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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 26 May 2022

Vol. 1022 No. 7

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Fodder Crisis

Cathal Crowe


122. Deputy Cathal Crowe asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the measures that his Department is taking in conjunction with the relevant agencies to put adequate supports in place for the farming and livestock sector to ensure sufficient fodder supplies and prevent a fodder crisis in the coming winter months. [26521/22]

What strategies and policies has the Department put in place to avert a fodder crisis this winter?

I thank Deputy Crowe for raising this issue. I also thank him for his advocacy in regard to the challenges facing farmers as a result of cost pressures, in particular his advocacy and representations on putting a scheme in place to support Clare farmers and farmers nationally in regard to growing fodder and preparing for the winter ahead.

As he will be aware, shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I met with the main farm organisations and Teagasc on 8 March 2022 to discuss the impact of that illegal invasion on agriculture and supply chains. Following on from that meeting, I established the National Fodder and Food Security Committee and tasked it with preparing an industry response to the emerging crisis.

Following the first meeting of the committee, Teagasc issued advice to farmers on how to manage their farms during the current grass growing season, with a view to securing sufficient fodder for next winter. The committee, which encompasses all of the main farming organisations, has continued to monitor the situation, led by Professor Frank O'Mara and his team at Teagasc and under the chairmanship of Mark McGann. The advice it has given relates to applying sufficient fertiliser and how to minimise the cost impact while maximising grass output.

On 22 March, I announced a targeted intervention package, amounting to €12 million in funding, framed around three pillars to support Irish farming families. The tillage incentive scheme is a key anchor support mechanism of the package, delivering €400 per hectare for each additional hectare. The package also includes support for the sowing of multispecies sward and red clover silage. Subsequent to that, with the support of my Cabinet colleagues, I introduced a €1,000 support scheme for farmers to help to cover the cost of making silage or hay this year.

My key message to farmers is to make sure they maximise their capacity to grow grass and save silage and hay this year. Fortunately, it has been a good growing year so far. We must maximise that potential to ensure we are secure for next winter and spring. The €1,000 provision we are bringing to the table to support farmers in doing that came about in response to the representations from Deputy Cathal Crowe and many other Deputies. It is an important support. We must all work together to support our agrifood sector and farm families over the year ahead.

I thank the Minister. The €55 million silage scheme he has introduced is a positive development that will put money back in the pockets of farmers. It is also good to see the establishment of the national fodder and food security committee. Year on year, the farming organisations have only been brought to the table at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine when a crisis is unfolding. That is not good enough. Research undertaken by University College Cork last winter suggests fodder crises may become an annual event. We need to factor that into our approach.

There are many variables that are putting huge pressures on farmers, including the cost of fertiliser. Figures released last week indicate that the purchase of fertiliser is already down by some 15% this year. The soils are warming up and the rain is falling but the ground is not fertilised. What I have seen increasingly in Clare and other counties in the west, where the land is heavy and it is wet for much of the year, is that farmers are bringing the cattle into the slatted shed later into October, or sometimes even in early November, and letting them out sooner the following year. The grass is not having a chance to grow. All of that, cumulatively, will have a huge impact when we get to the winter period and people are trying to hold on to bales.

I recognise the efforts farmers are making and the response they are showing. Costs, including fertiliser costs, certainly have gone up and there are other challenges too. Farmers are recognising the absolute importance of growing grass. We also are seeing them take on board the advice from Teagasc in regard to the efficient use of organic manure. We have a lot of latent potential in this country in terms of how we use slurry. We are seeing a real step change this year in terms of its efficient use. It has never been more valuable and it should never be wasted. It must be used really efficiently and we are seeing progress in that regard.

The €1,000 provision will be an important scheme to support farmers. Again, my message to them is that it will be paid at the end of the year after the work is done. If farmers grow the silage and hay, they will be paid up to €1,000, at €100 per hectare. It is an important initiative. Given the challenges we have had over the past decade, with fodder shortages in two or three of those years, it is essential that we have all hands on deck. We need a wartime response over the coming months, because that is the extent of the challenge, to ensure we have the silage pits and hay barns full going into the winter ahead.

While the national silage scheme is welcome, there is an elephant in the room in that dairy farmers have been omitted from it. They are again asking whether they will be considered for inclusion. We are heading into late May and the silage season is upon us. Dairy farmers will see their beef counterparts receiving €100 per hectare, up to a maximum of 10 ha. It is a positive intervention but there are many farmers losing out.

The multispecies sward initiative the Minister announced in March really did not have much of an impact in the west of Ireland. I do not know anyone in Clare who ploughed and put seeds into the ground. They are still dealing with the old meadow grass, which has its limitations. When I go home to Clare this evening, our cattle will be out on mountain commonage because we are trying to save what precious grass we have. We are hoping to get more meadows out this year than we typically would have done. The winters are getting longer, climate change definitely is upon us and the cost of all the variables, such as agrifuel and fertilisers, has gone up. We need to know today whether the Minister will consider bringing dairy farmers into the scheme. Its scope should be broadened and made more flexible as we head through the summer period.

I am glad Deputy Cathal Crowe showed up to ask this question because my Question No. 147 is similar. There is a convention whereby Departments group similar questions together, but that was not done in this instance. I hope it is not an attempt by the Minister's staff to avoid scrutiny of him.

Deputy McNamara should speak to the question.

It would be unfortunate if that were the case.

I show up every day.

However, if he did not - and some colleagues do not - then I would not be able to get to my feet to address the issue.

It is important for me to say that.

I listened to what the Minister had to say. He has a lot of nice words about committees and discussions. In essence, however, what he is saying to farmers is, "Live, horse, and you will get grass". He talked about a wartime response. What he is doing is not a wartime response. There are people on committees discussing this problem who have got more, even if just a cup of tea, than farmers have got up to now to combat the crisis in fertiliser costs. Given that farmers are taking fertiliser on credit, that cost will inevitably be passed on to consumers next year. Food prices are going to rocket and we will see division between farmers who are passing on a legitimate cost - they have no alternative because the Government has not helped them - and consumers who are paying an awful lot more for food than they can afford.

I join colleagues in asking whether the Minister will consider including dairy farmers in the scheme to which he referred. Will he give us an idea as to what the subscription to the scheme will be or what the take-up is at the moment? Has he any estimate of how many applicants there will be?

I thank the Deputies for their questions. The Ministers of State, Deputy Heydon and Senator Hackett, and I have been very proactive as a team in working with the farming organisations to address the challenges that are there and to ensure we make the preparations now in order to be secure next April and May. I brought all the farmer representatives together immediately after the invasion of Ukraine, recognising the challenges that would arise from it and the need to act now. We must do the work in these coming months that will leave us secure next year.

Alongside that, I have put in place a number of schemes to support farmers in carrying out the work. We have given a clear commitment to farmers that they will get €1,000 towards the cost of making hay and silage this year. Deputy Cathal Crowe asked me about dairy farmers, a point that Deputy Stanton has raised with me previously. We gave their inclusion great and careful consideration and took on board the advice and evidence we were given. The assessment from Teagasc is that the activity on dairy farms is very strong and the farmers are making the silage as usual.

Has the Minister done anything about EU import tariffs?

This time last year, the price of milk was 35 cent a litre.

Thank you, Minister. We are over time.

Today, it is 50 cent a litre and the cost of production has gone up by an estimated 7 cent in the meantime. Therefore, the costs are being more than covered by the prices being made. Indeed, the estimate is that profitability will be very strong on dairy farms this year.

This particular issue is not about covering all sectors. It is about growing grass and making sure agriculture, as a sector, is secure. That is why we are targeting the available funding at the beef and sheep sectors, which, as the evidence is showing, need that support to generate the activity to make the whole sector secure.

Climate Change Policy

David Stanton


123. Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will report on the measures being taken by his Department to assist farmers in contributing to the national effort to reduce climate-based emissions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26636/22]

This question relates to the role farmers can play in reducing climate-based emissions. What supports is the Department making available to help them in this regard? Farmers are often demonised but they really want to play their part and are anxious to do so. They need help, support and guidance in that.

I thank the Deputy for his question. As he is aware, the agriculture sector is required to reduce emissions by between 22% to 30% by 2030, based on a 2018 baseline of 23 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent. This is a challenging target for the sector, but it is one that also will present opportunities for farmers. Our farm families are committed to taking a leadership role in meeting our overall climate ambitions and have shown their willingness to do so. Indeed, it is as much in the interest of farmers as anyone else to do so, if not more so, because no sector of the economy will be more exposed to climate change in the years ahead than agriculture, given our dependence on the weather to be able to produce food. There will be an even bigger challenge in this regard in other parts of the world that are also facing serious difficulties.

The Teagasc marginal abatement cost curve was the original source of information on how to move forward and it has been built upon by both the Ag Climatise roadmap and the climate action plan of 2021.

I recently established a Food Vision 2030 dairy group to set out specific actions on how emissions reduction in the dairy sector will be achieved. A beef and sheep subgroup with a similar objective will soon be established under the chairmanship of Professor Thia Hennessy.

The advisory services both within Teagasc and the private farming consulting network are working closely with farmers to advise them of the transition necessary on their farms. Teagasc has established a network of model farms under its signpost programme. These farms are considered best in class when it comes to climate-smart agriculture, supporting peer-to-peer learning between farmers.

One of the most important actions farmers can take is to reduce their dependence on chemical nitrogen. I have put in place additional supports this year to encourage farmers to transition to clover and multispecies swards. There is real potential in that and I think we will see a significant movement towards that in the years ahead. This year has brought home the importance of insulating ourselves from the cost challenges of chemical fertiliser while also reducing emissions and enhancing sustainability at farm level.

I thank the Minister for his response. I wish to raise two issues. I ask him to comment on the Meth-Abate project whereby methane is set to be reduced by the addition of seaweed additives. I ask him for his views on its effectiveness and potential. What is his Department doing to support research in this area?

The last time we were here, I spoke about the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS, grant. It is not possible for farmers who use TAMS money to put up solar panels to sell the electricity back to the grid. If I recall correctly, I think the Minister agreed that this was an anomaly that needed to be looked at. Has any progress been made in this area? Would the Minister agree that if this were changed it would encourage more farmers to install more solar panels on their sheds and generate electricity, thereby indirectly reducing emissions? I also ask the Minister to talk about the planning restrictions preventing farmers from putting solar panels on sheds.

There is great potential for the use of feed additives to reduce methane. Seaweed is one of the options that can deliver on that. Other products are also coming on the market. Teagasc has carried out tests to assess how that would work in an Irish situation. The assessment suggests it can deliver a reduction of approximately 30% in methane, which is quite exciting and offers considerable potential. However, we would need to verify that. Following the research, we will be looking to utilise that and maximise the capacity to deliver.

Under the Common Agricultural Policy, TAMS-funded solar-generated power can only be for own-farm use. My team is engaging with the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications regarding its new feed-in tariff to ensure we have the supports in place so that it joins up. We want to encourage the great potential farmers have to contribute to energy production and be rewarded for that. We are continuing to work to prepare a package on that.

I thank the Minister for that. I understand in some instances methane reductions of 67% have been observed. The Minister is right in what he is saying and I encourage his Department to move on that one.

I again ask the Minister to comment on the planning restrictions with respect to solar panels on farm buildings. In some countries such restrictions do not exist and people can simply install solar panels on buildings and they also get paid for the electricity that comes back on to the grid.

I know the Deputy has been advocating for farmers to maximise the potential to produce energy in the years ahead as has the Government. Regarding the joined-up thinking that will be required to drive progress on this, we are engaged on a cross-Department basis to ensure the systems talk to one another so that it ultimately works at farm level. We need to support farmers to put the infrastructure in place. We need to ensure the planning capacity is there so that it can be done easily in practical ways. There should be rewards for farmers so that they can be paid for it. There is great potential for this and we are engaging to ensure it happens. We will see significant progress on it in the next year.

Common Agricultural Policy

Matt Carthy


124. Deputy Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his response to the request of the European Commission to strengthen the application of the partnership principle with regard to the next CAP; if he intends to re-engage farm stakeholders with regard to a revised CAP strategic plan; and if he intends to bring a revised CAP strategic plan before Dáil Éireann for debate. [26960/22]

What does the Minister plan to do to strengthen the application of the partnership principle with regard to the next CAP? Further to the correspondence he received from the European Commission does he intend to re-engage with stakeholders? Will he ensure we have a collaborative approach to Ireland's implementation of the next Common Agricultural Policy?

It has always been my policy to conform to the highest standards when it comes to stakeholder and public consultation. I believe farmer engagement, through farm organisations as well as directly with farmers in my tour of the mart network last year, was really important in framing this CAP programme and the CAP strategic plan I submitted to Brussels.

This has been the case in the development of our CAP strategic plan, despite the difficulties posed by Covid-19 restrictions. I thank the many farmers in every county that I visited for their input. As we know there are many different views and it was really important to hear them all to ensure we could have as balanced a CAP proposal as possible.

The approach to consultation has been informed by three key principles: that there should be genuine engagement, that it should be targeted and easily accessible to those with a clear interest in the policy and that systematic efforts were made to ensure that all parties had an opportunity to take part at all stages of the policy process.

Consultation was carried out over the entire course of the plan’s development, including on the drafting of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, SWOT, analysis in summer 2019; the scoping report for the environmental assessment in spring 2021; the proposed interventions in August and September 2021; and the draft plan and strategic environmental assessment which concluded on 8 December 2021.

Consultation is still ongoing through the CAP consultative committee, which has met on 30 occasions since its establishment in May 2019. That encompasses all key farm representatives and key stakeholders in the sector.

My ministerial colleagues and I also consulted with a wide range of stakeholders, including through a series of in-person meetings in autumn 2021. The response has come back from the European Union and we believe we have submitted a strong and balanced CAP plan. We will be responding to the Commission's letter to us outlining the merits of the proposal we have. It is our objective to get approval for that and be ready to have all the schemes kicking off from January 2023.

That the consultation process on the CAP strategic plan was disappointing. Essentially stakeholders were invited to make submissions and that was it. Online public meetings were organised in a very unsatisfactory manner, with no ability for people to engage directly. While the mart meetings the Minister mentioned were still continuing, the strategic plans had all but been drafted. We need to be honest about that.

Am I correct that the Minister said that he plans to respond to the European Commission essentially making the case for the strategic plan as it is and that he has no plan to make any further amendments? The House deserves clarity on that important point.

We put a massive effort into engaging and consulting. We never previously had such extensive consultation. There were many different views and I believe we reached a balanced and strong CAP plan. The mart meetings were very important. It had not been finalised at that stage; it fed into the finalisation of it. I visited 26 counties as part of that. We had a great engagement with the farmers who came along and contributed. There was great engagement from Oireachtas Members across all parties except the Deputy's. None of the county meetings I held had a Sinn Féin Oireachtas Member present. Many farmers, farm families and all the farming organisations were represented. Not once did a Sinn Féin Oireachtas Member turn up to those marts. At the very body where farm families come together to engage and discuss, the Deputy's party was entirely absent. I will not take any gyp from him on the consultation process.

The engagement now is with the Commission and it is important we have approval in place as soon as we can so that we can get these schemes up and running.

The Minister is at it again. He is playing games and trying to twist and spin things. It is beneath his office, I must say. The Minister has a very important job of work, that is, to ensure we have a Common Agricultural Policy that actually protects Irish agriculture for generations to come at a time when the industry is facing many challenges. The place of Oireachtas Members is not at marts and taking up speaking time that was made available to farmers in what was a limited consultation process. The place for Oireachtas Members to do their jobs is in this House, the Seanad and at meetings of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine that relate to this topic. The Minister was asked on several occasions to bring the CAP strategic plan before this House for approval. He refused to do so. He would not allow the type of scrutiny, consultation and collaboration that would have ensured he did not get a stinging rebuke from the European Commission. Had he done so, we would now have a CAP we could all be championing. This CAP will be having an impact long after the Minister is gone. It is not about him, his personal views or his play-acting. This is about Irish farming and the future of Irish agriculture. It is time for the Minister to get real. It is time to start engaging with us, as elected Members of this House, in a collaborative way so we can have a CAP we all support, which we all buy into and which will serve Irish farming into the next generation.

I thank the Deputy. The consultation process was done in a depth that was never done before. There has been immense opportunity for the Deputy's party and other parties to feed into that through the consultation process.

We did so and the Minister should put that on the record.

Sinn Féin did engage in the written consultation process. The Deputy would not get what was important and valuable in the process because he did not show up to any of the marts to listen to the farmers who were sharing their views. Some of those meetings lasted for three or four hours. The engagement and feedback were phenomenal. There were many different perspectives and varying views. That was important for framing the CAP and ensuring farmers were at the centre of it.

It is ultimately the role of Government to put together the CAP strategic plan and to submit it to Europe. It is important that we put farmers at the centre of it and that is absolutely what I did. If the Deputy would like to engage through the agriculture committee, through which there were many engagements, or otherwise, I am happy to discuss the CAP in more detail and in any way he would like. However, it is ultimately the responsibility of the Government to submit the strategic plan.

The European Commission saw the plans before the elected Members of this House. That is a scandal.

The real and detailed engagement with the plan does not happen through a to and fro on the floor of the Dáil. It happens by getting down and engaging directly with the farming community it impacts. That is the approach we have taken and that is why I believe this CAP strategic plan is balanced and will serve farming well for the years ahead.

Farm Costs

Peadar Tóibín


125. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if his Department is monitoring the increase in the cost of fertiliser; and if so, if he will detail the percentage increase in the cost of fertiliser over the past three years. [26209/22]

The increase in the cost of fertiliser is hammering farmers across the country at the moment. According to the Central Statistics Office, CSO, there has been a 130% increase in the space of just two years in the cost of farm fertiliser. Farmers are also being hammered by energy prices, which have gone up by 30%, while feed prices have gone up by 20%. The input costs for farming are increasing at an alarming rate while the output cost, the cost of the product, is not going up at the same rate. What will the Government do to help farmers?

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. It is proposed as part of Ireland's draft CAP strategic plan, which is currently with the European Commission for approval, that there will be two approaches within the EU agri-environment climate measure, AECM. The first approach will be an environmental approach that offers a range of actions that individual farmers may undertake. The second approach will be a co-operative project approach, available to farmers in defined, high-priority geographical areas where a successful applicant will undertake bespoke farm, landscape and catchment measures, and may also be able to select from a general suite of actions under the AECM. Farmers participating in this approach will have the assistance of a local co-operation project team who will assist with implementation of the scheme at local level.

The proposed new AECM will contain both results-based elements, that is, a participant’s payment will be based on achieving measurable results, and prescription-based actions. Prescription-based action was the payment model for previous agri-environment schemes, such as the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, which is just completing. The inclusion of results-based actions will assist in ensuring that farmers will be paid for the results they achieve.

For the results-based actions, the environmental health or condition of the habitat is scored using a range of indicators-----

The Minister is reading the wrong reply. This is Question No. 125 in the name of Deputy Tóibín.

My question relates to farm fertiliser.

I have the correct reply here, if it is helpful to the Minister.

I apologise to Deputy Tóibín. The current situation around the cost and availability of farm inputs remains a significant concern. The impact the invasion of Ukraine is having on our farm families has been the number one priority the Department in recent months. It will continue to be prioritised.

Fertiliser prices have increased significantly over the past 12 months and, unfortunately, there is no sign of an easing of prices in the short to medium term. Prices are being driven by a number of factors, including global demand, energy prices and availability. Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine has led to significant hikes in energy prices and significant concerns around supply chain disruption. This is being felt at farm level and is something of which that I am acutely aware, as we have discussed.

In general terms, using the CSO fertiliser price index and taking calcium ammonium nitrate, CAN, as a representative product, there has been an average increase of 321% in the price of these fertilisers from March 2020 to March 2022. Overall, CSO data highlight that the general price of fertilisers has increased 149% in the past 12 months.

As the Deputy knows, one of the key responses I have introduced to try to help mitigate that challenge is the €1,000 fodder support scheme. It is obviously important that we continue to maximise our capacity to grow grass in this country. Therefore, the Government is working closely with farmers to support them. We cannot mitigate the effects of all of the costs but we are certainly working in partnership with farmers to back them over the months ahead.

I was waiting for the word "fertiliser" to appear in the Minister's reply. Thankfully, we are there now. It is important to focus on what is happening in farming at the moment. Teagasc has detailed that there are major difficulties in the farming community at the moment. Only one third of farmers are currently making a living from farms. Another one third of farmers are only making a living because somebody in the household is working off the farm as a teacher or a nurse, or is working in a shop. A full one third of farmers in this State are making a loss or going into poverty or debt. Farmers are already in big trouble.

The costs of fertiliser, feed and fuel are going through the roof. The inflation farmers face today is the inflation everyone else will face tomorrow. We have a cost-of-living crisis and the cost of foodstuffs will increase as long as the input costs in farming are increasing. We are calling on the Government to subsidise the cost of fertiliser to farmers and directly reduce the cost to them.

That is the objective behind the fodder support scheme I have introduced, which is paying €100 per hectare, up to a maximum of €1,000 for 10 ha. That is intended to support farmers with the cost challenges involved in growing silage and saving hay this year. We, as a Government, very much recognise the difficulties at this time. The cost of fertiliser, in particular, has impacted farmers. The additional cost pressures for contractors also have an impact. That €1,000 will be a real help to farm families in meeting the challenge of growing silage and hay over the course of this summer.

Thankfully, we have had a good growing season so far. We must recognise the challenges we have and that they are the result of the war on European soil for the first time in a generation. We must also recognise that we cannot take things for granted in the coming winter and spring in a way we would have in the past. We must ensure our silage pits and hay barns are full. We must also ensure we are prepared to continue to produce food next winter and spring. As a Government, we stand alongside farmers and will work to support them to meet that challenge. I recognise the work farmers are doing in stepping up to the mark and thank them for it.

I welcome the fact that the Government has made an effort to start to meet some of the costs with which farmers are dealing.

However, from what I am hearing from farmers, it is not enough. We had a debate in this Chamber about a week ago on the issue of food security which is a significant concern at the moment. Food supply chains are tightening in this State and internationally. In fact, in some parts of the world, including countries in the west like Britain, certain staple foods are being rationed. In Britain, for example, supermarkets are reducing the amount of sunflower oil that individual customers can buy.

We need to make sure we grow the Irish agricultural sector. Every year farmers leave the farming sector. Every year young farmers make an assessment of whether there is a living to be made from farming and many decide that there is not. As a result, we have fewer farmers every single year. I call on the Minister to make sure there is proper investment and proper subsidies are available to farmers because €100 per hectare is not enough.

I raised this issue with the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste earlier in the year and they said that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine was meeting EU agriculture ministers and would be able to detail what was happening afterwards. When the Minister met the EU agriculture ministers, did he call for a reduction in or the abolition of EU import tariffs on fertiliser? I appreciate that is not something he can do unilaterally but it is something the EU agriculture ministers can do if they put their minds to it. Did he call for that and is it going to happen?

The Minister talked about incentives to ensure there are full sheds of hay and pits of silage at the end of the year but there is an obstacle to that which the Minister can deal with unilaterally. Farmers with low-input permanent pasture cannot cut hay and silage if they are in GLAS. The Minister is trying to incentivise them to do so but they cannot. Will they, on a temporary basis for this year or for as long as this fertiliser crisis lasts, be allowed to cut silage? Likewise, traditional hay meadows can only be cut once because cutting can only take place after a certain deadline. Will that deadline be brought forward to allow for a second cut this year? These are matters the Minister can deal with unilaterally.

To take Deputy McNamara's points first, I want to ensure that farmers are getting an income from those schemes. It is important that the conditions of the schemes are met in order to make sure that the income is available. If we can ensure that farmers do what they normally do and grow grass as well as they normally do, using the land that they have, we will be in a good position next year. That is why I have come forward with a cost support to help farmers in making hay and silage. We all know that by next March or April we will not be able to grow grass or do much in relation to fodder here. As Minister, I will not be able to import fodder as I might have done in previous years. We do not have that safety valve. We also cannot be sure that we will have the safety valve of increasing the grain fed to cattle to mitigate a fodder shortage because we cannot be sure that there will be an adequate supply of grain available. What we can do is work now to grow grass, silage and hay. That is why the Department and my ministerial colleagues and I are working with farmers to back them in preparing for next winter and spring by putting the fodder scheme in place. My message to farmers is to continue doing what they are doing, in terms of really stepping up. It is very important that we recognise that now is the time to act to prevent challenges arising next winter and spring.

What about lifting the tariffs?

I have asked for that. It is disappointing that we have not had action on it yet but I have been asking for it.

Agriculture Schemes

Willie O'Dea


126. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the targeted measures that will be included in the new agri-environment scheme under CAP to ensure that farmers are rewarded for results that help to tackle the biodiversity crisis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26937/22]

What targeted measures will be included in the new agri-environment scheme under CAP to ensure that farmers are rewarded for results that help to tackle the biodiversity crisis?

I thank Deputy O'Sullivan for raising this issue.

It is proposed, as part of Ireland’s draft CAP strategic plan which is currently with the European Commission for approval, that there will be two approaches within the new agri-environment scheme. As I outlined earlier, there will be standard or general agri-environment climate measures, AECM, involving a range of actions that individual farmers may undertake and a co-operative project approach, whereby farmers in defined high priority geographical areas will be able to work together. Under the latter approach, successful applicants will undertake bespoke farm, landscape and catchment measures and may also be able to select from the AECM general suite of actions. Farmers participating in this approach will have the assistance of a local co-operation project team which will assist with implementation of the scheme at local level and work with farmers to ensure the landscape and co-operative measures are undertaken in a way that contributes significantly to our environmental objectives.

The proposed new AECM will contain both results-based elements as well as prescription-based actions which are similar to the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS. The inclusion of results-based actions will assist in ensuring that farmers will be paid for the results they achieve. For the results-based actions, the environmental health or condition of the habitat is scored using a range of indicators to assess biodiversity, climate, water quality and soil aspects to estimate the environmental services provided. The higher the environmental health of a field, the higher its score and consequently the more the farmer will be rewarded for his or her time, effort and management of it.

The AECM general approach has been designed to enable all participating farm types to improve their biodiversity levels by ensuring the provision of winter food, nesting and chick rearing habitat for farmland birds, and resources for pollinators through a range of proposed actions.

I thank the Minister for his response. I have consistently said that the upcoming agri-environment scheme is going to be one of the key measures in tackling biodiversity loss and turning that tide. The Minister gave a good outline of the scheme and its fundamentals are good, particularly the eight co-operation areas. It is so important that within those co-operation areas there are targeted schemes for bespoke measures that will specifically tackle declining populations of wading birds and farmland birds.

There are enormous opportunities with the so-called menu A measures for those farms that are not within the co-operation areas. Farmers, many of whom are GLAS participants, may be able to avail of the menu A measures, including tree and hedgerow planting, mixed species sward planting and so on. Where there is evidence of breeding wading species like red shank, snipe, curlew, dunlin, and so on, farmers should be able to avail of an extra payment for those targeted measures. That is key and will mean fantastic results for the farmer and for biodiversity.

Co-operation and collaboration between farmers is needed to deliver the results we want and we now have a mechanism to enable that to happen. Over the last two or three decades, there has been a decline in biodiversity, not just in Ireland but across the world, and a biodiversity crisis has emerged. This is something we have to take really seriously and to reverse and this scheme is crucial to that. There are measures that can be taken, with farmers working together to support different bird species and habitats and it is crucial that we use this scheme to deliver on that. That is why we have increased the funding for this scheme by 50% relative to the previous one. We are now able to pay up to €10,000 for co-operative measures and up to €7,000 for the individual measures.

Again, I thank Deputy O'Sullivan for raising this matter. It is important that we all work to get this right because it can deliver a really positive outcome.

I agree with the Minister that it is important to get this right. In terms of the eight co-operation areas and the menu B items, I have been studying the maps and there is some really exciting potential there. The one most relevant to me is the Cork Kerry co-operation area which takes in parts of Kerry and large parts of west Cork. Having studied the maps, however, a very obvious omission in that area is the Mizen peninsula. The Beara Peninsula is included, as is the Sheep's Head Peninsula which is right next to the Mizen Peninsula, but none of Mizen is included. As someone who knows the area extremely well from the point of view of biodiversity and breeding birds, I would argue that the exclusion of Mizen must be reviewed. There are some high-value biodiversity areas there and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, data tell us that. I think this was a desktop exercise that has led to the omission of Mizen Head. I ask that this be changed. It would only lead to the inclusion of between 50 and 100 additional farmers. I ask the Minister to review the west Cork and Kerry co-operation area.

I thank Deputy O'Sullivan for raising this point. If he provides further details and data on it, I will certainly have it considered and assessed.

The Department has worked with the National Parks and Wildlife Service using the available evidence, intelligence and data to identify the areas where co-operative projects would work and deliver results and where collaboration is needed. In those areas where it is needed, we must ensure it is applied and we work together. I will certainly ensure that any additional information is assessed. It is key that we use the environmental scheme to reduce emissions and support the environment, while seeking to reverse biodiversity decline and maintain our wildlife and bird life. We must bring farmers together at a landscape level to put in place measures to support that and deliver results. I am happy to engage further on that.

Farm Costs

Brendan Griffin


127. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the ongoing impacts of the war in Ukraine on Irish agriculture; the latest Government actions to mitigate negative impacts on Irish farmers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26908/22]

My question relates to the war in Ukraine and the impacts it is having on Irish agriculture. Will the Minister discuss what is being done to try to assist Irish farmers at this very difficult time?

In the context of the Ukrainian crisis, significant implications are being seen across all sectors, particularly the agrifood sector. I assure the Deputy that the illegal invasion of Ukraine and its impacts on our farm families continue to be the number one priority for me and the Department since the invasion occurred.

At farm level, the crisis has been impacting significantly on the price of fertiliser and animal feed, as we have discussed. Following a strong year for farm family income in 2021, Teagasc has forecast that a decline in 2022 is now likely as output price increases have, until recently, been failing to offset the rise in production costs. Significantly higher production costs will be a feature across all sectors this year, with higher fertiliser, feed and fuel prices. The current market outlook for output prices is uncertain. We cannot be sure of it but upward pressure has been seen. There is no guarantee that this will cover the additional input costs.

The Deputy will be aware that I have set up a rapid response team in the Department and, at national level, the national fodder and food security committee under the chairmanship of Mr. Mike Magan. Under the leadership of Dr. Frank O'Mara and the Teagasc team, the committee is working very closely with farm organisation representatives to manage the challenges in this area.

With regard to supporting farm families, we have introduced a number of packages. We provided €12 million to incentivise increased tillage and grain production, which is very important. Working with the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, we are providing €3 million in support for the horticulture sector. Working closely with the Minister of State, Deputy Martin Heydon, who is chair of the pig roundtable on this issue, we have introduced €20 million to support the pig sector at a time when it is under massive pressure. More recently, the fodder incentive scheme was introduced to incentivise Irish families to do what we do tremendously well, namely, to grow grass, while recognising this is costing more this year and to support farmers with that cost challenge.

I thank the Minister and I appreciate the efforts that have been made to date. They are all very helpful and make a difference on the ground for individual farmers and farm families. I encourage the Minister to keep trying to do more and find more resources to assist our farming communities. The situation for farmers is akin to the situation for the tourism and hospitality sector during Covid-19. They face a major challenge and there has been an enormous increase in production costs.

I raise the particular case of farmers in milk production who are on fixed-price contracts, especially in the north Kerry area. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Heydon, for meeting yesterday with some councillors and farmers in Moyvane, County Kerry, and the north Cork area. They are having serious difficulties because of huge production costs. I call out Ornua, which will not engage in the process. These farmers are suffering and need help.

I am aware that Deputy Griffin has advocated strongly on this issue. On the need to support farmers with costs, the €1,000 we have provided for fodder production costs over the summer will be important in that regard. We did not apply that payment to the dairy sector in general because, thankfully, we are seeing record prices for milk. Teagasc figures will show that the increase in the milk price is exceeding the increase in costs. As such, profits should be strong and the evidence show that activity at farm level in saving fodder has also been strong.

There is a challenge facing those on fixed-price milk contracts. The Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine has considered this matter. It is very important that the co-operatives also give it serious consideration. A number of them have moved to provide some support to those on fixed-price milk contracts. I encourage them to consider the issue further because undoubtedly there is considerable pressure on those locked into fixed-price milk contracts, despite the very strong prices in the general market.

It is welcome that milk prices are rising, but those who are locked in to prices face an enormous challenge. The stress and fear these people are facing are very worrying. I again call out Ornua. It is my understanding that the company was asked to appear before the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine and has not yet agreed to do so. That is unacceptable at this point. This issue is causing enormous stress and worry. The Minister of State, Deputy Heydon, listened to the farmers yesterday. I thank him for his time and effort. He saw at first-hand the huge impact this is having and the massive amounts of money involved. I acknowledge those companies that have done the right thing in the circumstances, but they all need to do that.

There is a very important role for milk contracts, including fixed-price milk contracts going forward. In general, these contracts provide support for farmers given the fluctuations in markets. It is also important that there are safeguards in place for farmers around that. Lessons need to be learned from the experience in that regard in recent months. It is a matter for the co-operatives and the processors, working with Ornua, to assess. A number of the co-operatives have examined the matter and delivered increased prices for the farmers in question. This is a difficult and challenging issue. Nobody predicted the unprecedented increase in costs over the past while or the increase in milk prices that has occurred at the same time. Farmers in fixed-price milk contracts are not able to avail of the higher prices but they are certainly subject to the higher costs. That is a very difficult situation to be in. It is important, therefore, that the processors and industry work together to see how they can support these farmers in the time ahead. We also need to learn the lessons in order that we future-proof this option in a way that safeguards farmers. The Minister of State, Deputy Heydon, has engaged closely with Deputy Griffin on this matter.

As we are running out of time, I ask Deputy Leddin to skip the introduction to the next question and we will try to get a reply from the Minister followed by a response from the Deputy.

Common Agricultural Policy

Steven Matthews


128. Deputy Steven Matthews asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will provide a detailed breakdown of the way he intends to bridge the gap identified by the European Commission between the greenhouse gas reduction targets for agriculture in the Climate Action Plan 2021 and the measures identified in the draft CAP strategic plan; the way the bridging of that gap will be funded; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26629/22]

The European Commission has identified a gap between the CAP strategic plan and the climate action plan vis-à-vis the targets. Will the Minister identify how he plans to bridge that gap and how we will reach the target of achieving a reduction of 1.2 megatonnes in emissions, as identified by the European Commission under the CAP strategic plan? I want to hear about the measures and how the Minister intends to fund those measures.

As highlighted previously, the Climate Action Plan 2021 sets very ambitious and challenging targets for the agriculture and land use sector in reducing emissions as a key contribution to the overall economy-wide 51% target by 2030. My policy approach to achieving our climate targets in the agriculture, land use and forestry sectors centres on four different drivers of change.

The first driver is through public supports and incentives including the new Common Agricultural Policy strategic plan for 2023-2027, which contains a range of new measures to drive behavioural change at farm level, for example, through strengthened conditionality; a new eco-scheme; an ambitious new Pillar 2 environmental scheme; and a significantly enhanced organic farming scheme, underpinned by extensive training of farmers and advisers and a fivefold increase in funding for organic farming.

The second driver is through regulation and focusing on reducing nitrogen allowances, the mandatory use of low emission manure technology and the use of nitrogen-fixing clover. The third driver is through market and private industry incentives, where industry will play a significant role in driving on farm change. The fourth driver for this change will be through new technologies, innovation and diversification opportunities that can deliver significant emissions reductions.

Industry incentives will also be needed to ensure they are fully adopted at farm level.

This includes innovations such as feed additives, income diversification into areas such as anaerobic digestion and the development of carbon farming models. As I have repeatedly indicated, and as is acknowledged in the Climate Action Plan 2021, a whole-of-government, whole-of-industry approach will be needed to achieve our overall climate objectives as the CAP strategic plan alone will not be able to deliver on all the changes required. By working together, I am confident in the sector's ability to achieve its climate targets without compromising food production. We are a sustainable food producing nation and we want to ensure the work we are doing does not compromise our status. Our farm families are already sustainable and we must work to future-proof the sector for the next generation and beyond.

I want to pick up on the point about regulation with respect to nitrogen. We regulate nitrogen primarily to protect our rivers. Is the Minister looking at regulating nitrogen to reduce greenhouse gases as well? It is important to put that on the record of the House.

The Minister did not talk about rewetting peatlands. The CAP strategic plan identifies 40,000 ha of peatlands and the climate action plan 80,000 ha, but there are 300,000 ha of emitting peaty soils in the country. The CAP strategic plan is worth €2 billion a year. We need to direct that €2 billion to supporting farmers and providing environmental benefits. It is remiss of us that we are not sufficiently addressing the rewetting of bogs. I ask the Minister to clarify the matter of nitrogen regulation.

Water quality is essential. We have to take steps to improve it and the regulation of nitrogen and fertiliser is important in that regard. It also delivers in reducing emissions. There will be great potential over the years ahead to work towards using more clover in swards and multispecies swards, which reduces significantly the need for chemical fertiliser but is also beneficial from a food production and biodiversity point of view. Rewetting is a key part of the CAP plan, as is forestry. We will be stepping those measures out over the next number of years and they can deliver real benefits from an emissions point of view.

Is féidir teacht ar Cheisteanna Scríofa ar .
Written answers are published on the Oireachtas website.