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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 31 Mar 2022

Vol. 1020 No. 4

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Agriculture Industry

Cathal Crowe

Question:

119. Deputy Cathal Crowe asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the way that he proposes to support farmers who are struggling to meet inflationary input costs. [16788/22]

I wish to ask the Minister this morning what interventions he is taking to intervene in the spiralling costs that farm families are facing at this time.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issuing this morning. Unfortunately, this is an ongoing issue, as he and I both know. On behalf of the Government, I again condemn the illegal invasion of Ukraine and commend the response of people across the country who are showing solidarity with and support for Ukrainian citizens.

At a time when tractors are in the fields domestically, calves are being born and sheep are lambing, many of our brethren farmers in Ukraine are facing a war and taking up arms, in many instances, as opposed to doing what they want to do in terms of farming and tilling the soil. The Government remains very much resolute in our solidarity with them and with Ukraine.

As the Deputy outlined, significant implications are being seen across the economy and there are particular challenges at farm level. The crisis has already made a significant impact on the price of feed, fertiliser and fuel. I have established a rapid response team within the Department, chaired by the Secretary General, to actively monitor the impacts on the agrifood supply chain and contribute to the whole-of-government response to the crisis.

I also established the national food and fodder security committee with all key stakeholders to provide advisory leadership to plan for this year and for next winter and spring. As the Deputy knows, I also brought forward the €12 million tillage support, which has been very strongly responded to by farmers. I know many are considering planning to grow increased tillage this year and to avail of that support. Certainly, there is an absolute guarantee from me that €400 per hectare will be paid on that additional tillage to those who plant that extra grain this year .

At the start of the year, I also launched the tillage soils and nutrients campaign to provide advice around organic slurry. That is more precious and valuable than ever and how it is used is really important. That is a really important support to farmers as well.

Thousands of people depend on farming in Ireland, including the 6,000 farms in my own county of Clare. If this were a normal year, we would be expecting farm exports such as dairy and meat, etc., to be netting €14 billion for this country and feeding a worldwide population of 40 million. That is where we would be aiming to be at. We have had to look very much inward now because there will be many shortages ahead for Ireland, not just in fuel but probably on the supermarket shelves as well. It is the farmers who have always stepped up to that mark across each generation.

I really welcome the €12 million intervention and the tillage and multi-species swards initiative. It has been welcomed by much of the farming sector. When I leave the Dáil today, I will go back home to County Clare to our home farm environment. When I did my green certificate in Pallaskenry agricultural college, we were told about reseeding, discing, liming and testing. I do not know whether that will benefit people in County Clare who have the traditional grasses. We do not have much perennial rye or timothy grasses down there. I do not know whether this will this benefit the west of Ireland counties where the soils are a bit heavier and where we have traditional meadow grass. I do not know if that initiative will benefit all. Are discussions going on in Europe to have a European-wide response to this?

Yes, discussions are going on. I have had much engagement with the Commission and, indeed, fellow agriculture ministers on this. I acknowledge Deputy Crowe's advocacy on behalf of the farmers of County Clare with regard to the challenges they are facing at the moment. I visited his alma mater, Salesian Agricultural College in Pallaskenry, last week. I commend the great work it is doing and the service it is providing, of which the Deputy is a product in terms of the education he received there.

At European level, the Commission has now moved to provide a €500 million European-wide package, which will deliver support of €15.8 million of European money to Ireland. There is the capacity to build that to the tune of 200% in terms of co-funding as well. I am now assessing how we can use that money to provide supports to farmers over the next period. I very much acknowledge the increased cost pressure that is on them and also the importance of working together to ensure we meet those challenges, grow the grass and grain and produce the food.

Yesterday, a group of us met with the Association of Farm & Forestry Contractors of Ireland, FCI, in the audiovisual room in Leinster House 2000. One of the requests it is making to the Minister's Department and to the Government overall is for 200 million l of green diesel to be ring-fenced for its sector to ensure we get a silage crop. It is now time for grass growing during the period from St. Patrick's Day to around Hallowe'en. It is now that the growth is taking off. The earth is warming up. The FCI wants to know that it can have enough fuel at a reasonable price to take this silage from the ground, harvest and have it in the sheds. As I said, the sward initiative is fabulous and I think that is where every farmer wants to get to. It is not realistic this year, certainly where I am from, to start discing out land and reseeding but it is realistic to get a good silage crop, have it in the shed and then come November, be able to give fodder to the cattle. If the cost of fuel is spiralling, however, the cost per bale is going to go through the roof. Many farmers, particularly in the west of Ireland, are waiting to see what will happen with fuel and how that will affect the silage crop cost for summer 2022.

I thank Deputy Crowe for raising this issue. The Minister will accept that the €15.8 million that has been earmarked for Ireland out of the EU crisis reserve is a drop in the ocean in terms of the supports our farming families need. The first question to the Minister is, naturally, whether he will he ensure that is co-financed to the tune of 200%, as is within his gift.

The second question that must be asked relates to what interventions can and will he make with regard to input costs. Fertiliser costs have gone through the roof. Has the Minister asked the EU to abolish the tariffs on imported fertiliser in the short term? With regard to fuel and energy costs, will the Minister make a move in relation to excise and carbon taxes on those products to give farmers a small bit of support? The latest revelations that cattle prices at marts are beginning to begin to drop again is extremely worrying when we consider the rising input costs we have been discussing.

I thank the Deputies. I am fully assessing how we can spend that funding and the level of co-funding along with that. The first starting point is looking at the types of interventions we can do that will support farmers as much as possible.

As the Deputies will know, I have made interventions already with the tillage scheme, which we discussed, to encourage additional grass growth in relation to multi-species sward and clover swards. There is also the initial support package for the pig sector, which is under even more increased pressure since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine. I am working with the team in the Department and the rapid response team I established to do that. I will also be working very closely with the fodder and feed security sector.

My key message is that we must plan ahead. The key priority for farms this year is the importance of growing grass. We have to do that. I am looking at how I can support the sector. We are going to need to have that fodder in store for next autumn and winter. We must ensure the stocks are there and we have to plan for that now. We cannot plan on the basis of being able to import additional grain if we do not grow and store enough grass this year. I have set out what I have been doing and will continue to do to support the sector in terms of assessing the best way to use the flexibility that has been provided at European level.

Question No. 120 replied to with Written Answers.

Agriculture Industry

Denis Naughten

Question:

121. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to introduce a State-owned and State-controlled beef blockchain; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16263/22]

The blockchain in the beef industry is tomorrow's offal. Whoever controls the blockchain controls the sector. This must be publicly owned and should not be let fall into the hands of one or two vested interests. This is the last throw of the dice for beef farmers in this country to have the opportunity to have some element of control of the market and it needs to be led by the Minister.

I thank Deputy Naughten for raising this issue. I know it is something for which he has been a very strong advocate. I am confident that the food safety controls and traceability systems operated by the Department in co-operation with other relevant agencies, particularly the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, can provide assurances to consumers of Irish beef, wherever they are in the world, that the highest standards of safety and traceability are upheld and enforced here. With regard to traceability in particular, the national bovine herd already has a robust traceability system, namely, the Department's animal identification and movement system, which records and maintains identification and movement data on cattle and other livestock in accordance with the requirements of EU and national law.

As for the blockchain concept and its applicability to the beef sector, I agree this technology certainly has potential for the future and I can see its merits. Some sectors are further advanced than others in examining the benefits such a blockchain approach could bring. It is important we examine all options open to us to future-proof the sector. I have no current plans, however, to develop a State-owned and State-controlled blockchain in any sector. In the first instance, any proof of concept or feasibility analysis with respect to implementing a blockchain in the beef supply chain would need to be driven primarily by the sector supply chain actors to ensure appropriate buy-in and successful implementation. Second, in the context of my Department's regulatory role, I reiterate this already operates in full compliance with EU and national legislation, and it is unclear what additionality, if any, a blockchain could bring to these regulatory requirements.

More generally, the Deputy will be aware I have taken a number of important initiatives aimed at increasing transparency in the food supply chain. In September 2021, I signed into law a statutory instrument to give effect to additional price reporting obligations under the EU. Increased price reporting will be an important tool, along with other initiatives, in supporting primary producers. Last week, I brought the general scheme of the agricultural and food supply chain Bill to the Cabinet and received approval for it. That office will be established and functioning by the end of the year.

I welcome the measures the Minister is taking in respect of market transparency but I am deeply disappointed with his response. As he will be aware, primary producers in Wyoming and New York has gone down this road because it provides an alternative route to market for a premium product that can have a direct financial return for the primary producer. The only way this will work here is if it is led, owned and controlled by the State. The Minister stated he will allow matters to continue as they have been for generation after generation and leave it to the beef barons to develop this initiative. I reiterate this is the offal of the future. Whoever controls the blockchain will control the route to market. If we are serious about giving a financial return to beef farmers, it needs to be publicly owned.

As I said, I see merit in the idea and it will be important to the sector to assess it and have ownership of it. I take the Deputy's point about ensuring any future system will work to the benefit of farmers and family farms and add value to animals. I am open to the idea and its potential. If any farm representatives are assessing it or working with the Deputy to flesh it out and consider its potential, I will certainly be happy to engage with them along those lines. I acknowledge the Deputy has advocated for it previously. In terms of traceability and safety, what we do is exceptional and world leading, but we have to look to the future as well. As has always been my approach, I will certainly engage regarding any ideas or suggestions that farm organisations or representatives may have for how we can improve and bring forward the sector in the years ahead.

The difficulty is that if this is not led by the Minister, it will not happen and we will not ensure there is an alternative route to market. We have handed over €6 million to Bord Bia to promote suckler beef, even though that body publicly advised the Minister's predecessor that it does not believe there is resonance in the market for suckler beef. I do not know, therefore, why we gave it €6 million. If that money were to be invested in a publicly owned and controlled blockchain, it would provide a significant financial dividend to suckler farmers by giving them a premium route to market.

The other avenue in this context for providing a financial return to suckler farmers relates to the awarding of protected geographical indication, PGI, status for suckler beef. What is the status of that application?

I appreciate that the PGI application, which relates to grass-fed beef, is another issue for which the Deputy has advocated strongly. The application has been going through the process at the Commission and it is now at the stage where other member states have the opportunity to engage and give their views. As part of this, I have had much engagement with my Northern Ireland counterpart minister, Edwin Poots, in respect of developing the application on a 32-county, all-island basis. We are working closely together to try to ensure that grass-fed PGI standard will be an all-Ireland application in order that all Irish beef can be marketed abroad and we can get a premium price for it in those markets. Obviously, the Commission will decide whether to approve the application, although I am certainly hopeful that will be the case. Much work has been done across the board to bring it to this stage.

Harbours and Piers

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

122. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the progress made with the development of the deep-water pier at Ros an Mhíl since the announcement of this project earlier in 2022 and in view of the limited time that remains before the current planning permission expires; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16764/22]

Lá mór a bhí ann ar an 1 Feabhra, Lá Fhéile Bríde, tús an earraigh, nuair a tháinig an tAire go Ros an Mhíl agus nuair a d'fhógair sé go raibh sé i gceist aige cead a thabhairt dul ar aghaidh le forbairt na céibhe domhainmhara i Ros an Mhíl. Mar is eol dó, ritheann an cead pleanála amach an bhliain seo chugainn. Is í an cheist atá agam don Aire inniu ná cén dul chun cinn atá déanta ó shin?

The Minister made a big announcement about this on 1 February. The matter is now in the hands of departmental officials. What progress has been made by the Department to progress the project since the announcement was made?

I acknowledge the Deputy's advocacy on behalf of this project over the years, and in particular since I became Minister, to drive it on and have it delivered. The project goes back a long time, to the early 2000s. Frank Fahy was Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources when it was initiated. While there have been many twists and turns since then, the Deputy has been central to pushing it forward and ensuring we can deliver on it. Likewise, our Government colleagues, including Senators Kyne, Crowe and Joe O'Reilly, have been strong advocates for it.

As the Deputy will be aware, the project will deliver more than 70% greater depth to accommodate larger fishing vessels and provide more than 200 m of additional quayside. On 4 February, my Department published a tender notice for consultancy services to complete the detailed design, manage the tender process for construction works, supervise the construction works and, in due course, hand back the completed construction works to my Department. The tender competition closed on 10 March and my Department has been assessing the tenders submitted. On 24 March, the successful and unsuccessful tenderers were notified and the process is now in the standstill period required under public procurement policy. Securing this consultancy service is a necessary precursor in line with the public works contract. While I cannot yet specify when construction works will begin, my Department is working to ensure all planning conditions will be met.

Our fishery harbour centres are critical to the seafood industry. Ros an Mhíl is a clear example of how these facilities stimulate economic activity for the surrounding rural coastal communities. The potential for downstream development and jobs has been acknowledged by my Cabinet colleagues including the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media and the Minister of State with responsibility for the Gaeltacht and sport, Deputy Chambers. The project is further evidence of the Government’s commitment to addressing the impacts of Brexit.

That is great progress. I understand the processes that have to be gone through, so I am pleased that now, at the end of March, a successful tenderer has been chosen and, please God, the process will proceed smoothly. I understand there are two elements of this, namely, the dredging and the building of the harbour wall.

I understand there are no design issues for the dredging and that could go forward immediately whereas the construction of the pier will require detailed design, etc. Will it be let off in two tenders now: one for dredging, which could go ahead immediate, and one, when the design is developed, for design and construction of the pier? If even the dredging could be got off, because I understand it is part of the planning, it would put our minds to rest that we were within the planning period and, if necessary, an extension of time based on substantial works being carried out would be available.

I cannot answer that now for the Deputy but I certainly will consider the points he has made and come back to him directly. I would be happy to engage with him on any other ideas or views he has on how we approach the project.

It was a tremendous day to be there, to see the spirit in the local community, and to meet with all those who have driven this project and advocated for it for so long. It is a tremendous natural resource. The location of the pier has tremendous potential for the years ahead. The Government is committed to driving projects such as this forward and making them happen. Our absolute commitment is to make that happen. We understand the importance of doing that quickly to move it through the process. We will ensure that happens, working with the Deputy. He has been central to making this happen. With our party colleague, Senator Ollie Crowe, and Government colleagues, the Minister of State, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, and Senators Kyne and Pauline O'Reilly, we as a Government intend to deliver this and make sure that it is a resource and an asset for the people of Galway and, in particular, Connemara, for decades to come.

The vision we all have of Ros an Mhíl is a multi-use port. The Minister saw for himself the fantastic space around it that is probably incomparable to any other port in the country. There is a lot of land in State ownership in a secluded area at the port. The vision we would have is: leisure, which is in the inner harbour; the ferry boats, which the Minister knows use it to great effect bringing cargo out to the islands - certain types of cargo go from there and the main cargo goes from Galway; the major issue of fishing, which is the primary purpose of the port; and, of course, the big new coming industry of renewable energy.

As the Minister will be aware, if we get our act together, the west coast could catch up with the east coast in wind generation, particularly off the coast of Galway at the Sceirde Rocks, and there will be no knowing how much berthage will be needed on the mainland. Presumably, in all the consideration of this, the development of that port in this holistic way in all its elements is very much to the fore with the Department, and not only the narrow fishing.

No doubt this funding announcement was very welcome. I met with the fishermen there on numerous occasions over the years, including in recent times, and they were completely disillusioned with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. There was a sense that they were the poor relation between the major ports of Killybegs and Castletownbere and they had been left behind. It is important, as Deputy Ó Cuív said, that we focus on delivering this project.

One concern I have is that there is talk, of course, about offshore wind generation in the use of the port but we need to make sure now we are building this facility at long last that the fishermen have a future too. The Minister needs to be focused on making sure that it is delivered as soon as possible and that the fishermen can thrive in those communities.

I thank Deputies Mac Lochlainn and Ó Cuív.

There is potential here on a number of fronts. The central objective and rationale behind the port is fisheries and making sure that Ros an Mhíl can thrive and grow again from a fisheries perspective. That is the key rationale. We also have to examine how we can leverage that for existing industries and for the years ahead. Deputy Ó Cuív is correct regarding the State and the Government planning for the transformation that we will see in renewable energy in the years ahead and making sure that we as a country benefit from that and become a net energy exporter. Central to that is planning in putting the infrastructure in place. Ros an Mhíl has potential to make a significant contribution and for that industry to make a significant contribution to the port, County Galway and, indeed, the west coast in the years ahead as well.

I recognise the work that was done with Údarás na Gaeltachta under the stewardship of Mr. Michael Heaney and his team in the report they put together looking at the potential of that, and also the support of the Minister of State, Deputy Jack Chambers, for this project. Overall, the key objective is driving fisheries on but also then looking to see how we can maximise its impact for the economic and employment potential in Connemara, west Galway and the west coast in the years ahead.

Inshore Fisheries

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

123. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will approve an advance to new fishing producer organisations of up to 50% for the implementation of production and marketing plans approved by the Department to enable timely delivery of these plans; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16765/22]

This goes right back to the old problem that faced us. With small groups starting off, which comes first - the chicken or the egg? Basically, the European Union recognised that small fishing producer organisations, POs, being set up to go forward with their production and marketing plan, PMP, would need cash upfront and it provided for that in the European regulation. I understand the Department has not been willing or able for whatever reason to make that funding available. As the Minister will be aware, the latest PO to be recognised represents probably the smallest but the one with the greatest employment of people along the coast, and that is the inshore fishermen. What progress can be made to help this group to get off the ground and deliver what it needs to deliver for inshore fishermen?

I thank the Deputy for raising this.

The Department's European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, EMFF, programme is the principal source of funding for the sustainable development of our seafood sector. At this stage, the programme funds are mostly committed and the programme is nearing its end. The new European Maritime Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund Regulation was adopted in July of last year and work is well advanced on preparing the Department's new seafood development programme, which will bring us up to 2027. I anticipate adoption of that programme later this year.

My Department's EMFF producer organisation scheme provides supports to POs. Part A of the scheme provides supports of up to €55,000 to groups of fisheries or aquaculture producers working to achieve recognition as a produce organisation, while part B of the scheme supports POs that have been recognised by the Department up to a maximum of almost €100,000. The new PO recognised in 2021 did not apply for a grant under part A.

The EU Common Provisions Regulation provides that grants under the EMFF programme may take the form of reimbursement of eligible costs incurred and paid by the beneficiary or, alternatively, through simplified cost options, SCOs, which are essentially fixed grants based on the past grant history of the beneficiary. The new PO recognised in 2021 is only commencing implementation of its first PMP in 2022. In accordance with the EU regulations, that PO will be due for support after submission in 2023 of its annual report and related grant claim and vouching documentation.

I am aware of the tremendous commitment and support the Deputy has given to the islands marine resource organisation PO. It has been a great step forward, in particular, for the inshore sector. It is something I strongly support as well. It will be of benefit to the sector having that extra co-ordination there.

My reply has addressed the supports that are available.

I understand the Article 66 derogation allows for advance payment. Europe foresaw this but this was not included in the scheme for whatever reason previously. I understand the Minister is developing a new scheme for the new period. Would it be possible to include the advance in it?

As the Minister will be aware, it is common across Departments where new organisations are starting to give them an advance. It is repayable if what is meant to be done is not done but it is not uncommon. I cannot imagine that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform or anybody would oppose this because, as I said, this is common practice. One could point out many schemes, particularly in the community sector, where these advances are made.

It is not fair on small groups trying to get off the ground. It is an inhibitor to have to come up with the cash upfront and then claim reimbursement.

The Minister knows how difficult it is for small groups such as this to get money from the banks.

Article 66 of the regulation allows the managing authority of the programme a partial derogation from the regulatory requirements, in that a 50% advance may be paid after approval of the PO's PMP. This derogation is not included in the PO scheme, which was approved at the programme's outset by the monitoring committee of stakeholders. The scheme states that only once the marketing plan has been approved by the Department as the competent authority and the annual report for the year concerned is also approved will it be eligible for support under the scheme.

The challenges in providing a 50% advance have to do with how the costs would not be known because of the lack of a previous history. We are developing a new scheme, though. The Deputy has raised an issue and I will have it assessed further in that context.

I understood from the Minister's initial reply that a PO could get it while developing the programme and trying to achieve recognition. It could then get a second grant for implementation. I believe he stated that the organisation we are referring to did not apply for it for the first part, so it has developed a programme and achieved recognition. Presumably it has a PMP, so we know the costings. There is precedent across the State system of upfront payments being made to allow new groups to get off the ground. I sincerely ask the Minister to include this organisation.

I believe he mentioned a figure of €100,000, but we are only discussing 50% of that - €50,000 - and it would only apply to new groups, of which he said there was only one. Therefore, this would not be a case of "Open Sesame" that would bust the Department. Single farm payments and all the other payments being made by the Department dwarf this.

The Minister referred to the monitoring committee, but it comprises those who are already in the tent. There is an awful habit in this country of groups pulling up the drawbridge once they have gone inside. He has to consider the wider interest. I beg him to consider this very small concession. It could be included in the plan and there would not be a large stream of new fish POs.

The success of the Irish Islands Marine Resource Organisation, IIMRO, in obtaining producer status was welcome. Deputy Ó Cuív made a good, practical and important proposal. Any of us who engage with the IIMRO knows that it is an impressive representative and advocate.

This is a critical matter. Speaking as Sinn Féin's fisheries spokesperson, that fishing is central to island communities is the basis on which we engage in the matter. If we can engage with the IIMRO, its plans will be exciting. This is a practical and important request and I ask that the Minister deal with it urgently. It is quickly doable and would ensure the IIMRO's success.

There is a pathway for the likes of inshore fishers, given the regional and national structures available to them. There will be opportunities in that context, but the focus at this moment is on the islands' fishers.

I thank Deputy Ó Cuív for raising this issue and for his advocacy on, and research into, it and the regulation. It is important that we support our new POs in getting established. I have been supportive of the PO in question. It is playing a major role and providing a significant service to inshore fishers and, in particular, island communities. I will assess the Deputies' points and Deputy Ó Cuív's proposal.

Question No. 124 replied to with Written Answers.

Renewable Energy Generation

David Stanton

Question:

125. Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the supports his Department has put in place to encourage the installation of solar panels on farms; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16870/22]

This question has to do with the supports that the Department has put in place to encourage the installation of solar panels on farms. I am interested in the Minister's take on this matter.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. While overall national energy policy formation is the direct responsibility of the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, my Department engages closely with it on energy-related matters from an agricultural perspective as well as with a wide range of industry and other stakeholder groupings.

The importance of renewable energy generation, particularly from microgeneration, in mitigating carbon emissions has been reflected in the inclusion of targets for this area in the recently released Climate Action Plan 2021, Securing Our Future. In December 2021, the microgeneration support scheme, MSS, was launched. It supports the deployment of an expected 380 MW of new micro power - that is, up to 50 kW - through rooftop and ground-mounted solar photovoltaic cells, PV. Landowners and farmers, in particular, will be able to benefit from the move to renewables, as set out under Food Vision 2030, which recognises that the agricultural sector has a key role to play in helping Ireland meet its renewable energy targets.

To help encourage on-farm renewable technology uptake and usage further, grant aid is provided through the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS, to assist farmers in maximising their contribution to the production of renewable energy through the installation of solar PV technology along with battery storage on farms. The solar PV systems grant aided under TAMS include solar PV panels and solar PV rechargeable batteries as well as solar panels for water heating under the pigs and poultry scheme.

Applications under TAMS for solar investments are being received on an ongoing basis. A total of 126 applications have received payment for solar investments to date. The grant aid under the scheme is available at the standard rate of 40%, with a higher grant rate of 60% available to qualified young farmers. I am proposing that support for renewable energy investments will continue under the new capital investment scheme as part of the CAP strategic plan submitted to the European Commission for approval last December.

All these schemes encourage the installation of solar panels on farms. This is an area of real and genuine potential to help farmers generate an income while continuing to play a leadership role in meeting our climate ambitions.

I thank the Minister for his response. I am happy that he is a supporter of this scheme, whereby farmers are encouraged and supported to install solar PV on their farmers. Will he clarify the situation regarding payment for farmers who used the money from TAMS to install solar PV? Are they entitled to receive payment for any electricity that they put out onto the grid? What is the rate? If they are not entitled to such payment, why not?

Under EU regulations, where a farmer is using CAP funding through TAMS, it has to be for his or her own use on the farm, not for generating electricity for payment. It is important that we develop such generation, of course. At the start of this year, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and his Department came forward with a proposal to ensure that feed-in electricity being generated on farms or elsewhere could be paid for. If we drive this forward, it has great potential.

Any solar PV panels funded under TAMS must be for own use on farms as opposed to generation. While we have to drive forward on feeding electricity into the grid, TAMS funding cannot be used for it.

Does the Minister agree that this is counterproductive and does not encourage farmers to put solar PV in place on their farms? Would it not be much better if they could get some payment for the electricity they free into the grid? Under the EU renewable energy directive II, consumers have the right to receive remuneration. Will the Minister let me know where exactly the rules say this cannot be done? Will he make some effort to get them changed, especially now when we need as many people as possible to generate electricity in Ireland? Does he agree that there are farmers all over the country who would be more than willing to erect solar PV panels? Is it not only fair that they would be paid for any surplus they feed into the grid? This would encourage further development in the area. We could be facing into power cuts in the autumn, given what is happening globally.

I commend the Deputy on raising this issue. I agree with his final point wholeheartedly.

This is one of the areas where any of us who stand on farmyards can see a glaring opportunity for farmers to contribute positively to our climate action obligations and that they want to play that positive role. I agree with the point that farmers must be able to include and sell excess electricity into the grid.

I will add that we need to ensure farmers are rewarded for the emissions they save as a result of these actions in order that they can be offset in respect of the on-farm emissions liability. The Minister will know I am a strong believer in the need to assess, on a farm-by-farm basis, emissions, sequestration and the capture that takes place on individual farms to reward farmers for best practice. This is one of those areas, but I fear that farmers will not be recognised for the electricity being generated on their farms.

I support the points raised by the previous speakers. I emphasise the necessity to utilise every possibility of improving the national grid with the greatest degree of urgency.

I thank the Deputies. Deputy Stanton is correct that it makes absolute sense to reward and incentivise farmers to feed into the grid and develop the potential of family farms to make a real contribution to energy production, in addition to what that means for emissions and what it can mean in delivering an income for farmers. There is a challenge with TAMS investments in particular and the rules around how they are used.

Change the rules.

It is a wider cap. I will get the exact details for the Deputy on the piece around that. TAMS supports on-farm generation for on-farm usage. It is a very sensible and worthwhile thing for farmers to do but it is mainly being used by those who have higher energy needs at present. It only makes sense if farmers use the electricity generated and, therefore, it is more limited in that sense. The Government is committed to delivering the capacity to pay farmers to generate electricity. As Minister, I am considering alongside that how we can drive it on, and enable and work with farmers to deliver on that potential. I thank the Deputy for tabling the question.

Food Industry

Colm Burke

Question:

126. Deputy Colm Burke asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the engagement his Department has had with food producers in Ireland whose supply chains have been seriously affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16821/22]

There are major challenges for food producers in Ireland. What level of engagement has the Department been involved in to deal with the serious difficulties that have now arisen as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine? Will he make a statement on the matter?

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. As we know, the war in Ukraine has had a number of impacts on our agrifood sector. It is the number one priority for me, the Ministers of State, Deputies Hackett and Heydon, and the Department. I am working with key agrifood and marine sector stakeholders on an ongoing basis to discuss the impact of the crisis on agrifood supply chains, particularly on the viability of farmers and fishers as primary producers.

At farm level, the crisis is likely to have serious impacts on the price of animal feed, fertiliser and fuel, which are all vital farm inputs. We have seen farmers are experiencing that. The food industry very much relies on natural gas for its energy supply and costs will escalate as a result. These factors, and others, are likely to result in price increases for consumer staples at wholesale and retail level. The effect of these impacts is being felt most intensively and acutely at present in the intensive pig and poultry sectors, where feed costs are such a big part of their inputs. It is something I have been very much liaising and engaging with the sector on.

The Department is also in contact with the main banks on an ongoing basis, which it will be important to continue, in addition to the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland. On support to the pig sector in particular, the Deputies will be aware that I introduced a scheme three or four weeks ago to deliver up to €20,000 per pig farm. Pig farmers are under even more pressure since then and I am engaging with them at present.

I have established the fodder and food security committee to bring all stakeholders together and to plan for the year ahead. A big effort will be required to work together to ensure that we continue to produce food and meet the additional challenges. The tillage scheme is one of the measures I have introduced, which was referred to. I confirm to the Deputy that the scheme has gone live and is open from today for applications. There has been a very strong response to that. I commend farm families and farmers throughout the country on how they have responded to that.

The big issue for farmers and contractors throughout the country at present is supply of fertiliser and supply of fuel. For instance, I talked to one contractor who needs 10, 000 l of fuel to get crops in over the next ten days but has only been given 1,500 l. Is there any mechanism, or is the Department involved in any way, to make sure there is an adequate fuel supply for those contractors and for those who have a large acreage of cereals to put in place?

Likewise, fertiliser was approximately €270 or €300 per tonne last year and is now more than €1,000 per tonne, which is a major challenge, as is the level of supply. Is the Minister satisfied that enough is being done to make sure we can get supply into this country for the dairy sector and, in particular, the tillage sector, especially over the next two weeks?

I am satisfied that everything is being done to get supply into the country. That does not mean supply is easy to get or there are not challenges. My Department and I have been liaising closely with feed importers and fertiliser importers. We are in constant contact in that regard. There will be challenges over the next period. It is steady at present, particularly as regards feed over the next period. There are challenges relating to fertiliser in that it is not as available as it was, but I am hopeful that will reach a balance and a level. All the wholesalers and retailers are working closely with their customers and individual farmers to ensure supply. I will certainly continue to work with all in the sector to support them in the time ahead.

I referred to the European scheme. Capacity has been available in the past week through exceptional aid. Some €15 million has been made available from European central finances, which we can co-fund to provide support. I am looking to see how we can use that to best support various sectors as we work through this year.

Has there been engagement outside Europe with, for instance, the US regarding feed or fertiliser supply? For example, I heard recently of a boat being loaded in Ukraine to bring 35,000 tonnes of grain into Ireland. The loading of that boat stopped, which has created a significant vacuum. Have alternative places been considered from where we can get grain and fertiliser?

All importers have been working very hard to try to secure supplies. They have been assessing all potential markets to source their supplies. They draw supplies from around the world at different times. Supply chains have obviously been disrupted by what has happened but suppliers are working very hard to see where that security of supply will come from in the months ahead. That is the case across feed and, in particular, fertiliser.

Energy is also being closely monitored by the relevant Minister. Certainly, agriculture is always prioritised. I am confident supply is there for the time ahead but, again, it is something the Government is closely monitoring.

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