Agriculture Industry

Niall Collins

Question:

1940. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of times the stakeholders forum has met in 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34026/18]

I understand that the Deputy is referring to the Beef, Dairy and Tillage Stakeholder Forums.

The Beef forum last met in February 2018.  To date the forum has been convened 11 times.

The Dairy forum last met in September 2017. To date the forum has been convened 5 times.

The Tillage Forum last met in February 2017. To date the forum has been convened twice.

In addition to these stakeholder forums for specific sectors, the Food Wise process provides ongoing opportunities for stakeholder input - most importantly during the strategy formation process itself, but also for example:

- Food Wise skills workshops held in 2016 and 2017;

- Food Wise: Challenge, Ambition, Opportunity Conference last December;

- Food Wise Environmental Sustainability Dialogue last month;

- National Economic Dialogue - Food Wise breakout session last month.

Labour Market

Niall Collins

Question:

1941. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to address the labour supply shortages farmers are experiencing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34027/18]

I am acutely aware of the shortage of labour that exists in some parts of the agri-food sector. It should be noted that the sector accounts for 7.9% of total employment, or approximately 174,000 jobs. As most of these jobs are based in rural areas, they are crucial to the rural economy.

Food Wise 2025 highlighted the need for the attraction, retention and development of skills and talent right along the food supply chain.  Investment in people is crucial for the success of Food Wise 2025 and the success of the sector as a whole. The human capital recommendations contained in the strategy are more relevant than ever, as we see skills and labour shortages developing.

My Department has hosted two Food Wise 2025 skills workshops, involving all relevant stakeholders, to look at skills gaps and needs at farm and at food and beverage industry levels. This process of stakeholder engagement has led to two important reports:

- the report on 'Future Skills Needs in the Food and Drink Sector' published last year; and

- the 'People in Dairy Action Plan' which I launched last month. 

The specific recommendations in both reports are now being implemented, and progress will be reported to the Food Wise High Level Implementation Committee, which I chair.

Labour supply issues have been most acute in meat processing, horticulture and at dairy farm level. While some potential exists to recruit labour from within the domestic and European labour markets right across the agri-food sector, it became apparent in recent times that this will be insufficient to meet the demand and therefore, I and my officials have had extensive engagement with the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys and her Department in relation to employment permits for non-European Economic Area nationals.

I welcomed the announcement by Minister Humphreys of a pilot quota of employment permits for the horticulture, dairy and meat processing sectors in May. While the number of permits allocated is relatively modest (500 for horticulture workers, 50 for dairy farm assistants and 250 for meat processor operatives), it is a good first step.

I said at the time of the announcement of these permits that they were just one piece of the jigsaw in addressing labour supply and that the sector must also continue and intensify its efforts to source labour from both the domestic and EU markets. In this regard, my officials have been working closely with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP) to assist in these efforts. That Department recently hosted an information session with representatives from across the agri-food sector on the range of initiatives and supports they can provide, from ‘Intreo’ to ‘EURES’ and more. I understand that individual sub-sectors have arranged further meetings and information sessions with the DEASP.

The Deputy will be aware that the State has now opted into the EU (recast) Reception Conditions Directive. This enables international protection applicants, who are awaiting a first instance decision on their status for 9 months or longer, to access the labour market from 30 June 2018. My Department has encouraged sectoral representatives to explore this option, and I understand that they are in communication with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the Department of Justice and Equality in this regard.

These are some of the main initiatives that have been rolled out in recent months to assist the agri-food sector in attracting individuals to take up positions within the sector, whether at primary or processing level, and address the labour shortage that exists. It is clear however that there is no ‘quick-fix’. Instead, we must take a multi-faceted approach and my Department will continue to progress initiatives in this regard.

Co-operative Sector

Niall Collins

Question:

1942. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his consultations with the co-ops regarding credit terms and interest free credit in view the recent weather and the demand for feed supplements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34029/18]

The Fodder Coordination Group met last Thursday. It is made up of stakeholders such as the co-operatives, feed compounders, banks and farm representative bodies. After the meeting I acknowledged the ongoing efforts of the Group and the work its members are undertaking to mitigate the effects of the current dry period on grazing and fodder supplies. The Group has met three times since the onset of the dry weather and the practical advice being shared across the group, on dealing with the current weather and filling the fodder gap that has now been identified, is critical to our management of the current situation.

Given the need for a collective approach, I am urging everyone to support and participate actively in the ongoing efforts. In this regard I emphasised the positive role for industry and banking representatives on the Fodder Group. I welcome recent initiatives both by Glanbia and Dairygold in relation to credit facilities for their suppliers and am urging others to consider similar measures.

I also liaise regularly with the main banks on issues relating to the agri-food sector, all of whom have announced specific supports for their farming customers.

I and my Department will continue to engage on this issue.

Farmers Indebtedness

Niall Collins

Question:

1943. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his discussions with the banks to seek a facility for farmers to pay interest only on bank debt due to cash flow issues which will arise from the recent drought and bad winter weather; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34030/18]

The Fodder Coordination Group met last Thursday. It is made up of stakeholders such as the co-operatives, feed compounders, banks and farm representative bodies. After the meeting I acknowledged the ongoing efforts of the Group and the work its members are undertaking to mitigate the effects of the current dry period on grazing and fodder supplies. The Group has met three times since the onset of the dry weather and the practical advice being shared across the group, on dealing with the current weather and filling the fodder gap that has now been identified, is critical to our management of the situation.

Given the need for a collective approach, I am urging everyone to support and participate actively in the ongoing efforts. In this regard I emphasised the positive role for industry and banking representatives on the Fodder Group. I welcome recent initiatives both by Glanbia and Dairygold in relation to credit facilities for their suppliers and am urging others to consider similar measures.

I liaise regularly with the main banks on issues relating to the agri-food sector, all of whom have announced specific supports for their farming customers in response:

- Bank of Ireland has announced a “Drought Support Package”.

- Ulster Bank has announced a “Weather Agri Fund”.

- AIB has announced “Working Capital Support”.

I and my Department will continue to engage with the banks on this issue.

Farmers Indebtedness

Niall Collins

Question:

1944. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the amount of debt farmers have with the pillar banks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34031/18]

The Central Bank of Ireland reports on business credit on a quarterly basis. New lending into the agriculture sector for 2017 is reported at €790 million, which demonstrates a stable supply of lending to the sector. This is an increase on 2016 and 2015 when the figures were €676 million and €649 million respectively.

The Central Bank data shows that total outstanding borrowings in agriculture have declined from €5,129 million at the beginning of 2010 to the current €3,228 million. This is indicative of the deleveraging that has occurred in the wider economy where repayments have outstripped new lending.  The data shows that the sector accounts for 12% of the €26,029 million outstanding debt held by Irish resident SMEs.

Teagasc and Bank of Ireland launched a report in 2015, “A Review of the Financial Status of Irish Farms and Future Investment Requirements”, which indicated that, relative to the EU average, Irish farms have low debt and high asset values.

I liaise with the main banks on issues relating to the agri-food sector on an ongoing basis.

Fodder Crisis

Niall Collins

Question:

1945. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if an extension to the fertiliser spreading deadline has been considered in view of the recent drought; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34032/18]

The current drought poses particular challenges for farmers, particularly in the east and south of the country. I wish to acknowledge the on-going efforts of the Fodder Co-ordination Group which I asked to address the effects of the current dry period on grazing and fodder supplies.

Practical advice, including in relation to fertiliser use, is being shared across the group on dealing both with the current weather and on filling the fodder gap that has now been identified. The overall priority must be to conserve as much fodder for the coming winter as possible when the opportunity to do so arises and to take advantage of growth when it resumes after the current drought.

In order to provide support to farmers Teagasc set up an advisory help line, on 087 7971377, which provides direct access to its advisors, this is open from 9am-9pm.

Co-ops and feed compounders represented on the group have increased feed output to meet demand.

Banking institution and Co-operative members of the group are also working closely with farmer customers on effective financial planning to see them through the current difficult spell and some have introduced dedicated credit lines to farmers.

In order to support farmers during this challenging period and into the autumn I have requested the EU Commission to ensure the earliest approval of advance of direct support and agri-environmental payments this autumn.

I have also been in further contact with Commissioner Phil Hogan as a follow-up to last week’s Council of Agriculture Ministers’ meeting where I joined with counterparts from other Member States in raising issues caused by current drought conditions. At that Council, I called on the European Commission to be responsive to current difficulties and to retain an open mind on any solutions which can alleviate current difficulties. This was followed yesterday with a letter to Commissioner Hogan requesting permission to proceed with certain actions which could be helpful to Irish farmers, which have a special emphasis on replenishing fodder stocks in advance of the winter period as well as improving on-farm cash-flow. 

I will continue to actively monitor the situation, and assess the need for appropriate actions, through engagement both with the group and its members.

GLAS Issues

Niall Collins

Question:

1946. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of the roll-out of a compensation scheme for landowners impacted by the hen harrier designation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34033/18]

At the outset, I would like to clarify that my Department has no role in the designation of lands.  That function is exercised through the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.  The question of compensation does not arise, therefore, in the context of any schemes or measures introduced by my Department. 

As regards the new Hen Harrier Programme, I should stress that this is a locally-led pilot project under the European Innovation Partnerships measure, which is not directly administered by my Department.  The design and management of the programme are primarily matters for the local project team, who have consulted widely with farmers in designated areas in the development of the measures to be undertaken on the ground and associated payments.  

I have provided a budget of €25 million for this new innovative agri-environment approach.  This is in addition to the significant framework of support for farmers with hen-harrier designated land already in place through my Department's agri-environment scheme GLAS.  Under GLAS, farmers with hen harrier habitat qualify for a payment of €370 per hectare and can earn up to €7,000 per annum through a combination of GLAS and GLAS Plus payments.  The GLAS Hen Harrier action has proved hugely successful, with some 2,678 farmers now signed up. This accounts for almost 70% of all farmers with hen harrier habitat.  

Response to the new locally-led programme has been similarly positive with nearly seven hundred applications received already. This programme targets in particular farmers managing large tracts of hen harrier habitat, and these can earn up to €5,000 a year or more depending on the actions undertaken and results achieved.  For those already in GLAS, this can be in addition to payments currently drawn down under that scheme.

I regard both these interventions, fostered by my Department, as highly significant developments which will further the conservation of the bird as well as providing an important additional income stream for farmers in designated areas.

Social Isolation

Niall Collins

Question:

1947. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the actions he has taken and will take to address mental health and the impact of isolation and loneliness on farmers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34034/18]

The Health Service Executive provides a wide range of community and hospital based mental health services in Ireland and can be contacted at 1850 24 1850.

While my Department does not have any direct provisions for mental health in the various farm schemes it operates, it does however provide on-going initiatives which would indirectly alleviate mental health related pressures for individuals and farm families alike.

For example, in order to assist families who have suffered a sudden loss or serious illness, and who may not have experience in dealing with the type of day to day issues that might bring them in contact with the Department in relation to schemes and services, a single point of contact has been established in the Department’s Inheritance Enquiry Unit. Every assistance and guidance possible will be provided to make contact/dealings with the Department as easy and as straightforward as possible for the family or legal representatives.

Contact details for the Service are as follows:

Phone: 0761 064428

E-mail: inheritance@agriculture.gov.ie

Teagasc provide a Tragic Event Service for Family Farms (TESFF) to offer support to farm families.  In the aftermath of tragic events on farms leading to death or serious injury, advisors will offer their support without additional cost to affected families.  The key areas of support are as follows.

- Technical support to ensure that the family can make the critical management decisions in time and ensure that the farm can continue to operate at a reasonable level of performance.

- Farm Financial Business support in dealing with bankers, accountants and Revenue.

- Support in working with my Department in relation to the various Schemes and Services available to ensure that the farm continues to participate in and receive its entitlements under various schemes.

- Structural Changes to assist the farm family stabilise the farm so that it can function effectively, this may mean changing the system of farming, scaling down or employing additional hired labour.

To avail of the service farm families should contact their local Teagasc office.

Social support has been shown to both alleviate mental distress and help solve farming problems. I would urge all farmers to stay in contact with a health professional through having a regular health check-up and seek professional help when any health issues, mental or physical, arise. 

Water Supply

Niall Collins

Question:

1948. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to provide farmers with a grant to sink their own wells in view of the recent drought; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34037/18]

The Scheme of Investment Aid for the Development of the Commercial Horticulture Sector facilitates capital investments in specialised horticultural equipment and buildings by providing grant aid to commercial horticultural producers.  Investments funded under this Scheme may include costs associated with boring a well, provision of water storage facilities or the purchase of irrigation equipment for use on horticultural crops.   

Grant aid for the sinking of wells is not currently covered under the TAMS II Schemes.  Until the approvals issued to applicants for the existing measures under TAMS are acted upon and payment claims are submitted or expire without a payment claim being submitted the budgetary position is that additional investment items cannot be accommodated within the Rural Development Programme TAMS budget.

The Water Framework Directive is the primary piece of EU legislation dealing with water. It lays down detailed requirements for managing water quality and protecting the natural water environment. It requires member states to implement measures to protect and, where necessary, restore all bodies of water to good status within prescribed timeframes; generally by 2015 or at the latest by 2027. Member states are required to prepare River Basin Management Plans (RBMP) every 6 years.

 Ireland’s second RBMP, published in April 2018, contains a number of commitments in relation to the management and regulation of water abstractions. These include the establishment and maintenance of a national register of water abstractions of 25 cubic metres or more per day. A person abstracting 25 cubic metres or more per day will be required to register that abstraction via the Environmental Protection Agency. This will help to ensure the continued and sustainable use of Ireland's water resources in accordance with the requirements of the Water Framework Directive.  

Tax Collection

Niall Collins

Question:

1949. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he has engaged or will engage with the Revenue Commissioners in order that they are made aware that farmers will experience cash flow issues in 2018 due to the severe weather conditions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34038/18]

While taxation policy is primarily the responsibility of the Department of Finance and the Revenue Commissioners has responsibility for the implementation of the taxation system, my officials continuously liaise with them on issues relating to agri-taxation.

In relation to cashflow, in Budget 2017 the Minister for Finance and I introduced an adjustment to the farmers’ ‘Income Averaging’ system, allowing an opt-out for an exceptional year. Income averaging for farmers is a recognition that income in the sector is volatile and that the annual tax liability can vary significantly. The system works by averaging the last five years’ income on a rolling basis. The nature of income averaging means that it is somewhat counter-cyclical in that in years of higher income, the tax liability is lower than it would normally be and in years of lower income, it is higher. This opt-out facility for exceptional years (once in a five-year period) allows farmers to pay on the basis of actual income instead of the average income. The additional liability is then paid over the following four years. This is a significant measure which enables better cashflow management for farmers. 

Revenue has informed my Department that it understands that temporary cashflow difficulties can arise for taxpayers, including farmers, from time to time. When cashflow related challenges arise or are expected to arise, Revenue encourages early engagement with them as a means towards agreeing a way forward in terms of tax compliance. They stated that in their experience, where such early engagement occurs, then it is generally possible to arrive at an accommodation that gets the taxpayer successfully beyond the payment pressure point.

 My Department and I are also engaging with the banks and the agri-food industry in relation to cash flow issues.

Animal Slaughtering Data

Niall Collins

Question:

1950. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of additional cattle which have been slaughtered due to the recent severe weather conditions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34039/18]

The total number of cattle slaughtered this year to date has increased by 25,368 head or 2.8% on the same period last year.  However, it should be noted that this is not out of line with the increases we have seen in previous years.

The Fodder Coordination Group met last Thursday. It is made up of stakeholders such as the co-operatives, feed compounders, banks and farm representative bodies. After the meeting I acknowledged the ongoing efforts of the Group and the work its members are undertaking to mitigate the effects of the current dry period on grazing and fodder supplies. The Group has met three times since the onset of the dry weather and the practical advice being shared across the group, on dealing with the current weather and filling the fodder gap that has now been identified, is critical to our management of the situation.

Given the need for a collective approach, I am urging everyone to support and participate actively in the ongoing efforts. In this regard I emphasised the positive role for industry and banking representatives on the Fodder Group. I welcome recent initiatives both by Glanbia and Dairygold in relation to credit facilities for their suppliers and am urging others to consider similar measures. 

Minor Flood Mitigation Works and Coastal Protection Scheme

Niamh Smyth

Question:

1951. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to introduce grant aid for land drainage for farmers due to severe wet weather; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34049/18]

The Office of Public Works have a Mitigation Works and Coastal Protection funding scheme which is in place since 2009, specifically aimed at addressing the issue of minor flood protection interventions.

A review of the scheme was conducted in 2017 and a number of improvements to the scheme were announced.   Amongst these are the provisions that farm yards/buildings are included as commercial premises in all categories for the first time.  The upper financial threshold was also increased significantly from €500,000 to €750,000 per project.  More details of the scheme are available from the offices of the OPW.  In addition, the OPW have an on-going scheme of arterial drainage maintenance which benefits 650,000 acres of agricultural land.

The budget for the Targeted Agriculture Modernisation scheme (TAMS) is fully committed under our Rural Development Programme.  Support for land drainage is not included as an eligible item in the current Rural Development Programme for 2014 - 2020.

It must also be recognised that any such measure would require full compliance with environmental requirements including the need for a full Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for the entirety of Ireland and Appropriate Assessments for all potentially affected Natura Areas.  Environmental requirements in any potential measure would be significant as would the challenge of securing European Commission approval.  

Agriculture Schemes

Niamh Smyth

Question:

1952. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of applications that have been received from counties Cavan and Monaghan and nationally under the fodder transport scheme in tabular form. [34050/18]

A total of 609 applications have been received under the Fodder Transport Support Measure of which 19 were received from County Cavan and 2 were received from County Monaghan. The full county breakdown is set out below.

Payments under the Measure commenced on Tuesday 17 July

-

Fodder Transport Support Measure

County

Number of Applicants

Cavan

19

Clare

51

Cork

211

Donegal

52

Galway

28

Kerry

47

Kildare

2

Kilkenny

1

Leitrim

20

Limerick

14

Longford

2

Louth

2

Mayo

19

Meath

3

Monaghan

2

Offaly

4

Roscommon

31

Sligo

16

Tipperary

82

Waterford

1

Westmeath

2

Total

609

GLAS Payments

Niamh Smyth

Question:

1953. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of persons in counties Cavan and Monaghan waiting for GLAS payments; the number of part payments issued; and his plans to process the outstanding payments. [34051/18]

Niamh Smyth

Question:

1954. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of delayed GLAS payments to persons in counties Cavan and Monaghan in 2017; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34052/18]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1953 and 1954 together.

In Cavan, the current total number of participants in the GLAS scheme is 1,860. Of these 1,842 have received their 2017 advance payment with 1,543 having received their 2017 balancing payment.

In Monaghan, the current total number of participants is 1,049. Of these 1,040 have received their 2017 advance payment with 887 having received their 2017 balancing payment.

Of the total participating in GLAS, 99.6% of eligible cases have received their 2017 advance payment and almost 99% have received the balancing payment.

A number of cases remain ineligible for payment due to an outstanding issue on the part of the GLAS participant.  Outstanding obligations include the non submission of a Nutrient Management Plan, Commonage Management Plan or failure to participate in GLAS training. 

GLAS payments continue to issue on a weekly basis.

Brexit Issues

Niamh Smyth

Question:

1955. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to offset the impact of Brexit on farmers in counties Cavan and Monaghan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34053/18]

Brexit has the potential to have a very significant impact on farmers and on the agri-food sector throughout Ireland, including farmers in the counties of Cavan and Monaghan.

As the Deputy will be aware, the agri-food sector is of critical importance to the Irish economy, and its regional spread means it underpins the socio-economic development of rural Ireland.

In the first instance, the Government is seeking to minimise the impact of Brexit through a negotiated outcome which permits trade along the border regions to continue without impediment. In this regard, the UK commitment, in the Joint EU-UK Report of last December, to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, was extremely important. 

Ensuring that the UK gives effect to this commitment is now a significant focus of the Irish Government, and we have the full support of our EU partners and of the European Commission Task Force in this regard. 

Additionally, the Government has introduced a range of budgetary measures to help the sector navigate the short-term impacts of Brexit.  In Budget 2017, I introduced measures to help reduce farm gate business costs, including a €150 million low-cost loan scheme, new agri-taxation measures and increased funding under the Rural Development and Seafood Development Programmes. 

In the 2018 Budget I also announced a €50m Brexit support package, which comprises of a number of initiatives. Firstly, in cooperation with my colleague, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, we have established a new Brexit Loan Scheme which is aimed at providing affordable, flexible financing to Irish businesses that are either currently impacted by Brexit or who will be in the future. The Scheme is making up to €300 million of working capital finance available to SMEs and mid-cap businesses (up to 499 employees), at least 40% of which will be available to food businesses. 

Due to State Aid rules, this new Scheme will not be available to farmers and fishermen, so I am considering the development of a separate loan scheme, similar to the 2017 low-cost scheme, later this year based on the €25m funding from my Department to the Scheme. These measures are aimed at enhancing competitiveness within the sector.

Among other measures, I have introduced supports for Bord Bia for investment in their market insight and market prioritisation initiatives, which are aimed at identifying and developing potential diversification opportunities. I have already increased funding to Bord Bia by €14.5 million since the Brexit vote, including the further €4.5 million allocated in Budget 2018.

To enhance product diversification, I have also allocated funding to support the development of the new National Food Innovation Hub, which will be located in Teagasc Fermoy, Co. Cork.

I wish to assure the Deputy that Government remains very focused on supporting farmers and the agri-food industry through the challenges ahead, whether they are based in the border region or in any other part of the country. The Government will be firm in arguing that any agreement reached between the EU and the UK must take account of the very serious challenges presented by Brexit for the sector, particularly given the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland and the importance of our economic relationship with the UK. And, of course, ultimately Ireland's objective in the negotiations is to have a trading relationship with the UK which is as close as possible to the current arrangement. 

Fodder Crisis

Niamh Smyth

Question:

1956. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans and the supports in place to support farmers to feed livestock; if his Department and an organisation (details supplied) have discussed the potential fodder crisis in view of recent hot weather; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34054/18]

Following the fodder difficulties of last winter and spring I formed a representative group chaired by Teagasc including stakeholders such as Co-ops, banks, farm bodies amongst others to coordinate advisory messages to farmers this summer around replenishing depleted stocks of fodder. I have also requested the group to co-ordinate advice on managing grazing and fodder conservation through this extended period of extraordinarily dry weather.

The third meeting of the group took place only last Thursday 19 July and I have asked that the work of the group continue into the Autumn period and to provide on-going guidance and assistance to impacted farmers and I will be actively monitoring this situation through engagement both with the group and its members.

On the 26 June last I launched a national fodder census to be compiled by Teagasc through its client network as well as clients of the other fodder group stakeholders, with another census planned for the first week of September.

Practical advice is being shared across the group on dealing both with the current weather and on filling the fodder gap that has now been identified. The overall priority must be to conserve as much fodder for the coming winter as possible when the opportunity to do so arises and to take advantage of growth when it resumes after the current drought.

Reflecting this, Teagasc has established a dedicated helpline to provide advice to farmers affected by the on-going drought. This is being supplemented by a series of local meetings/clinics where farmers can obtain direct support from Teagasc advisors on the spot. The helpline will operate daily from 9 am to 9 pm - 087 7971377. This helpline service and local clinics are open to all farmers, including non-Teagasc clients.

Co-ops and feed compounders represented on the group have increased feed output to meet demand. Banking institution and Co-operative members of the group are also working closely with farmer customers on effective financial planning to see them through the current difficult spell and some have introduced dedicated credit lines to farmers.

In order to support farmers during this challenging period and into the autumn I have requested the EU Commission to ensure the earliest approval of advance of direct support payments this autumn

I have also been in further contact with Commissioner Phil Hogan as a follow-up to last week’s Council of Agriculture Ministers’ meeting where I joined with counterparts from other Member States in raising issues caused by current drought conditions. At that Council, I called on the European Commission to be responsive to current difficulties and to retain an open mind on any solutions which can alleviate current difficulties. This was followed yesterday with a letter to Commissioner Hogan requesting permission to proceed with certain actions which could be helpful to Irish farmers, which have a special emphasis on replenishing fodder stocks in advance of the winter period as well as improving on-farm cash-flow. 

Sheepmeat Sector

Niamh Smyth

Question:

1957. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if his attention has been drawn to the concerns of sheep farmers that are of the view that lambs going direct from the holding of birth to slaughter should be fully exempt from electronic identification, EID, tagging in the incoming mandatory extension of EID tagging to all sheep; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34104/18]

The current national sheep identification system has been in place since 2010.  It is widely acknowledged to be very complex, with an over reliance on the manual transcription of individual sheep identification numbers at all stages of production. Errors in the transcription process can result in loss of traceability, particularly in the case of batches of sheep that have originated from a number of flocks of origin. The extension of electronic identification will result in a simplified system that minimises transcription for keepers and enhances the traceability system.

It is accepted that the changes will have a cost implication for farmers.  In that regard I have announced a one off tag subsidy of up to €50 per keeper for the first purchase of tags.  Furthermore I announced that electronic tag readers and associated software are included as eligible investments in the Targeted Agriculture Modernisation Scheme (TAMS) to assist sheep farmers in flock management.  I do appreciate that tag readers are not a requirement for the new sheep identification scheme.

I am aware of the concerns of some farmers who are of the view that lambs going direct from the holding of birth to slaughter should be fully exempt from EID tagging.  The primary reason for seeking EID for all sheep including those going direct to slaughter is that it allows for the accurate electronic recording of all sheep identification numbers which is essential for an effective traceability system which provides quick and effective trace back in the event of any disease outbreak. 

This is also required to protect Ireland’s disease status and to provide for a more robust traceability system which will put Ireland on a level playing field with other countries when trying to maintain existing markets and secure new markets for Irish sheep meat.  In that regard I have engaged in a number of trade missions in the last number of years in an effort to open further markets for Irish sheep meat and electronic identification has been highlighted as a requirement for further progress in that regard.

My officials or I have met with stakeholders in the sheep industry and engaged in consultation on the implementation of EID.  A number of submissions have been made on the matter and I will consider the views expressed by all parties and expect to be in a position to respond soon.

Departmental Expenditure

Jack Chambers

Question:

1958. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his department's spending on travel and subsistence expenses in 2017 and to date in 2018. [34206/18]

The amount of spending on travel and subsistence in my Department for the years in question is outlined below:

Travel and Subsistence

 2017

 €8,847,620.62

 2018 (to date)

 €5,086,078.58

Departmental Expenditure

Jack Chambers

Question:

1959. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his Department's expenditure on photography and other promotional services including the creation of social media content in 2017 and to date in 2018. [34223/18]

The information requested by the Deputy with regard to photography is available on my Department's website at www.agriculture.gov.ie/aboutus/ministers/photographycosts . This information is regularly updated by my Department. Wherever possible, the Department avails of internal photography skills.

My Department has not had any expenditure on content specifically for social media for the period in question. Photographs taken by professional photographers, as referred to above, are used on my Department's Twitter account.  On occasion, my Department has availed of video making services, primarily for use at conferences and events such as the National Ploughing Championships. Following these events, such videos may be uploaded to my Department's Youtube channel and may be used as social media content.