Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Agriculture Schemes

Matt Carthy

Question:

1. Deputy Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the new measures included in budget 2022 for suckler beef farmers, sheep farmers and farmers in areas of natural constraint. [50847/21]

I ask the Minister to outline the new measures in budget 2022 for suckler beef farmers, sheep farmers and farmers operating in areas of natural constraint.

I thank the Deputy for his question. I am pleased to have secured more than €1.8 billion of funding in budget 2020 for the overall sector. This is in addition to almost €1.2 billion in direct payments annually. Farmers can have confidence that this budget protects family farms and their income and supports action to improve safety and sustainability on farms. I have succeeded in maintaining all of the crucial schemes for farmers. The budget provision will also allow us to provide additional funding for several policy priorities. I am committed to supporting our suckler and sheep sectors now and into the future.

More than €100 million will be provided in targeted supports for the beef and sheep sectors, including the beef data and genomics programme BDGP, the beef environmental efficiency programme for sucklers, BEEP-S, the sheep welfare scheme and the dairy calf programme. Other measures relevant to the livestock sectors include €7 million for Enterprise Ireland capital investment schemes to support the meat and dairy sector to invest in greater product and market diversification; €4 million for the establishment of the office of the food ombudsman; €80 million for on-farm investments through the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS, including specific supports for solar energy installation; a tax package that protects the stamp duty relief for young, trained farmers, as well as stock relief; and an additional €2 million to support farm safety initiatives.

Within the 2022 provision, some €872 million allows key rural development programmes and forestry supports to remain available through the transitional period between the two CAP programmes. Of course, we cannot do new schemes this year, as the Deputy is aware. We are working hard on delivering the new schemes that will be in place in January 2023 but we cannot do new schemes at the moment. We are certainly determined to ensure all the schemes that are available are fully paid for and that there are no gaps in farmers' incomes.

I have worked closely with my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, to finalise a financial package for the new CAP which I announced yesterday. Overall, in the context of fully supporting farm family incomes this year and next year as we transition to the new CAP, we have delivered very strong support for farm families.

I thank the Minister. That was a long way of answering "There are none" to the question I asked him regarding new measures. Of course, the Minister can apply to implement new Exchequer-funded schemes next year. There is nothing stopping him from doing so.

In the context of the CAP proposals he brought forward yesterday, and specifically in respect of the sectors to which I refer, will the Minister confirm that BEEP-S will remain a stand-alone scheme separate from the new suckler package he outlined and will continue to be funded through the Exchequer for the lifetime of the next CAP? As regards the sheep welfare scheme, the Minister is aware that an annual budget of €25 million was earmarked but the most that was ever actually drawn down was €17 million per year. What will the annual budget for that scheme be in the next CAP? What proposals will he bring forward to ensure the full amount is drawn down?

As regards areas of natural constraint, it has been reported that the scheme will continue. I ask the Minister to confirm whether an additional annual budget will be allocated to that scheme under his proposals.

To correct the Deputy, we cannot do new schemes under the transition regulation. We have the facility to continue with existing schemes and, of course, that takes a significant amount of money because at the end of a CAP programme there are full participation levels and maximum cost for all of those schemes. Thankfully, with the 11% increase last year from the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the further increase of 2% this year, we have delivered a total increase of 13% in the budget of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine over that two-year period. That increase was required to ensure these schemes could be continued and to do some new initiatives such as the results-based environment agri pilot, REAP, scheme that we kicked off last year and the soil sampling programme that will continue this year.

As regards the 50% increase in CAP co-funding that I announced yesterday, under the new suckler carbon efficiency scheme, it will deliver €150 per cow for the first ten cows and €120 per cow for the remainder of the herd. That will be within the CAP strategic plan programme for five years. The capacity will remain open to us to also support sectors in parallel with that, as was the case with the BEEP scheme. The announcement yesterday was very much about what is programmed for the full five years.

The Minister did not deal with the specific questions I asked in respect of those three schemes. Perhaps he will furnish me with a written response on that.

The difficulty facing farming is that under the old CAP, Pillar 1 payments amounted to €5.975 billion in Exchequer and EU funding. Under the new CAP, for the entire programme, that figure is exactly the same. In real terms, that is a significant decrease. Under Pillar 2, the funding allocated across all areas under the old CAP was €4.258 billion. Under the new CAP, that figure will be €3.861 billion. In constant terms, there is a decrease in Pillar 2 payments. The proportion relating to co-financing is increasing and will include the €1.5 billion from the so-called carbon tax fund that the Minister committed would not form part of carbon tax. Does the Minister accept that Irish agriculture will be worse off under the next CAP because of the EU budget to which he agreed?

It will be much better off with this Government in place. I refer to the proposals in the alternative budgets put forward by Sinn Féin. Even though it proposes much more spending economy-wide in its fantasy budgets, agriculture always gets short-changed. The proposals in the Sinn Féin fantasy budget for last year-----

We proposed a 12% increase-----

(Interruptions).

-----came nowhere near the 11% increase I delivered last year. Agriculture was short-changed even in the massive spending proposed in the Sinn Féin manifesto before the most recent general election. I am glad-----

There is going to be a 10% cut under CAP----

Sinn Féin profiled less than Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael profiled in their manifestos. Thankfully, Sinn Féin is not in government. This Government is delivering for Irish farm families.

The problem is that the Government is not delivering; it is spinning.

Obviously, as regards budget pressures at European level, we fight that battle to try to keep that budget up. We got it narrowly increased after a big battle. As regards matters within our control, we are delivering a 50% increase in national funding.

There is only a 1% increase next year-----

I thank the Minister. I am moving on to the next question.

I am very glad to be able to do so to support farm family incomes.

I ask Deputies to listen to each other.

Inshore Fisheries

Holly Cairns

Question:

2. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the actions he is taking to address the programme for Government commitment to ensure that inshore waters continue to be protected for smaller fishing vessels and recreational fishers and that pair trawling will be prohibited inside the six-mile limit. [51910/21]

I ask the Minister to provide an update on the status of the ban on large trawlers of more than 18 m operating in inshore waters. Last month, the Court of Appeal refused the Minister's application to continue a stay on the ban. I realise it is a matter the Minister inherited, but it is a very important issue for many fishers, the marine sector and coastal ecosystems.

I thank the Deputy for her question. As she is aware, the programme for Government commits to ensuring "that inshore waters continue to be protected for smaller fishing vessels and recreational fishers and that pair trawling will be prohibited inside the six-mile limit". I am fully supportive of this objective, as is the Deputy.

As she may be aware, in December 2018, the then Minister, Deputy Creed, who demonstrated very strong commitment in issuing this direction, announced that vessels over 18 m would be excluded from trawling in inshore waters inside six nautical miles 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 the sprat fishery is concentrated inside this area.

Policy directive 1 of 2019 was introduced in March 2019 to give effect to the changes. A judicial review was taken by two applicant fishers challenging the validity of the policy directive. On 6 October 2020, the High Court judgment held that the policy directive was made in breach of fair procedures and is void and-or of no legal effect. I appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal and a full hearing took place on 22 June 2021. Judgment on the case is reserved.

I also sought an extension on the stay on the order of the High Court, which was granted by the Court of Appeal on 19 March 2021, reinstating the policy directive. On 23 September 2021, the Court of Appeal refused my application to continue the stay further. This refusal means that vessels over 18 m have resumed trawling in the waters inside six nautical miles.

I am currently awaiting the decision of the Court of Appeal to inform my next steps. As the matter is sub judice, I cannot comment further until the matter is resolved before the courts.

I thank the Minister for the clarification and his ongoing work to protect our inshore waters. The reality is that within a few days, or even a day, of the recent court decision, I was receiving reports of large vessels operating by the coast, often within Bantry Bay in west Cork. It is a major concern for local professions and organisations. The issue has now been going back and forth for over a year. The uncertainty around the ban will probably continue for some time.

I ask the Minister to explain why the Department has not begun a new consultation process as a back-up if the eventual court ruling finds definitively against the directive, which we know is a possibility. Groups are rightly concerned that at the end of the legal proceedings the process might have to start all over again, with all that time lost. Why not have a fresh consultation as a redundancy, given that the policy directive was overturned in the first place because the consultation was not adequate?

These matters are always complex and, as we know, very much subject to legal challenge. Therefore, because I do not have the decision from the Court of Appeal on the previous process, it would be premature to commence a new consultation in advance of that. I must be informed and have all the information to hand in respect of the legal judgment on the previous process. I must await that judgment.

My commitment is clear, given that I appealed the previous decision on the strength of legal advice that I sought, and I want to deliver on this issue. I will await the judgment of the court, which really is the only option available to me. The judgment should be published soon and as soon as I have it, I will give it my full consideration and plot out how I will proceed.

I am sure the Minister can see why groups are calling for a new consultation process. The situation is difficult to unravel for people. While the Minister does not have the decision from the court, he knows that the consultation process was the reason the directive was overturned in the first place. My point is that this may not work out and if we had started a new consultation process already, less time would be lost. Another potential solution suggested to me is the introduction of a statutory instrument to restrict inshore pair trawling or activities by large vessels. Is that something the Minister is considering? As I said, the matter is likely to go on for some time and I am not sure if the Minister has a timeframe for its conclusion.

This issue directly affects the inshore fishing sector, a substantial cohort of coastal and island communities which are often overshadowed by the bigger players. Their representative groups need producer organisation, PO, status. While I recognise the Minister's work to date in granting some PO status, additional support and guidance which can be given to the remaining organisations to secure such status is vital. Inshore fishing is a sustainable practice and part of our coastal heritage that supports the livelihoods of hundreds of families and entire communities.

I value the inshore sector; it is important to the communities right along the coast. It has been great to see how they have strengthened in terms of their organisational capacity in recent months and years. I am fully supportive of that. I am aware that there is an application under consideration for PO status. I was glad to be able to award PO status to the Irish Islands Marine Resource Organisation, IIMRO, which represents the islands, a few months ago. That strengthening of the organisation has served the inshore sector very well. I can see that coming through in the meetings I have with the organisation, in the coherence and strength with which it makes representations.

This issue of particular importance to it. There was a lot of merit-----

On the question of statutory instruments, would the Minister consider introducing a statutory instrument?

A statutory instrument on what?

On banning pair trawling.

It is my understanding that I will have to undertake a consultation in advance of any action I take. When I-----

Can that consultation be started now?

It is important that I have access to the full information on conclusion of the legal process before I make any decisions, because we do not want any unnecessary flaws to arise in future.

Organic Farming

Matt Carthy

Question:

3. Deputy Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the projected number of new organic farmers for 2022; the additional funding that will be allocated to the organic farming scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [50848/21]

I ask the Minister of State the number of new farmers that she expects to join the organic farming scheme in 2022; the additional funding that will be allocated to the scheme; and her proposals for the sector.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Senator Pippa Hackett)

I, along with the Government, am committed to seeing the area under organics grow. Therefore, I am delighted to have secured a significant increase in the budget for organic farming for 2022.

Funding for the organic farming scheme, OFS, has been increased to €21 million, up from €16 million last year, with a further €2 million for further organic sector development measures. This increase is most welcome and addresses the growing demand from both farmers and consumers for this type of production. It effectively doubles the funding for organics since I took office less than two years ago.

As the Deputy will be aware, the current programme for Government contains a commitment to align Ireland’s organic land area with that of the then EU average of approximately 7.5%. Budget 2022, with its increased allocation for organic farming, will assist in working towards that goal. At the same time, I will also continue to progress the implementation of the National Organic Strategy 2019 to 2025, which sets out ambitious growth targets for the sector by aligning it closely with market opportunities.

The additional funding to be allocated to the opening of the OFS in 2022 could provide for an additional 50,000 ha converting to organic production in 2022. This would represent an increase in excess of 50% in the area currently farmed organically and would take us further along the route to the goal of 7.5% land cover. I am encouraging all farmers from all sectors to join, and my Department and the relevant agencies and advisory bodies will be working with them before the opening of the scheme.

In addition to the OFS, budget 2022 will provide funding for other supports for organic farmers, such as the organic capital investment scheme and the organic processing investment grant scheme. Initiatives to assist in the development of the sector, such as the organic demonstration farm programme and other training and education projects, will also be funded.

Organic farming and production is a key priority of mine and, indeed, the Government. No Minister or Government has ever funded its expansion to this extent and I intend to continue to invest in its future under the next CAP also.

For the sake of clarity, I ask the Minister of State to outline what the current organic land area is and what proportion she expects that to reach by the end of 2022. I gather from her reply that the target remains 7.5% by 2030. That is absolutely pathetic.

One of the reasons for the lack of ambition is apparent in the Minister of State's comment that she wants to align the organic sector "closely with market opportunities". We know that for a sector like organics to grow, the Government must be proactive in creating new opportunities, as opposed to simply waiting for the market to take the lead. It has been shown, time and again, that when consumers are given a choice and when the origin and type of food that is produced is clearly labelled, they will always choose organic. However, they must be given that choice; the market will not take lead on its own.

The current area under organic production is 74,000 ha and we brought in 13,000 ha from last year. Therefore, the total area either in organic or in conversion is 87,000 ha. As I said, an increase of 50,000 ha with the proposed money in the budget for next year would bring the figure to around 130,000 ha, which would represent a 57% increase on this year.

In terms of the 7.5% target, it was not set to be reached by 2030. Originally, it was to be reached in the term of the Government but as that is not a set period of time, we aligned it with the CAP strategic plan period.

That means the 7.5% target is to be met by 2027.

I agree with the Deputy with regard to markets. I am engaging closely with Bord Bia to find these markets and open them up. Organics is a growing sector, particularly throughout the EU and domestically. It offers great opportunities.

I thank the Minister of State. The EU average was 7.5% about three years ago. Across the board, the EU has set a target of 25%. We are second to last, coming only ahead of Malta with regard to land under organic use. The question I posed was very specific. It was on the number of new organic farmers. While the amount of land under organic use is important, and the Minister of State's reply dealt with this, it is also crucial that we increase the number of organic farmers. Otherwise I fear the Department will go for what might be considered low hanging fruit. It will go for the larger farmers to come into the scheme in order to meet the 50,000 ha target. Will the Minister of State give a commitment that she will shape the scheme to encourage smaller and medium-sized farmers to enter organics?

I thank the Deputy. He is absolutely right. We do need to bring in large number of farmers because this will create a critical mass and allow for significant engagement, knowledge transfer and peer-to-peer work. I certainly concur with that.

With regard to the current design of the scheme, the average farm size in the scheme across the board is in the region of 40 ha. They are relatively small farms. There are also smaller farms in the scheme and not many large farms. The scheme is capped at an area-based payment to a certain hectarage so it so the payment does not keep increasing. The further people go into it, the less they get. In a way, it is designed to support smaller and medium farmers. We really want to encourage all farmers to join the scheme. There is a great market for tillage and organic arable production. These farms tend to be larger. I do not want to rule anyone out. I concur that we need many farmers in the scheme.

Question No. 4 replied to with Written Answers.

Agriculture Schemes

Michael Fitzmaurice

Question:

5. Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of applicants involved in the beef data genomics programme, BDGP, and the beef environmental efficiency programme – sucklers, BEEP-S, schemes in 2020; the number that are taking part in the BDGP and BEEP-S schemes since their roll-over into 2021; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51911/21]

I ask about the numbers involved in the BDGP and BEEP-S schemes in 2020 and the numbers taking part in the BDGP and BEEP-S schemes in 2021. Will the Minister make a statement on the matter?

In 2020, the number of farmers participating in BDGP I was 22,243 with a further 1,422 participating in BDGP II, giving a total of 23,665. Payments to farmers under BDGP for 2020 were approximately €41.5 million. A total of 27,025 farmers were participating in BEEP-S in 2020. Payments under the scheme amounted to approximately €41 million.

Those farmers in BDGP I who had met all the scheme requirements could opt to join the transitional scheme in 2021. The number of farmers participating in the BDGP transitional scheme is 17,683. This represents a roll-over rate of 79.5%. A further 1,421 farmers are still in BDGP II, giving a total of 19,000 now in the BDGP. In addition, there are a total of 27,516 farmers participating in the 2021 BEEP-S scheme.

Overall for 2021, 16,155 farmers are in both schemes. To put it another way, 84% of BDGP participants are also in the BEEP and 58% of BEEP-S participants in 2021 are also in the BDGP. Payments for 2021 under the BDGP and BEEP-S are scheduled to issue in December.

I thank the Minister. Is it worrying that 23% or 24% of farmers have not gone for the roll-over? Has the Department done an analysis of the reasons for this? Was it because of the non-compliance of some farmers? Was it because of inspections? Was it because farmers were not interested? What are the reasons? We would think more farmers would be getting involved. I know we could not go for any more than what was there. We see a drop-off of 20% or 25%. We are talking about 17,683 as against 23,365. These are the figures I have just taken down. That is a large number of farmers. In the analysis, has the Minister looked at what these farmers have done and where they have gone? Have they gone to a different enterprise? What has happened? It is a worrying trend when we look at these figures.

Prior to this year, farmers participating in the BDGP were in a five-year programme. They had to sign up for five years and they did not have the option to decide whether to stay in or come out of the scheme. It was a full five-year programme. I continued it in 2021 for one year and farmers had the option to decide whether to take it up that year. In terms of practicality, I made it as straightforward as possible because I wanted to give farmers every opportunity to avail of and continue to be in the BDGP and BEEP-S for this year. We could not run new schemes because we are in a transition period. New schemes can only start from 2023. I wanted to do everything I possibly could to ensure farmers in schemes were able to stay in them. The main reason I would see is the fact it was coming out of our five-year commitment and for a variety of reasons, some people decided to draw a line after the five years and not necessarily take up the option of continuing for another year.

Would it be the case that farmers who looked at this were tied into the five years because the only way they were going to get out was force majeure? To be frank, it would be an awful lot easier for people to go into a one-year scheme if it was attractive because they would not be tied in for a longer period of time. Would it be the case that one quarter of these farmers felt it was too cumbersome or that there was something wrong with the scheme? It is very important that we do an analysis of what is going on. If we lose 25% or 24% of farmers from a scheme, it sends a message that there is something wrong, one way or the other. The Department needs to look at these schemes to see how it can streamline them and make them easier for farmers. This is a worrying figure in my opinion.

A big part of the reason was that things can change for farmers over the course of five years. We had a five-year contract that finished and people then had the option of taking a one-year contract. The administration and red tape involved in extending for a year was minimised. People could continue as they were. The scheme was not open to new entrants. People had to be in the previous five-year BDGP. We could not start a new scheme but people could continue if they were in it. While the option was open to participants not to continue in the scheme, there was no option for new people to come in. I have no doubt if the option had been available for new people to come in for one year, it would have been a different kettle of fish.

As the Deputy knows, I have been travelling in every county in the country to get feedback on all of these issues. The biggest feedback I have had is that farmers want to see the programme continued and strengthened. To compare the BDGP with the programme I announced yesterday, in the BDGP €90 is given for the first ten animals and €80 for the remainder, whereas in the new scheme €150 will be provided for the first ten animals and €120 for the remainder. We are, therefore, strengthening the funding allocation available. I hope we will see a strong take-up of the carbon beef suckler efficiency scheme from 2023 onwards. We will continue the BDGP for 2022, as announced in the budget.