Other Questions

Farm Data

Martin Kenny

Question:

48. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to deal with low farm income in the cattle rearing and sheep farming sectors as outlined in the Teagasc national farm income survey which showed that direct payments make up 113% of income for these farmers; and the way in which he plans to redress this imbalance under the new Common Agricultural Policy arrangements by targeting the low income sectors. [23724/18]

The Teagasc national farm income survey indicates sheep farming and cattle rearing is at a low rate for many farmers, which is alarming, particularly with the new Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, being put in place. Will the Minister give us absolute reassurance that these sectors will be targeted and looked after to ensure imbalances will be taken care of as we move into the future?

In March this year the Central Statistics Office, CSO, released its preliminary estimate of output, input and income in agriculture and this indicates that aggregate farm income, or operating surplus, increased by 35% to €3.498 billion in 2017. This followed an increase in aggregate farm income of 3.6% in 2016 and 2.3% in 2015. Last week Teagasc released preliminary results of its national farm survey for 2017, which indicated that average family farm income was the highest on record at almost €31,400, a 32% increase on 2016, driven largely by a 65% increase in dairy farm incomes to over €86,000 on average.

It should be noted there are significant differences in family farm income depending on the system of farming and the size of the farm. Average income on cattle rearing farms increased by 1% to €12,700 and on sheep farms it increased by 8% to €16,900. Average income on cattle finishing farms decreased by 1% to €16,700. Dairy farms are consistently the most profitable farms, both on an average per farm and per hectare basis. However, it should be borne in mind that almost all dairy farms are classified as full-time farms in terms of the labour input required. Most cattle farms and the majority of sheep farms are classified as part-time in terms of labour input requirements. Dry stock cattle and sheep farms have a significant dependence on direct payments, which typically account for at least 100% of average farm income on these farms. This has not changed in recent years. Most dry stock farmers have off-farm sources of income, whether from off-farm employment of the farm holder or the spouse, State pensions or other social protection payments.

The Food Wise 2025 strategy includes actions to support farmers in improving the competitiveness and profitability of their enterprises. This includes actions aimed at helping farmers to improve productivity, manage the impact of price volatility and adopt new technologies. CAP direct payments, Ireland's rural development plan and our agri-taxation system include supports to incentivise land mobility, inter-generational transfer and farm restructuring, all of which are intended to improve farm competitiveness and sustainability, and to maximise the contribution of farm families to the local rural economy. I expect specific legislative proposals on CAP shortly.

This is probably a continuation of our previous questions. For very many farmers, the issue is, as the Minister states, 100% of the income comes from those payments. That is the problem. For very many of them, the payments are too low and they are not able to manage. There is an opportunity with CAP to do something about that with basic and direct payments. I suggest there should be targeting of small farmers and, for example, perhaps the first 15 ha could see a higher payment rate, the next 15 ha could see a medium payment rate and there would be a lower rate for the remainder. Most of the basic payment would be front-loaded towards the smaller family farm. Across Europe and the world, it is the model most people want. On the other side we have the areas of natural constraint, ANC, payments and we need to target them more so as to ensure the smaller family farm gets more of those payments.

The problem is many sectors, particularly sheep and cattle or suckler cow farmers do not have other options. The dairy farmers are doing very well and more power to them. We are all delighted to see them doing very well and it is great to see it but the other sectors need more assistance and help. I will come back about the marketing of the products.

I fully agree with Deputy Kenny's sentiments in saying that dairy farmers have done well and the figures for 2017 look reasonable. We have come through a horrendous winter, and the Minister knows what farmers had to deal with. I am sure the income will be well down in the 2018 figures. The new CAP should be more flexible for people. I have a constituent who is a married man with five children and he has paid over €100,000 in interest to banks over the past ten years. He is being forced to sell his cattle. He is three years into the genomics scheme but is force majeure possible for this farmer to allow him out of the scheme so he can sell his cattle and get himself out of trouble? He will be forced to do that.

In the context of the Teagasc farm income survey or the CSO figures we have seen a picture of two Irelands in agriculture. We have just concluded a CAP road show that was in Carlow, Charleville-----

-----Navan and in the west of Ireland in Carrick-on-Shannon, and that picture was abundantly clear. It would be incorrect to dwell too much on the dairy figures as it is not that long ago since dairy prices were below the cost of production. The sector had quite a good year last year and volatility is something that must be managed. I accept the point that sheep and cattle rearing in particular are highly marginal enterprises. With the last CAP up to 2020 there was a redistributive effort put into payments that will see in the region of €100 million move from those with a higher per hectare payment to those below the average payment. It is inevitable that there will be a continuation of that trend of redistribution. If we are serious about valuing not just the economic output of those farms but also the potential they have to contribute public goods in terms of biodiversity, water quality, etc., the trend will continue in the next CAP.

If Deputy Scanlon wishes to bring the case he mentioned to my attention, I will have the matter investigated.

We are on the same page with much of this but the difficulty is we really need to see this opportunity through now. There is a crisis. Deputy Scanlon is correct and there are many farmers in serious trouble. These are mainly the people with suckler cows and sheep who have bad land and no other options. What will they do? We need to do something for them now to ensure the family farm model stays in place and works into the future.

These farmers have an excellent product. The lamb and beef they produce is first class. We need to find a way of marketing that better. I know there is Origin Green and great work being done by Bord Bia. These animals are grass-fed, free roaming and an example of low-impact grazing, and it is a niche market so we should try to sell that product with a premium price. We should not worry about what comes from the Mercosur nations, Australia or anywhere else as we have the top quality. I know we export much of the product from Ireland and this would bring the opportunity to make a better return to the primary producer. It is really what this is about. The primary producer must get a better return for the product as well as getting a better crack of the whip with the payments.

The Deputy has said we need something now. We secured €25 million extra for areas of natural constraint in the 2018 budget. We face choices in how that will be allocated. I await approval from the European Union on the decision as to where ANC fits in the rural development programme.

We took a decision not to spread that thinly across everybody but to focus on those with the highest level of disadvantage. I believe that is the right thing to do in that there is a little for everybody but it is focused on giving higher payments to those with the most disadvantaged lands. That is one point.

I take the Deputy's point about organic type production systems. There is a premium payable for organic beef through the Good Herdsmen operation. In the context of producer organisations, the Department could support producer organisations which market products specifically on the basis of their provenance. We have a number of groups in the hill sheep area in particular and I am sure it could happen on the beef side as well.

Trade Agreements

Martin Kenny

Question:

49. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the estimated effect on Irish farming of the go-ahead recently given by the EU to begin trade negotiations with Australia and New Zealand which are stated to be leading to free trade agreements with both nations, especially in the context of Mercosur. [23722/18]

We heard recently that the EU is now entering into trade negotiations with Australia and New Zealand and that this will lead to a new free trade arrangement between both nations and the EU, especially in the context of what is happening in regard to Mercosur. It is raising some concerns for the farming community and I would like to hear the Minister's view on the effects that will have on Irish farming as we move ahead in the coming years.

The development of free trade agreements between the European Union and Australia-New Zealand is at an early stage. Last week, the European Council authorised the Commission to open trade negotiations with Australia and New Zealand and adopted negotiating directives for each of the negotiations.

Trade agreements with both countries would aim primarily at further reducing existing barriers to trade, removing customs duties on goods and giving better access for services and public procurement in Australia and New Zealand.

Ireland already has strong relationships with both countries and enjoys good co-operation on both a bilateral and multilateral level. We are also open to such trade deals. For example, Ireland would have strong offensive interests in Australia for pigmeat and spirit drinks. However, and as with any trade deal, there are also defensive interests in any future negotiations and these must be balanced and have due regard to special sensitive sectors for Ireland such as beef, sheepmeat and dairy.

The mandates as they are do not envisage full liberalisation of trade in agricultural products, which are foreseen as benefiting from specific treatment.

During the course of the upcoming negotiations, as with any free trade agreement negotiations, I will insist that they are handled appropriately and in a manner that safeguards the interests of the Irish agrifood sector, particularly its most sensitive sectors such as beef and dairy. This stance will be even more important in the light of the ongoing Mercosur negotiations. I believe also that full account must be taken of the findings of the Commission’s own assessment of the cumulative impact of trade deals on the agrifood sector and the potentially very damaging impact of Brexit on an already delicately balanced EU beef market.

I understand the negotiations are at a very early stage but the Minister will appreciate people's concerns when they hear about it. There is an irony in all of this because as an exporting country we are trying to export our beef and dairy products to every corner of the world yet we have this belief that anything that comes near us is a problem. We will have to have a conversation at some stage as to where that will work out. The difficulty people had with Mercosur was that the 70,000 tonnes of beef that was supposed to come in are the prime cuts, but that is also where we market our product. That is the problem we have with it.

In regard to Australia, the lamb and sheep sector is the one about which we would have the most concern. Following our previous conversations, they are the farmers who are under the most pressure from a primary producer's point of view. There are concerns that if there were a free trade deal with Australia or New Zealand, it would end up having a very negative impact on our sheep farmers who would not be able to sustain that.

The byword here is vigilance in the context of the negotiations. As the Deputy said, we export our products in the agrifood space to more than 180 countries around the world so it is not a sustainable position to take the view that trade is only in one direction. Bearing that in mind, it is not envisaged that there would be full trade liberalisation on products in which we would have a specific interest.

Trade negotiations by their nature are protracted and difficult. We only have to reflect on the aforementioned Mercosur negotiations, which have been going on for over a decade and are not concluded. This is very much at the early stage. I know the connotations in Irish farming minds when we consider Australia and New Zealand are substantially sheepmeat, dairy in particular and also beef producers. Given that full trade liberalisation is not envisaged, that does not mean we need to be any less vigilant. There are opportunities as well. We export to those countries also. In any trade negotiations it is about finding an agreement-----

-----that, on balance, works for all sides but we will be particularly vigilant on those issues that will be of concern to agriculture.

It is about a balance and trying to find what is in it for both sides of the table. The Minister stated in his reply that there may be export opportunities in terms of spirit drinks. I understand we are already exporting some product to these countries and I have been told there is quite an opportunity in that area. How much work has been done by Bord Bia or by the Department to try to open up that market and create more opportunities, particularly in the niche sectors there? We have the big brands on the world market but we have many smaller brands that are getting to the stage where they are starting to export and seek markets. I wonder what opportunities may come from any trade in respect of that.

Bord Bia has just concluded a market prioritisation in terms of where we will drive our focus for various product areas, whether it is seafood, the drinks industry, prepared consumer foods, beef, pork meat, sheepmeat, the dairy sector or whatever. That will inform the Department and will primarily inform the industry as to where best it should focus because that is quite a detailed piece of research. It is important to bear in mind that we live in a world where there are significant actors on the global stage who are using a vocabulary that is hostile to trade. On the global trade, there are talks about a trade war between China and the United States over steel and aluminium. That could quickly spill over into having a damaging impact on us because the EU has responded in the context of steel and has put products like Bourbon and Harley-Davidson on a reciprocal trade blacklist for US imports. That could very quickly spiral out of control in terms of our exports to the US.

We are probably one of the most globalised economises in our agrifood space and the last thing we need is people putting up barriers to trade. We need to negotiate as best we possibly can to maximise the opportunities but in any negotiations it cannot all be upside for us and downside for everybody else.

We try to negotiate the best possible deals, bearing in mind that we pool our sovereignty in that area with the European Union. It negotiates the trade access for us. If we were a small player globally outside the European Union we would be-----

We would not be a party to trade agreements. Our industry would be very much in the dark ages because we would not have access to the markets that we have currently as a member of the European Union.

I think I will start doing some negotiating myself to get people around this place to stick to the time.

We were not too bad.

You were not too bad, Deputy Kenny.

Hardship Grant Scheme

James Browne

Question:

50. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to introduce a hardship fund for those who suffered significant damage to glasshouses during recent storms but do not plan to rebuild; if the environmental benefits of bringing forward a compensation scheme to facilitate the removal of broken glass on the ground has been considered; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23783/18]

I ask the Minister his plans to introduce a hardship fund for those who suffered significant damage to glasshouses during the recent storm but do not plan to rebuild and if the environmental benefits of bringing forward a compensation scheme to facilitate the removal of broken glass on the ground have been considered in regard to this area. It is about those who do not intend to rebuild.

I recognise the very severe impact that Storm Emma had on the horticultural sector and in particular on soft fruit and amenity plant producers. Indeed, I visited some of them.

As an exceptional measure in response to the storm, I directed my officials to reopen the 2018 scheme of investment aid for the development of the commercial horticulture sector. This competitive grant aid scheme supports capital investments in specialised horticultural equipment and buildings that contribute to at least one of the scheme’s four objectives, namely, to improve the quality of output, facilitate environmentally friendly practices, improve working conditions and promote diversification of production. The grant aid covers all areas of the horticultural industry: field vegetables, mushrooms, protected crops, nursery crops, soft fruit, apples, cut foliage, Christmas trees, bulbs and bee-keeping.

The reopening of the scheme was targeted at the soft fruit and amenity plant sectors, in particular, and approvals are limited to growers who are proposing investments in response to damage caused by Storm Emma. This targeted measure has given these growers a window of opportunity to apply for grant aid to assist their businesses to recover from the effects of the storm.

The closing date for applications in the targeted reopening of the scheme was 27 April. A total 12 applications were received by the closing date. At this stage approvals have issued to the majority of the successful applicants, with the remaining approvals expected to issue very shortly as outstanding issues are resolved.

Notwithstanding the challenges for those who do not plan to rebuild, the priority following the storm was to restore production capacity. Accordingly, grant aid was made available only for works associated with construction or investment in response to the storm. This has been provided for through the reopening of the scheme.

My question is about a niche issue, a compensation scheme for fruit growers who suffered damage as a result of Storm Emma and who do not intend to rebuild. First, I welcome the announcement of the reopening of the 2018 grants scheme and acknowledge and welcome the Minister's and the Minister of State's engagement on the issue. The engagement was real and positive and there was a positive and significant outcome. However, a small number of fruit growers - it is a low single digit - are not in a position to avail of the scheme. They are either not in a financial position to rebuild or at a stage of their lives where they are unable to rebuild. What I am seeking is not so much a compensation scheme as some type of aid scheme. One farmer has two acres of glass on the ground. The metal can be taken away cost free by one of the metal collectors, but he has been quoted a price of €30 per tonne for collecting the glass. There are approximately 60 tonnes of shattered glass per acre; therefore, for two acres the price works out at €3,500 to €4,000. That does not include the cost of taking the glass off the ground and possibly having to remove a layer of topsoil. As I said, it involves a very small number of fruit growers and a low cost issue. It is also an environmental issue. The growers are not seeking to benefit from it but simply to be facilitated in removing the glass.

I appreciate the Deputy's acknowledgement of the immediate engagement. In fact, most of the people who it was believed had been affected were contacted directly by officials of the Department before they contacted it. We travelled and met a group of them in the Deputy's constituency where we saw horrendous damage which was frightening. Some of the older structures were not insurable. The newer ones were, but a significant number were not. The scheme was an immediate response. What we were asked to do was to allow people to get back into production. It depended on whether it concerned soft fruit or an amenity. There are two timescales for them and we responded. The area to which the Deputy referred may be a niche market and small, but, quite honestly, I do not believe the scheme is in any way able to address it. It is not designed in that way and never was. It is flexible in many ways, but it cannot address that particular cohort.

As I said, I acknowledge the involvement of the Minister, the Department and Teagasc in addressing the concerns expressed. I appreciate that the scheme does not suit this small number of fruit growers, but there have been aid schemes in the past. I believe there is an exemption of up to €15,000 over three years under EU regulations. Could a small scheme be considered for something like that?

I will not give false hope. I do not believe we can do it in the Department.

Brexit Issues

Aindrias Moynihan

Question:

51. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the efforts he is making to develop new export markets in the context of Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23767/18]

The agrifood sector is a hugely significant component of our exports and most exposed to Brexit, given that 35% of all food exports go to the United Kingdom. Last year they were worth over €4.5 billion. Farmers are very concerned about the risks associated with Brexit. Some 51% of our beef and 24% of dairy products go to the United Kingdom. While cheddar cheese, for example, is more attractive in the United Kingdom, it is not so much in other areas. What efforts are being made to ensure alternative markets will be available for beef, dairy and agrifood exports in general?

The pursuit and development of new markets for Irish agrifood exports are ongoing and central components of the strategic development of the agrifood sector, as evidenced by its placement at the centre of Food Wise 2025, the industry’s strategy for development in the coming decade. This is all the more relevant after the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union, which presents significant new challenges for the agrifood sector, in particular.

Food Wise 2025 outlines the huge potential for growth in agrifood exports to new and emerging markets, particularly in Asia, Africa and the Persian Gulf region. In keeping with the priorities outlined in Food Wise 2025, I led a very successful trade mission in February 2017 to the Persian Gulf region. It covered the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and was followed by an extensive trade mission to the United States and Mexico in June. Both markets offer many elements that are very attractive to Irish exporters. The United States is the largest food and beverage market in the world and has a population of 324 million people. Around 35 million Americans also claim Irish ancestry. Mexico has a population of 127 million, making it the 11th largest country in the world in population terms and the 15th largest economy in the world, with projections that it will move into the top five by 2050.

Later in 2017, during a trade mission to Japan and South Korea in November, I was accompanied by 40 representatives of the food sector, as well as by experts from my Department, the CEO of Bord Bia and senior representatives from Enterprise Ireland and Teagasc. It was an opportune time to bring a delegation of Ireland’s food leaders to that part of the world, given that the European Union had concluded a free trade agreement with South Korea, as well as concluding an economic partnership agreement with Japan in December 2017. Japan and South Korea are markets of high potential for beef, pigmeat and sheepmeat exports; therefore, it is important that we raise the profile of Irish agrifood enterprises that already have access to these markets and make progress in negotiating access for others.

Following a further trade mission to the United States and Canada in February, earlier this month I led a trade mission to China and Hong Kong. It was an extremely successful mission in the development of our ever-growing partnership with China. For example, being present at one of the world’s largest food trade exhibitions in Shanghai allowed me to reinforce the positive message about the quality and sustainability of Irish agrifood exports to Asian buyers. I was also fortunate to secure meetings with three senior Chinese Ministers. There is a clear ambition on both sides to build further co-operation between Ireland and China on many levels, including trade. I will continue to do all I can to maximise that potential.

It is important to acknowledge the progress made in markets in the Persian Gulf and China which possibly offer alternative markets. However, having so much beef going to the United Kingdom is a grave concern for beef farmers. What amount of beef does the Minister expect to be exported to the alternative markets and how soon will they be flourishing? Anybody who is involved in agriculture realises things do not happen overnight. The same applies to markets. How soon will they be ready? What timeframe and targets has the Minister set out? Will they be able to accommodate such a large amount, given that we export so much beef to the United Kingdom?

The second issue is the level of staff and energy and effort being put into this matter. Is the Minister satisfied that there is an adequate number of staff involved? For example, Bord Bia hired only seven additional staff last year and the Department had permission to assign only eight staff from existing resources to the dedicated Brexit unit. Is the Minister satisfied that an adequate number of staff are available in that regard?

It is important to state geography should always be a determinant of where we trade. It is our hope and ambition that the United Kingdom will always remain an important market for us. In that regard, we are putting much effort into working with our retail partners in the United Kingdom. It is the market we understand most, the one we can access most efficiently financially and the best paying beef market in the world. We are not walking away from it. However, in the context of Brexit and given that we do not know what the future trading relationship will be, it is incumbent on us to have other market opportunities. Where the industry chooses to sell thereafter is an issue for it to decide. It is not for me to tell the industry where it should sell. Any good industry will sell where the margin is highest and to the market that offers the best opportunity to deliver a price to the primary consumer.

China is an enormous market that has become our second biggest market in the context of dairy and pig meat. I do not know whether it will become the same for beef and I think it is idle to speculate. It is an enormous market on which we will put significant emphasis. Opening up that market and other markets is where it is at in terms of the obligations and responsibility of the Department. Where industry chooses to sell thereafter is an issue for it so I am not going to say we sell "X" amount of tonnes to China. It is open. It could be very important given it has an emerging middle class with higher disposal incomes and westernised dietary habits. They are all important. Where industry chooses to sell is not something we control. I am satisfied that there are adequate resources in my Department and Bord Bia.

Much of the Minister's target is aimed at Food Wise 2025. Has there been a review of that in view of Brexit? I return to the question concerning the amount of beef and the Minister's targets or what he envisages needs to be replaced with regard to the UK market. If there is a hard Brexit, and the Central Bank has outlined how it would see any red tape putting a huge burden on exports to the UK, particularly fresh food such as beef, and prepared food, it will be less attractive and more difficult. What efforts are being made to ensure it will be more straightforward for people who want to continue trading into the UK market?

The subtext behind the idea that we would review our Food Wise targets seems to be that we should dismantle our ambition. I do not share that belief. In fact, I think our ambition is eminently achievable. Never was it more important to have a plan like Food Wise than in the current situation. I chair the implementation committee of Food Wise. We meet with all the relevant stakeholders. There is no appetite for dismantling our ambition. Obviously, there is added urgency in the context of Brexit and that is why we have given more resources to explore new market opportunities.

Our declared ambition with regard to Brexit is to have as close a trading relationship with the UK as possible after it departs. We think it should always be an important market for us, which is why we are working might and main to achieve that objective. We do not control all of the aces in the context of a UK Government that delivers mixed messages but seems to say that it wants to leave the customs union and Single Market. This is a challenge in terms of the continued level of market access we currently enjoy where the price in that market is probably globally the best, particularly for beef, so we are looking at new market opportunities like China.

Live Exports

Pat Deering

Question:

52. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the way in which live calf exports have performed in quarter one of 2018 and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23622/18]

We discussed the improving situation for the dairy industry compared to the beef and sheep industries earlier on. The increased number in the dairy herd in the past number of years will obviously have a knock-on effect on the number of calves being produced in the country. In order for the beef industry to be maintained, there must be an outlet for calves that have been produced through the dairy industry. Where are we with regard to exports of live calves in the first quarter of this year compared to last year? What are the birth figures for this year compared to last year? Where are our main markets?

Live exports play a vital role in stimulating price competition in the livestock industry and providing an alternative market outlet for farmers. Last year, my Department reduced the veterinary inspection fee payable on live exports of calves under three months of age to €1.20 per animal from €4.80. This gave an important boost to the trade in young calves and brought greater equity in the fees payable for calves, weanlings and adult cattle. Exports of calves rose by 20% to just over 100,000 in 2017 compared to 2016.

This strong performance has continued into 2018. In quarter one, exports of calves rose to 66,800, an 18% increase on the same period in 2017. The Netherlands and Spain were the largest markets with 28,112 and, 25,034 calves exported to these destinations, respectively, in quarter one. In the case of Spain, this represented an increase of 4,500 head on last year. Other destinations included Belgium, to where more than 8,000 head were exported in quarter one of 2018, which is double last year's figure. Exports to France rose to 3,600 head and exports to Italy and Northern Ireland remained stable. My Department and I will continue to promote and maintain an environment in which live exports can continue in both an economic and sustainable manner and with full regard to welfare.

It is encouraging to hear that those figures have increased substantially in the first quarter of this year. With the continuing increase in the dairy herd, there will probably be an increase in the number of calves. Are the figures outlined by the Minister sustainable? I think the Minister said there has been an increase of 18% in the first quarter of this year. In order to maintain the figures, there would probably need to be a similar increase in the first quarter of next year. Have we those markets? Have we enough markets to ensure we can have a sustainable future in that regard?

Obviously, this is an issue we keep under review. There will be continued expansion in the dairy herd. I would like to see more of the expansion in the dairy herd come from improved genetics and yield than from a headlong rush to increased numbers but I do accept that there will be increased numbers. These markets for calf exports are significant. One of the critical issues we will need to keep under review is our commitment to the highest possible standards of welfare in the context of the transport of those animals because without that, those markets can be jeopardy. We will ensure that all those approved to export will operate to the highest standards. Those exports, particularly because they take the progeny of the dairy herd out of the country, are an important fillip indirectly for the beef sector because they leave higher quality beef progeny in the country arising from beef crosses from the dairy herd but also from the suckler herd. That is important in terms of marketing a quality product on the beef side. In the context of live exports, 30,000 cattle, mostly weanlings and bulls, were exported to Turkey in 2017. We are up 27% on those with regard to the January to April 2018 figure. Exports are very important from a competitive point of view but key to maintaining that is a commitment to high standards in welfare.

I think exports are essential in order to keep the whole industry ticking over in a very sustainable way. Standards are also very important as we continue our live exports. In his initial reply, the Minister outlined the different countries where our main exports are going - Spain, Belgium, Northern Ireland and the Netherlands. Are there any other countries that could take some more of our exports in view of the fact that we may be able to export more in the future?

It is not so much in the area of calves but there are emerging markets in Libya in the area of live exports for beef cattle. Breeding stock is also being exported, some to Russia and elsewhere. The numbers are not huge but it is an area in which we remain active in terms of seeking out opportunities. There were some tentative inquiries previously about Egypt as a significant market for live exports of weanling cattle as well. I place significant emphasis on the competitive aspect that live exports bring to the beef trade. It will continue to be a major focus in respect of market opportunities and trade missions in the future.

Questions Nos. 53 to 55, inclusive, replied to in Written Answers.

Live Exports

Bernard Durkan

Question:

56. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the way in which live exports performed in quarter one of 2018 and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23763/18]

In order to speed things up, I ask for the reply .

I am keenly aware of the vital role that live exports play in stimulating price competition and providing an alternative market outlet for farmers. The ongoing search for new third country markets is a priority for my Department, particularly in the context of Brexit.

The outlook for live cattle exports in 2018 is very positive. Already in the three months of this year, a total of 79,226 head of cattle were exported, including 66,807 calves. The largest export market during this period was the Netherlands with 4,585 head of cattle, followed by Spain with 4,135 and France with 1,069. The UK live export market was a relatively modest sector during the first quarter of 2018 with 151 head of cattle exported and a similarly small amount of 247 exported to Northern Ireland. There were no live exports to third country markets during this period, however, I am pleased to state that in the second quarter, we have already exported 770 head of cattle to Libya, 62 to Russia and 22 head of cattle to Rwanda.

Live exports will continue to inform the destinations selected for trade missions in 2018 as they did in 2017. Animal welfare is obviously a key concern in any live export trade, and inspections by my Department will continue to ensure that rigorous and robust animal welfare standards are strictly complied with during the transport of live cattle.

Earlier this year, I led a trade mission to Turkey focusing on live exports. Ireland exported 30,000 cattle to Turkey last year, which represented approximately 6% of that country's total import requirement. The trade delegation included officials from my Department and Bord Bia as well as representatives from the Irish live cattle export companies, and I met key stakeholders involved in the Turkish livestock sector, including Minister Fakbaba. We had a broad ranging discussion, but live cattle exports were a central focus of our meeting. Exports of cattle to Turkey from January to April this year came to nearly 6,000 head, which represents a 27% increase over the same period last year.

To what degree does the Department monitor animal welfare in live exports to the locations the Minister mentioned? To what extent does the Department monitor the effect of the export of particular animals on the national herd, in particular on the breeding herd and its future prospects?

My Department attaches the highest significance to animal welfare in the context of the live export trade. I have met all of the key players in the industry and emphasised to them the fact that its continued existence is contingent on their continued commitment to the highest standards. We are involved in the inspection of cattle as they are loaded for departure on boats and, from time to time, we send departmental officials to travel with those cattle to conduct informal inspections. We place an enormous emphasis on welfare because of the significance of the trade to the beef industry and, in particular, to Irish farmers, and we will continue to insist on the highest standards. It is important to note that our animal welfare standards do not simply meet the EU standard but are, in fact, higher than the minimum EU requirement. We place such a level of significance on it that we have higher standards than those required.