I thank Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív for his support in trying to bring it back. I was a young farmer in 1983 when one could not expand dairy herds because of the quota. We do not want to go there.
Young farmers at the time abandoned colleges because there was no future for them. Opposition Deputies should not complain that the funds are down. We did not have an agriculture Commissioner and they know well why we did not have one. When we got one, his views on land and farming were completely different from what we have in this country. He also partitioned with the Greens and one has only to look at the results - no winter ploughing and difficulties with phosphates. We are changing that but it has led to a great deal of hardship for farmers. It is a very narrow viewpoint of the world.
The motion does not refer to tax reform. We need to free up land and reduce the dependence on conacre which is hammering the active farmer.
We have a very well educated workforce. We have invested in this workforce and we want these educated people to achieve their potential.
We also need to look at this in the rural environment not just from a narrow farming point of view. We need to look at getting innovation into our rural industries and encouraging people to move into diversification. The Common Agricultural Policy legal framework proposal contained a very good initiative, which fell through eventually, to give €85,000 per household to those who went on to diversify. We need to look at this. In times when agriculture suffers, diversification will provide people with an income.
I do not agree that throwing money at farming provides a panacea. We need sensible policies to encourage the people who are farming. I do not like a cribbing culture. Farming is not about a cribbing culture but is about production, looking forward positively and helping people to help themselves.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Private Members' motion on our largest indigenous industry, agriculture. We do not need a Private Members' motion to tell us; the facts speak for themselves. We have secured €10.7 billion in CAP funding and have added an additional €1.9 billion ourselves. I do not think we could make it any clearer how important agriculture has been and continues to be not just for the country but for the recovery of our economy, and not just for the beef sector but for all sectors.
We are talking about the beef sector in this debate. No one could deny that sector has had a tough few months and a difficult year. Prices are down 10% on last year even though we had an all-time high in prices last year. Farmers who bought store cattle at very high prices last year are losing money. They are not even breaking even. While we have a problem there, we cannot fix the prices. Prices are determined by supply and demand, and by influence of production, length of production, life cycle, market conditions, consumer confidence and so on. We know that confidence and demand for beef has dropped this year, not just in Ireland but everywhere. We have a surplus of more than 40,000 animals. We need to bring confidence back into the industry. We need to invest in the industry and we need to invest in our young farmers.
We all acknowledge that the horsemeat scandal has not done us any good, but we certainly have an excellent reputation in Ireland, especially when it comes to our traceability. Our animals are clean which is why we can see markets opening up again in the US and, one hopes, in China. I believe we will see the surplus of 40,000 slowly disappear and the process start to regulate, but we should not sit by and do nothing.
There is mistrust between the farmers and the factories. The factories had much to do with what has happened recently, as the Minister, Deputy Coveney, has acknowledged. He has spoken to the factories, but that is not enough. I welcome the efforts being made to try to balance the power along the supply chain through the Competition and Consumer Protection Bill. A number of people spoke about the establishment of a producer organisation in the beef sector. I have seen how Monaghan Mushrooms works. It is an excellent establishment and an excellent way of working. It could work for this industry. Certain problems could come along with that. We need to look at possible processor feed lots. We have to be very specific in referring to the herdowner and things like that, but I think that can all be addressed in time.
We should not throw money at the problem. We need to invest. We are investing more than €40 million through different schemes this year, and we can build on that through the rural development plan that was submitted to the European Commission. I hope that with our new Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, we will be able to get something out of that.
We have an issue with losing Teagasc advisers in County Meath. I have raised it with the Minister on numerous occasions and I know he is working on it with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin. I ask him to continue working on it.
I welcome the opportunity to say a few words in the debate. In view of the level of interest in the topic among all parties, perhaps the Whips might consider arranging a day-long debate on agriculture. It is very difficult to make a meaningful contribution in three minutes.
There is undoubtedly a problem in the beef sector. Depending on whom one listens to, there are a myriad of reasons for it and a myriad of solutions. It is important to remember we export 90% of what we produce. There is a very significant contrast between the dairy industry and the beef industry. The dairy industry is much more integrated. There is a relationship between the primary producer and the processor. That is not exclusively but primarily because of the co-operative structure which owns a considerable amount of the processing facilities. With beef it seems to be a continual fractious relationship between the primary producer and the meat plants. In the long term that is not a recipe for a successful enterprise.
I welcome the Minister's beef forum initiative. We need to move towards more contract-based production which would give certainty in the area of price. There is a tipping point in the debate and we need to be very conscious of the consequences of going beyond that in terms of the continual criticism of retail outlets and processors in the beef sector. That is not to say neither is beyond criticism. We could have very useful contributions in a wider debate on how few players are involved in the processing sector in Ireland. If we go too far, however, there is a significant danger we might alienate customers. If some very significant purchasers of Irish beef, such as McDonald's and Tesco, are continually pilloried, there is a danger that they could strike back.
There is another opportunity farmers could consider taking up but should consider history. Kildare Chilling is rumoured to be for sale. Perhaps it is time for farmers to consider whether they wish to enter the processing industry. There is previous history in this regard when Cork Marts got involved in meat processing back in the 1970s. It had plants in Grand Canal Street in Dublin, Leixlip and Midleton. Interestingly, Kerry Co-Op ultimately took over the Midleton plant. Cork Marts could not get out fast enough.
The Deputy should conclude.
I will conclude on this point. Denis Brosnan, in his heyday in Kerry Co-Op could not get out of Midleton Meats fast enough either. We need to be very careful. Perhaps farmers might consider entering the processing industry.
I wish to conclude on the issue of Teagasc and research.
Deputy, I have to stop you.
We need a parallel model to the suckler beef model.
Many of us are speaking on this agriculture motion as many of us represent rural constituencies. Many more sought to speak on it, as agriculture is the backbone of our economy and will continue to be into the future, but there are constraints on time. We need to focus on the real problems and how we might tackle them.
Apart from being confusing, the motion just seems to take a few random digs at the Government, the Minister and the way business is being done. That is not an issue. For example, the Minister played a blinder in the Common Agricultural Policy negotiations in securing €8.5 billion under Pillar 1 and €2.2 billion under the rural development programme, to which the Government is adding €1.9 billion. That success can be contrasted with where we started where farmers could have lost considerably more. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, changed the rules of engagement and how we would negotiate CAP. There is an equalisation or redistribution, but the initial scenario being pitched to farmers was going to be considerably more detrimental.
I do not believe that anything Fianna Fáil Deputies argued was helpful. If one could even be clear about what their message was, one could at least have the impression that it would lead to a cut of up to 30% in the funding farmers would receive under the Common Agricultural Policy.
As Deputy Creed said, the problem is with the beef sector. Many steps have been taken to try to address the problem. Farmers have invested a considerable amount of money in livestock and are out of pocket.
The problem might be less severe than it was, but it is still there. Farmers continue to grapple with the challenge and are under financial pressure because of it. These problems have not arisen because the Government did not invest in the beef sector. On the contrary, we have had significant investment in the beef genomics scheme, technology transfer and so on. The payment to beef farmers has doubled to €80 per animal from the €40 that was payable under the last Government. We have had public consultations on legislating for the recognition of producer organisations and round table discussions on the future development of the beef industry. In addition, the Minister has embarked on a series of trade missions in an effort to open up new markets to Irish farmers.
The main issue for Irish beef farmers at this time is the scarcity of beef in the North, with farmers there afraid to buy beef because they do not know how the United Kingdom market will be. I hope the Minister will have a discussion with Tesco, Aldi and Lidl on the labelling issue. I have more to say but, unfortunately, the Acting Chairman has indicated that I am out of time.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this motion. The farming industry in this country is divided along a variety of lines, including east versus west, producer versus non-producer, and those who look after the land versus those who derive some higher incomes from the land. This motion does nothing to address those realities. While it calls on the Government to carry out certain measures, what is more interesting are the issues it omits to mention. It has nothing to say, for example, about increased investment in the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, management of the new areas of natural constraint, increased investment for island fishermen, enhanced provision for agri-environment schemes and so on. There has been a focus on historical issues such as the abolition of the farm retirement grant and the young farmers' installation aid scheme.
Moreover, the motion contains no acknowledgement of the role the Minister has played in implementing a range of positive initiatives. These include the moves to establish producer organisations whereby sectoral interests in the agricultural industry will be in a position, legitimately and realistically, to take on retailers and factories in achieving better prices. This will be of particular benefit to the beef sector. I take this opportunity to congratulate the former Minister, Phil Hogan, on his new role as European Commissioner-designate for Agriculture and Rural Development. I am sure his appointment will be good for European agriculture while also bringing an Irish flavour to EU policy in this area.
The abolition of the milk quota presents both huge opportunities and significant challenges for Irish dairy farmers. That is not addressed in the motion. We all recall how the Fianna Fáil Party in government wrapped its arms around the construction industry. This led almost to a wholesale closure of agricultural colleges throughout the country, including Darrara College in my constituency. These days, by contrast, people cannot get into those colleges, such is the demand. Farming is once again an industry to be proud of and one which will sustain the rural economy east and west. We must have a more co-ordinated and nuanced approach to tackling the challenges that arise. This motion, unfortunately, is not helpful and serves only to intensify divisions within the sector.
Like Deputy Michael Creed, I note the lack of time available to Deputies to contribute to this debate. I reiterate his point regarding the need for greater co-ordination among farmers and a greater effort to work together. The public consultation process on the establishment of producer organisations is intended to increase farmer bargaining power and is key to the future of the sector. For too long farmers have tended to be their own worst enemies in how they operate. When there is a particular need to work collectively and perhaps hold back from the factories, that is the very time a couple of farmers will break, which undermines everybody else.
The future of the Kildare Chilling Company in Kildare town is an issue that is very pertinent to me as a Deputy for Kildare South. Serious consideration should be given by the farming organisations to buying that facility if, as is rumoured, it goes up for sale. The factory has a capacity to slaughter 120,00 head of cattle and 500,000 lambs per year. It is a very successful enterprise and, while not one of the big three, is a key player in the industry and a key employer in Kildare town. It has state-of-the art boning halls and refrigeration facilities. If the farming organisations really want a slice of the action, the opportunity for farmers to work collectively and the capacity to hold other factories to account, the possibility of taking over the Kildare town facility certainly is something to consider.
The relationship between dairy farmers and processors, which is based on a more co-operative model, was compared with what happens in the beef sector, where farmers seem constantly to be involved in strife. I am very uneasy, for instance, when I see farmers picketing McDonald's restaurants. To the best of my knowledge, every beef product that company sells throughout Europe comes from Ireland. The phrase about not biting the hand that feeds, if colleagues will pardon the pun, comes to mind. There are certainly times when it is appropriate to hold processors and retailers to account, but we must be mindful of where the pressures are and avoid shooting ourselves in the foot.
The motion refers to a fair standard of living for farmers, which is exactly what this Government is working towards. A particular highlight has been the successful negotiation of the Common Agricultural Policy during the Irish Presidency, where Pillar 1 funding of €8.5 billion was secured, together with rural development programme funding of €2.2 billion plus an additional €1.9 billion. Some €40 million has been allocated to the beef genomics scheme, allowing for a per head of cattle payment that is twice what was available to farmers under the previous Government. Increasing that payment to €200, as colleagues opposite are suggesting, would cost in the region of €60 million to €70 million. I look forward to seeing Fianna Fáil's pre-budget submission to discover exactly where the money will be taken from farmers to pay for that.
I will preface my contribution to the debate by explaining my role as Minister of State with responsibility for rural affairs. While I am not directly responsible for issues arising inside the farm gate, I do have a supportive function. Specifically, my role is to co-ordinate the work of the many agencies and Departments operating in this space. I have a strong personal and ministerial interest in energising rural communities. My focus is to develop systems and frameworks which will support the economic development of rural Ireland into the future and provide opportunities for rural dwellers to remain living and working in those areas if they so wish. Rural communities have this Government's full commitment to doing all it can to support job creation and develop vibrant, dynamic rural economies and communities.
There are many challenges involved in progressing these objectives. One of my main tasks is to achieve a heightened awareness of the challenges that exist and ensure all Departments and support agencies are fully aware that rural communities have real potential but need support to achieve it. I will seek to ensure agency plans are tailored to provide the necessary support and assistance and that they rural proof all their development plans. I take this opportunity to congratulate my constituency colleague, the former Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Phil Hogan, on his appointment to the European Commission. We look forward to working closely with him.
A major element of my remit is to implement the report of the commission for the economic development of rural areas, CEDRA. That report was jointly commissioned by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine in September 2012 and launched by the Taoiseach on 14 April this year. The independent commission, which comprised a wide-ranging group of individual and bodies, carried out a tremendous body of work last year. The report contains 34 recommendations to support the medium-term economic development of rural areas for the period to 2025, including actions to be taken on enterprise development, tourism, broadband, artisan food and beverages, social enterprise, creative industry, capacity building and skills, regional roads, rural transport, water services, marine and renewable energy. It was a very wide brief.
As part of its work the commission sought and considered the views of the public and stakeholders. It hosted general public meetings, town hall meetings and meetings with key stakeholders, leaders of the business community and experts.
In total, more than 100 meetings were held and more than 1,000 contributions were made to the commission, resulting in a report that is grounded in solid foundation and, more importantly, reflects the strong beliefs, knowledge and experiences of committed and engaged rural communities. One of the main findings is that generally rural areas and small towns did not benefit to the same extent as larger towns from the Celtic tiger boom. Equally, there is very mixed evidence on the extent to which rural areas are experiencing any of the current uplift. The report shows that rural areas have been particularly affected by the deep economic crisis and were adversely affected by high unemployment, resulting in a huge deficit in rural communities. The impact is still visible nationwide with closed shops, the steady flow of emigrants and the resulting impact on the community and on cultural life.
An important message from this report is that we should increase awareness of the importance of the rural economy in driving forward this country. What this report was about was discovering the potential that exists in rural Ireland so that the dwellers in rural Ireland can participate in this economic recovery. It was not about rural Ireland whinging about what it does not have but about rural Ireland being able to step up to the plate and participate in its recovery.
I welcome the opportunity to speak and I congratulate Deputy Ó Cuív on this very comprehensive motion. He outlined very well the volatile marketplace for farmers and the growing pressure on farmers' incomes. We cannot allow farmers to be at the mercy of big processors and large supermarkets. That is not a situation over which anyone could stand. I would like the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, to set out the framework in which the market operates. Deputy Ó Cuív has called for an independent beef regulator to rebalance the power between the various parties in the market. In recent weeks, we saw cattle prices rise in Northern Ireland and in the United Kingdom but prices in the Republic of Ireland have fallen to tenth place in terms of the highest to the lowest price in the European Union.
As a Deputy representing a rural constituency, I know that agriculture is the engine of the rural economy and it must be actively supported by the Government. The previous Government introduced Food Harvest 2020, which is a very ambitious project. It was the central plank of the policy of the last Government, as it is of the current Government, and it certainly should be supported.
Teagasc produced an annual income report for 2014 which shows great disparities in farm incomes. Suckler cow farmers, in particular, have found it very difficult. As they are heavily reliant on the single farm payment, which is gradually being reduced, we must look out for them, in particular. The analysis by The Farming Independent last April showed that Irish beef producers experienced price declines up to six times greater than their European Union counterparts. Some 80,000 dry stock farmers are seeing their work and effort sapped up by the large processors and the supermarkets.
Last week the Irish Farmers' Journal reported that a farmer in Ireland could expect €350 less than a farmer in Britain for the same type of animal. That comparison shows the seriousness of the situation. I hope the Government will push the live export trade, which is very important in the west of Ireland and is an alternative to any monopoly by the factories. The Minister is maintaining contact with the Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive and the British Government. That must be strongly promoted. Finding new markets is also very important.
The Teagasc national farm survey from 2013 showed a 22% collapse in suckler incomes and a 39% reduction in sheep incomes. I have had representations on the disadvantaged areas scheme payments in south Galway, in particular the Slieve Aughty area. These payments were due in mid-September but no payments under the disadvantaged areas scheme were paid to farmers in the Slieve Aughty area. The single farm payments are due in October and I am concerned about the situation for farmers claiming on commonages, such as the Roxborough commonage in Castledaly. Farmers in that area claim they were issued with application forms in April 2014 with preprinted areas, which were wrong. The farmers state that they are being accused of an over-claim, despite the fact they had been led to make the application by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I am concerned there will be a knock-on effect for farmers in other commonages throughout the country. There is a commonage in Derrybrien, which has been cut from 99% to 50%. Commonages like these are designated special protection areas and the onus is on farmers to comply with the EU directive. As well as Roxborough, there are townlands like Cloughan, Kilbeg and Kilnacappagh where the digitised acreage in hectares was 1,115 - 100% - but it has been reduced to 476 hectares in 2014, or 42.7%. Obviously, the people concerned have many grievances. They are the people on the family farms - the cornerstone of the agriculture industry - and we must support them. I hope we all recognise the right of all workers to get a fair day's pay for a fair day's work but I do not believe these farmers are getting fair play.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this motion, which is very timely and reflects Deputy Ó Cuív's interest in developing, consolidating and stabilising the position of the agriculture industry. I take this opportunity to congratulate the new Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, and wish her well in her responsibility for rural affairs. I do not wish to develop the point at this stage but I would like to raise with her the issue of the Leader companies and who will have responsibility for them. Will it be a rural affairs or an environment responsibility? Given the resources which, hopefully, will be available under Pillar 2, it will be important that the Minister of State's office and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine will have direct control over and input into them.
This debate affords us the opportunity to discuss and consider the serious and growing pressure on farm incomes. The issue of the long-term sustainability of the agrifood sector is dependent on predictable and fair prices for produce. I know the thrust of the discussion has been on the beef sector but there are other sectors in the agriculture industry which are under severe pressure. I am thinking, for instance, of potato growers, about whom Deputy McEntee spoke. Quite a number of large-scale potato growers in County Meath and in my own county of Louth are under severe pressure because of the very high cost involved in producing crops and because of the price situation.
There is a dangerous spiral in milk prices. Nobody can say when the plateaux will be hit. We are moving to the liquid milk production period of the winter months and the economics of that are doubtful. Quite a few people are seriously considering moving to spring milk production and moving away from liquid milk production in the winter months. That would not be good for the marketplace and for the overall position of the dairy sector. It is an issue the Minister needs to urgently examine.
We also have the problem of cereal prices, which is not a north east problem. The market for cereals is depressed.
The supply of cereals worldwide, however, is up on previous years. It is a case of the old supply and demand consideration but it needs to be examined. The cost of machinery and of running cereal farms is such that unless there is a fair and predictable return for produce, people will exit the industry. The issue of introducing taxation measures to encourage greater land mobility will become irrelevant in that context because if the economics of production are not right, people will have to move on.
Unfortunately, the beef industry is being manipulated by processors and supermarkets. As the then Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Brendan Smith introduced the Food Harvest 2020 strategy, which clearly set out achievable objectives. I wish we could return to the main thrust of the development policy contained in that strategy to ensure that we can move on and create real national wealth in this country.
Price volatility is the bane of everybody's life whether one is engaged in milk, beef or cereal production. Unless there is a decent margin of return for the primary producers they will find themselves in serious trouble. With the capital requirement to grow crops on an annual basis and run farms, farmers must have a predictable cash flow from their products.
Reference was made earlier to spending money on the suckler herd. There is no question that money spent on genomic upgrade and a temporary support for the sector to ensure that suckler producers remain in the industry is a no-brainer in terms of decision-making. There is a clear, tangible and obvious benefit to the beef industry both in the short and the long term. As the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Hayes, will know, there has been significant investment in the genomic upgrade of the suckler herd in recent years. That is a slow process. It takes time to get the genetic upgrade into place but it has been significant. The quality of animals coming out at the finished stage are excellent by any standards.
The big problem we have is the processes, the lack of margin, and the serious losses producers have suffered over the past six or nine months. However, the one aspect of this debate that we cannot comprehend is the reason for the huge price differential between the price of cattle in the United Kingdom and the price of cattle in Ireland. People say there are trade barriers. Clearly, there are trade barriers but the problem is that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine is standing on the sideline, and he is a helpless spectator in this context.
The Minister must get into the game and see what changes can be made and the hands-on initiatives he can take to redeem the situation as far as the industry is concerned. If he does that there will be some successes and some failures but it will reassure primary producers that the Minister for Agriculture of the day is genuinely and seriously concerned about the economic well-being of the estimated 100,000 suckler farmers in the country. Many of those are operating on a part-time basis because of the structure of farm ownership in Ireland. Many of them are at the other end, particularly on the east coast. They are full-time operators who buy the store cattle on the west coast and then bring them to the finishing farms and the feedlots on the east coast. There is an integrated dependency in all of that. We need good quality cattle coming from the west and the midlands into the east, and we need farmers with a financial capacity to buy such stock in the marketplace for a fair price, bring them home to their base of production, feed them and have them available at premium condition for hopefully a premium price.
The agriculture industry is important to the overall economy and has contributed to the economic recovery in the recent past. Exports from the agrifood sector has been the cornerstone of that economic recovery. It is important we realise that, plan for the future, examine the benefits of the supports Deputy Ó Cuív set out in his motion, and put them in place as quickly as possible.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion, which was brought forward because of the huge pressures facing the agriculture sector, in particular the devastating effect the most recent crisis is having on farmers' income. The agrifood sector plays a pivotal role in the Irish economy, contributing a value of €24 billion annually and providing over 7.4% of our national employment. Agriculture provides 60% of employment within the agrifood sector, supporting over 300,000 jobs across the country. It is the engine of rural Ireland and it must be supported actively by this Government.
Unfortunately, this Government has failed rural Ireland over the past number of years. We have seen a reduction in funding for our rural roads and our group water and sewerage schemes. We have seen the closure of rural Garda stations, the increase in the pupil-teacher ratio, which has led to the closure of small schools, and a lack of support for the post office network.
This latest ongoing beef crisis is having a devastating effect on farm incomes, which in turn is having negative consequences for the rural economy. The Irish farmer, the primary producer in the food chain, is being systemically undercut. The family farm is simply not getting rewarded for the time and effort farmers are putting in, day in and day out. They are not getting a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. This crisis has highlighted the vulnerabilities of farmers to the market volatility and to the manipulation by the stronger players, that is, the processors and the supermarket chains.
Unfortunately, the Minister has stood idly by as decent, hard-working men have seen their income decimated, and that is not just coming from the Opposition. I refer to the recent publication from the Irish Farmers Association, which certainly would not be seen to be pro-Fianna Fáil. Henry Burns states: "Minister Coveney has stood back for far too long and allowed the factories take full advantage of increased supplies to impose penal price and specification cuts which in turn have seriously hit farm families".
Apart from what is happening being morally wrong, Article 39(b) of the Lisbon treaty states that the Union's explicit objective is to ensure that farmers get a fair standard of living from the land. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, should prioritise working with the new Agriculture Commissioner designate, Phil Hogan, at EU level and place a renewed emphasis on achieving a fair return for farmers' product. He should clearly outline his plans with regard to live exports, which would offer an alternative to farmers, open up the market in which they could trade, and ensure greater competition. The Minister must also immediately utilise existing legislation to analyse how the beef sector is functioning and establish the irregularities, if any, that exist.
I complement the Minister on the agreement he reached with his Northern Ireland counterpart. The agreement has been warmly welcomed by the sector and it is hoped it will increase North-South trade, but what monitoring of its implementation has the Minister put in place? My understanding from talking to people within the sector is that one substantial retailer has expressed concern about the implementation of the agreement.
The Minister should consider introducing a code of practice which would involve producers, processors and retailers. That would ensure that the crisis of confidence and the lack of trust which currently exists would not happen again. The current changes in specification, whether it be the age limit, the weight or residency, have been implemented without any prior notice to the producers. That has been a significant contributing factor in the current crisis. I believe if a code of practice had been in place, this would not have happened.
It is clear that the retailers have established a dominant position and there is growing evidence that the margin they enjoy has increased substantially year on year while the margins of the primary producers, the family farmers, have reduced. The Minister needs to establish adequate pricing transparency in the retail sector. There should be no abuse by the dominant retailers. A guaranteed return should be given to the producers to ensure that the farmer gets a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate and I thank my colleague, Deputy Ó Cuív, for giving his time to debate this issue. I listened with interest to some of the contributions from backbenchers on the other side of the House. They sought to give us a history lesson on Fianna Fáil’s performance in the Department of Agriculture and Food over the past decade and before. It is a pity to stoop to that level in an important debate like this because it gives a lie to the recognition that there is a very significant crisis in the agriculture sector. While it might appear like point-scoring, or answering the question, as one would in a college debate, it falls well short of what the farming community expects from all of us here. Deputy Ó Cuív’s balanced motion with a solution attached deserves due recognition and considered debate from all sides. I hope and expect that the Minister will engage constructively.
I do not want to go back over agriculture issues but the previous Minister, Deputy Brendan Smith, set a very ambitious target for the production output of the agricultural sector, Harvest 2020. The target required successive governments to continue his efforts to ensure we reach that output. It is not just a question of output because to have an output it is necessary to have a sector that can get a fair day’s pay for a fair level of work. That is not happening in the beef sector; it has not happened for some time and now it has reached crisis level. I do not want to be over negative but the farming community does not believe the Minister is addressing this adequately, appropriately or in a manner that will help it to make an honest living.
Farmers are taking €3.60 per kilo for beef here while farmers for corresponding R grade beef steers in the UK will get €4.60 a kilo. On a standard carcass of 350 kilos, that amounts to a price differential of €350. By anyone’s analysis, that is a phenomenal differential and is not acceptable when the retailers charge effectively the same price on the shelf for Irish and British beef. Half of all our beef output is sold in the UK which it makes clear that this could have a detrimental impact on this sector, which this and the previous Government pinned so much on to improve employment prospects and generate increased growth in our fragile economy. The view is that in recent months the gap has widened and the price taken by UK farmers has gone up approximately 30 cent, another €100 per head. That is not sustainable.
There is no transparency. We need a beef regulator to deal with this area. Others have other ideas, and there is an expectation that the Minister could do more. I have heard his comments and share some of his concerns about his inability to get directly involved in what is effectively an unregulated sector that is regulated by the markets. There are other issues, such as the processing sector seeking to change the specifications at the same time as the supermarkets and McDonalds, a big user of beef, say they have not changed their specification. They do not expect anything different. The Minister and I know well that the attempt to change the specification is because the industry sees an oversupply of stock, resulting from the lack of export of Friesian bulls from the dairy herd in 2012. That has depressed the market because of the oversupply. I have not heard anything from the Minister or the Department about developing a strategy to deal with the increased production of the bull calves in 2015 when the dairy quotas end. That has the potential to further damage the market in 2016 and beyond.
We are doing a lot in that area.
That is welcome and we need to hear that. The farmers who are struggling, wondering if they should sell off their cows, which will have a further impact on our capacity to produce the levels of beef set out in 2020, need to hear it even more. If the suckler cow is sold and farmers decide to move into some other enterprise or away from farming altogether, the crisis will be even worse. The dairy sector has always taken the view that it would manage on a five year basis. If there is a trough this year, it looks to the peak next year because it looks to the world market. The beef farmer cannot do that. I know a bit about this because the county I represent is probably one of the premier counties for the suckler herd. I talk to farmers regularly who see no future in beef. They see no strategy from this Government and therefore many feel that the only alternative is to dispose of the suckler cow and move on with their lives or discourage their sons or daughters from taking over the suckler herd. That has real potential to be an interruption or shock to the targets projected in Harvest 2020. It will require some intervention. Deputy Ó Cuív’s proposal for €200 per head for beef genomics is one measure that will help to improve the output of the beef produced and guarantee, in so far as possible, an appropriate level of return to the farmers. The retention of the Friesian bull effectively for beef here in 2012 did not happen last year and therefore we will see some improvement but there is deep concern about what will happen in the future.
The Minister has to tackle the factories and the supermarkets. There is no transparency about how they report their profits or how they succeed in doing one thing in the UK and something completely different here. The farmer here is taking all the pain. There is effectively the same set of producers, almost the same set of supermarkets and at a certain point there is only 100 miles between our two islands, less to the north of England. We largely produce the same quality - better quality, I would argue.
There is a role for the Minister. He has to force the factories to deal with this. He also needs to consider competition between live exports and beef processing. I know he has been making considerable efforts to improve the overseas market. He has talked about the United States as a potential market but with the best will in the world only a couple of thousand tonnes will go to the US. He was there recently and is going to China again, having been there last year, but not an ounce of beef has been sold to China yet. I accept that the relationship with the Chinese market takes time to build and I wish him well with that.
A total of €40 million worth of cattle hides have been sold to China.
The nearest market that needs to be dealt with is the live export trade to the North.
That is up nearly 20% this year. The Deputy should deal with the facts.
The Minister can give the facts as he does but that hides the reality that with the supply of beef here and the depressed price the farmers take they cannot make a living.
They are losing money. They are losing the will to continue to farm. That is heartbreaking for all of us.
I ask the Minister not to misunderstand me. I am not laying the blame for all of this at his door. Unlike some of his backbenchers, I am not seeking to overly politicise this matter. There is a requirement for the Minister to involve himself more aggressively in targeting the processors and the supermarkets. He should work towards finding an alternative market source; namely, the live export trade. I am not suggesting it is necessarily easy to do that. If the farmers saw the Minister working more constructively in that regard, rather than sitting on a jet and heading to China again with the industry, they might have more faith in him. They might believe the market can tolerate an increase in production and can deliver to them a price that makes their holdings and livelihoods sustainable into the future.
I am glad to have had an opportunity to be here for the last hour and a half and listen to the various views of Deputies on both sides of the House. I have been struck by the significant amount of knowledge and ideas we have heard from all sides. I heard Deputy Creed suggesting that we need to sit longer and talk more. I agree that we need a full day's discussion on all the issues of importance to rural Ireland. I refer not only to issues like beef and milk prices, but to every issue that affects rural Ireland and the rural economy. We need to consider how we can create jobs and thereby help the people living in rural areas who want rural Ireland to continue.
As we consider the motion under discussion, it is important to put many things in perspective. We have spoken at length last night and tonight about the beef trade and who is responsible for it. Some people have blamed the Minister, Deputy Coveney, for not going here and there. The reality is that beef markets are in a difficult situation. There is no doubting that beef farmers have gone through a few tough months. However, we have to look at the facts. We have heard about all the suckler farmers who are leaving suckling. If one examines the figures that show how many people are involved in suckling, one will find that the actual drop has been just 1.5%. That shows how few farmers are getting out of suckling. I would like to make another relevant point in this context. I wonder how many Deputies have attended marts where cattle are sold in the last few months I refer, for example, to marts in the west where store cattle are sold.
I was there on Saturday morning.
In the past week, I went to the west to see what is going on at first hand. I saw huge prices being paid for year-old cattle. The reality is that prices which were unheard of over the last couple of years are being paid. Prices for suckler calves were high in Roscommon last Monday, when I stood in that mart, and in Cashel last Saturday. In Tipperary, I met farmers who said that store cattle prices are too dear.
That is the truth. We have forgotten that. I am amazed that nobody has said this tonight. I am a farmer. I was born on a farm. I know there have been ups and downs over recent years. Prices have been cyclical all through our lives. They will continue to be cyclical. We are living in an open, free market. I heard people saying the Minister needs to intervene by controlling the prices, but that is the last thing the farmers of Ireland want. If prices were being regulated by a regulator, the prices for which I saw cattle being sold in Roscommon last week could not be achieved. We are in a free market. We sell into a market.
The real problem we have relates to the fact that most of our beef is sold into the British market. A year and a half ago, the British consumer said that Irish prices were too high. That is what happened. As a result, British consumers decided to buy their own beef. That is why cattle prices in England are now higher than they are here, and British farmers are getting that much more. That is the reality. That is what is happening.
We need to continue to sell into the markets and try to explore new markets. Since he came into office, the Minister has been travelling the world to try to increase our market share all over the world. Earlier this year, we met the Chinese people who came over here. We showed them the product and the factories. We took them down to County Wicklow to see the farms where these animals are produced. They were impressed, but their vets have not come over yet. We are working on that. The Minister is going out in the next ten days to push that market. There is huge potential internationally. The American market is opening and we are working on that. We need to sell out on the market in a better way. I have a lot more I would like to say about many other areas, but I am almost out of time.
The Minister of State is full of knowledge.
There has been a lot of talk about live exports. While I accept that we need more live exports, I should point out that the live export market has increased by 15% this year. That is the relevant figure. Finally, I ask for us to try to organise a day-long discussion on agriculture, at which all the knowledge we have in here can be used to put in place a plan that will leave agriculture in a better position.
I would like to share time with Deputy Ó Cuív.
I would like to support the motion as proposed by my party colleague, Deputy Ó Cuív. It is a timely motion because the last year has been very difficult for farming - I refer to beef farming, in particular - even though the weather has been more beneficial than it had been for many years. We all know the value of agriculture in general to our economy. It comprises €24 billion of the national economy and accounts for more than 7% of national employment. Teagasc recently indicated that the average income for a beef-producing farm decreased by 22%, to €9,469, last year. A single person on the dole who receives €188 per week was given more money last year than the average beef farmer made as an income. That is the situation with regard to the income levels in farming. It shows how difficult the beef sector is. Against that backdrop, it is crucial for us to take any steps we can to ensure there is a sustainable future. That means beef prices must be at a level at which farmers can produce. The unfortunate reality is that for too many years in recent times, that has not been the case. The Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, said that prices are "cyclical", but the only cycle we have seen in recent years has been a downward one.
The highest ever beef prices were achieved last year.
The Minister and the Minister of State should let the Deputy speak.
The price that farmers have been getting for their produce has been decreasing as the cost of producing it has been increasing. As a result, many beef farms across the country are currently producing at a loss, or in many years are not doing much better than breaking even.
Absolutely. I am sure the Minister has looked at average incomes across the country. For a number of the last few years, the average farm income in the BMW region has been approximately the same as the level of the single farm payment. The position is slightly different on the east coast, where single farm payments account for approximately 60% of the net incomes of farmers.
For the BMW region, which is key in the production of suckler cattle, this means that for all the enterprise shown by farmers who work every hour that God sends them, they are not making money on the cattle. Their net income is the cheque in the post. This is not sustainable indefinitely. The laws and logic will apply to that situation as they do across the rest of life. Unless there is a profit to be made in producing, production will not be at the level it should be. This is why I emphasise the importance of ensuring active farming pays and there is a reasonable price for beef.
Deputy Ó Cuív's proposal on introducing a beef regulator makes a great deal of sense. It may not be a panacea but it can make a real contribution by bringing more clarity to the beef market and ensuring the sector is fair to farmers instead of dominated by processors and large supermarket chains, as has been the case in recent years. I also endorse Deputy Ó Cuív's proposal on a €200 upfront genomics payment next year, given the importance to farmers of the single farm payment. With the agri-environment options scheme, AEOS, and the rural environment protection scheme, REPS, running out for many farmers next year and the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, not likely to kick in until much later in the year, the single farm payment-----
Is that cheque with the Commission?
Do not interrupt, please.
-----will be much lower than it has been for many a year. That will hit farms' bottom lines. This position is not sustainable. If our agricultural sector is to produce and become a larger contributor to the economy, the Minister needs to adopt a different approach to the beef crisis than he has taken in the past year or two.
I thank all the Deputies who contributed to this debate. The one matter on which we can all agree is that no one had enough time to outline all of the issues. The Minister referred to many issues that were not included in the motion. That is true, but this was a three-hour debate and we needed to focus on one issue instead of tabling an omnibus motion and not discussing anything. I agree with Deputy Creed's proposal, and welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes's endorsement of same, to set a day aside in the House for a discussion on agriculture. There is enough interest among Deputies to do so.
For the record, I will arrange for that.
I thank the Minister. It is appreciated. Regarding farm tax, we have sought costings for the reliefs and the figure for the number of farms involved, but getting that information from the Department of Finance has proven difficult. I look forward to the report's publication, at which point we will be able to respond to it. Presumably, the Department has information-----
-----to which we are not privy. The Minister's comments were gratuitous, but we will take them on the shoulder.
We will make our budgetary proposals this week. It is important to recognise that tax forgone is like awarding a grant, in that it is money the Exchequer does not get. A large number of small farmers would be helped by a much simplified tax system. This could be done easily because we can compute incomes very accurately and apply standard costings. For many farmers, keeping receipts and paying accountants are not justified by the level of income they make. If the Minister wants more details on this, I am willing to show him exactly what I suggest.
I welcome the proposal on producer groups, but I am concerned they might not work. In the case of liquid milk, for example, farmer-owned processors have still not solved the problem with the supermarkets, as the Minister knows. Similarly, producer groups have not solved the problem in the horticulture sector.
They have helped the mushroom producers. They have been effective in that regard.
One item, but there are a few powerful mushroom suppliers, not a myriad of small operators. The Minister quoted Article 39 of the Lisbon treaty and pooh-poohed our inclusion of it in the debate. In debates within the EU, Article 39 is not getting the prominence it deserves. The Minister might be surprised to find out that the group that brought this issue to our attention comprised senior officials in the Directorate General for Agriculture and Rural Development. They told us there was not enough pressure at a European level to ensure paragraph (b) was taken into account when all Article 39's other parts were being considered. We will make a submission based on this information. I have attended two meetings in the Commission this year. It seems to be ad idem with us on this being an issue. I was heartened by the interest expressed by Commissioner-designate Phil Hogan in examining the power of the multiples. At least, that is what I took from his comments in a reply-----
He will do that. It is an important matter for him.
That is what we call for in our motion. I recognise that, if consumer prices are down, one must accept the price. However, we must face two realities. The majority of Irish beef is sold within the EU and all liquid milk is sold within the island, as are virtually all horticultural products. That a small number of multiples dominate the EU is an important issue. A speech given by Commissioner Ciolo on 24 September was interesting: "In parallel, the Commission will continue to work in the broader context of the structure of the food chain to promote a better balance, transparency and honesty in relationships within the food chain." The Commissioner said what we have been saying. I do not doubt his advisers have also been saying this is a significant issue. I am heartened by Mr. Hogan’s approach. We are arguing for an examination of the relationship between the multiples, processors and primary producers.
I also accept, and the motion makes clear by mentioning the EU time and again, that this issue cannot be addressed in an Irish context alone because we export most of our product. The Minister can ensure his colleague makes this the No. 1 issue for his tenure as Commissioner. In the meantime, we want a beef regulator, not to set the price but to ensure fair trading. The regulator would oversee the industry's practices in terms of pricing and specification and ensure openness, fairness and transparency.
I recognise what the Minister and the North's Minister O'Neill have done on the nomad issue, but he needs to finalise it. He needs to lean hard on Tesco, a large multiple that makes millions of euro in Ireland. Its reluctance could unravel the entire deal across all the supermarkets. He must tell it to agree to the labelling of beef born and bred in the South and slaughtered in the North as Irish. We must all lean on Tesco, but the Minister is the front player.
We all know of bureaucratic barriers, difficulties and problems regarding live exports. Unnecessary barriers must be removed because we need a certain level of live exports to keep manners on processors.
An issue keeps arising and it is time that we got the truth. I constantly receive allegations at meetings, and I do not know whether they are true, about imports of Polish beef by Irish processors that subsequently resell it as Irish beef.
If the Minister seeks more details on the allegations, I will give them to him in confidence after this debate. However, these allegations are being made continuously to me. It is important that Members know exactly what is being done to stamp out such a practice, if it is being carried out.
I can assure the Deputy that the Government will stamp out that practice if it receives any evidence to suggest that this is happening. That would be totally illegal.
Rather than abuse my privilege, I will talk to the Minister afterwards.
In respect of the genomic scheme, Fianna Fáil's proposal is for one year only. Criticisms were made by Deputies today about giving grant assistance and I was a little surprised by some of the Deputies who made such criticisms because they had stoutly defended single farm payments of more than €50,000 to constituents of theirs. They were all for grants when they were going to people in their own locality. What I am suggesting is a short-term palliative measure. Can the Minister tell Members whether it is true that he has not yet received the observations from Brussels on the rural development plan? Is it also true that the Commission is raising queries about the rural development plan and will have detailed observations that will delay the process further?
No, because I am running out of time.
The Deputy is asking me questions. For the record, there is a two-week delay in respect of the Commission's response and we have not got it yet.
I thank the Minister. As I stated, I do not envisage the genomics proposal being a long-term solution. However, as I pointed out last night, next year will be the year of the lowest direct payments to Irish farmers for many years. If I may put it to the Minister in this way, in the case of a person who was bleeding to death, would one not give the patient a blood transfusion until he or she had stabilised? In such a case, one does not think of one being obliged to do this all the time. I believe we will be in a really difficult place next year. It was the weather one year, in the year after it was the price and next year will be the year of the lowest direct payments to farmers. There has been an accumulation of issues with regard to beef farming and, therefore, I hope that even at this late stage, in the interests of showing solidarity to farmers, all Members will agree the House should not divide on the motion tabled by Fianna Fáil and the Minister will accept the motion as tabled by us.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 71; Níl, 42.
- Bannon, James.
- Barry, Tom.
- Butler, Ray.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Byrne, Catherine.
- Cannon, Ciarán.
- Carey, Joe.
- Coffey, Paudie.
- Collins, Áine.
- Conlan, Seán.
- Connaughton, Paul J.
- Conway, Ciara.
- Coonan, Noel.
- Costello, Joe.
- Coveney, Simon.
- Creed, Michael.
- Daly, Jim.
- Deasy, John.
- Deering, Pat.
- Doherty, Regina.
- Donohoe, Paschal.
- Dowds, Robert.
- Doyle, Andrew.
- Durkan, Bernard J.
- English, Damien.
- Farrell, Alan.
- Feighan, Frank.
- Fitzpatrick, Peter.
- Flanagan, Charles.
- Gilmore, Eamon.
- Griffin, Brendan.
- Harrington, Noel.
- Harris, Simon.
- Hayes, Tom.
- Heydon, Martin.
- Humphreys, Heather.
- Humphreys, Kevin.
- Keating, Derek.
- Kenny, Seán.
- Kyne, Seán.
- Lawlor, Anthony.
- Lynch, Ciarán.
- Lyons, John.
- McEntee, Helen.
- McFadden, Gabrielle.
- McGinley, Dinny.
- McNamara, Michael.
- Maloney, Eamonn.
- Mitchell, Olivia.
- Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
- Mulherin, Michelle.
- Murphy, Eoghan.
- Nash, Gerald.
- Nolan, Derek.
- Noonan, Michael.
- O'Donnell, Kieran.
- O'Donovan, Patrick.
- O'Mahony, John.
- O'Reilly, Joe.
- Perry, John.
- Phelan, Ann.
- Phelan, John Paul.
- Ring, Michael.
- Ryan, Brendan.
- Spring, Arthur.
- Stagg, Emmet.
- Stanton, David.
- Tuffy, Joanna.
- Twomey, Liam.
- Walsh, Brian.
- White, Alex.
- Broughan, Thomas P.
- Collins, Joan.
- Collins, Niall.
- Colreavy, Michael.
- Cowen, Barry.
- Crowe, Seán.
- Daly, Clare.
- Doherty, Pearse.
- Donnelly, Stephen S.
- Dooley, Timmy.
- Ellis, Dessie.
- Ferris, Martin.
- Fleming, Tom.
- Grealish, Noel.
- Halligan, John.
- Healy, Seamus.
- Healy-Rae, Michael.
- Kelleher, Billy.
- Kirk, Seamus.
- Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
- McConalogue, Charlie.
- McDonald, Mary Lou.
- McGrath, Finian.
- McGrath, Michael.
- McGuinness, John.
- McLellan, Sandra.
- Moynihan, Michael.
- Murphy, Catherine.
- Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
- Ó Cuív, Éamon.
- Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
- Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
- O'Brien, Jonathan.
- O'Dea, Willie.
- O'Sullivan, Maureen.
- Pringle, Thomas.
- Ross, Shane.
- Smith, Brendan.
- Stanley, Brian.
- Tóibín, Peadar.
- Troy, Robert.
- Wallace, Mick.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Joe Carey and Emmet Stagg; Níl, Deputies Seán Ó Fearghaíl and Michael Moynihan.
Amendment declared carried.
Motion, as amended, put and declared carried.