Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Common Agricultural Policy Reform

Tom Neville

Question:

6. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the position with regard to discussions on the next Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, reform; and his priorities for the next CAP. [41294/18]

Permission has been given to Deputy McLoughlin to take the question tabled by Deputy Neville.

On behalf of my colleague, Deputy Neville, who cannot be here this morning, I want to ask the Minister about the position on discussions on the next CAP reform and his priorities for it. I ask the Minister to outline this.

Proposals for new regulations for the CAP for 2021 to 2027 were published on Friday, 1 June 2018 by the Commissioner, Mr. Hogan. The proposals as drafted involve significant changes, including on governance, the distribution of direct payments among farmers and the increasing environmental conditionality attaching to such payments. There will be some additional discretion for member states in configuring the measures available, within parameters laid down in Council regulations. Risk management measures, and measures to support young farmers and new entrants will be mandatory, and there will be a significant emphasis on education and technology adoption. At least 5% of rural development funds will be ring-fenced for the LEADER programme.

The Commission's objective is to have the proposals adopted by the co-legislators in spring 2019, prior to European Parliament elections in May that year. Preliminary discussions of the draft proposal took place at the informal Council meeting in Sofia, Bulgaria, and Agriculture Ministers discussed the proposals in more detail at the recent agri-fish Councils. Further discussions will take place in Luxembourg on 15 October. In general, member states have expressed concerns about the level of the budget and the different nature and additional complexity for reasons stated.

The Austrian Presidency has implemented an intensive programme of working party meetings to discuss specific aspects of the CAP proposals. Meetings commenced in July and have continued into September and October, where up to ten additional working party meetings have been scheduled.

To date, the special committee of agriculture has been provided with three separate updates on the state of play of the working party meetings. A progress report on CAP post-2020 discussions was presented at the special committee on 8 October in preparation for the upcoming Agriculture and Fisheries Council in October.

I am pleased to see the continued commitment in the new proposals to direct payments. They are a crucial component of the family farm income and their value cannot be underestimated. They provide income support, help prevent land abandonment and contribute towards economic growth in rural areas, as well as contributing towards the public goods that are delivered by farmers across Ireland and the European Union. This emphasises the need to continue to seek to secure an adequate and appropriate budget for CAP post-2020.

Another key feature is the increased environmental conditionality of CAP post-2020. A minimum of 40% of the CAP budget for each member state must be devoted to the environment and climate change. This increased conditionality recognises the role agriculture has to play in helping us meet our climate objectives. All European countries, including Ireland, have commitments under the Paris accord. I have always been clear that protecting the environment and maintaining our agrifood sector go hand in hand, and one cannot have one without the other. I want to see a future CAP playing a major role in supporting the farm sector in contributing to climate change mitigation and improved water quality and biodiversity.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

My officials and I are working constructively on the CAP proposals. My Department has engaged in a consultative process with all stakeholders involved. In February this year, I launched my Department's public consultation process. As part of that process, both the Minister of State, Deputy Andrew Doyle, and I participated in six public meetings held to discuss the future of the CAP in various locations around the country. The public consultation was followed by a consultative conference with stakeholders in July. The outcome of the public consultation process and the stakeholder conference is feeding into the Department's analysis and consideration of Ireland's position on key issues in the proposals.

The CAP proposals are intrinsically linked to the proposals for the overall EU budget, the multi-annual financial framework, MFF. The MFF proposes a 5% cut to the overall CAP budget. While decisions on this are a matter for Heads of State and Ministers for Finance, I have worked with my colleagues in the Agriculture and Fisheries Council to gain agreement on the need to protect the CAP budget. In May this year I, along with my EU ministerial colleagues from France, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Finland, signed a joint memorandum seeking the retention of the CAP budget at current levels. The memorandum was presented at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Luxembourg on 18 June, and up to 20 other EU Ministers have signalled their support to this proposal. At the Council on 16 July 2018, France and Germany presented a joint declaration that included a rejection of the cuts proposed. This paper was supported by other member states, including Croatia, Romania, Spain, Portugal, Slovenia, Belgium and Ireland. The retention of a sufficient budget for CAP is an essential requirement for Ireland. This is even more important against the background of Brexit.

We are engaged in the negotiation process but many aspects remain to be clarified so it is by no means certain what the final outcome of the proposals will be. I reassure the Deputy that I am committed to securing the best possible outcome for Ireland in the continuing negotiations.

I thank the Minister. Some people have expressed concern about the level of the budget and the direct payments. We have spoken in the past couple of days about the amount of funding to tackle climate change, and that is uppermost in people's minds here. Will the Minister elaborate on these matters?

The concern is that the budget as presented by Commissioner Phil Hogan is inadequate. We should bear in mind that the Commission can only spend the money member states give them, and we must acknowledge that Europe has other big challenges, including migration, security etc. We have always argued that member states should contribute more, and that must be done by unanimous agreement. We have indicated as a Government a willingness to contribute more to the European project, and the other challenges I alluded to are not a reason to raid the Common Agricultural Policy budget.

The first hurdle we must clear is to get an adequate budget for the Common Agricultural Policy because it guarantees high quality food and because of the environmental benefits it brings. There is a clear indication that the citizens of Europe have said they are prepared to support that, provided there is a greater degree of environmental ambition. This brings me to the clear content of the proposal published in early June by Commissioner Hogan, which is that there will be greater conditionality on the payments that farmers currently get. They will have to prove they are acting in a way that provides further benefit to the environment in terms of water quality, biodiversity etc. Most farmers acknowledge that.

The biggest concern is the budget, particularly the funding this country puts into it and what we get out of it. Climate has also been mentioned and it is a major concern for everybody in this country. Will the Minister elaborate on those matters?

When we seek more funds from the Common Agricultural Policy, it should not be misinterpreted as us with the bowl out looking for more from Europe. We pay in more to the European Union than we get out in net terms. We are a net contributor to the European Union budget. The Common Agricultural Policy is of such importance not just to farmers or the rural community but to the citizens of Europe as a whole, as well as citizens of the world because we are a net food exporting region. This is in the context of climate change, the high standards of production we have and the growing global population. CAP is as crucial now as it ever was, and our asking for more funding should therefore be seen in such a context.

It is inevitable that there will be greater conditionality and the timelines are extremely challenging. The Commission remains hell-bent on trying to agree a position before the European Parliament elections where the Parliament and the Council of Ministers would also have an agreed position. Trialogues will be entered into at this stage; there is much jargon around this but essentially this involves three parties sitting around a table in order to get a final deal. This will be very challenging as the premise is that the incoming Parliament would accept or be bound by the positions taken by the previous Parliament. Even if that were the case, the timeline is very challenging in the context of everything else that must be concluded with respect to Brexit etc.

Agriculture Schemes

Jackie Cahill

Question:

7. Deputy Jackie Cahill asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to introduce a new low-cost loan scheme to help farmers as debts and costs mount. [41474/18]

We had the budget on Tuesday and there was extreme disappointment because there was no new low-cost loan scheme for farmers. There is a serious cash flow crisis and large merchant debt is building up. The co-ops and private merchants cannot afford to carry this merchant debt. Farm families are under extreme financial pressure. What plans does the Minister have to introduce a new low-cost loan scheme?

In his budget speech, my colleague, the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, formally announced progress in the development of a key Government Brexit response, the future growth loan scheme for small and medium enterprise, including the primary agriculture and seafood sectors. This is a long-awaited source of finance for young and new entrant farmers, especially the cohort that does not have high levels of security. It will also serve smaller scale farmers, who often do not have the leverage to negotiate for more favourable terms with their banking institution. Food companies have identified long-term investment finance of up to ten years as a critical need currently unavailable in Ireland. I am pleased that the Government has been able to deliver this product and its effects will be felt all along the food production chain.

My Department is providing 40% of the funding so an overall agrifood package of €120 million will be available. However, unlike previous schemes, this can be reviewed and adjusted according to demand. Further details will be provided in the coming months. The scheme is expected to be in place in early 2019 and will run for three years from its launch date. The funding required to prime this measure will be paid by my Department in 2018.

With respect to cash flow pressures arising from the effects of the weather on grazing and fodder stocks, the agreement I secured from Commissioner Phil Hogan to make higher advance payments this autumn will result in a very substantial €260 million in additional cash flow for farmers shortly. I have had ongoing engagement with the banks in this regard. I am pleased to see that this engagement and the delivery of last year’s agriculture cash flow loan scheme has acted as a catalyst to encourage financial institutions to improve and develop new products for the sector. A recently announced initiative by one of the main banks mirrors the scheme in offering a discounted interest rate with extended and flexible repayment terms. All three main banks have dedicated offerings in response to the current position and co-ops have introduced recent initiatives on credit facilities for their suppliers. A spending review of the agriculture cash flow loan scheme, published with the budget, concluded that this was one of the main impacts of the scheme. In the context of these new and improved supports in this area, the focus of the Government has been to address market gaps, the most critical of which has been identified as unsecured longer term investment finance.

I thank the Minister for his response but he is missing the point I am making. To renege on his responsibility in the area and give it to the banks is not satisfactory. The people who want this money the worst will not get it from the banks. Two years ago a loan scheme was introduced in the budget that was most welcome but again on that round, the people under the most financial pressure did not get the loans from the banks. The banks offered the loans to their better customers. We might think the banks will step in and help the people under the most pressure but unfortunately that will not happen.

One of the milk co-ops introduced a flexible milk loan scheme a month or six weeks ago and the demand was phenomenal. Unfortunately, the appetite or need for credit among farmers is absolutely immense. We had one of the longest winters on record, with major costs, and a summer that saw large costs being incurred as well. Unfortunately, this winter will see a significant increase in the level of costs on farms also. Farmers, whether they are involved with pigs, beef, dairy or tillage, have a huge demand for short-term credit. A section of farmers have also invested very heavily in their businesses and are under extreme pressure to meet repayments. A short-term fix is required and the banks will not solve this matter. The Minister cannot renege on his responsibility to the various sectors.

Short-term credit at low cost must be provided if these sectors are to be kept sustainable.

When the State is putting in money, the challenge is whether it is getting value for that money. The report published with the budget on the €150 million low-interest loan working capital scheme clearly showed that it was value for money but that it had also delivered in terms of generating other competition in the finance sector for working capital. This raises the question of getting value for money in further initiatives with taxpayers' money. I believe it would be a mistake to repeat that kind of scheme when the market is already delivering a similar type of product in terms of working capital. The gap in the market that now exists is not for working capital because all the indications are that this is available. The gap in the market is for longer-term solutions, by which I mean those over seven years, so it would money over eight to ten years in the form of unsecured borrowing at interest rates that are very competitive. The product we are bringing out will meet all of those challenges in terms of unsecured borrowing at less than 5% over eight to ten years for capital investment. The working capital side has been addressed by the €150 million scheme but, more importantly, it has also generated further competition in that area.

I will not knock the initiatives introduced by the Minister as they are all welcome but there are a significant number of farmers who cannot get access to the credit they need. That is the factual situation. Many farmers have a very significant tax bill at the end of this month and the cashflow is just not there to do it so there is a problem.

Another issue in the budget was the lack of any attempt to address volatility and swings in farmers' income, the significant problem caused by tax bills in a year when income is down very substantially and the fact that farmers must pay tax for a previous year where income was far higher. There was grave disappointment on the part of all the farming organisations that there was no attempt in the budget to address those problems, which are significant problems for farm families involving as they do volatility and high income tax bills that can arise in a year such as this when incomes and costs are running very high. There is a problem with regard to short-term credit and volatility and, unfortunately, the budget did not deliver on either of these two key issues. There are farmers who cannot get access to credit and they are the ones who need it most.

I must disagree with the Deputy. The tax measures in the budget will benefit farmers with income difficulties caused by volatility because the income averaging arrangement has been further tweaked to allow those farmers with an off-farm income or whose spouses have an off-farm income to be able to avail of the opt out. This will benefit a substantial cohort of farmers who are currently excluded from that income averaging, the purpose of which is to address volatility issues, so it is not the case that there was no acknowledgement of the challenges around income averaging.

With regard to financial products, I do not think the Deputy and I will ever agree on this. The challenge for us is that if we have some money to spend, are we replicating something with taxpayers' money that is already in the market and, therefore, in a way, not delivering something new because the product will not be delivered? Farmers will not apply to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine for this working capital; they will apply to the pillar banks. If we are not delivering something new and it is already in the market without State support, could that money not be better spent on other things such as investment finance, areas of natural constraint payments or a beef initiative?

Control of Horses

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

8. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine further to Parliamentary Question No. 592 of 18 September 2018, if he is satisfied that local authorities are enforcing the Control of Horses Act 1996 adequately, his views on having multiple horse wardens with a particular focus on problem areas for horse abuse and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41482/18]

This is a follow up to a previous parliamentary question. Is the Minister satisfied that local authorities are enforcing the Control of Horses Act 1996 adequately? What are his views on having multiple horse wardens with a particular focus on problem areas for horse abuse?

Officials from my Department recently met with members of the local authority control of horses working group to discuss this matter. There is a general consensus that the current approach continues to reduce problems regarding wandering horses despite the persistence of a small number of irresponsible horse owners. Overall, the Control of Horses Act 1996, which provides powers to local authorities to deal with stray and abandoned horses, has worked well over the past 20 or so years.

The number of horses being seized nationally continues to decline from 4,923 in 2014 to 1,603 in 2017 and 806 to date in 2018. This reduction is reflective of a number of factors, including initiatives being progressed by my Department in the animal welfare area as well as the active enforcement of the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 and the EU equine identification regulations. In tandem with the work of the local authorities under the Control of Horses Act, officials of my Department have been directly involved in a number of horse seizures and have initiated prosecutions under the Animal Health and Welfare Act.

Horse exports have increased substantially in recent years helping to bring about a much greater balance between supply and demand. In addition, animal welfare charities have been re-homing an increasing number of horses abroad. The increased emphasis on re-homing of horses is being assisted greatly through my Department's funding to animal welfare organisations. A total of €2.56 million has been paid to 111 organisations to assist their work in animal welfare in 2018. A number of these organisations are actively involved in rescuing and re-homing neglected horses.

My Department also provides funding to local authorities to support the development of urban-Traveller horse projects in their respective areas. To date, funding of €1,004,447 has been drawn down across several local authorities, including a contribution of €534,024 to South Dublin County Council towards the development of the Clondalkin Equine Club. Funding has also been provided for projects and actions in Kildare, Kilkenny, Longford, Limerick, Leitrim, Cork, Meath, Offaly and Wicklow. These projects focus on education and they create awareness about compliance with animal welfare regulations thereby contributing to the reduction in the numbers of straying horses. My Department continues to stress that it is the responsibility of individuals to ensure the welfare of horses in their ownership and-or care and to ensure that when they no longer have a need for the animal, they are disposed of in an appropriate and responsible way.

The matter of employing "horse wardens" is a issue for the local authorities to consider. Local authorities are legally entitled to appoint authorised officers under the Control of Horses Act and the Animal Health and Welfare Act. In their consideration of the need for additional authorised officers, account would no doubt be taken on the overall improvements that have taken place in respect of the stray horse issues in recent years, the particular circumstances in their local area and indeed the excellent work of animal welfare charities.

This sounds very good on paper but the reality is different. We have appalling cases of horse abuse. Last Thursday, a number of animal welfare groups came together outside Leinster House under the banner of action for animal welfare. We heard case after case of abuse these groups know about. They are picking up the pieces because the Animal Health and Welfare Act is not being enforced adequately. Despite what the Minister says, local authorities, which are funded by the Government, are not enforcing the Control of Horses Act. They just impound and kill animals or remove dead animals. In the past 11 months, Tipperary County Council has spent €155,800 on removing dead horses. We have dog wardens and litter wardens so could the Department not give the lead with the local authorities? It could even produce a pilot scheme. We know where the black spots are. The local authorities could work with the owners before the abuse starts. They could work on things like the care of animals, including worming and foot care. We could also ensure that horses, ponies and donkeys are micro-chipped, registered and kept in proper equine-registered properties with equine space. A horse warden could have a lorry that could impound animals on the spot with Garda protection if this is necessary, because we know it has been necessary in places, so that we do not have the cases of starving animals with appalling illnesses that we hear about every day.

I appreciate the Deputy's consistent interest in this area and the collaborative efforts made by my Department, local authorities and charitable bodies. The graph is going in the right direction. That being said, we are all shamed by such incidents, which get a lot of traction, particularly on social media. Sometimes they distort the endeavour that is under way and the very good work being done by all the aforementioned in terms of trying to address this problem. The statistics clearly show this good work, although one cannot hide behind them when one is confronted by the graphic images we see. The Deputy referred to Tipperary County Council.

The appointment of horse wardens is an issue for local authorities, not the Department, but where there are specific problems, it might be a response they consider to be appropriate.

It is important that we all continue to collaborate. We are making great progress. The legislative framework is in place and there have been high-profile prosecutions which are important, although I often think they are a reflection of the ultimate failure. We ought to work with a lot less stick and more carrot, but we must retain the stick.

First, will the Department have the conversation with local authorities about the need for a local horse warden? That could pre-empt some of the problems that we see. Second, there are hundreds of horses in the Dublin City Council area. Each should have a chip and a passport and those in the controlled area should have a licence. The council only issued 15 licences. It is something that should be looked at. I acknowledge the work of the Clondalkin Equine Club. Third, when there is a fodder crisis, is there a contingency plan for the animal welfare groups who are trying to feed animals that have suffered neglect?

Under the Horse Racing Ireland Act 2016, if a horse is found to have been doped, it is banned. I am sure that something would also happen the owner, but will the Minister clarify what happens to the horse? That is another issue we must look at.

Finally, if the Minister will not go along with the idea of a horse warden, what is the alternative? He says this policy working but there are graphic examples where it is not. A pilot scheme in some of the black spots could add to what the Department is doing and make a difference.

As I said, we had recent consultation with local authorities but it is not for us to tell local authorities to recruit wardens. Under the Control of Horses Act, it is something they may do themselves. I appreciate, as a former member of a local authority, there are many competing demands on their resources. Some have wardens but many have not, and it is not something about which we can instruct. That engagement on this is ongoing, particularly regarding what are considered to be hot spots.

Education has a critical role to play. Initiatives such as the Clondalkin Equine Club are important in that context because it provided an opportunity to recognise the culture relating to the urban horse. In Irish society, we celebrate the horse, horse racing, the sport horse and so on, but the urban horse is as much a part of that cultural story as any other. Facilities such as that in Clondalkin are important in recognising that but also in showcasing how the best treatment and practice should be delivered. That is crucial to all those involved.

It is important that the collaborative endeavour continues and my Department will continue to work with all the voluntary organisations which do tremendous work in that area. However, we should not lose sight of the fact that we are in a far better position now than we were. Nevertheless, one case is one too many.

Trade Missions Data

Peter Burke

Question:

9. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the progress in securing new markets for Irish agrifood products in 2018; and the details of forthcoming trade missions. [41355/18]

The Ceann Comhairle has given permission for Deputy Tony McLoughlin to take this question. We should try to get through a few more questions.

This question relates to the process of securing new markets for Irish agrifood products in 2018 and the details of forthcoming trade missions.

I am firmly committed to increasing market access and opportunities for all Irish agrifood exports around the world. Total agrifood exports amounted to €13.6 billion in 2017, according to the Central Statistics Office trade statistics, an increase of 74% since 2009. My officials continue to work towards opening and enhancing access to as many markets as possible. This is a key part of our response to the challenges and uncertainty posed by Brexit, and is in line with the market development theme of the Food Wise 2025 strategy. Opening new markets involves a wide range of detailed work taking place across a range of levels, including political, diplomatic, technical and official levels. 

 I am delighted that already in 2018 the Chinese market has opened to Irish beef. Three Irish beef establishments were approved to export to China in April and a further three Irish beef establishments were approved in June following on my trade mission to China in May.  Beef access has been achieved as a result of significant effort by team Ireland, including Ministers, departmental officials, the Irish embassy in Beijing and agencies such as Bord Bia over several years. Beef exports to China have commenced.

My Department also recently agreed veterinary health certificates for the export of beef, sheepmeat and poultry to both Kuwait and Qatar. These certificates apply for meat and meat products and are a result of a joined-up effort between my Department and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and, in particular, the embassy in the United Arab Emirates, which is also accredited to Kuwait and Qatar. 

 The role of trade missions cannot be underestimated. I have led trade missions to the US, Canada and China this year, and my Department is currently making the final arrangements for a further trade mission to Indonesia and Malaysia at the end of October. This will include participants from across the agrifood sector and will facilitate extensive trade contacts as well as high-level political discussions.  Both of these markets had been identified by my Department as offering significant potential to the agrifood sector.

These and the other missions that my Department is planning will serve to enhance and improve our existing levels of market access in these destinations.  It will also promote Ireland’s reputation as a producer of high quality, safe and sustainably produced meat and dairy products. The destinations are also in keeping with the recent market profiling exercise that was completed by Bord Bia at my request, as part of the seven-point action plan on market access. This exercise identified opportunities in new and more mature markets, and will provide valuable market intelligence both for industry operators and policy makers.

My Department will continue to seek out and identify new markets, and I am ready to respond as appropriate to other opportunities that may arise.

The trade missions outlined by the Minister have been successful but I am concerned about emerging markets. He mentioned India, China and other areas. I am also concerned about Brexit and how we replace the British market. Will the Minister comment on that?

The UK was the market for almost 40% of our exports in 2017, which is the most recent statistic available, amounting to more than €5 billion worth of products. It should always be our most important market. Much of our efforts since the UK Brexit vote has concerned intensifying our engagement with the UK market and sending a clear signal that we want the closest possible trading relationship. There are hard won yards that we have in UK retail outlets. Among the main supermarket chains with whom I have met personally, there is an awareness that we are here for the long haul. Geography should be a determinant of trade, all other things being equal. That market, which is one of the most valuable in terms of price for primary producers, will, hopefully, remain important. That has been a focus of our endeavour in the negotiations that have been ongoing around Brexit. Nevertheless, market diversification is equally prudent, which is why much of the effort has focused on securing new market opportunities such as beef exports to China.

Sheepmeat Sector

Tony McLoughlin

Question:

10. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the way in which the financial support sheep farmers have received is measured. [41461/18]

This question relates to the way in which the financial support sheep farmers have received is measured.

I am conscious of the important role that the sheep sector plays in the continued growth and development of our agrifood sector.  For example, in 2017 some 63,000 tonnes of sheep meat worth €311 million was exported, with diversification evident from our traditional primary markets of France and the UK. 

With this in mind, I have ensured that my Department has put in place a range of supports for the sheep sector in recent years across a number of schemes.  With regard to pillar 1 supports under the CAP, sheep farmers continue to benefit from the direct income support available under the basic payment scheme, BPS.  In addition, Ireland's Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, contains a number of support schemes which offer direct financial benefit to Irish sheep farmers.  Sheep farmers continue to benefit from the areas of natural constraint, ANC, scheme and from GLAS in large numbers, as well as from capital investment support under the targeted agricultural modernisation schemes, TAMS.  The RDP also includes specific provision for sheep farmers within the knowledge transfer programme, which has helped to build on the existing knowledge base and skills set in the sector in a way which will help to ensure continued sustainable development in the sector. 

In addition to these measures, in December 2016, I announced a new sheep welfare scheme as an amendment to the RDP.  Under this scheme, farmers are required to choose from a menu of actions which aim to improve the overall welfare of their flock. These actions must be completed over a 12-month period and, in return, the farmer receives a payment of €10 per breeding ewe. 

This important support was introduced for a period of four scheme years, and I am glad that more than €18.4 million has issued to sheep farmers in respect of year one of the scheme.  A total of 85% of advance payments under year two of the scheme are due to commence in November of this year.

Taking the range of available schemes together, in excess of €617.5 million was paid in direct financial supports to sheep farmers in 2017.  The corresponding figure for 2016  was €601.6 million.

My Department has recently written to all farmers outlining to them the schedule of payments under various schemes in the coming months and I will continue to ensure that these vital supports are prioritised for farmers. For example, almost €195 million has already been paid out to farmers under the 2018 ANC scheme and 70% advance payments under the BPS are due to commence from October 16.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Furthermore, in acknowledging that the extension of electronic identification to all sheep represents a cost to keepers, I recently announced a once-off support measure of up to €100 per keeper to assist with this cost. This payment will be related to the first purchase of electronic tags between 1 October 2018 and 30 September 2019 with a cost of up to €3.6 million.

I am committed to ensuring that my Department continues to work to underpin the development of the sheep sector.

I thank the Minister for the information there.

Deputies Martin Kenny and Scanlon would be supportive on this. In the area that we represent where there is much hill-farming and sheep-farming, and which is also in a disadvantaged area, farmers tell me that they look forward to there being more benefits in addition to what the Minister outlined and, indeed, that these farmers would be looked after, particularly in disadvantaged areas. The Minister mentioned the funding that has been made available to the sheep farmers but many of them, certainly in my area, are concerned about the future. The Minister might elaborate on that.

Deputy McLoughlin will be aware that last year we introduced an additional payment of €25 million under the ANC scheme, probably better known as the disadvantaged area scheme. In delivering that payment, we decided to target it at a rate of €13 million for the most severely handicapped which is the hill and mountain land to which the Deputy referred, €9 million for the intermediary level of disadvantage and €3 million for the lower level of disadvantage. That will now be enhanced by an additional €23 million that we have secured in this year's budget which, cumulatively, will bring us back to the €250 million position where ANC payments were prior to 2008 when they were cut by the then Fianna Fáil Government. We are back to that level of payment under the ANC scheme. While it is my intention to consult with farm organisations and stakeholders as to how that additional €23 million should be allocated, my own preferred course would be to repeat the direction of travel that we did last and focus the payment at those who have the highest level of disadvantage, and thereby build on the schemes that we have had in the area of sheep welfare, etc. This would deliver more to those farmers who are in a low income sector working in a most disadvantaged area and delivering significant public goods at the same time.

I would place the emphasis on the disadvantaged areas. I represent a disadvantaged area, as do some of the Deputies here this morning, many of whom would be of the same opinion. Certainly, I welcome the addition funding €23 million in the budget that the Minister mentioned but it is vitally important that we support these farmers.

Although it is often not acknowledged, I represent a constituency that has significant amounts of such land, from the west Muskerry area, in particular, the hills of Cúil Aodha, Ballyvourney and Ballingeary. I am aware of that hill sheep farmer component, the value of the products that they produce, and as I said, the public goods. That is why the ANC payments are recognised by me as a way of delivering direct financial support into that sector in a targeted way, and to deliver it according to the higher levels of disadvantage, as I said, is something that I would like to repeat in 2019 with the additional €23 million that we now have.

Question No. 11 replied to with Written Answers.

Beef Industry

Eamon Scanlon

Question:

12. Deputy Eamon Scanlon asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the steps he is taking to protect the interests of beef farmers in view of understandable frustration at poor prices and the ongoing systemic flaws in the relationship between farmers and factories; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41263/18]

As the Minister will be aware, most of the farming organisations have pulled out of the beef forum body that was set up a number of years to ensure a fair price for beef. I would like know the steps the Minister will take in the interests of beef farmers in view of the understandable frustration at poor prices and the ongoing systematic flaws in the relationship between farmers and meat factories.

As I indicated earlier, in accordance with competition law, neither I nor my Department has any role in determining market prices for any commodity, nor can I intervene in this process.

I am conscious that this has been a difficult year for the sector in terms of weather and the range of challenges associated with it. We have to acknowledge that input costs at farm level will be unexpectedly high this year as a result of fodder shortages.

At the recent meeting of the beef round table on 3 October, I highlighted the need for stakeholders to recognise their inter-dependency. I urged processors to engage positively with their farmer suppliers to build the sustainability of the sector as a whole and to ensure a reasonable return for the farmers on whom the sector relies for its development. It is essential that the position of the primary producer in the supply chain be improved if the industry wishes to have a sustainable future.

The beef round table also included discussions on the potential for producer organisations and the development of new technologies as ways of adding value along the whole supply chain through increased engagement in the bioeconomy. These discussions were aimed at highlighting available tools to build resilience in the sector.

I noted that previously at the beef round table in 2015 a commitment was made to legislate for the recognition of producer organisations, POs, in the beef sector. This initiative was supported by all sectoral stakeholders and in February of 2016 a statutory instrument was signed into law to give a legal basis for my Department to maintain a register of recognised POs in the beef sector. The recognition of POs will encourage primary beef producers to form producer organisations and allow farmers to engage collectively with processors. The ultimate aim is to ensure the viable development of production by strengthening farmers' bargaining power with downstream operators.

At the round table on 3 October, I also asked Bord Bia to conduct a detailed examination of market dynamics, with the co-operation of the industry, taking into account sales of particular cuts into particular segments of the market in order to improve price transparency.

One of the unique strengths of the agrifood sector is our shared vision for the sustainable development of the sector in Food Wise 2025. I hope that this positive engagement will continue.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

More generally, in the beef sector, I was pleased to secure in the recent budget €20 million for a new pilot scheme targeted at suckler farmers and specifically aimed at further improving the carbon efficiency of beef production. The pilot will build on existing work in this area and inform the development of future policy direction.

My Department is examining all appropriate measures to support the different agrifood sectors, including the suckler sector in preparation for the next iteration of the CAP. I will continue to argue for as strong a CAP budget as possible, post-2020. In particular, I am committed to ensuring that suckler farmers continue to receive strong support in the next CAP. My view is that such payments should support and encourage suckler farmers to make the best decisions possible to improve the profitability, and the economic and environmental efficiency, of their farming system.

It is crucial that some body is set up to oversee what is happening between farmers and meat factories because there is a situation in this country where farmers have bought expensive store cattle and some of them are not leaving any profit whatsoever. When one considers that €3.70 per kg is what is being paid in Ireland for good quality cattle, in England farmers are getting €4.40 per kg for their cattle. There is something badly wrong. Most of these Irish cattle are going into England anyway. I cannot understand it. Until the factories are brought into line - I understand fully that the Minister cannot interfere with market prices - farmers will not be treated fairly, as their counterparts in England are, by the meat plants.

The Minister has one minute. I am anxious to take another question.

I share the same ambition as Deputy Scanlon. I appreciate that the Deputy comes from a constituency where the suckler beef sector is a strong component of delivering high quality weanling cattle, perhaps to the plains of Kildare and Meath, for further onward fattening. It is a critical part of that rural economy. Both of us share that ambition that they would have a return for that endeavour. That is why, while direct prices with meat plants, in the budget we introduced this pilot initiative in the area of environmental efficiency which will deliver a €40 payment per weanling. My ambition is to make that scheme as simple as possible and as cost neutral as possible for the farmer and deliver the maximum amount of that into the farmer's pocket.

Also, as Deputy Scanlon will be aware, and as has been alluded to by Deputy McLoughlin in Question No. 10, ANC payments are another way of delivering direct income support into that sector where they are operating under that designation. Skewing that payment in favour of those who are on the higher levels of disadvantage delivered significant income opportunities last year and that will continue this year.

The ambition of the beef data and genomics project is to deliver the highest genetic merit beef herd that we can and in so doing, maximum the profitability of the sector. We are making considerable progress in that regard.

Question No. 13 replied to with Written Answers.

Sheepmeat Sector

Aindrias Moynihan

Question:

14. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the steps being taken to make sheep farming a more economically viable activity. [41447/18]

The income of sheep farmers is less than half the average industrial wage. I note the age profile of sheep farmers, one third of whom are well over 65. Typically, they are older than the average farmer. People will not be farming always and there are not new entrants to farming. They do not see it as a viable enterprise. What steps is the Minister taking to make sheep farming be seen as a viable enterprise?

I am very conscious of the important role the sheep sector plays in regard to the continued growth and development of our agrifood sector. With this in mind, I have ensured that my Department has put in place a range of supports for the sheep sector in recent years across a number of schemes.

With regard to Pillar 1 supports under the Common Agricultural Policy, sheep farmers continue to benefit from the direct income support available under the basic payment scheme. In addition, Ireland's rural development programme also contains a number of support schemes that offer a direct financial benefit to Irish sheep farmers. Sheep farmers continue to benefit from the areas of natural constraint, ANC, scheme and from GLAS in large numbers, as well as from capital investment support under TAMS.

In Tuesday's budget, I announced an additional €23 million for the ANC scheme, bringing the total to €250 million in 2019. I expect sheep farmers to be significant beneficiaries of that measure. The rural development programme also includes specific provision for sheep farmers within the knowledge transfer programme, which has helped to build on the existing knowledge base and skills in the sector in a way that will help to ensure continued sustainable development in the sector.

In addition to these measures, in December 2016 I announced a new sheep welfare scheme as an amendment to the rural development programme. Under this scheme, farmers are required to choose from a menu of actions that aim to improve the overall welfare of their flock. These actions must be completed over a 12-month period and, in return, the farmer receives a payment of €10 per breeding ewe.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

This important support was introduced for a period of four scheme years, and I am glad to say that over €18.4 million has been issued to sheep farmers in respect of year 1 of the scheme. Eighty-five percent advance payments under year 2 of the scheme are due to commence in November of this year.

I am pleased to note the strong export performance of the sector last year, which was reflected in the Central Statistics Office trade and livestock statistics of 2017. In 2017, just under 63,000 tonnes of Irish sheepmeat, worth €311 million, was exported in comparison to 56,000 tonnes, worth €277, the previous year. This represents a significant growth in tonnage, of 12.5%, and net worth of 12%.

I am committed to ensuring that my Department continues to work to underpin the development of the sheep sector.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.