Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Horticulture Sector

Matt Carthy


27. Deputy Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the way in which he plans to support the continued operation of the Irish horticulture industry in view of the proposed ban on the harvesting of peat for horticultural purposes. [33514/20]

This question is on the horticulture industry. There is a ban proposed on the harvesting of peat for horticultural purposes and plans for it are very much advanced . There has been a conflation of peat extraction for this purpose and its extraction for energy purposes. They are two different worlds. What does the Government plan to do on this, particularly where the mushroom sector, which is incredibly important in my own constituency, is concerned?

I am very aware of the current dependence of the horticultural industry on the availability of peat moss. The High Court decision to strike down the legislation introduced in January 2019 regulating the extraction of peat now means that extraction of peat from bogs greater than 30 ha. requires companies to go through a licensing and planning regime. The more recent decision by Bord na Móna to suspend all peat extraction presents major supply challenges for the horticulture sector.

Following on from the publication of a report on the review of the use of peat moss in the horticulture industry by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, plans to set up a working group to consider impacts on the sector. It is proposed that this working group will represent Departments, including the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, State agencies, environmental NGOs and industry stakeholders. This working group will address the key issues raised in the report, including future use of peat by the horticulture sector. The position of chair of the independent working group that will be formed is currently being advertised and the closing date for receipt of the applications is 23 November. Once the chair is in place, the setting up of the working group members will take place.

At a broader level, the Department provides a support to the horticulture industry through the scheme of investment aid for the development of the horticulture sector. Financial support is available to assist growers and businesses through grant aid for capital investments in specialised plant and equipment including renewable energy, as well as technology adoption specific to commercial horticulture production.

It is expected that the full budget allocation to the scheme of €6 million for 2020 will be drawn down by the end of the year. A 50% budget increase to €9 million was secured by the Department for 2021, reflecting the importance of the sector. That particular scheme is now open for applications. In addition, my Department administers the EU producer organisation scheme for fruit and vegetables which allows growers jointly market their production in order to strengthen the position of producers in the marketplace.

Current Government policy means there will be no mushroom industry in Ireland. I am asking for consideration to be given to this and for a bit of common sense in the approach. The working group the Minister of State references has one fatal flaw: it includes in its terms of reference the ceasing of the use of horticultural peat.

The mushroom industry has been looking at alternatives for the past ten years. The Department keeps telling it there are alternatives. There are not. This is a fundamentally difficult point and the nub of it is that people are not going to eat less mushrooms. The only question will be where and how the mushrooms are produced. One of two things will happen if we ban the use of horticultural peat. Either the peat will be imported - in fact, there is already talk of it being imported from eastern Europe - or the jobs and economic importance of these companies, particularly, the mushroom companies, will be exported. They will go elsewhere. Which course is the Government planning to take? Will it take a third course and actually work with the industry to save it?

Senator Pippa Hackett

I recognise the huge importance of the mushroom industry here and peat is used as a casing material as part of that. There are efforts within the mushroom industry and with my Department looking at alternatives. It is probably early days in that but two funding research projects are currently commissioned by Ireland's mushroom producer organisation, Commercial Mushroom Producers, CMP, in conjunction with my Department examining the potential scope to, in one instance, recycle mushroom compost as a possible growing substrate within the horticulture sector and a second option looking at the scope to reduce the levels of peat required within mushroom production itself.

As the Deputy said, in the absence of peat from Irish sources, the industry would have to import either from Northern Ireland, Scotland or the Baltic region at considerable cost. I acknowledge that. It is also worth evaluating the amount we actually export from what we extract and I believe there is potential there to retain more for our own domestic use rather than export.

I fully agree on that last point and there are areas to work on there. What we need, however, is an open mind. I have put this to three different Ministers, namely, Deputies Noonan and Ryan and Senator Hackett. They all have one thing in common, that is, a party that is not very much trusted by the people involved in this or many other sectors in the community I come from.

It is important we put this in context because people, obviously, are conscious that we need to protect our peatlands. To give an example, in 1995 Bord na Mona harvested 8 million tonnes of peat in one year for power stations alone. That amount of peat would keep the Irish horticultural industry going for 200 years. We are, therefore, talking about a relatively small amount of peat extraction for an important part of our domestic rural economies. That is why we need to have an open mind. I fear there are closed minds within the Department. There is constant talk about alternatives that have not been presented yet and it makes me fearful for the future. I hope the Minister of State can put minds at ease.

Senator Pippa Hackett

Ultimately, we will get to a situation where we will not have peat. Whether we extract it all and there is none left, we will end up at a situation where we do not have peat for every use we want it for. We are exploring the alternatives which potentially utilise spent peat. It is circular in nature in an economy sense. There are other possibilities in terms of coir, wood fibre or biochar so the possibilities are great. Perhaps there will be some further investment in that area. We do not, however, have an infinite supply of peat. The wider horticulture sector will have to move away from it. I appreciate the particular difficulty with the mushroom sector. Certainly, I enjoy my mushrooms as much as anyone else and I want to buy Irish mushrooms and will endeavour to make sure we can continue to produce and grow them here.

Agriculture Industry

Brendan Griffin


28. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the work of his Department to develop the bioeconomy for the benefit of farmers and local agri-food business; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33508/20]

I thank the three Ministers for being here with us and all the staff who are here as well at this unearthly hour. This question is about the development of the bioeconomy. Can I get an update on what efforts the Department is making to develop to the bioeconomy? Obviously, there are huge opportunities here for regional development and for farmers, fishermen and foresters as well so I would like an update, please.

I thank Deputy Griffin for the question. The critical role of the bioeconomy in a sustainable global transition has been widely recognised albeit we are in the early stage of its development. The bioeconomy refers to the development of value from biological resources with a particular focus on converting waste streams into valuable products or, perhaps, streams that were previously seen as waste or having no use and realising their real potential and value. The bioeconomy brings significant potential to provide a source of income diversification for farmers, foresters and fishers and to boost regional economic development. I am determined to realise that potential for additional income into our rural communities from the bioeconomy.

The Government has invested significantly in this early development. This follows from the development of a national policy statement, the establishment of a cross-departmental group co-chaired by my Department, financial support through the competitive research and rural development programme, the BiOrbic, Bioeconomy SFI Research Centre and the Irish Bioeconomy Foundation and building coalitions and public-private partnerships for co-investment with leading innovative companies, co-operatives and farmers.

I recently announced an allocation of €8 million research funding committed to support the generation of knowledge in the areas of agriculture, forestry and food and the bioeconomy. My officials and I are working on the imminent establishment of a bioeconomy forum to provide a voice for a broad range of stakeholders in the bioeconomy sector, including the agri-food industry, primary producers, relevant State bodies and community groups. That will be set up shortly.

We recently ran a successful Bioeconomy Ireland Week to raise awareness of the bioeconomy and its products and to work with both public and private stakeholder to present ongoing research, innovation, demonstration, primary production, industrial, product and market activities that highlight how the bioeconomy is developing and being structured and mobilised in Ireland. Much work is happening in this area. Farmers and rural developers have a real nose for new opportunities and diversifying and that is what we are seeking to develop here.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. It is clear important work is going on and that is very welcome. I will emphasise the importance of continued investment in the area of research and development. We need to continue that work if we are to give opportunities to residents of parts of the country such as where I come from in south Kerry to have prosperous futures.

As I said, I welcome the ongoing efforts but I wish to bring to the Minister of State's attention an area that has recently been brought to my attention in my constituency. It is, perhaps, something that warrants further investigation and that is the possibility of using wool. We are aware, for example, the Chinese market, in particular, is inaccessible at the moment but we could look at possibilities in the areas of insulation or, perhaps, other uses. I am interested to hear the Minister of State's views and whether he will be able to look into that further.

Absolutely. In many ways, the bioeconomy looks at the opportunities in products we previously saw as only having one direct use or outcome. In my Department and in my area of responsibility for research and development, we seek to use that money we invest in research and development to develop new opportunities in those areas. The bioeconomy is another way of taking one element of an activity we have done in the past and finding more streams in it.

If the Deputy looks at some of the initiatives we have been involved with in the early stages, there is a development of a carbon-neutral demonstration farm in Shinagh dairy farm in County Cork that has found four different values for what was normally growing-grass for dairy cows. There are now four different values to that. There is no reason wool cannot be the same. If the Deputy has specific examples from his constituency in County Kerry he would like me to analyse further with him, I am happy to do so. The bioeconomy, however, is about getting into biorefinery and identifying those additional opportunities to see how we can add value to them.

On the wool front, obviously many of the areas where sheep farming is prominent also tend to be areas without a huge amount of industry. It is not a rule but it is a feature in many areas. Perhaps, we could establish some sort of communication between people involved in the industry in County Kerry and the Minister of State in the near future to explore what the options are and see if this area could be pursued further.

We need to be resourceful and to ensure that every opportunity is pursued fully.

I acknowledge the examples given regarding what is happening in Cork. The relative impact of innovative breakthroughs on small, isolated rural areas cannot be overstated. They may not appear significant in light of the bigger picture but, to the areas concerned, they can be very important.

I completely agree. It is important to address rural prosperity. The bioeconomy affords an opportunity to develop innovative and valuable bio-based products, redistribute incomes and generate jobs and prosperity in rural areas. We have seen examples of this, including the development, through EU funding, of a biorefinery for dairy waste in Lisheen, County Tipperary, and the development of a marine biorefinery in County Monaghan. I mentioned the carbon-neutral demonstration farm in Cork. My Department supports the small-scale grass biorefinery demonstration project in Cork, which makes use of grass in a number of new ways. It is an innovation partnership initiative that is part of the rural development programme.

Agriculture and forestry account for 80% of Irish land use. There are 136,000 family farms and 22,000 private forest owners. The agri-food sector included 1,715 companies at the last count and it employs 173,000 people. That involves a significant social structure, whether it concerns wool or the marine aspects we can explore further to seek to develop additional income for rural areas.

Animal Sales

Holly Cairns


29. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to respond to the crisis in the marts sector; and his plans for the safe return of physical marts. [33596/20]

Cathal Crowe


36. Deputy Cathal Crowe asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the measures that will be taken to ensure that farmers' marts nationally can access adequate Internet infrastructure to allow their online sales to proceed to abide by Covid-19 restrictions (details supplied). [33305/20]

In the past hour or two, I turned 31. I say this because, for one, it is ridiculous that we are consistently keeping staff here past midnight.

I have a birthday wish, which is for a small bit of cop-on in regard to marts. I am wondering what the Minister's plans are to respond to the crisis in the sector. Given all the issues arising over online sales, could the Minister make plans to reopen physical marts?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 29 and 36 together.

I wish Deputy Cairns a happy birthday. I hope she finds a way to celebrate it in later years other than the way we are celebrating it tonight. I hope the day ahead finishes better than the way it is starting, that is, here in the Chamber. I thank the staff for being here with us. I take the Deputy's point on the late hour at which we are here.

As Deputy Cairns knows, the Department has adapted the conditions under which marts have had to operate since April to reflect various measures introduced by the Government to stop the spread of Covid-19 and to allow marts to remain operational throughout the Covid crisis. From April to 8 June, marts operated without public attendance at sales rings in that they were able to conduct transactions online or facilitate broking. Over the course of the summer, we have seen the introduction of online sales and they have started to work better and become a very positive aspect of operations. On 19 October, the Taoiseach announced the country was to move to level 5 and that marts would be operated online only, albeit with buyers being able to view cattle and other livestock in advance of sales, by appointment.

By and large, given the way marts have operated, the volume going through them and the prices received by farmers, there have been many positive outcomes. It has been a challenging experience for both marts and farmers. While many have got used to operating online over the summer, many have not. There is no doubt that a blended approach to sales is the way forward and the way to which the system will revert. We would all like to see this occur in due course. We are, however, in level 5, and the priority is public health. Marts now have the opportunity to operate online whereas in the earlier part of the pandemic restrictions period, that opportunity was not available.

Let me give some feedback on how the system has been operating. We went to level 5 on 21 October. From 19 October to 31 October, the cattle throughput in marts amounted to 88,000. This compared to 93,000 in the corresponding period in 2019. It amounts to 94% of the volume in the corresponding period in 2019. The number of marts operating during the period of level 5 restrictions is the same as that operating at the same time last year. According to the mart reports from the Irish Independent farming section today and the Irish Farmers Journal, and the feedback from mart managers, prices are holding up. They are up in certain categories. While the blended option will, without a doubt, be the way of the future and while it is the optimal approach, considering that we are subject to level 5 restrictions, we should note that if the online platforms were down and only a small number of people — 20, for example — were allowed around the ring, it would have a very significant impact on competition in the affected marts. This is because the experience has been that while online operations have been challenging for some, they have meant that many have been able to get involved in auctions. That is why we are seeing prices hold up and, indeed, increase in some ways.

I acknowledge that the circumstances are really challenging and I understand the difficulties farmers have. I understand the challenges that mart managers have faced in adapting but, apart from Saturday week last, when 16 marts were affected when the online platform went down for over two hours, albeit with only four sales cancelled, the system has been continuing to improve. We are now seeing an increase in volumes and confidence.

I acknowledge that online mart sales have been in operation since early April and that hundreds of thousands of cattle and sheep have been bought and sold successfully through the various online platforms. It it is simply not feasible, however, to expect farmers to go online instead of to the mart when doing so is an essential part of essential work and when some simply do not have good broadband.

We understand and agree, as do all farmers, that public health is the priority. Nobody is disputing that. I take the Minister's word about prices holding up but given that farmers have to attend marts and simply cannot operate online, will he consider steps that could be taken to reopen the marts safely? The Government's broadband plan identifies that 40% of marts have poor broadband services that require upgrading. We are aware that many farms do not have broadband. How does the Minister expect the system to work for people who just cannot access broadband? For the reasons I have described, could the Minister look into reopening the marts safely? I agree with him that public health has to be the priority but could we look into this again?

I thank the Minister for outlining the situation. The Livestock Live online bidding system, LSL, has not been fit for purpose so far this month. Back in April and May, when there were blended sales and people in the ring, the system was not under as much pressure but on Saturday, 24 October, the system crashed for about two hours at Sixmilebridge mart, with the result that many of the cattle already in pens in the back yard had to be loaded back onto trailers and returned to their home farms. There was consternation in the marts and considerable anger and frustration among farmers. The mart manager told me that if he were given a green light to separate farmers and bidders, on the basis of a 2 m distance, he could probably fit 28 in the ring. People will really only buy cattle when they can see them in the flesh, as the Minister said. That is what results in the best trading. I understand we are in level 5 but the situation needs to be kept fluid and under review.

On Sixmilebridge mart, which Deputy Crowe raised with me before, I believe it did manage to finish its sale last Saturday. With regard to marts' sales in general online, the clearance rates have been very high and very much in line with traditional mart clearance rates. They are certainly very similar.

On Deputy Cairns's point, I am certainly monitoring the position very closely. I have been talking to farmers, from north Donegal right down to south Kerry, about their experiences and I have also been liaising with mart managers. As I said in the Dáil earlier, the most important thing for farmers is the price. The feedback is that prices have been holding up. While some have been reluctant to go to the mart, we have seen an improvement in this regard and an increase in volumes. The experience for sellers has been a good one.

It has been more challenging for buyers because not everyone is adept at buying online, although many are adjusting. I admit it is not ideal. I am monitoring it closely. Everybody deserves credit for how it has operated.

What is the status of actions the Minister is taking as a result of the High Court ruling that overturned Policy Directive 1 of 2019 and will an external review of the consultation process-----

Deputy, we are still on the same question. The Deputy has one minute remaining, as has Deputy Crowe.

Apologies, I thought we had come to the end of it.

I know it is early in the morning now.

It comes back to the same issue. I completely accept everything the Minister said on how it is working, the prices and all of those aspects, but that does not address the question I asked originally and asked in the second round, namely, what do people, who cannot access broadband and do not have access to it on their farm, do. There is no solution for those people. Given that is the situation, will the Minister examine the reopening of marts in a different way that is safer and can prioritise public health but also allow everybody to take part? As he acknowledged, it is an essential service. It is an essential part of essential work that some people cannot take part in due to restrictions they cannot control if they cannot access broadband.

I thank the Minister for his reply. The mart in Sixmilebridge continued and some sales took place, including the sale of my uncles’s yearlings, but too many animals went home in trailers. Many rural farms in Clare do not have a broadband connection, and for those that have it, the connection is rather slow. Given the age demographic of the farmers going to marts, I am sure they will forgive me for saying they would not be adept at going out to their jeeps and bidding on their tablets or iPhones. That would not come too easily to them. The only true way forward, and it is to be hoped we will get there quickly, is a blended sale format where 20 or 25 people can be in the ring and others can be sitting outside in their jeeps bidding as well. That is where we will find the real market price being struck.

Many farmers are budgeting their food rations, silage and hay for the winter. There is a very small window of time during which they want to sell these animals so that they do not end up bringing them into a slatted shed, with those animals further eating into their planned food rations. I hope it is a fluid situation. The guidelines on Covid must be adhered to, but it is to be hoped this issue can be revisited. I thank the Minister for giving of his time tonight.

I thank Deputies Cairns and Crowe for raising this issue. We should acknowledge that being able to bid online in the safety of their home and not having to go out has been welcome for some farmers. There is no doubt there have been challenges for those who do not have Internet access. Compared with the situation in March and April where online transactions were not available and we had a bidding and tendering process for stock, the situation now is much more preferable. That tendering option is still available for farmers who do not have Internet access and they can work with their mart managers to try to facilitate them. I know some are doing that. I accept it is challenging. There are inconveniences there.

Regarding the sales, the clearances are very good and the prices are holding up from a seller’s point of view, but it is challenging from a buyer’s point of view. It is a reflection of the fact we are in level 5 and the national challenge we face in dealing with the pandemic. I will continue to keep the matter under very close review and I take on board what the Deputies have said.

Environmental Schemes

Éamon Ó Cuív


30. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine when details of the new temporary environmental scheme for persons who are not in an environmental scheme at present will be announced; the estimated annual budget for the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33545/20]

A new environmental scheme was promised to follow on from the existing schemes. For those who were in the agri-environment options scheme, AEOS, and had to leave it or were never in a scheme, when will the new environmental scheme that was promised in the interregnum between the old Common Agricultural Policy and the new CAP be published? Will it be a general scheme for farmers to join or a very limited pilot scheme?

I thank the Deputy for his question. I take this opportunity to emphasise my commitment to the provision of agri-environment schemes which will continue to support the farming sector in these uncertain times, along with continuing the environmental benefits that such schemes have delivered. This commitment was demonstrated by a number of key provisions in my Department’s budget Estimate for 2021, including the provision of €79 million in new funding for a range of new agri-environment initiatives.

This funding includes a provision for a number of new initiatives and for the development of a pilot project to examine the implementation of results-based environmental actions. The exact amount of the €79 million to go towards the pilot scheme is something I still have to determine, but the new pilot project will have a significant focus on biodiversity and climate change, with the aim of increasing the number of farmers undertaking agri-environment actions, and will be directed at farmers not currently in the green, low-carbon, agri-environment scheme, GLAS. The Department is working on the details of this pilot. It is expected these pilot actions will inform the development of a major new environmental scheme for agriculture following on from GLAS.

In addition, as CAP negotiations are ongoing, my Department is pressing for the earliest adoption of EU regulations to facilitate the operation of schemes in the period between the current CAP and the CAP strategic plan post 2020. The intention is to roll over the existing schemes from the current rural development programme, RDP, and to ensure that scheme participants have certainty on their scheme participation next year during the transitional phase. The budget funding allows for the rollover of GLAS, the beef data genomics programme, BDGP, and sheep welfare schemes subject to the agreement of the European Commission. It is also intended to have tranches of the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS, next year with the details to be finalised.

I know the importance of environmental schemes and that the Deputy has advocated for them in the past. Certainly this is a pilot scheme that will be in place next year and will be targeted at those not currently in GLAS.

I get very worried when I hear the words "pilot scheme". It seems limited, strange, complicated and worrying. I often wonder if we are going backwards or forwards. When the rural environment protection, REP, scheme, was in place and we moved on to AEOS, a person who left one REP scheme could join another. I refer in particular to those farming in areas of high nature value where much of the land is designated and who have come to depend on these schemes for their livelihoods. They were not allowed expand their flocks or herds. Will the proposed scheme be merely a limited, complicated and convoluted pilot or will it be a general scheme for farmers who have depended on these agri-environmental schemes not only to retain their farms in a good agri-environmental condition, which they must do because most of them live in designated areas, but also to put a crust on the table?

As the Deputy will know, 35,000 farmers were due to leave GLAS at the end of this year. Importantly, the recent budget provides funding to ensure that GLAS can roll over for those farmers to enable them to continue in it next year. Obviously, a number of farmers are outside GLAS and are not in any scheme. The intention is to put in place a pilot scheme for a number of those farmers, which will be an indicator in terms of what the future scheme will look like and which will help inform what the successor scheme to GLAS will be. The new pilot scheme will be targeted at non-GLAS farmers and will be designed in a way that will be reflective of what measures may form the successor to GLAS. Out of the €79 million in funding, measures will be introduced which will be accessible to all farmers, both to those in GLAS and those who are not in a scheme, and in that way they will be more openly available to them.

How many farmers left AEOS and could not join GLAS because they stayed in it until the end? How many of those will be able to join this pilot scheme which it seems will have very limited numbers? This is a bread-and-butter issue. It represents survival for people on their farms. It is not some added extra. It is fine to say all the other farmers will be able to avail of some measures. The cohort of farmers who were in AEOS had been in REPS 1, 2, 3, 4 and so on, but financially they have suddenly fallen off a cliff. All the Minister need do is check their financial records. Will they all be facilitated if they want to join this pilot scheme?

Deputy Carthy wants to comment.

I thank Deputy Ó Cuív for tabling this question. I commend and welcome the rollover provisions in respect of GLAS next year, but as Deputy Ó Cuív said, it gives rise to as many questions as answers. My question is in respect of the programme for Government commitment that €1.5 billion - the headline figure for agriculture - would be allocated to a new REP-type scheme.

Some €79 million of that has been allocated for the REPS-style pilot scheme plus the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, roll-over. That is a big gap. When are we going to see the €1.5 billion come to a REPS-style scheme? Will the new scheme be modelled on the previous one, or will it be REPS in name only and actually be a set of obstructions for farmers?

That €1.5 billion commitment is over the ten years until 2030. I note the Deputy's support for the €79 million which we brought forward in the budget as new funding for environmental schemes. I also note that the Sinn Féin did not have any such funding commitment in its pre-budget submission so I am sure the Deputy is particularly glad to see we have delivered €79 million in additional funding.

I know that farmers who were availing of the agri-environment options scheme, AEOS, and finished out their scheme were, therefore, blocked from being able to join GLAS because that scheme was closed. Deputy Ó Cuív has raised that matter on a number of occasions. That is a category of farmer that needs to be catered for and it is my intention that those who were previously in a scheme and wish to be in one again will be catered for in the new pilot.

Question No. 31 replied to with Written Answers.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Richard Bruton


32. Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he has an estimate of the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on greenhouse gas emissions during 2020; and if he envisages domestic policy initiatives to make Irish agriculture more climate resilient in 2021. [33394/20]

I have been nominated to discuss question No. 32 in place of Deputy Richard Bruton. I wish Deputy Cairns a happy birthday. The first hour and a half of it is gone but there are still 22 and a half hours to enjoy.

I am still keeping Deputies to the time limit. They can give their birthday wishes afterwards.

My question is about the effect the Covid-19 pandemic has had on greenhouse gases so far this year. It would be an interesting area to learn more about in light of some of the accusations that are levelled at farmers about their contributions to greenhouse gases. I also want to know what opportunities could be pursued in 2021 for farmers.

My Department does not have a estimate of the impact of Covid-19 on agricultural emissions in 2020. Responsibility for maintaining the national inventory for greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland rests with the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, operating under the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications. The EPA reports on emissions from all sectors of our economy on an annual basis and the metrics used in calculating greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors are based in EU legislation.

As the agriculture sector continues to develop and grow, it is important to ensure it does so within a framework of sustainability that also ensures our resilience in dealing with future changes in our climate. The programme for Government is very clear that we are committed to an average 7% per annum reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions from 2021 to 2030, which is a 51% reduction over the decade, and to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. This 2050 target being set in law by the climate action Bill is to achieve a climate neutral economy that balances emissions and removals within the State by the end of 2050 and in subsequent years.

Reducing emissions, termed "mitigation", is a critical element in addressing climate change but the process of building resilience and adapting to the changes we are expecting to see in our climate, termed "adaptation", is equally important. With increases in average annual temperatures, significant decreases in summer rainfall and heavier rainfall events in winter and autumn months projected towards the middle of the century, it is essential we begin to take the necessary steps to build a strong and resilient sector.

In 2019, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine published a climate change sectoral adaptation plan for the agriculture, forestry and seafood sectors which sets out 16 actions and a number of sub-actions across the three sectors. This, our first statutory adaptation plan, is about preparing our systems to deal with the inevitable changes in climate by building resilience to the effects of climate change and weather related events in the agriculture, forestry and seafood sectors.

Covid-19 has been an absolute disaster on many fronts but, at the same time, we must see the times of lockdown as an interesting and potentially informative reference period for climate change and greenhouse gases. It is a chance to better inform ourselves about factors that contribute in both these areas. I encourage as much research as possible to be done into the year 2020 in Ireland and the effects on greenhouse gas levels, particularly during periods of lockdown. That could help to inform future policy.

I also encourage a far greater emphasis on the carrot, not the stick, in the agricultural sector.

I thank the Deputy.

We must work with farmers to show the opportunities that are available under new schemes-----

I thank the Deputy.

-----and to try to encourage greater take-up of more innovative schemes.

The Deputy's point is important and well made. It will be interesting to see the 2020 figures showing the impact of the pandemic across many aspects of the economy from an emissions point of view. I am not so sure that the impact on agriculture will be as significant when compared with other sectors of the economy because agricultural activity has not been affected as much as many other parts of the economy. It will, nonetheless, be interesting to see.

The Deputy also made a point about working with farmers and the agricultural sector in an incentivised way to influence behaviours and as an approach to policy. I agree with that; it will be my approach. It has to be about partnership. Farmers are willing to play their part in that respect and it is important that the rest of society acknowledges the important role that farmers play and ensure that they are rewarded with an income for the work they carry out.

I will ignore the comment that the Deputy made earlier because it is late at night and I know we are all tired. I am sticking to the time limits for the benefit of all Deputies. Everybody is waiting on their turn.

What comment is the Leas-Cheann Comhairle referring to?

The Deputy has one minute.

What comment is the Leas-Cheann Comhairle referring to?

The Deputy made a comment under his breath to the effect that he had only gone over his time limit by a few seconds.

Where a Deputy is a second or two over-----

I will count the time. The Deputy has one minute.

I know that but, with all due respect to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle-----

The Deputy has one minute and the clock is running.

-----going a second or two over the time limit is not much of a misdemeanour. There has to be reasonable-----

I ask the Deputy to co-operate. There are Deputies waiting and the time is running.

I know that but being interrupted having gone a second or two over the limit is a bit unreasonable.

The Deputy has 43 seconds.

I wish to be clear to the Minister, in my remaining time, that the reason 2020 will be an important reference year is that, as we know, many sectors shut down while agriculture kept going, more or less. Farmers take a lot of unfair flak at times about greenhouse gas emissions and their contribution to climate change. I am confident that 2020 will show that a lot of the flak that the sector takes is unjustified and unwarranted. That is why it is critical that thorough research is conducted into the impacts of the lockdown on other sectors.

We will be closely assessing these matters. I take the Deputy's point that the agricultural sector deserves recognition in this House for the tremendous work it continues to carry out to ensure the security of supply chains. The sector continues to prove its resilience and farmers never fail to step up to the mark in that regard. Farmers have shown themselves willing to take a partnership approach and live up to their responsibilities as policy evolves and changes. It is important that we do the same, going forward, to work and ensure that farmers get a fair income for the work they carry out.

Question No. 33 replied to with Written Answers.

Beef Industry

Denis Naughten


34. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of plans for specific designation EU protected geographical indication, PGI, status for Irish beef; the status of the application; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33289/20]

PGI status was an opportunity to develop a premium price suckler beef product but the goal of the meat industry was to shoehorn as much beef as possible into the PGI label.

Now the farm organisations have disappointingly bought into that approach. I believe this approach is the final nail in the coffin of the suckler beef industry here and contradicts the motion that was accepted by the House, last September 12 months, to have a distinctive Irish suckler beef brand.

I thank Deputy Naughten. At the most recent meeting of the beef task force which took place on 22 October, stakeholders agreed in principle to support an application by Bord Bia for protected geographical indication, PGI, status for Irish grass-fed beef. The beef task force also agreed in principle that a PGI monitoring group with a majority of farmer representation would be established to report on the progress of the task force on a regular basis. My Department has completed the remaining necessary steps in this process, including issuing responses to those who have submitted oppositions to the Department during the national opposition procedure and publishing the final document on the issue to the European Commission. The final document reflects changes arising from concerns raised during the national opposition procedure, including clarification that a two-hour transport limit to an abattoir is not a requirement and that farmers can transport their own cattle.

At the time of submission of the application to the EU, I intend to raise the following two issues with the Commission. First, I will make the point that grass-fed young bulls should be included when further data on this cohort are available to support this, thereby reflecting strong views from some stakeholders received through the opposition procedure. Second, reflecting discussions with my counterpart in Northern Ireland, I will advise the Commission that Ireland would support the PGI being extended on an all-island basis when a grass-fed verification system is in place in Northern Ireland as well.

The EU procedures provide for detailed scrutiny of the application and publication of an EU opposition procedure. If there is a satisfactory outcome to the EU scrutiny and no oppositions are received, it is hoped that, all going well, the application will be progressed for registration of a protected geographical indicator. If successfully registered, PGI status will assist Ireland in further communicating the characteristics and reputation of this quality product in line with the programme for Government commitment to work at EU level for the development of a protected geographic indicator for Irish beef. PGI status has the potential to improve the marketing position of Irish beef at a time when it is badly needed.

I have no doubt it will improve the marketing position but that will only benefit the processors and not the primary producers. I am not sure how successful this application will be because the only ones promoting suckler beef are the European Commission itself and, disappointingly, not Bord Bia or the Irish Government. On 22 September, the Minister gave me a reply to a parliamentary question in which I had asked how much Bord Bia was spending on promoting Irish suckler beef. The Minister could not give me an answer on that. He indicated that Bord Bia has submitted an application for a three-year EU co-funded programme to promote suckler beef with a value of €3.2 million. The Minister has announced a €6 million budget for promoting a suckler beef brand. How much of that will be made up of EU money?

Unfortunately, the application for European funding has not been successful. The Deputy knows well from previous debates in this House the absolute commitment I have to suckler beef and to ensuring it is promoted. Working with the beef task force on this agreement, I have committed to ensuring that €6 million of Government funding will go towards developing a suckler brand for the first time and supporting and backing it up. That is alongside the submission of the PGI for Irish grass-fed beef to the European Commission. I remind the Deputy that there was agreement among all the farming organisations within the beef task force on taking this approach, which I very much welcome because it is important we all work together to make the most of our beef product and ensure we give it every chance to be promoted abroad, to get a premium price abroad and, importantly, to ensure it is translated back to farmers' pockets for the hard work they do.

To be clear, I record my objection. I may be a single voice in this regard but it will not benefit Irish farmers and it had the opportunity to do that. The Minister is giving €6 million to Bord Bia, an organisation that advised the Minister's predecessor that suckler beef did not have a resonance in Europe and yet was able to apply for EU funding because it was not prepared to put its hand into its own pocket. Unless this State-developed brand is done in conjunction with a State-developed and State-controlled block chain for Irish beef, I guarantee the meat industry in this country will do its utmost to undermine at every hand's turn a distinctive suckler beef brand. Can the Minister give a commitment that we will have that block chain control?

This is something we have discussed before and I am certainly willing to explore all avenues to add value to Irish beef and add income to the farmers who produce it. I am sure the Deputy will recognise this is the first time that we have seen funding specifically put towards the suckler brand and it is to the tune of €6 million. That is something I am committed to and I am glad the farming organisations also are committed to it. We have come together in partnership towards promoting it. I assure the Deputy that it will be followed through on and we need to work together to develop the brand and to ensure it is marketed appropriately and developed fully. I commend all the farming organisations on the massive effort they put in working with the beef task force and its chairman on coming to this conclusion. It is important there will be a farming majority on the oversight committee for the PGI brand going forward. It is important that farmers have that control and oversight.

Question No. 35 replied to with Written Answers.
Question No. 36 answered with Question No. 29.

Brexit Preparations

Bernard Durkan


37. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the degree to which he remains satisfied regarding the adequacy of access to alternative markets for Irish food and food products post Brexit in all circumstances; if sufficient provision has been made to ensure Irish exporters can access alternative markets quickly and efficiently bypassing the UK if necessary; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33502/20]

The purpose of this question is to ascertain the degree of preparedness as we approach 1 January for access to the continental and worldwide markets for Irish products.

I thank Deputy Durkan for the question. There are two parts to this issue. The first is increasing third country market access and furthering trade opportunities. This is absolutely critical and is an integral part of my Department's response to the challenges of Brexit. My Department has been very active in this regard through trade missions and leveraging our network of agricultural attachés around the globe, which have been recently expanded to include a presence in Berlin, Tokyo, Mexico City and, most recently, Seoul, South Korea. We continue to avail of every resource in furthering market access and trade advancement. The Government's commitment to new market access for the agri-food sector has been proven by my appointment with specific responsibility in this regard as a Ministry of State for new market development.

Ireland's agri-food exports have greatly increased in recent years. Total exports came to a value of €14.5 billion in 2019, an increase of 6% over 2018. Half of this growth has been accounted for by markets outside of Europe. This is a testament to the great work that has been done through Food Harvest 2020, initially, then Food Wise 2025, the ten-year strategic plans for the sustainable growth of our agri-food and drink exports. Work is at an advanced stage in times of a new agri-food strategy for 2030, which will be published in the near future.

On the practical and immediate issue of bypassing the UK to continue to access markets, I recognise the UK land bridge is of huge importance in accessing the EU Single Market and we may see severe delays in its operation after the ending of the transition period. However, goods moving directly between Ireland and elsewhere in the EU will not be subject to any new procedures. Therefore, I urge traders currently using the UK land bridge to consider direct sailing as an alternative. Ferry operators have indicated that capacity is available on direct routes. This is also the view of the Department of Transport and the Irish Maritime Development Office and I encourage early engagement between all parties, traders, hauliers and ferry companies to discuss their needs and options.

I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply. Can I further inquire as to whether absolute plans are in place to bypass the UK itself in the event of there being no deal? The breakout from the EU could have more serious consequences for this country than we think at the present time. What has been put in place to address that issue? Are we prepared for both options, deal or no deal?

As the Deputy will be aware, successive Governments and Departments have been preparing for every eventuality in regard to Brexit since before it was voted on by the British people, none more so than the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. We are extremely exposed, whether in respect of fisheries or the beef sector, and we face challenges in that regard.

The UK land bridge is one tangible example that is critical to us in terms of movement. A recent meat survey showed that 90% of our meat produce goes to the UK via land bridge. There are extensive plans. It is important to get the message out to people, including everybody in the agri-food sector and exporters, that even if there is a deal, the circumstances will change on 1 January. A no-trade deal would pose significant challenges for us. We are trying to cover every eventuality in that regard.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. In his opinion and that of his Department, does he think adequate provision has been made to avoid a touchdown in the UK in the event that long queues or delays take place? That could make Irish products uncompetitive on UK or world markets, assuming the UK market will still be open. Are they satisfied that the necessary measures have been put in place to bypass the UK and deliver our goods to the Continent directly?

There has been extensive engagement with all stakeholders in this regard. We are doing all the work we can. It is important that those who export engage with ferry companies, which have said direct ferry sailings options are available. My Department has been very active in encouraging all such elements.

There has been significant co-operation with the Department of Transport because of the issues that would arise. Following the end of the transition period, goods moving across the UK land bridge must be placed under customs transit procedures to maintain their Union status, as the Deputy will be aware. The Commission's delegated regulation requires that official controls and checks be performed on animals and goods re-entering the Union if they go through the UK land bridge. This means that, regardless of the measures that have been taken, it is highly likely that traffic using the land bridge will be impacted by delays at key ports immediately after the end of the transition period. Every effort is being made to avoid a no-trade deal. If those scenarios arise, we are preparing for every eventuality.

Fishing Industry

Holly Cairns


38. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of the actions he is taking as a result of the High Court ruling that overturned Policy Directive 1 of 2019; and if an external review of the consultation process which was found to be in breach of fair procedures will be conducted. [33597/20]

This issue has arisen due to a recent High Court ruling overturning a 2019 fishing directive that excluded trawling by vessels over 18 m from waters inside the 6 nautical miles zone. I want to ask the Minister the status of the actions he is taking as a result of the High Court ruling that overturned that policy directive and if an external review of the consultation process which was found to be in breach of fair procedures will be conducted.

This ruling was overturned on a technical issue. It has been depicted as a good thing for the entire fishing industry. However, that is not true. The reality is that the vast majority of people working in the sector regard this ruling being overturned as being worse than Brexit. This directive would have helped to replenish stocks for small-scale and sustainable fishing families, which is the kind of fishing we should all support. One of the reasons their voices have not been heard is because they do not have the same amount of representation, which is desperately needed. The National Inshore Fishermen’s Association, NIFA, and the National Inshore Fishermen’s Organisation, NIFO, have applied for producer organisation status. Can the Minister give us an update on the status in respect of becoming a producer organisation and whether it is possible to speed up the process?

I thank the Deputy. As she will be aware, in December 2018, following a public consultation process, the then Minister announced that vessels over 18 m would be excluded from trawling in inshore waters inside the 6 nautical miles zone and the baselines from 1 January 2020. A transition period of three years for vessels over 18 m targeting sprat was allowed to enable adjustment for these vessels as sprat fishing is concentrated inside the 6 nautical mile zone.

As the Deputy pointed out, that was subject to an appeal by two sprat fishermen. On 6 October, a judge in the Supreme Court held that the court's final order should be that, among other matters, a declaration that policy directive 1 of 2019 was made in breach of fair procedures and is void and of no legal effect. The breach of fair procedures referenced related to a failure in the obligation to consult with the applicants in accordance with, and to the extent required by, the consultation process, in particular by failing to consult with them once the preferred option had been identified.

I am currently considering, on an urgent basis, the implications of the judgment in consultation with our legal advisers. I want to also advise the Deputy that I am committed to the sustainability of fishing in Irish waters and the commitment in the programme for Government that inshore waters continue to be protected for smaller fishing vessels and pair trawling be prohibited inside the 6 mile limit.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.
The Dáil adjourned at 1.47 a.m. until 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 4 November 2020.