I welcome the Minister and his officials to the meeting. This will be his first time to address the joint committee but he has been before the select committee. I formally welcome him in his current position and wish him the best of luck. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I now call on the Minister to make his opening statement.
Priority Issues: Discussion with Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
I thank the joint committee for giving me this opportunity to outline priorities for the next 12 months and beyond and hope we will have a useful discussion. A copy of my speech has been circulated to members, but rather than spending the next 20 minutes reading it, I will highlight some of the issues involved and if they have specific questions, I will go into more detail.
The priorities of my Department and the Government can be broken down into categories, the most important of which is the Common Agricultural Policy review. Tomorrow the European Commission will publish its initial report and set of recommendations on CAP reform. There will be some things in the document we will like, while there will be others about which we will feel concerned and threatened by. It will be up to me working with both Opposition and Government colleagues to make sure Ireland makes a case for amendment, where appropriate, and keep what is good in the proposals intact through the process. I expect that CAP reform will not be finalised next year and that it will be during the Irish Presidency in 2013 that a final document will be agreed and signed off on. That presents a great opportunity to Ireland to influence the final detail of the CAP, of which we all need to take advantage.
I do not want to spend too long on this because we will have an opportunity to debate the proposals made in the Dáil on Thursday following the release of the report tomorrow. Members will have an opportunity to make statements, but there will also be a 45 minute question and answer session. This is an important policy area and the Dáil and the Seanad are the appropriate places in which to debate the response to the Commission's report. I will take questions and, where possible, outline the Government's response to the Commission's proposals. Most of us who have followed the process have a fair idea of what will be contained in the document and what will cause concern for Ireland. I will give as detailed a response as I can on Thursday. We will formulate a view on some issues in the new few months, about which I will be totally up-front, and I am anxious to hear the views of members on them. From an agricultural point of view, the vast majority of members are on the same side regarding what we want to achieve under the CAP.
The budget is much more of a domestic policy issue. It is not a secret that it will be a difficult one for all Departments. Whereas agriculture is a star performer in the economy and the agrifood sector is expanding and creating wealth in the midst of recession and this needs to be encouraged, the Department still has to take a share of the burden in the cost savings necessary to reduce the deficit. I have been up-front about this since the week I took office and remain consistent. I am sure there will be intensive lobbying and that is the way it should be, but we will have to make the decisions required of us to make savings, while, at the same time, the political challenge will be to make decisions that will facilitate the agrifood sector in continuing to expand and allow the optimism and positivity that have built up in the sector to be maintained through two difficult budgets this year and next year.
The overriding principles on which I will make choices in the build-up to the budget are twofold. The first relates to facilitating the growth for which we are planning in the Food Harvest 2020 document which provides for the sustainable intensification of food production. It is about increasing the volume of food that can be produced per animal and hectare in a sustainable way from an environmental, climate change and management point of view and, in so doing, providing new opportunities for agriculture to create wealth and jobs in the agrifood sector, predominantly around exports. Anyone who has witnessed the expansion of the artisan food sector in the past 18 months, in particular, will know there are significant opportunities to achieve added value at farm level in the domestic marketplace. Ireland has approximately 46 farmhouse cheese companies which will sell more than €12.5 million worth of cheese this year, of which €5 million will be exported. They employ a few thousand people in this expanding sector.
The most significant element of the industry involves producing food for large-scale processors and food companies which are expanding their markets largely outside Ireland. Food exports will increase again this year by between 12% and 13%. Last year we sold a little under €8 billion worth of food abroad and this year we will sell just under €9 billion worth. That is partly because the price of food has increased through inflation but also because we are selling increasing volumes of product. It is also encouraging that we are exploiting and targeting new markets successfully. A number of weeks ago I visited Algeria. We sell more cheese to Algeria than any other country in the world, other than the United Kingdom, through the Irish Dairy Board. A total of €40 million worth of food will be sold to Algeria this year and most people do not even know that Ireland trades with it. The equivalent figure was €27 million two years ago.
We are also experiencing growth in European markets. Last year Germany, the largest importer of beef in Europe, our principal food export, spent €400 million in importing beef, but it only imported €7 million worth from Ireland. This presents an opportunity for growth. Ireland is the largest exporter of beef not only in the European Union but also in the northern hemisphere. There are opportunities, therefore, for growth and expansion within the Union and we hope to treble beef exports to Germany in the next three years.
Exciting opportunities are also emerging outside the European Union, particularly for the dairy industry. Many of its European markets are mature and, therefore, markets need to be established outside the Union to meet the targets set in Food Harvest 2020 to provide for the dramatic expansion of the industry post-2015. That is why north African and southern Mediterranean countries are important markets for us, as are Asian markets. In the next few months, I will visit China. Perhaps we can talk about that later, in terms of opportunity in a range of areas.
From a budgetary point of view, I want to continue to keep this extraordinary story of growth and expansion in agriculture and the business of agrifood that has resulted in such a positive atmosphere generally among the food sector. We saw that in the ploughing championships and elsewhere.
The second priority, which is equally important, is to ensure that we continue to support farmers who do not have the capacity to benefit from the growth story attached to Food Harvest 2020. By that I mean that there are many farmers in Ireland who, because of the conditions under which they farm such as the land and the size of farm, simply do not have the capacity for growth in terms of output and yield that is there in other parts of Ireland. Those farming families rely on supports coming from my Department and from the European Union. We need to ensure continuing sufficient support to keep people on the land. I am attached, emotionally and politically, to the Irish family farm structure, whether in the west, the south or the south east. I am determined, through two difficult budgets, to try to prioritise those who need supports and assistance most and who need it recognised that their land is designated for certain purposes and, therefore, they are limited in terms of what they can do from a stocking rate and farming options point of view. We must recognise those limitations in terms of supports so that we can avoid a situation where people will simply give up on the land in certain Natura areas, hillsides, commonage areas, SACs or whatever.
The twin priorities here are Food Harvest 2020 and keeping the momentum, in terms of the positive driver of the agrifood sector. I deliberately call it the agrifood sector because this is not only about agriculture and farming; it is also about processing, adding value, exporting and convenience foods. It is about the food sector that is built upon farming but it is about much more than that, and it employs approximately 200,000 people in Ireland. It is also about the political and social responsibility that my Department has to the sectors in farming that for all sorts of reasons do not have the capacity to avail of those opportunities to the same level that other regions have.
Those will be the two main priorities that will inform the decisions I take following consultation. I am talking to and meeting farming organisations on a fairly regular basis to try to get an understanding of what we can do and at the same time not damage agriculture or the food industry as a result of difficult budgetary decisions that are required.
The committee will see from the figures in my presentation that, essentially, what we are being asked to do here is reduce expenditure in the Department of Agriculture, Marine and Food from €1.647 billion to €1.286 billion, which is a significant reduction. Some of that will come from schemes that are coming to an end naturally anyway, such as the farm waste management scheme which was capital intensive and expensive and where there is a natural reduction in expenditure anyway, but that will not make the difference here. Unfortunately, there will need to be other expenditure reductions, as well as a reduction in the cost of delivering the services of my Department by doing more with, for example, fewer staff, and having a more concise approach towards how we deliver services to farmers. I am very conscious of my responsibility in that regard.
I spoke in detail about Food Harvest 2020. I want to reinforce one message. This is a document put in place by the previous Government and was one of the really good measures proposed during the previous Administration. This was predominately written by industry but it was strongly supported by Government, and we are continuing with that approach. I make it clear that this is not a document that was written 16 months ago that will remain the same for the next ten years in the hope that we will meet the targets. This is a document that changes constantly.
We published during the summer a document, called Milestones for Success, which is the ongoing measurement of Food Harvest 2020. It contains all of the proposals, targets and strategies that were in that document and how they are working - what needs to change, what does not need to change, and what are we doing on a practical level to up-skill farmers, to increase the processing capacity of processors, to find new markets outside of Ireland, and to get food companies to work with each other to jointly target new markets aboard in a way that makes business sense. It involves all sorts of things such as collaboration in research between my Department and the private sector. There is a really interesting research project on cheese happening in Moorepark that was launched a number of months ago which involves public sector funding more than matched by private sector funding to develop added value for cheese.
These all are initiatives consistent with and coming out of the Food Harvest 2020 strategy, that are being measured and the Milestones for Growth now sets targets for the new year. We will be measure and set targets on a quarterly basis to determine each quarter whether we are on the right path to delivering the growth targets in that original document, but also whether we should upgrade the targets within that document. We have already done that in the beef sector. The beef target in Food Harvest 2020 document was 20% growth in output value from the beef sector by 2020. We have already upgraded that to 40%. It has doubled because of the numbers coming in and the opportunities arising, and mainly, the increase in value of beef.
Of the initiatives outlined in my speech on measuring progress in Food Harvest 2020, one of the most exciting ones is on targeting what we determine, through the work of Bord Bia, that consumers in Europe will demand in the future, that is, the measurement of the carbon footprint of the food produced. Ireland is the first country in the world actively measuring the carbon footprint on beef farms of producing beef. We will be in a position to be able to put a label on a kilo of beef or on a steak to tell the future consumer, not only where that product comes from and all of the accompanying safety issues, but also the carbon footprint of the beast from which that beef came. We are working with 32,000 beef farmers to put in place a carbon footprint programme through the Bord Bia quality assurance scheme. We are starting to do the same for the dairy sector.
This is about trying to be ahead of the game and trying to enhance and build Ireland's reputation as a quality food producer second to none. The accreditation we have from the Carbon Trust for that carbon measuring programme is valuable in standing over the quality of beef and dairy products being exported and adds something a little special in terms of demanding higher prices. Recently, I was in Paris on this very issue talking to buyers of Irish beef about measuring the carbon footprint of beef as it is being produced and why Ireland can stand over its figures in a way that no other country in the world can do at present.
There is a series of other issues in different sectors - food generally, the dairy sector, the beef sector, the meat sector, and so on - around milestones that involve a continuing emphasis on research and development and consumer sentiment research from Bord Bia feeding into the overall policy development as it constantly rolls on as working document into which everybody buys, from farmers to processors, my Department, exporters and consumer organisations.
I will move on to a number of specific issues about which I am aware a number of the Deputies present are concerned because of questions they have asked recently. In regard to the dairy industry, about which there is currently a specific problem, and the soft landing issue, we are exploring all avenues and opportunities to try to correct a policy, which is simply not working for Ireland, around a milk soft landing approach from a European point of view. The reality is that Ireland signed up to a milk health check policy a number of years ago that was supposed to provide what is called a soft landing for milk producers between now and the end of quotas in 2015. A soft landing means that a country would basically be weaned off a quota-based system onto a new market-driven system for milk production. All the evidence indicates that the policy in place does not work for Ireland. The cost of quota is as high as it has ever been. This policy is not working in Denmark or in the Netherlands, both of which had superlevy fines applied to them last year. Ireland narrowly escaped the imposition of a fine at the end of March last year. To date this year we are considerably over quota in terms of milk production. I have repeatedly said to farmers that we do not have a political solution to allow for the flexibility to produce more milk than we have a quota to produce this year. We have not got one yet. There is a responsibility on farmers to operate within the rules which is difficult because people are planning for expansion and growth, and there is a good deal of excitement about that. They had some money to invest to prepare for that and technology is allowing them to get a much better food conversion efficiency from their animals in terms of producing more milk per animal. Many dairy farmers have had to take fairly drastic measures such as one milking per day or underfeeding their cattle deliberately to try to reduce output to stay within, or at least close to, quota. That is wrong on all sorts of levels but it is the political reality within which we are working for the moment. We are exploring ways in which we may be able to get some flexibility into our milk quota measurement system this year by examining butter fat restriction levels and flexibility in that area but we do not have agreement yet politically. Both France and, in particular, Germany have a problem with the opening up of a broad discussion on milk quota flexibility. While we are working on that, we do not have a solution yet, but if any member present has a proposal to make that he wants considered, I will happily take it on board. I am aware Deputy Moynihan has made some proposals, as have some Government Deputies, for ways in which we might be able to do that but, to date, none of those proposals has been a runner. It is important to be upfront about that. That does not mean we are giving up on it - far from it.
I have mentioned the importance of market access. Ireland has been too reliant on European and UK markets for exports. There is a strong conscious effort to try to open up markets outside the European Union. That makes sense for the Irish food industry. Members will have seen a series of new markets opening up for Irish beef and other products in recent months. Our Department is working at some level with 37 countries to try to improve market access and gain market access for new products. If there is a ban on our exports, as in the case of our beef exports to China which is a hangover from the incidence of BSE 12 or 13 years ago, we are working towards removing that ban. I am reasonably confident that many new markets will open up for Irish products but I do not want to promise too much in that area. The evidence in this respect in the past six months speaks for itself.
As regards our fishing industry, it is important not to forget that while we are negotiating the best possible deal for Ireland in a review of the Common Agricultural Policy, a review of the Common Fisheries Policy is also taking place and it will be extremely important for Ireland. In terms of the growth of food exports, seafood is one of our star performers. I noted when I visited France recently that the demand for Irish seafood in Paris restaurants and so on is higher than it has ever been. I believe we will see somewhere in the order of a 26% growth in our seafood exports to France this year. It is our biggest market for seafood exports. That is a great story that needs to be told. When commentators talk about seafood and fishing industries, they say they are dead, there is no growth in them, that we are restricted by quotas and there is nothing we can do, but there is much that we can do. We can employ more people in the seafood sector, add more value to the product here and get foreign as well as Irish trawlers to increase the tonnage of their landings into Irish ports for grading, processing, adding value and packaging, and we have been very active on that. The majority of the French fishing industry which fishes anywhere near Irish waters was invited to Clonakilty recently. Essentially, we set up speed-dating meetings between buyers of fish and fish processors in Ireland with the French industry, which in many ways is controlled by big supermarkets while also having some family ownership of trawlers, to persuade them to land more of its catch into Irish ports rather than steaming back to France and incurring the cost of fuel that entails. The reality is that France has the biggest white fish quota in Irish waters of any country. Its quota in that respect is bigger than Spain's. We need to develop a good relationship with France because that country will remain in that position over time and will use that quota. Why should it not land its catch in Irish ports and put it into Irish processing factories rather than bringing it to La Rochelle, Brest or elsewhere? I expect that there will be some progress in that regard.
A number of worrying proposals regarding the Common Fisheries Policy are emerging from the Commission. We already know what it proposes regarding the Common Fisheries Policy and we will know tomorrow its proposals regarding the Common Agricultural Policy. The proposal of most concern is around the concept that Ireland would be forced to move away from nationally allocating fish quota to the fishing fleet and essentially considering that quota as a national asset that needs to be allocated to its fleet in a responsible way to keep the industry operating economically, and switch to giving the ownership of those quotas to the boats in order that there would be a market trading mechanism that would allow boats to trade quota between themselves. It is what is called single transferable quota or single transferable concessions. The Commission makes no bones about this. It is promoting this proposal because it wants a consolidation of fishing fleets. It wants fewer fishing boats, bigger boats and fewer and larger fishery harbours because they are easier to monitor and the rules are easier to implement. If that were to happen, it would result in the shutting down of fishing ports throughout the country and we would probably end up only having fishing ports in Killybegs, Castletownbere and one on the east coast. I will not stand over that. Even from a domestic policy point of view and even if we could restrict the trading of quotas internally within one country, that does not make sense for Ireland. We have already taken out 25% of the white fish fleet by a policy of reducing the size of the fishing fleet over the past decade or so and there has already been considerable consolidation within the pelagic fleet, with essentially 23 boats dominating that sector. We have had a consolidation process and as long as we can manage our stock properly, build it up and gain the benefits from a quota allocation from it in time, I see no reason the fishing industry in Ireland should downsize further. While that is my view, I remain to be convinced one way or another. The concept of a tradable fishing quota - or a concession if one wants to call it that - is a very dangerous one to introduce in Ireland and would do considerable damage because those with big buying power would simply buy up quota and many of the smaller family-run trawlers would be bought out, which would not be in the interests of coastal communities often in isolated parts of the country.
The other big problem with the transferability of quota is that there is no legal mechanism to allow us to restrict the transfer of quota to keep it solely within the Irish fleet. Therefore, Spanish, French, Dutch and other interests come here and set up Irish companies in order to buy up quota. All the evidence suggests that if, for example, a Spanish fleet buys up quota in another country, that country will not get the benefit of the quota for the most part. In other words, Spanish trawlers that buy up Irish quota potentially become Irish trawlers but they simply travel back and forth to Vigo or whatever other Spanish port at which they are landing fish. That happened in the British case when it moved to a tradable quota system. The vast majority of the British whitefish fleet that was fishing in Irish waters has been bought up by the Spanish fleet. We can map the routes those trawlers take and see that they travel back and forth to Spain and do not go to Britain at all, which is not something we want for the Irish fleet because of the economies of scale related to catching and landing fish at Irish ports which keeps the industry intact.
Members may want to ask me more detailed questions about the specifics of the CFP, discards, the Hague Preferences, conservation measures and maximum sustainable yield - something to which we are trying to move in the management of fish stocks in order that we only allow a catch that permits the long-term sustainability of fish species. These are all issues we are pursuing and on which agree with the Commission in principle. The one point of principle on which we strongly disagree concerns how quotas are allocated and managed. We want to keep these as a national asset that is then allocated to the industry in keeping with the best overall interests of the industry and the coastal communities which rely on it.
Somewhat like the budget, we are preparing for the total allowable catch negotiations in December for all of our quota species to ensure we strike a balance between ensuring the industry can catch enough fish to survive next year and I hope expand, and ensuring we protect the fish stocks that need protection to ensure we are not overfishing in any area. My position and that of a number of other European countries that agree with me on this issue is very clear. The decisions we take need to be based on science. We can only catch fish where the stock is sustainable.
The Commission's approach - that if there is not sufficient scientific evidence available on the management of a fish stock, it will apply the precautionary principle and automatically reduce the TAC by 25% - is something I cannot and will not accept, nor do I believe other countries accept it. By all means, let us make decisions based on science, but we will not have drastic cuts because of the absence of sufficient scientific data for many of the stocks in respect of which a 25% cut is proposed. There is much anecdotal evidence and considerable science to suggest they are perfectly healthy. There is, therefore, much teasing out and negotiating to be done by December between us and the Commission and also between us and other EU countries that feel the same way as we do on the issue. I will happily work with colleagues because I know there is specific fishing expertise on this committee.
That should give members a flavour of the issues on which we are focusing our attention. This will be a very relevant committee and my Department will be one of the most important during the Irish Presidency in the first half of 2013 because of CFP and the CAP. The Department and the committee will be at the heart of the economic resurgence which I hope will take place in the next five years because agriculture and the agrifood sector will be at the heart of it.
I thank the Minister. I propose to call first the spokespersons for each of the five groups.
I thank the Minister for his presentation. As the CAP framework will be announced tomorrow in Brussels, we will leave that matter until the debate takes place in the Dáil Chamber on Thursday afternoon. I know major decisions will be made tomorrow affecting the Common Agricultural Policy. I have frequently raised a number of issues and there is no doubt that we will be facing a difficult budget. As many commentators have said, agriculture is the rising star. The value of agricultural exports is increasing from €8 billion to 9 billion, which is very positive.
The farm waste management scheme came to an end this year and the final instalment was paid in January. How much did the scheme cost the Department?
There is a concern that we might kill the goose that is laying the golden egg. Given that agriculture is the rising star and everything is going well in the sector, there might be a tendency for us to cut back more severely than in other areas. Some observers have suggested the cuts might be in the order of 10% to 15%, while they might amount to only 5% across the board in other Departments. While the agriculture sector is going well, it is important to nurture and encourage it, and ensure every possible resource is fought for at every level, particularly at home, when cuts need to be made.
Last week we spoke about concerns in the dairy sector. The Minister should maintain the pressure on all the avenues he outlined. The EU-wide flexi-milk arrangement is obviously the predominant one to consider. There is also concern in the beef sector to ensure the quality being exported to the German and other markets is maintained, particularly on the west coast, and not denigrated because of other aspects.
Given that the farm waste management scheme came to an end this year, there will be considerable budgetary savings for the Department in 2012. Given the good story being told across the world, it is important that we do not kill the goose that laid the golden egg. Reports are coming back from Bord Bia marketing personnel working in the emerging markets. The Department, the Government and members of this committee all have a role to play, given the surge in the demand in these markets. This is a crucial period for Ireland. As the Minister said, many of the European markets have matured and if we do not establish a vital foothold in these emerging markets over the next few years, the opportunity will be lost to Irish agriculture and to the Irish food industry. It is crucial that we tap in those markets. Everyone in agriculture, from primary producers to food processors and including the Department, the Government and this committee, has a vital role to play in this area.
I thank the Minister for his presentation. I listened carefully as an official from the European Commission spoke during the national ploughing championships this year about rumoured proposals on the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP. The spokesperson referred to these rumoured proposals as being visionary, exciting and opening up a new era of agriculture throughout the EU. However, I said that I felt it was more steady as she goes than an ambitious vision for the future of agriculture in the EU. Perhaps it is something we should be considering. I am not sure whether there exists an EU version of Food Harvest 2020. Perhaps I am ignorant of it, but I am not aware of an equivalent document setting out the rationale, vision, objectives and targets for agriculture, food and fisheries throughout the EU. If it does not exist, it is something we should encourage at EU level as a nation which places so much importance on these industries. We should ensure our European partners understand the importance of food security, not just in Irish and European terms but also in worldwide terms.
The projected budget in 2012 will be reduced from €1.647 billion to €1.286 billion. Will that have a consequential impact on grant aid available from the EU? The Minister mentioned that the Department will be doing more work with fewer staff, but I do not think that, of itself, will address the suggested reduction that is projected for the 2012 budget.
The farming community and the food and fishing industries would greatly welcome a reduction in bureaucracy and administrative costs. All these things have been promised before by the EU, but people found that the red tape actually increased. What was introduced was far from the objective that was promised. The industry would greatly welcome a reduction in bureaucracy and red tape. Based on previous experience, we live in hope, rather than expectation, that this happens.
It is important not only to look at the value of grants and the type of supports that will be paid but also to look critically at the payment systems. I know that in recent days there has been disruption to certain departmental activities because farmers are so upset at the delayed payment of grants. Like any other industry, farmers are entitled to plan ahead, secure in the knowledge of how much they will get and when they will get it. While one would not condone the illegal occupation of any place of work, I know it was borne out of pure frustration. The Minister spoke about the small farmers in the more marginalised areas. These people are under huge pressure from banks and co-operatives. They are really at the end of their collar. A process needs to be put in place which will introduce certainty for farmers so that when they sit down to make out their plans and accounts for the year, they will know what is going to come in and when. If necessary, even though it might be a bureaucratic nightmare, there should be a commitment to paying 90% of whatever is due, irrespective of any hold-up that takes place, such as digitising maps or whatever.
I thank the Minister for his presentation. There will be a debate in the Dáil on Thursday on the CAP proposals to be published tomorrow, so I will not speak too much about it.
The Minister mentioned that he is already committed to a €360 million reduction in the overall budget for 2012, so I imagine that sets the parameters for next year. How much of that reduction for next year is due to schemes ending? What is the likely impact on AEOS and other premium schemes in place? Can the farming community expect to see further reductions of those payments in 2012?
The Minister spoke about the possibility of being over quota on milk and said that a number a countries had been issued superlevy fines this year. I presume he is flagging that this might be a possibility next year if we end up over quota ourselves. What is the likely impact of that on the budgetary outlook for the Department in 2012? Will it have an impact over and above any reductions? What are the Minister's thoughts on that?
The Minister stated that he does not think any safeguards can be put in place in the Common Fisheries Policy, CFP, to prevent foreign fishing companies establishing themselves here and buying up fishing quotas. If these proposals on the privatisation of fishing quotas proceed, and the Commissioner, when in Dublin a few weeks ago, was adamant that they would, what options are available to the Minister in the negotiations? Does he have a veto and would he be willing to use it if the privatisation of quotas continues?
The Commission has obviously not accepted that the Hague Preferences should be integrated into the Common Fisheries Policy. Is there any further room for manoeuvre on that in negotiations? What does the Minister think of the Commission proposals for small-scale fisheries? How does he see them benefiting coastal communities and, in particular, the island communities and inshore fisheries? Is there a possibility of an exemption from the CFP criteria for those communities?
The Commission has been very slow in rolling out any proposals on the sharing of information between member states on the quota situation of fleets. It would ensure we would have full knowledge of the quota situation of Spanish and French fleets operating in our waters. Are there any proposals to move that along at EU level?
The Minister mentioned that there has been an efficiency drive in the processing sector which has led to many job losses, particularly in Donegal. As the producers become more efficient, that means much more automation. In the past year, a number of people who would have had work during the winter months over the past 30 years have been out of work owing to efficiencies built in to the processors. Will the Minister look at linking future grant aid towards efficiency drives to the development of added-value products that would be more labour orientated, and would perhaps stem the loss of jobs from the efficiencies that processors are pursuing?
On aquaculture and ongoing difficulties concerning the appropriate assessment requirements for the Natura sites, in how many bays has work been concluded at this stage? What is the timescale for the rest? I note the Minister has been examining proposals in other European countries and the system regimes that operate there. It appears that France does not require any environmental assessments for shellfish processing. The system is slightly different in Denmark also where it appears to be much easier. Why are we being forced to implement such a strict regime, which appears to place us at a competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis the rest of Europe? Can the Minister make any progress with the Commission on that matter?
Business plans are in place for five fishery harbour centres around the coast. Will the Department focus on the implementation of those and their roll-out? A number of recommendations has been made on the management of land-banks and rents. Easing of restrictions has also been proposed concerning the management of property and the difficulties people face when dealing with the Department.
I thank the Minister for his enthusiastic report. It is good to see that he has the drive and enthusiasm to utilise this critically important area of the economy in the context of our strategic recovery. I will be delighted to be of assistance to the Minister in the coming months and years concerning his role in renegotiating the CAP. I welcome the publication of Milestones for Success, which sets out the Food Harvest 2020 policy. I also welcome the fact that the Minister has said he is emotionally and politically attached to small farm holdings. I do not know if the Minister saw last night's RTE programme in which Mr. Richard Curran discussed the country's economic recovery. He said that it would most likely happen in regional centres. In light of that, I am glad the Minister has put it on the record that he identifies strongly with farming families from disadvantaged areas.
What is the proportional breakdown between the tailing off of capital expenditure from the farm waste management programme? I would like to know the impact of that natural wastage of a programme that was hitherto in place. There are therefore only two other variables the Minister has to play with, which are the human resource element or the level of payments in place. In that regard, we will have to march very carefully with the Minister. Some other Deputies have the luxury of representing areas that are not affected by disadvantaged area payments. I would ask the Minister to pay special attention to taking a fair and balanced approach to our economic recovery.
On the protest that took place yesterday, I am sure there are two sides to every story, but I ask the Minister to investigate how we got into this situation concerning resources available to farmers from disadvantaged areas. I spoke to an IFA leader from my county yesterday who said it was a matter of communication in order to know what both sides are saying. I am concerned that we are planning to cut €350 million from the budget, while we should focus on making resources available to process these payments thus ensuring that we can penetrate local rural communities' economies. We should be processing the smart and quick delivery of outstanding disadvantaged area payments to avoid negative consequences. For example, if one payment is not made it closes the door on other payments. That is a source of great concern in an area that is considered to be completely disadvantaged. I appreciate that it is a complex issue but I ask the Minister to navigate carefully around the support mechanisms required for a fair and balanced budget concerning those people with whom the Minister identifies emotionally and politically. He should also ensure that payments are secured as quickly as possible. Every support must be given to ensure that all parties fulfil their obligations in order to have prompt payment.
As previous speakers said, rural Ireland's high streets are dependent on farming families having the resources to send their children to school, buy shoes and honour other obligations. It is critically important that we try to iron out any administrative or bureaucratic problem that may be the Department's responsibility. I appreciate that there are two sides to every dispute but I ask the Minister to investigate the situation carefully. Farming representatives have told me that it is a matter of communicating our way through this. The scenes that took place yesterday in Wexford were unnecessary. That was the view I got from county representatives. We need to examine better communication systems to have prompt, accurate information. There is a challenging road ahead for this industry given the ambitious reforms required. In addition, the Minister will need to steel himself to protect those at the lower end of the economic advantage scale in agriculture. I welcome the Minister's identification with those in the industry from disadvantaged areas who are a central part of his theme.
Like previous speakers, I compliment the Minister on his presentation and his in-depth knowledge of the entire brief. I welcome the Minister's points concerning the flexibility of member states on CAP reform. It will be crucial in future to have control over exactly where such spending goes. Over many years, there has been a great deal of unnecessary bureaucracy in the payments system, so that situation needs to be addressed. I come from an agricultural area and know that farmers basically want to farm. They do not necessarily want to fill out forms every day, although they understand that some forms must be completed to draw down funding. They see the system as being over-bureaucratic. I hope that matter will be addressed in the new CAP reform process.
On the budgetary situation, there seems to be a large reduction in funding for the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food compared to other Departments. That seems to be unfair especially given that the agriculture sector, including the agri-food business, is driving the economy and has got it off its knees. Agriculture will play a key role in the economy in future. Deputies from rural areas know how valuable a good year can be for farmers, as they will not be shy in spending money locally. Every penny local farmers have will thus go back into the local economy, which has a knock-on effect in a vast number of other areas. We all realise there have to be cutbacks in the forthcoming budget - and possibly the one afterwards as well - but cuts should be kept to a minimum. The Minister spoke about a reduction of €200 million but what is that in real terms and how will it affect the current situation?
As agriculture will play a key part in the economy in future, stimulus is important. Some kind of stimulus package is required, including investment whereby farmers could plan for the future along the lines of Food Harvest 2020. It is crucial to get as many people investing in the future of agriculture as possible. Food Harvest 2020 envisages a 50% increase in milk production. It is important for negotiations to continue apace so that there will be as soft a landing as possible. I realise that some farmers who have been walking a tightrope for many years may fall off at this stage, so they must be given as much encouragement as possible to continue in farming. They must be able to see light at the end of the tunnel.
I will now ask the Minister to respond to that set of questions.
I will try to go through the questions as quickly as I can, otherwise we could be here for a long time. In a three year period the farm waste management scheme cost €1.1 billion. This was very much higher than had been anticipated at the start. There was a huge uptake under the scheme which was very successful. A very large number of farmers have improved their waste management infrastructure dramatically as a result. It was a demand-led scheme for a while and the level of demand was above the expectations of many officials, both in my Department and the Department of Finance. That said, we will spend approximately €36 million under the scheme this year. It is essentially being weaned out, but there are still hangover payments. Next year there will not be any payments. When one strips down the figures, one notes that the movement of farmers from the REPS to the AEOS, for example, involves a saving because the payment is lower. Other schemes are also coming to an end, including the installation aid scheme and the farm retirement scheme.
With regard to the savings we are being asked to make, if one applies what was agreed last November or December under the four year budgetary programme for expenditure reductions, one will note the saving is approximately €200 million. Although the actual target figure for 2011-12 is €361 million, the natural reduction in expenditure is such that the actual savings we need to achieve amount to approximately €200 million. That may not be the final figure because we have not decided whether we will implement the expenditure ceilings agreed under the previous Government. However, if they were to be implemented, the figure would be approximately €200 million. I want to be up-front about this because a number of members asked about it. With regard to the soft landing and maintaining the pressure, I will do as requested. I was reminded of this repeatedly, rightly so, because it is a big issue for dairy farmers.
With regard to beef farming, I am glad members asked about keeping quality high. I am concerned that in the next seven or eight years, as the dairy industry expands and people invest therein, the beef industry could become a by-product of the dairy industry. Half of the beef cattle we sell are from the dairy industry and half from suckler herds. The high end, quality beef, however, all derives from suckler herds. We need to keep this ratio intact as best we can. The idea that we would facilitate and encourage a dramatic switch-over from suckler herds to the dairy business because quotas will be going is accompanied by dangers. For Irish beef to remain a high quality product that can be branded all over the world as the best, as opposed to beef from countries such as Argentina, Brazil and certain European states, we need to keep a quality suckler herd intact on the island. To do this, we need to support the industry. The sector is one of the vulnerable ones that need to be supported in the upcoming budget.
We need to continue offering support along the lines of the suckler welfare scheme, be it through retaining that scheme or putting in place something similar. We need to find the resources to do this. If we do not send a strong signal that we want the suckler cow herd to remain intact in Ireland, farmers may start to plan for other choices that suit them better commercially. While there are many farmers who are serious about having suckler herds, it is the 32,000 such farmers in the beef quality assurance scheme who have walked the walk in meeting standards, filling in the forms, etc. They need to be encouraged and supported as a matter of priority in the budget.
Members are absolutely correct that we need to get a foothold in emerging markets. We are fighting for this. I am travelling, when and where appropriate, to reinforce that message, particularly in developing countries in which a political input makes a big difference, as it does in many of the emerging markets and the developing world. I will continue to lead trade missions with organisations such as the Irish Dairy Board and others to open up new opportunities.
Deputy Colreavy has asked whether there is a Food Harvest 2020 vision for the European Union. There is not. In some ways, it does not necessarily suit Ireland for that to be the case. It probably suits in terms of global food security issues for the Union to have such a vision. In some ways, the Common Agricultural Policy should be a little like a template for growth and expansion, but many countries have no aspirations to increase food production dramatically. They are perfectly happy to import food from other countries that can produce it more cheaply than they can and they do not regard it as an economic driver. We are unusual in Ireland that we do regard it as such. We should press ahead with our agenda and create the first move or competitive advantage that comes with this.
One should consider what New Zealand has done since the 1980s in dairy farming. In 1983 or 1984 – quotas were introduced in 1985 – Ireland and New Zealand exported the same amount of dairy product. New Zealand now exports the same amount of dairy product exported from the European Union as a whole. Its sector has grown more than threefold since the 1980s, while ours has remained stagnant because of quota policy. There are pros and cons to quotas, but the New Zealand position is the reality in targeting new markets. New Zealand has made some terrible mistakes in its expansion from which we need to learn, particularly in the next few years when expanding the dairy sector. For example, many dairy farmers in New Zealand are up to their necks in debt that they cannot sustain. There are considerable stress levels and there has been much consolidation that has driven family farms out of business. Not everything about New Zealand represents a positive story, but, in terms of its growth, expansion and targeting of markets, it has been phenomenal in the past 20 years.
The food security debate is a growing one in the European Union and needs to be factored into the Common Agricultural Policy more than it is, particularly as it relates to climate change policy. The European Union's proposal on climate change is in direct contrast with what we need to be doing with a view to promoting food security. Essentially, 40% of Ireland's emissions outside the traded sector – that is, our top 105 companies or so – comes from agriculture. If we are to meet a reduction target of 20% which may be increased to 30% by 2020, it is very hard to see how agriculture can come close to meeting such targets without dramatically reducing herd sizes. The idea that EU policy would encourage a less intensive form of food production in a country such as Ireland which has a very low carbon footprint per litre of milk and kilo of beef produced and replace our produce with imports from other parts of the world with a much higher carbon footprint but which location would not count in calculating EU targets because it would be outside the Union is absolute nonsense when talking about global climate change policy. In recent weeks I met the climate change Commissioner with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, to make these very points to her. To be honest, we had a frustrating meeting with her. I am not sure she actually understood the points we were trying to make. Nevertheless, we will continue to bang on that door because it is appropriate that Ireland lead the discussion in this area.
On the implications for reduced expenditure nationally on what we draw down from the European Union, as far as I know, we will draw down all available EU funds this year and try to do the same next year. When and where appropriate, we will prioritise expenditure in certain areas in order to trigger EU expenditure. I do not want to give an absolute commitment that nothing will be left behind in the European Union next year, but we would certainly like to make sure that that would be the case. We will have to wait to see how the budget detail pans out between now and then.
The Commission has been helpful. New proposals have emerged that refer to increasing the proportion of funding from the European Union by comparison with the proportion required from Ireland. What was perhaps 50% or 70% funding from the European Union may actually be 85% funding for certain funding programmes in future in an effort to try to help countries in bailout agreements, such as Ireland. This is a positive development which has come from the Commission.
Everyone is keen to reduce bureaucracy and red tape. Farmers are good at farming, or most of them are at any rate. They find it difficult, frustrating and time-consuming to fill out lots of forms. The reality is that some form filling will be needed. We draw down vast sums of money, whether under single farm payments or under pillar 2 moneys from the European Union but they come with strings attached, including audits, inspections and standard controls. These audits and inspections require that we do what we do in terms of allocating money by ensuring the money is spent properly and that the terms and conditions under which funds are drawn down are actually implemented at farm level. This involves inspections and there is no way around it. The upside of this is that it allows us to market food worldwide as the best quality food products in the world because of the level of inspections and so on that we have imposed. These are a pain in the neck for farmers but they have contributed to the quality assurance which we, as a country, can stand over in terms of food production.
With regard to the current round of Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, negotiations we must ensure that the new CAP reform document does not add to the bureaucracy or add extra red tape to what is already in place. There is a real danger of this, especially with the greening proposals and it appears that tomorrow we will see a proposal involving a single farm payment, some 30% of which will be reliant on a farmer or producer meeting what are termed "greening requirements". It will be one third of a top-up which is far too large but that will probably be the initial proposal. However, we must ensure that whatever is asked of farmers from the greening point of view is easy to implement, cheap to implement, easy to understand and easy to enforce. This will ensure that we do not have a new series of inspections and bureaucratic processes relating to the greening of the single farm payment and the CAP. We have made this absolutely clear to those involved in the Commission but we will wait and see what they come up with tomorrow.
I wish to deal with the payments issue, especially because of what happened in Wexford yesterday which, as far as I am concerned, is totally unacceptable. That any group, farmers or anyone else, could barge their way into private property, push a security guard out of the way with the result that he is sent to hospital - the man has a bruised leg and is on crutches today - and blow a door off its hinges while forcing their way into a building, and then to expect that the Minister or Department will respond positively and demand a meeting before they leave, does not get anyone anywhere. It upsets people and gives people a bad reputation. I am and I will remain a Minister open to consultation, criticism and meetings. I meet regularly with farm organisations and I am not a difficult person to contact, nor is my Department. Less then one week ago we provided a full briefing in Portlaoise for all the farming organisations which sought it on the payments issue. This included the level of payments, why delays occurred and how we would approach getting over the genuine blockages. I would be happy to go into some detail on the blockages if the committee so wishes. The notion that there is a communications problem must be addressed head-on. Less than one week ago we provided full briefings in terms of explaining why some of the payments have not been made.
For the record, Ireland pays its disadvantaged area payments scheme, DAS, and single farm payments earlier than most member states in the European Union. This year we are well ahead of where we were last year. To date, €164 million has been paid to 75,000 farmers under the DAS, some €42 million ahead of the 2010 position. Of the 25,000 farmers awaiting payment, some 5,000 are non-compliant with stocking density issues and a further 10,000 have been contacted about over-claims or dual claims. In other words, there must be clarification of these claims. We hope to deal with this issue as quickly as we can. A total of 3,000 inspections are being processed and 7,000 applicants have maps to be digitised. This means in the case of people who send in maps on paper, the maps must be put into digital format so we have a digital record of all the payments made. Then, the next time someone applies for a AEOS payment we have the record on computer and have systems that can manage it.
We have had problems with certain maps, especially under the agri-environment options scheme, which do not match the maps that have come in under single farm payment applications. Therefore, we cannot give out money for them because there will be an audit and the Commission would put to us that both maps cannot be right. Either we give out a payment on an accurate map for a single farm payment or we give out a payment on an accurate map for an AEOS payment but if the maps differ in terms of the perimeter of fields or whatever, the issue must be clarified. This does not mean there has been a deliberate mistake by the farmer. Most of the time it is a genuine error which must be clarified and resolved. These are the issues causing delay.
Under EU rules, the first possible legal date for the transmission of single farm payments is 16 October. We could not issue any form of payment before this date. As of today, a minimum of 94,000 farmers will be paid €444 million in the week beginning 17 October, that is, next week. This is €46 million more than in 2010. From the point of view of single farm payments, we are €46 million ahead of where we were last year. From the point of view of disadvantaged area payments we are €42 million ahead of where we were at this time last year. These figures will increase in the meantime as we continue to clear cases. With regard to single farm payments, the outstanding 30,000 applications have the same problems as those of the DAS, namely, over-claims, dual payments, inspections required because of mapping issues and so on.
It is no secret in my Department that I have been driving and working with my staff as much as is physically possible to get payments out as quickly as possible. We have sought to create a reputation of my Department as being highly efficient in terms of how we get money out but there have been some genuine roadblocks and this has been very frustrating for me and for farmers, with regard to particular mapping issues. There have been genuine errors in applications which must be clarified and for which no one is at fault. Nevertheless, some clarity is still required. We have been up-front about this as the process has rolled on and I have set targets and called people to focus groups and meetings to determine how we can do this better, quicker and faster. The results are in place. For example, a good deal more money has gone out so far this year compared with the same time last year and we are significantly ahead of most other European countries. Most of the payments we have made already will not be paid until towards the end of December in most other European countries. Therefore, the idea that people would occupy our offices in Wexford having had a briefing last week with a full explanation of where we are and where we are going with regard to payments is not acceptable.
I have no issue with being put under pressure or with people demonstrating and protesting but I have a big issue when my staff are threatened and when people break into buildings and injure people in the process to try to make a point which was clarified only the previous week. If anybody is looking for more briefings or clarifications they can get them. There was a touch of trying to raise the temperature in recent days which was about more than simply trying to get information on payments. That is as much as I am prepared to say on the matter apart from thanking my staff in Wexford for dealing with what was a difficult situation in which a number of gardaí were involved.
In response to Deputy Pringle, there will be some payment reductions in the budget, although I do not want to give too much detail as to where they will be made. All I can say is that the two areas I will try to prioritise are suckler cow farming and disadvantaged area payments. I would like to be able to keep the rate of disadvantaged area payments intact, if possible. We may consider changing the eligibility terms on issues such as stocking rates and so on to ensure we pay active farmers, as I would like to keep the rate intact for those who are actively farming in disadvantaged areas. We are trying to ensure the sums add up to achieve this end. I cannot, with my hand on my heart, state that because agriculture is a strongly performing sector, it will be exempt from cuts, as that is not the case and there will be some reductions in expenditure. However, I hope we will be able to do this without doing any lasting damage to the sector or driving families out of farming, which is the last thing I want to do.
With regard to milk quota and the super levy, if there is a super levy fine, it will be applied to farmers themselves, which is why I am so concerned about the issue. The State does not pay super levy fines. Those who are over quota are fined at 28 cent a litre. This could mean huge fines for dairy farmers, some of whom are already over quota with six months to go. To be clear, the country as a whole is 2.85% over quota, which is much better than the position we were in two months ago when we were 5% over quota. The warnings are being heeded; processors and co-ops are getting the message out and farmers are beginning to take the necessary action. Whether we can get the figure down by the end of March next year, or whether we can find a political solution in the meantime, presents the big challenge. I will let members know if we achieve a solution.
On the Common Fisheries Policy, I was asked whether there were any safeguards in regard to ITQs. Under EU company law, it is difficult to see how one can keep a company from coming to Ireland, setting up a business here and buying up quota if quota is being traded. As regards using the veto, I do not believe a veto will be used in regard to the CFP or the CAP. We have to come to a decision and a CFP needs to be agreed at some stage. What we will be looking for and what, I hope, we will get is flexibility to recognise Ireland's vulnerable position as a country that only harvests 18% of the fish in its waters. Incidentally, this has been the percentage for a long time; it has not shrunk. That Ireland should reduce that 18% level and still spend money on research and monitoring the CFP into the future is, to my mind, a serious question the Commissioner needs to ask herself. If we were to introduce a system that would result in a reduction of the Irish industry's take of the billions of euro worth of fish taken from Irish controlled waters each year, the incentive for Ireland to do all of the things we are doing, for example, monitoring, stock management and all of the good work being done in places such as the Marine Institute and elsewhere, would not be strong. This would also create a huge problem for the Commission. What the Commissioner is trying to do is to protect fish stocks, a principle on which I agree with her. However, the issue of transferability of quotas is one on which we will insist on flexibility to opt out, or to at least put in place system to allow more national control of quota. This is not the only country which views matters in this way. We will have strong allies in ensuring the current proposals are not agreed to in the final document.
On small-scale fisheries, the reality is that most of such fisheries in Ireland are not involved in quota systems. All of the CFP quota management issues concern trawlers in Ireland not in the small-scale fisheries category. There is a big difference between fishing in Irish waters and, for example, the Mediterranean where many very small fishing boats catch relatively small amounts of fish. Ireland has a very different system, whereby most small boats are dealing in non-quota species and, therefore, not in the net of the CFP. We have examined this issue and are trying to derive some benefits from CFP reform for much smaller boats which are engaged in island fishing and so on. However, as the proposals stand, they do not have huge relevance for them, although we will continue to examine the issue.
On obtaining information on whether foreign fleets in Irish waters are within quota, we are pushing very hard for an electronic logbook which will be introduced in the next few weeks. Essentially, this means every boat, whether it be Spanish, Irish, Dutch, British or French, fishing in European waters will have to log its catch electronically. The information will be sent to a central database in the European Union and the theory is that each country will be able to access the database to understand who is catching what in its waters. The concern is that a lot more fish is being caught in Irish waters than is covered by the quota and this probably applies to more than one fleet. I hope the electronic logbook will allow us to monitor this much more accurately, which will be very good for the Irish fleet and in conserving stocks.
With regard to automation and the loss of jobs, we have invested €10 million in the fish processing sector. Over 200 jobs have been created in the sector this year. A total of 158 jobs were announced in the initial tranche, while just last week the Taoiseach announced the creation of another 60 jobs and a further €3 million in investment in processing and value added capacity. There is an opportunity to continue to grow the number of working in fish processing, but we need the raw product. This means increasing whitefish landings, in particular, and also exploring the potential offered by new species, including, for example, boarfish, which will I hope in the not too distant future have added value and a processing capacity outside of fishmeal. It is a new quota species from this year. Ireland holds the vast majority of the European boarfish quota this year which I hope will hope grow significantly in the next few years. It is an exciting stock, but we need to find commercial ways to exploit it in terms of processing.
On the up-to-date position on bays for aquaculture use, to date in 2011 the assessments of Castlemaine Harbour and Dundalk Bay have been completed. For those not familiar with this issue, it is a source of real frustration that one cannot obtain a licence to do anything because practically every bay and harbour in the country is considered to be an SAC or Natura scheme area. One must go through a long environmental impact assessment process before one can even apply for a licence and there must then be an impact assessment on biodiversity in the bay or harbour and so on. The reason the gold-plated aquaculture licensing system is being forced on Ireland by the Commission is that we have already lost a case on this issue. The European Union took us to court for the manner in which aquaculture licences had been divvied out in Ireland, which was the subject of a complaint by numerous NGOs and others, and we lost that court case. Consequently, the Commission could return to court at any time to fine Ireland for not having in place a more coherent and sustainable licensing mechanism. The Commission could shut down our aquaculture industry if it chose to take that aggressive route. Ireland is not in a strong bargaining position with the Commission and even though we now have a much more stringent, expensive and time-consuming licensing process than does any other European Union member state of which I am aware, which is a major competitive disadvantage for us, we are being forced down that route by the European Commission and an example is being made of us. The Commission is stating that it will then use the Irish licensing model to impose new licensing standards in other countries. While we are frustrated by this, we are putting more resources into it to try to make it work. As a result, the process in Castlemaine Harbour and Dundalk Bay has been completed and Roaringwater Bay is expected to be completed in October, while Lough Swilly and Clew Bay are at an advanced stage and will be completed in late 2011 and 2012. We are going through the bays one after another and as we complete the environmental assessments, we obviously then will consider and, hopefully, will grant licences because the aquaculture industry has exciting potential for growth. Moreover, it can be done in a responsible way that does not have an impact on wild fish stocks or cause localised pollution. It is important to get that balance right.
Deputy Keaveney, who has left, asked a question on regional policy for agriculture and farm families. In the forthcoming budget, the Government will try to encourage efficiencies in farming by encouraging farmers to become involved in partnership arrangements with their neighbours. In this way, economies of scale can be introduced, as well as much better and more professional farm practices. Everyone can make more money and be more efficient if farmers are clustered and are encouraged to work together to buy in bulk, share machinery, potentially share pasture and to rely on one another for slurry management, waste management and so on. Many quite exciting opportunities arise for farmers out of farm partnerships but the Government must reinforce this and put in place structures that can allow farmers to do it in a way they can believe in. Moreover, they also potentially could get recognition from a taxation point of view to encourage them in this. Through Teagasc, the Department is working to try to put together a package that will be realistic and relevant for farmers next year and we hope that a number of pilot projects will be available to show them how it is done. The Deputy also asked about payments. I probably have clarified that issue.
As for Deputy Deering's comments on flexibility for single farm payments, this is the key issue for Ireland in respect of the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP. We must prevent the introduction of a flat rate area-based single farm payment system that essentially would result in a massive transfer of payments, wealth and cash from the productive food and agriculture sectors in Ireland to the less productive sector. However, everyone recognises there must be some change to the single farm payment allocation and consequently, the Government seeks the flexibility to allow Ireland to allocate money that suits the Irish food production and agriculture systems. In addition, if there is to be change, I will seek a long transition period to allow farmers to plan for that.
I have lobbied hard on both these principles with the Commission and I expect I will be obliged to continue to so do. In addition, the Government also is lobbying other potential partners or allies around the Council table and I already have been to Paris to meet my counterpart, Monsieur Le Maire, on fishing and the CAP. The French probably are our key allies in respect of the CAP and CFP with regard to our concerns on the single farm payment and the single transferable quota. While I do not wish to outline French policy in these areas, the relationship I have with the French Minister certainly is very good and I value it because we will need his help, just as I also will help him regarding some of the French concerns. As I already have dealt with the soft landing issues raised by Deputy Deering, I hope I have answered all the questions raised but members should revert to me if there is anything I have not answered.
The Minister already has answered many of the questions I had with a thorough and detailed articulation of the issues. I thank him for his presentation today and for his availability. I understand he has met all the stakeholders many times as well. I have a few issues I wish to raise. I broadly support the Minister's two objectives with regard to the CAP. While this meeting will not go into detail on this issue, I refer to continuing and driving the existing growth. In particular, as I come from County Mayo, I make no apology for raising the Minister's second objective, namely, to support farmers who cannot take advantage of such growth or who do not have the capacity to so do. I welcome the Minister's announcement that he intends to protect in so far as possible the disadvantaged area payment, of which there are 12,000 in County Mayo and all along the west coast or the smaller farming regions. This is important because one hears much about small businesses that can offer or protect a job or two. The small businesses that are doing reasonably well at present or potentially could do well are the small farmers in the west of Ireland. It will be absolutely vital to protect the payments for them in the future to help them do this. As I have stated many times, the money and support they get is not being put into bank accounts, credit unions or anything else but is either being put back in circulation immediately or used to pay off some payments due from those farmers. I seek clarification from the Minister with regard to these payments, the budget for which is €337 million, and the cutbacks faced by his Department. When members meet farmers' groups, it sometimes is suggested to them that there has been a cutback in expenditure on farming of 18%. The Minister should articulate a response to this.
When discussing aquaculture, the Minister referred to the frustration arising from people's inability to get a licence because the bays in question are in special areas of conservation, SACs. Such constraints are similar to those felt by small farmers in the wetlands or hillside areas, the Natura 2000 sites and the commonage areas throughout the small farming regions. Effectively, those farmers always have stated that they do not mind the constraints as long as they are compensated for them. They maintain that they were told to destock but now have been told to re-stock because the initial structure may not have been correct. I will not go into full details on this but I refer to all the planning regulations and so on. I refer to the importance of protecting and compensating those farmers for the schemes. Members are at times confronted with allegations that farmers are not able to do anything in these areas, which are just for the birds and bees. I acknowledge that the Minister is committed to targeting, which comes back to the flexibility he requires in the CAP proposals to allow him to so do.
I refer to those farmers who will be leaving REPS 3. Will a scheme be opened up for them and what are the Minister's plans in this area?
Does the Minister's schedule permit him to remain with us?
I am anxious to remain as long as possible and I should be fine until the commencement of the Order of Business.
Deputies Barry, McNamara, Ó Cuív, and Harrington and Senator O'Neill are offering. Would it be possible for the Minister to remain until they have posed their questions?
Would it be possible, in the future, to provide the names of the officials accompanying the Minister in order that we might know who they are?
I welcomed the officials to the meeting but we are not actually obliged to name them. It can be done, however.
It would just be nice to know who is accompanying the Minister.
There are two female officials listed to attend. However, I was not sure which one was present so that is why I did not name them.
The business in which I am involved is undergoing an audit under the grain assurance scheme today. This audit is good, practical and helpful and it is the type of regulation that works. Not all regulation and audits are to be feared. If this type of audit represents the way ahead, then we are on a good road.
I thank the Minister for his presentation. One of the issues he mentioned is of concern to me and many others. I refer to digitisation and the complication that arises in the context of AEOS. I do not understand what is involved here. Maps which have been in use since the commencement of area aid have been submitted and difficulties are arising in respect of parcels of land as small as 0.01 ha. That is madness and it is delaying quite large single farm payments. It is reaching the point where in the context of the potential loss of income involved, one might be tempted to abandon AEOS entirely.
In the context of the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, the 2014 reference year is having a massively adverse effect on those involved in the industry. Land is being taken from productive landowners such as me and people with whom I am familiar and is being given to inactive landowners who have not farmed for many years. If history teaches us anything, it is that these people will probably lose their shirts by 2014. That is of no consolation to active farmers who are losing land. There are major difficulties in this regard at present. I am concerned that, as was the case with the most recent CAP round, active farmers such as me will end up creating entitlements for others. Hence the position with regard to map sales, etc. over many years. I know the Minister is aware of this matter. What is happening is worrying, it is affecting production and it is also affecting the position with regard to the purchasing of equipment. No one wants to invest when they are both unsure and uncertain. I also have a major issue with regard to the greening of the CAP. I am of the view that what is being done in this regard is merely designed to reduce payments.
The issue of sugar production was not referred to but I ask the Minister to keep this firmly in his sights. It has been some years since we exited this industry and I ask the Minister consider ways in which we might return to it. Every extra gallon of milk we produce in the future will be exported, while 65% of sugar produced here will remain within the country.
Another issue to which I wish to refer is that which relates to the funding agreed with the troika in respect of spending capital ceilings and the cuts to be made in this regard. I raised this with the Minister on a previous occasion. Agriculture is being dealt with unfairly. It is not similar to health or other areas because much of its funding comes from Europe. We are still being obliged to adhere to these spending ceilings despite the fact that part of our income comes from Europe. The 15%-85% split to which the Minister referred will not work if we cannot secure the 15%. There may be ways to make it work if we do not operate within the regular funding structures that obtain.
I ask that the Minister think long and hard about taking any action in respect of capital allowances in the forthcoming budget. Such allowances are vital in the context of expenditure and productivity within the agricultural sector. Anyone who is considering tinkering with these allowances will shut down a great deal of the internal expenditure that is occurring. We are trying to encourage people to spend but reducing the capital allowances will prevent them from doing so.
I welcome the Minister's reference to a pan-European quota or something along those lines. In my area, €20 million was spent this year compared with last year as a result of the fact that people cannot exceed their quotas.
We are aware that we are proceeding against a headwind in respect of reducing greenhouse gas emissions because if we increase the size of the national herd, there will be a consequent increase in such emissions. Perhaps we should factor in industries such as those involving anaerobic digestion - to which there are many positive aspects - because these can assist in reducing the level of our emissions. Perhaps we should approach those in Europe and state that we have a twin-track approach whereby our emissions will increase the on one hand, but that there will be a corresponding decrease on the other. We should at least make our European counterparts aware that we are taking a global approach to this matter.
Would it be possible to establish a fast-track system for dealing with environmental impact studies in the context of the new measures relating to wetlands, etc.? Such a system could be specialised in a way that would allow us to concentrate on farm projects. Many of these projects will be repetitive in nature and will not be similar to the one-off projects throughout the country in respect of which environmental impact studies have been required. It would be good if we could establish a group to fast track the system for environmental impact studies. The group could ensure the system to which I refer does not give rise to the same level of concern as that which obtained in the past. This would encourage participants to become involved rather than leading to their shying shy away from the concept of environmental impact studies. One hopes people could be compliant and at a fair cost.
I am concerned about the proposed ban on raw milk. It is obvious that the latter gives rise to greater risks than the pasteurised form. That is why the great majority of people choose to drink pasteurised milk. However, those who drink raw milk should continue to have a choice in respect of doing so. The Minister outlined the importance of our dairy exports but I am of the view that banning the consumption of raw milk would send a detrimental signal. While there are risks to drinking raw milk, the banning of it could be seen as being a vote of no confidence in our dairy products.
We are not banning it. We are considering banning the sale of it. There is a big difference.
I suppose one could not ban raw milk because it would be impossible to stop cows walking around with their udders full of the stuff.
If people want to drink it, they can do so once it is being produced.
I am of the view that it would be a detrimental step to ban the sale of raw milk to those who are willing to accept the added risks involved in its consumption. I call on the Minister to hold off on introducing a ban until the committee - as it proposes to do in the near future - has considered the matter.
On Thursday morning next, we will be having a briefing session on that matter with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.
I wish to concentrate on fisheries but I will raise a number of points in respect of agriculture. I am extremely pleased with the Minister's comments on supports relating to the suckler herd. As Food Harvest 2020 progresses, such supports will be very important. Many farmers in my area work land holdings which are traditionally very small and they do not have the same options available to them in the context of farm practice or farm planning as are available to their counterparts elsewhere. They are affected not just by being in special areas of conservation or such designated areas but by being adjacent to them. Their work can be adversely affected. Support for more disadvantaged areas should be prioritised, even at a time when funding presents a greater challenge.
On the fisheries side, I welcome the Minister's stance on the individual transferable quotas, ITQs. For example, if we hear of a UK-registered vessel, one could bet a pound to a penny that it is owned and crewed by Spanish interests, especially those which fish in our waters off the south west. By and large, such vessels only have a UK flag of convenience and would not in any way be related to the UK fishing industry. I would be loath to see our industry go down that route, which would be inevitable if the ITQs as proposed by Commissioner Damanaki are introduced. I strongly support the Minister in his efforts in this regard. I imagine there may be elements in our fishing industry that could welcome ITQs and would see opportunities for consolidating the industry. By and large, it would be negative for the fishing community and Ireland as a fish producer.
I have a similar view on the issue of discards. In principle, the Commissioner's stance on discards must be supported as it is a crime to discard good fish, although they are dead. Many people do not realise when discussing the discarding of fish that they are dead; the fish will not continue living if thrown back. It is good and valuable food that is being discarded. There is a complex issue involving quotas and by-catches and much more is needed than what is contained in the Commissioner's proposals. We should work on this further and the industry should make proposals. People from the sector find it equally immoral to throw out good fish and no fisherman wants to do it. They can be left in that position if there is no quota for it.
With landings of large pelagic visiting fleets, which have the potential to grade and process fish, it is extraordinary that not one fish is less than 400g or 500g. It is not that the fish are not out there or are not being caught. The fishermen are discarding hundreds of thousands of tonnes of such fish. That practice must be examined as it takes in conservation. Examination of the landings of such vessels would tell its own story.
There should be a permanent enforcement officer on many of those vessels to see what is going on. I have heard the stories from our fishermen who come across such discards. Some of the practices we are being told about are upsetting. Although the evidence is anecdotal, it deserves further investigation.
I do not know the position of the Hague Preferences with regard to the Common Fisheries Policy.
The status quo is intact.
That is welcome.
We would like the position to be stronger but at least the status quo is intact.
With regard to aquaculture, I recognise the problems we have with licensing in special areas of conservation and designated harbours. There are quite a few applications pending in harbours that are not in such designated areas. There seems to be a delay in processing those applications, which is quite frustrating for the industry. We are coming from a very low base in Ireland with regard to aquaculture and licensing and we could potentially increase our effort by a factor of ten over the next few years. That will not happen if delays continue. There is always an application period and these can be seen across EU countries in particular. I am being told by those in the industry that our application processing time is far slower than in other areas. I presume there is a dedicated team for the issue but will a unit in the Department examine the matter? I am working on what I have been told and I would like to see how the process could be managed better. If we are to achieve what the Minister wants to ratchet up our aquaculture industry, we must look at administration and speed up the licensing process. That would put us on a par with other European countries.
In general fisheries management, some of the industry-led initiatives have worked. For example, Celtic Sea herring management has worked and led to that fishery being opened again. One of the problems is that so many vessels were booked into that fishery, with 51 vessels there. With some of the allocations given, it cost more for some vessels to catch and log that fish than the owners would get for selling the fish. It was an administrative effort by some vessels to get a track record or book into the scheme. This relates to ITQs, as if there is a track record, there is potential for building value on the licence no matter how small it is. The problem is that people who are genuinely targeting Celtic Sea herring as part of their plans for the vessels and companies would have been left out.
Allocation of quota must be considered again, possibly including Celtic Sea herring. There will be issues surrounding tuna and there has been a boarfish problem. There have been historical issues with mackerel and other species. How will the Department allocate this to best suit the industry and make everybody a viable unit, in so far as this is possible? That is very important.
The Minister mentioned electronic log books and there will always be opposition in some quarters to log books and enforcement. If this is not introduced across Europe at the same time, it will be seen as another unfair enforcement effort on the Irish fisherman. It will not be supported unless it is done across the board at the same time. If we do not do it that way, we will be seen to come down hard on the industry. The sector has had its ups and downs and many individuals would have issues with the Department - we have all heard those stories - but this matter is important. The industry will not be in favour if the process is not introduced across Europe at the same time.
There are two Senators watching the monitor anxiously. I am sure Deputy Ó Cuív would not mind if they took a minute each to contribute. Is that agreed?
Keep the good wine until last.
I thank Deputy Ó Cuív. I compliment the Minister on his presentation and his knowledge of the brief. We know agriculture is in good hands. Many people have mentioned bureaucracy and red tape and we all hate it but as the Minister indicated, perhaps it has made us the most secure country in the world where food is concerned. It is our biggest selling point internationally that our produce can be accounted for from farm to fork, which is very important.
During our presidency of the EU in 2013, when the Minister will lead the group of agriculture ministers, I ask that he consider legislation to be brought through the European Parliament to tighten up food security, particularly food imported into the EU. The Minister can take the lead when he chairs the group of EU agriculture ministers at that stage. We all must have a level playing field, and while people have said we implemented red tape, we are seeing the benefits. I dislike how other countries can have lax legislation and still be allowed to access the same markets as us.
I thank the Minister for coming before the committee. He has covered a great range and most of the issues have been dealt with. I refer to yesterday's incidents because I made a call to the Minister's office to try to bring about a resolution to the problem. I was not aware at that time of all the incidents that had taken place and none of us could condone what took place. We share the view that farmers should get their payments but we do not condone that type of activity.
The Minister dealt with most of the issues and I welcome his commitment to the family farm and the European model of agriculture which is the family farm-type agriculture we have in Ireland. I also welcome his commitment to the suckler cow and the disadvantaged areas schemes. I am a little worried about farmers coming out of REPS 3 who have nowhere to go into the future. Indeed, farmers in REPS 4 who have a designation on their lands going back as far as 1998 or 1999 would have got rid of stock at that time. Stock is expensive now and it takes a long time to get stock back on to the hills. There will be a problem for those farmers and they must be looked after into the future. Deputy O'Mahony has dealt with many of the other disadvantaged areas.
The Senators are free to go whenever the bells ring. I thank Deputy Ó Cuív for accommodating the Senators.
Not at all. I join in the welcome for the Minister. I agree that food security is vital. While climate change is important, I often wonder whether people realise that the food on the supermarket shelves must come in every day. If a few days were missed, there would be absolute chaos. Therefore, food security is vital and it is for that reason the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, exists.
I have always supported food standards. I remember being in the Department when CJD, or mad cow disease, became prevalent. I always referred to the stupidity index in regard to the drop in beef consumption in European countries, although I will not mention the countries which had the largest drop in beef consumption. There was a much greater chance of getting killed crossing the road than there was from eating ordinary beef, in particular if one was not eating burgers and so on. The reality was that the fear factor had an absolutely devastating effect on the markets. We should do everything we can in terms of traceability and I have always supported that.
I remember we introduced sheep tagging. There was much argument about it at the time and I said it did not make the sheep safer but that it gave the consumer confidence. When one looks at what a food scare does, one realises there is no rationale to it. It is not about the actual danger but about perceived danger. I do not believe there was a drop in beef consumption in Ireland, because we are very intelligent, but in some urbanised countries, there was a huge drop in consumption.
I welcome what the Minister said about Natura 2000 sites and extra payments. The impositions being put on farmers in Natura 2000 sites are absolutely incredible. There is much misunderstanding about the nature of farming in these areas. In Mayo, we have the Néifinn Bheag sites and in Connemara, we have the Twelve Bens, which are a further extension of this principle. In many cases, I am not convinced that we will wind up with a sustainable, good farming practice because what has been happening is that we have lurched from one crisis of overgrazing caused by EU premia - it will always deny that but it is the reality - to an understocking situation where one gets much woody-type growth. These areas will just go up in flames.
In regard to what the Minister said about payments, one cannot buy in sheep on a hill farm. If one owns a hill farm and one is very understocked, if one buys in hill sheep from a different mountain, they will return to the mountain from which they came. They will not stay on the mountain. They only way to increase one's stocking levels is to breed the ewe lambs on the mountain in question over time. One hears people say that one can restock by going to the mart and buying a few ewes. If one does that, they will go back home. One will have paid for them but when one looks for them, they will have gone.
The sister Department with responsibility for heritage has not always fully understood the nature of the things it has been dictating. I had long arguments with it and I brought in experts in soil science, hill farming and so on but I do not believe it got it. There is a big problem there. The other problem is that we will have to continue to support those farmers to continue to manage those hills. There is, however, huge resentment.
I compliment the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on the preprinted forms. It was a great revolution in agriculture whereby one just had to sign the same form if one had not changed the land parcels. I wish the Revenue Commissioners and others did the same. I tried to get the Department of Social Protection to do so when I was in it, that is, to give back the information one had already provided which was standard.
I am amazed that each year someone somewhere dreams up a new check on the maps. For the past two or three years, it has been rocks, and there are many rocks in my part of the world. They literally deduct acreage for all the rocks they find. This year it is farm buildings and they are writing back to everyone. If the person took out the farm buildings, they want to identify why they are not on the map and if they are on it, they want them taken out. As a Deputy said, one is arguing about 0.1 ha. Many appeals are arising as a result of all of this.
When we will a decision be made that the farmer has given the right and a full declaration of his land? Will someone dream up some new things on area aid every each? Much of this relates to very small amounts.
I refer to a very rocky hills and the use of digital maps. I saw someone try to take out 50% of a mountain. However, we won the appeal because when the guy came out, he saw there was plenty of grass growing between the rocks and it was not as grey on the ground as it looked from the satellite. Such a case is fairly arbitrary in that it has to be asked how one figures out how much on a mountain is rock and how much is grass growing between the rocks. If a farmer has overclaimed in such a case, the 3% penalty should not apply because it is done in good faith. It is impossible to work out how much is rock and how much is grass without high technology, and even then the only way to do so is to walk all the ground. One might not believe people are getting caught on these issues but they certainly are in my neck of the woods and it is causing problems.
The Minister said the real saving is €200 million and that is only if the Government decides to stick to the letter of the law in regard to the figures in the four-year plan which were only indicative figures and are negotiable. What percentage of the total spend of the Department is €200 million?
The Minister said he wanted to keep the rate of disadvantage payment the same. I am a bit worried about that because on the one hand the Minister is saying he will look after areas where we have designations while on the other hand he is saying he will keep the rate of payment the same but is looking at stocking densities. How will he deal with the situation in which stocking densities in hill areas are very low because the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department with responsibility for heritage have insisted the stock cannot go on the mountain during winter? If one is in cattle only, one does not use the hill that much and, therefore, if one goes on the basis of stocking density, one might think one is only hitting non-farmers but one will hit many farmers. There are unintended consequences of that approach and I warn the Minister about it.
Will the Minister give a straight answer as to whether there will be new applications for people leaving REPS 3 and REPS 4 and going into AEOS next year? The Minister should talk to his colleague in the Department of Social Protection. I have always had an argument with the IFA on this issue because it ignores small farmers. There are 8,000 to 10,000 farmers on means-tested farm assist payments. The majority of those would much prefer to be on the rural social scheme which was set up to combine part-time farming in non-viable farming areas with work in the community which needs to be done. The idea that one could not create another 8,000 jobs in communities is fallacious. A lot of work needs to be done in communities and the rural social scheme deals with a working population. These are not unemployed persons, rather they are underemployed farmers. This a skilled workforce that can turn its hand to virtually anything. Every farmer on the farm assist scheme should be given the opportunity to participate in the rural social scheme. The cost would be small, but it would get the farmer concerned away from the 70% penalty for increased production under the farm assist scheme.
The Common Fisheries Policy has always been a bad deal for Ireland and I opposed it in the European Union on that basis. At every meeting the first statement by an Irish Minister should be to the effect that it is a fundamentally flawed policy because we are only allowed to catch 18% of the fish in our own territory, despite contributing X billion euro to the European Union in the past 20 to 30 years. One might ask what is the point of taking this position, given that our negotiating partners will not budge. If one rubs a stone for long enough, it will become shiny and if one makes a point for long enough, it will eventually sink in. Furthermore, the European Union always compromised whenever I started from this position in the negotiations to which I was a party. It compromises from wherever the Minister starts; therefore, if we start on the baseline plus ten, it will compromise from that point. It is vital that we make this point and follow it up by raising the issue of mandatory transferable concessions. I agree with the Minister that it is totally wrong and should not be acceptable in any case. The concession should be that we park the big and unjust fact that we are only allowed to catch 18% of the fish stocks.
If we want to find out what will happen, we only need look at the pig and poultry sectors in Ireland. The big guys will control the entire sector and families who engage in fishing will be on the way out. The New Zealand model is not as great as we might think because it has gone the way of the pig and poultry sectors in Ireland.
It is true that small fishermen do not fish quota species. They would if they could, but they do not have the quota to do so. Inshore fishing should be of big interest in Ireland and we have to keep pressing until we get a fair deal on fishing.
My colleague, Deputy Pringle, asked about the business plan for fishery harbours. I would also like an answer to that question, to which I do not recall the Minister responding.
The potential of the shellfish sector is huge, but the problem of special areas of conservation arises. Given the combination of Irish NGOs complaining to Brussels and the attitude of the Commission and the European Court of Justice to the west of Ireland, it appears the intention is to turn the region into a theme park. There is no balance in terms of allowing people to continue to engage in traditional activities that cause little environmental damage. In most cases it is impossible to farm or fish in a sustainable way. Hill farming was in balance with nature until the European Union offered the ewe premium. That is what caused all of the problems. Between 1870 and 1970 hill farming was practised in a sustainable manner, but then the European Union created the environmental problems when its pay-outs turned farming into a numbers game. Similarly, the bays are special areas of conservation because we preserved them. It is ridiculous that an environmental impact assessment is required to build a slip of the sort constructed by the Congested Districts Board in 1890 with no environmental damage. One cannot get involved in aquaculture because of the need for an environmental impact assessment. Our own NGOs are a significant part of the problem because irrespective of what we do, they run off to Brussels. It is time the Minister publicly explained to them the damage they are doing. If necessary, they should be named and shamed for the damage they have caused.
Deputy Harrington made a fantastic contribution. I concur with him on many of the issues he raised and look forward to hearing the Minister's answers. The reason my colleague, Deputy Moynihan, left the meeting early is he has to travel to Brussels this afternoon.
I thank the Minister for his detailed presentation. He stated his Department had carried out a comprehensive review of all areas of activity and expenditure. I ask him to clarify what efficiencies can be found in the areas of regulation and disease control. I am mindful that anything that avoids the necessity of taking €200 million from payments will have the most beneficial impact on primary producers and the industry as a whole.
In regard to the European Commission's proposal to abolish sugar beet quotas by 2016, feasibility studies produced positive results and there has been interest in the private sector and among former growers. How does the Minister envisage playing a role in that process at European level to allow us to avail of the possibility of producing sugar in the future?
Food Harvest 2020 sets out ambitious targets. To meet them, young and vibrant farmers will need to be active in the industry between now and then. I acknowledge the Minister's efforts on CAP reform and hope the proposals to be made tomorrow will include positive measures for young farmers. Failing that, however, are any measures planned for the budget to encourage young farmers or, at least, protect them?
I have two brief questions. I will not repeat other members' contributions other than to add to Deputy Barry's comments on the quid pro quo for other carbon remediating activities. An agri-energy policy which includes wind power and bio-fuel production, as well as the sequestration of carbon through forestry plantations, should be part of the equation.
I cannot go back to County Wicklow without mentioning sheep and EID. We need to bring the matter to a resolution because there is too much uncertainty. Welfare issues arise because of the nature of the sheep breeding season and what works for bovines does not necessarily work for sheep. This is an issue that needs to be addressed. The sector is mentioned in Food Harvest 2020. Other farming activities are not sustainable in many of the areas in which it is practised.
Deputy O'Mahony asked for figures for the percentage cuts proposed in the four year budgetary programme. The figures can be spun in one of two ways. Taking into account the money from the European Union as well as the Exchequer, reducing expenditure of €3 billion by €200 million will produce a figure of 7%. If one operates on the basis of the actual reduction in expenditure from this year to next year, which is €360 million, the figure is 12%. If the single farm payment is discounted, more than half of the overall fund will not be taken into account. The accurate figure is probably the 12% one. One can make it look much higher by considering the cut in the contribution the Irish Exchequer makes towards agriculture. However, one has to consider that many of our staff, implementation and monitoring costs go with the territory, in terms of the allocation of the single farm payment, for example. One cannot simply discount the European moneys. The only accurate way to do it is to consider the actual proposed reduction in expenditure from this year to next year. The difference between the two figures is €360 million, which is 12% of the total overall expenditure. If one takes into account the actual cuts that are required because certain schemes have tailed away, the figure is approximately 7%. One will hear people using figures of 20% or more. That is because they are discounting single farm payment moneys, which come in their entirety from Europe. We have to allocate those moneys, monitor them and do all the mapping for payments under them, etc. One can try to spin the figures how one wants, depending on the point one wants to make.
I commend the Minister for ensuring the payments will be made before the end of the year. It has been suggested that if some payments are not made before the end of the year, they will go into the budget to be spent next year, which would mean that a bigger cut could be made.
We will try to ensure that every expenditure that can be made this year will be made. We are sending letters to dairy farmers regarding the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, for example. Capital grants are available under the scheme to enable farmers to upgrade their dairy and milk storage capacities. Similar letters are being sent to sheep farmers. We want farmers to spend those moneys this year so the grant aid can be provided before the end of the year. That is why I am putting pressure on officials to send the approval letters out. They are with the local offices at the moment. Some of these cases involve inspections, etc. We actually have a budget this year. The Estimate is enough to pay for what we need to spend this year. We want to try to maximise the expenditure we make this year in order to free up as much space as possible under next year's expenditure ceiling. I assure the committee that people who are due to receive payments this year will not lose them if they carry over into next year as a result of some problem. We are trying to front-load payments where possible to get as much money as possible out this year, given that we have a budget to do so. We will be under a lot more pressure next year.
I thank Deputy O'Mahony for his comments on the disadvantaged area payment. As I have said, it will be a priority area. We are examining the question of eligibility for that payment, which was also mentioned by Deputy Ó Cuív.
I was also asked about stocking in general. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is not the only Department that makes determinations on stocking. The National Parks and Wildlife Service often makes decisions about the stocking of commonage or Natura areas. Although hillsides may have been overstocked in the past, it is simply a fact that a great deal of land is understocked at the moment. That is doing as much damage as overstocking, if not more in some places. It also creates a fire hazard. The failure to keep overgrowth under control through grazing is causing grazing areas for sheep to be written off. We are getting a necessary re-evaluation of stocking rates on a great deal of land in disadvantaged areas. That will be a factor when we are making our decisions. I wish to make it clear that my Department is not the only one that makes determinations on that - not by a long shot.
A number of members asked what will happen people who come off the rural environment protection scheme next year, or this year for that matter. At the moment, no follow-on to REPS 3 is in place. We put an agri-environment options scheme structure in place in April of last year. We have to consider whether we can afford to put a new agri-environment options scheme in place next year. That is the honest answer. I have not made a decision on that. We have to make such decisions in the context of the availability of funds. Although many people were very critical of the second agri-environment options scheme, I suggest that those who are coming to the end of the rural environment protection scheme would be happy to avail of a scheme like the second agri-environment options scheme, if such a scheme in place next year. We have to factor the question of whether we can afford it into the budget.
Farmers who are under restriction for Natura 2000 have a legal right to compensation. If they can no longer avail of the agri-environment options scheme, they have to get the National Parks and Wildlife Service farm plan scheme. From the point of view of the Government, it is six of one and half a dozen of the other. Farmers have a legal right to be compensated for having lands designated as special areas of conservation. If that were not the case, they could do what they wanted on their lands. The law is quite clear in providing that compensation shall be made available when restrictions are imposed on one's farming practices.
Yes, but it depends on what one categorises as compensation. Involvement in the rural environment protection scheme is not necessarily accompanied by compensation. The lands of people who apply under that scheme may be inside or outside special areas of conservation. No extra compensation is attached in such circumstances.
It is just like being in a disadvantaged area or a less favoured area.
When areas were being designated, one had a choice of participating in the National Parks and Wildlife Service farm plan scheme or the rural environment protection scheme. In the absence of the latter scheme, everyone will go straight down the road to join the National Parks and Wildlife Service scheme and no saving will be made. The advantage of the agri-environment options scheme was that it was a whole-farm scheme. The other schemes compensate one for the loss of one's stock, but one can do what one wants otherwise. Many people would have said that environmentally, the whole-farm approach was better than the approach of compensating for sheep stock losses.
It needs to be clarified that the old rural environment protection scheme had a compensatory element. It was probably unique to one particular category-----
That is why people in Natura areas were automatically accepted into the last agri-environment options scheme, ahead of anybody else in the queue. If a new agri-environment options scheme is put in place, the likelihood is that people in Natura areas will be prioritised. I am not going to commit to a new agri-environment options scheme until I know I have enough money to back that up. It is as simple as that.
I would like to make a final point.
No, we need to move on.
I would like to suggest that an agri-environment options scheme be put in place specifically and only for Natura 2000 areas, if it is decided that all the other areas need to be ignored. If there is no scheme in Natura 2000 areas, literally no money will be saved.
The Minister has responded to that point.
We have some time to make decisions on that.
I take Deputy Ó Cuív's point. However, I have to operate within the budget available to me. I have to be legally sound as well.
I take the point made by Deputy Barry about over-regulation. Much of the regulation in question is not determined by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food - it is determined by audits we get from outside. If we do not apply the rules of, for example, the agri-environment options scheme, which is 70% co-funded by the European Union, fines and deductions will be imposed on us. We need to cross every t and dot every i. When someone else is paying the bill, they are entitled to have a say when it comes to the level of regulation. It is always our job to try to minimise that burden, particularly when it is a question of nit-picking over very small parcels of land.
I was also asked about the future of sugar beet. Very few people would like to see sugar being processed in Ireland more than I would. I have plenty of experience of producing sugar beet and bringing it to factories. It is not a question of what happened in the past. If the price of world sugar stays above €500 per tonne, it is a viable proposition to build a factory and produce sugar in Ireland. If the price falls below that level, it becomes more difficult to make the figures add up. The current price is approximately €800 per tonne. We need to calculate what is likely to happen to the price of processed sugar after the EU sugar quota system is abolished. That is the calculation we all have to try to make.
During the summer, I read two feasibility studies on starting sugar processing and ethanol processing in Ireland from sugar beet and other sources. Both of them were very credible and very professionally put together. Both of them were paid for by farmers or other investors who were willing to do so. The studies made a very convincing argument. Ultimately this is about the world price of processed sugar and the European price of processed sugar because, whether we like it, Ireland is not a competitive place in which to produce sugar versus other parts of Europe and other parts of the world. We would produce it on the basis of a sugar security argument, which is a valid one, as many food companies in Ireland struggle to get sugar at any price, largely from British Sugar or other companies. There is a huge value to sugar as a rotation crop and as a cash crop for farmers in rural Ireland which adds to the arable feasibility and profitability. Ultimately I need to be cautious not to lead farmers up the garden path to pretend this is an easy re-establishment of a sugar industry. We need to proceed with caution and with good advice but the indications to date have been very encouraging.
My role in this is to ensure that we remove the quota restrictions in place in terms of a sugar regime to allow us do that if it possible for us to do it commercially. The Commission has a number of proposals for the sugar regime, one of which is to end quotas in 2016 and to allow markets to decide when and where sugar is produced. Others would prefer to end quotas in 2018 or 2020. We will have to wait and see but my arguments around the council table will be that we should remove sugar quotas as soon as possible to allow countries, such as Ireland, if they see it as an important food security issue, to put together a sugar industry again. There are many farmers here who are equipped and skilled to produce good sugar beet, particularly in the south east but also elsewhere.
On the issue of capital ceilings, one of the real frustrations in the build up to the budget is that capital expenditure for the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is very different from capital expenditure in other Departments. For example in the Department of Transport, capital expenditure is about building roads, bridges or a metro whereas capital expenditure in my Department is about maintenance of, say, fishing piers. Last year €119 million was used to pay forestry premiums, afforestation grants and planting grants. The forestry premia are under contract. We cannot say we cannot afford it next year so let us build it in four years' time. Essentially much of the capital expenditure in my Department is current expenditure that is under a capital budget under rolling contracts year after year so that puts us in a different category.
What is being proposed from the four-year budgetary plan is that the capital expenditure in my Department would go from €268 million this year to €150 million next year, which leaves virtually no capital after paying forestry premia. That is not workable. Therefore, we have to look at ways in which we can convince the Department of Finance that what is being asked of us in terms of capital reductions is very difficult to implement without doing lasting damage to a sector such as forestry. There is the facility to move between current and capital expenditure in terms of savings which we may have to look at but we are also making a strong case to allow the capital ceiling to be lifted somewhat for our capital expenditure programme in respect of the plan that has been put in place but that involves some other Department having a capital ceiling reduction to facilitate that. There is no room for extra spending and that is what we have signed up to.
On the issue of EIA and wetlands, we got a good result in EIA on everything except the wetlands area. I contacted the environment commissioner directly. We sent a delegation from my Department and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to make a proactive presentation in mid-August, and got what I regard as pragmatic thresholds for a whole series of farming activity, around environmental impact assessment for changing the contours of files, removing ditches, filling in holes, reclaiming scrub land and so on. The one area where the restrictions and the thresholds are very tight is in draining wetlands but that is not an area over which my Department had or has any control - that is a matter for the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. It would be helpful if we examined an efficient way of environmental impact assessment in a wetlands scenario but that will have to come through the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government rather than my Department.
On capital allowances, I will bring forward in the budget a tax package for farmers which tries to encourage land mobility. The average field in Ireland changes ownership once every 400 years while the average field in France changes ownership once every 70 years. That gives one an idea of just how attached Irish families are to their farms and their land. That is not a bad thing but it frustrates the movement of land from parents to sons or daughters. We need to look again at the package of taxation measures in place to encourage land mobility and, most importantly, to encourage the transfer of land to a new generation of farmer who has come through college and has many new ideas and wants to upgrade the farming practice. Rather than damage any existing package we are seeking to enhance it. Perhaps that is an issue this committee can discuss at a later stage before the budget.
Deputy McNamara raised the issue of raw milk. Let me be clear on this. We have a €2.5 billion export business in dairy exports. If I see anything that has the potential to damage the reputation of Irish milk in terms of a health scare I will take a lot of convincing to facilitate that potential danger. All the advice available to me from the Food Safety Authority and from research within my Department is that raw milk, for those who want to drink it, can be very healthy but there is also a genuine risk of it carrying human pathogenic bacteria.
Drinking raw milk can result in a dramatic health scare that goes out of control very quickly. We will not apply a ban on the sale of raw milk based cheese because of the time lag between taking milk from the cow and when it is sold so that there is time to respond to a crisis. The major concern relating to raw milk is that we have worked incredibly hard to build the reputation of Irish milk to where it is now, which is on a par with if not better than New Zealand. We have 16% of the world infant formula market and the market is growing. Major companies such as Wyeth and Danone spend tens of millions of euros building extra capacity for milk powder plants and processing plants in Ireland, which adds value to milk which is exactly what we want to do with dairy product.
Can one imagine the response internationally, if a child contracted TB or some bacterial related disease from drinking raw milk in terms of the damage that may cause to the reputation of a product as sensitive to consumer safety concerns as infant formula? I do not want to over-blow the dangers but I am going to ignore the science either. I remain to be convinced. If somebody can sit down with me and explain how a system can be put in place that allows for the sale of raw milk, when and where people want to sell it and the regulations around that, and can reassure me that there are more benefits than potential threats then I will look at it. I am cautious on this issue because I value the work that so many people have put into maintaining the reputation of Irish milk and so many families rely on it. There are probably less than 50 people in Ireland who want to sell raw milk. They are very vocal about it and are entitled to make their case. My position on this is clear. Given that the sale of raw milk was banned in 2007, the provision we are implementing has been in place for some time. I do not have a closed mind on the issue and have spoken to many artisan food producers who feel passionately about it. The decision must be made on the basis of scientific evidence rather than passion or emotion. I will not risk the reputation of a valuable growth industry and must be sure any changes are responsible.
Will the Minister make the research carried out by the Department available to the joint committee?
I understand a briefing will take place later this week.
We have arranged a briefing with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, with the option of a further briefing with the Department.
I am grateful to the Chairman.
While I do not want to overstate the potential dangers, one must balance benefits with risks.
I thank Deputy Harrington for his support on the issue of the suckler herd. He also asked a number of highly relevant questions about fishing. I have repeatedly made my views on individual transferable quotas clear to the Commission, both on and off the record. I had a good and frank discussion, particularly off the record, with the Commissioner when she visited Dublin and believe she understands the reason Ireland is so defensive on the issue. I am not sure she understood this before her visit. I spent a long time with her to try to reinforce that message.
Discards are indefensible, but the question is how does one resolve the issue while allowing people to continue fishing and securing the support of the industry. The idea that one must kill four or five juvenile fish to land a single marketable fish does not make sense from a stock management point of view. It is also morally wrong to kill an animal and then discard it. Discards present a complex problem in Irish waters because most of our fisheries are mixed. It may be less of a problem in the pelagic sector, but what does a fisherman in the whitefish sector do if he only has a cod quota but catches haddock, whiting and cod while fishing in the Celtic Sea? The Commission takes a blunt approach to this issue. The Commissioner, for instance, has stated fishermen will be forced to land everything they catch between 2014 and 2016 and the problem will be addressed from there. We can take a more sophisticated approach. We need a discards plan for individual stocks and species, one which involves different mesh sizes and net shapes. A significant amount of good and successful work is being done both here and abroad on this matter. For instance, cod stocks will never recover in the Irish Sea if cod continues to be caught and discarded when fishermen are catching prawns. We must be honest about this issue. We need to find ways to resolve these issues through the use of clever technology and new mechanisms such as those being developed all the time to improve our capacity in this area. The problem is that it is expensive for a fisherman to buy all the new equipment required. We need to find affordable and workable ways of making the necessary transition.
Under the Hague preferences which have been in place for many years, if quotas for certain stocks fall below a certain level, Ireland is given preferential treatment in the allocation of quotas on the basis that certain economies of scale are needed to make a fishery viable. While this principle remains intact in the current draft, we must fight for its implementation each December. Although we would like it to be enshrined in European Union law, we have not yet been able to achieve this goal. Given the sensitivity of other countries towards the Hague preferences, we do not want to use up too much of our negotiating power in engaging in a fight on the issue, even if it is vital that we maintain them.
On aquaculture, we are making some progress on some of the harbours which do not have special area of conservation status. I had a list of three or four harbours, including Bantry and Killary harbours, where progress is being made. An application for permission has been made for a specific project in Bantry. When a major proposal is made, irrespective of the area involved, a significant amount of work is involved in granting a licence, particularly in the case of salmon farming, for which an application has been made in Bantry Bay. I am trying to have this matter fast-tracked as best I can, while ensuring we avoid EU fines because we are always on the brink of being fined. Deputy Ó Cuív referred to the constant stream of correspondence from non-governmental organisations to the European Commission on this issue. Some of the points made by the NGOs are correct. They are not wrong all the time and we must strike a balance between protecting our magnificent harbours and inlets around the coast - they are highly valuable for tourism, for example - and exploiting their potential in terms of fishing and aquaculture. The question is how fast can we make assessments to enable us to make responsible decisions. We must concentrate on reducing the timescale involved in making such decisions.
For the past few years we did not catch our tuna quota because our fishermen could not find sufficient stocks. This year the catch, at approximately 3,500 tonnes, has been phenomenal and valued at €8 million. This has provided a great fillip for the fishing industry. While fishermen do not discuss good news stories, the size of the catch of tuna was certainly one such story this year because it was Irish rather than Spanish boats which caught it this year. Given its migratory nature, tuna not caught in the Celtic Sea moves through the Bay of Biscay where it is caught by fishermen from other countries. The problem with having a good year is that large numbers of boats will apply to access the tuna catch this year, thus increasing demand and making it more difficult to manage the quota next year.
The Celtic Sea herring quota has also been a good news story. It will, I hope, increase significantly in December as a result of the responsible approach we have taken and the excellent stock management plan we have applied to the stock. We are seeing the positive results of this approach. The structure will be replicated in other fishing zones, particularly off the west coast, to try to rebuild stocks. The problem, however, is that when the quota increases, everyone wants a piece of it and more harbours want to access landings. I must make decisions in the coming weeks on Celtic Sea herring allocations. I will take my decisions based on the need to spread the benefits of the growing stock across the industry.
I accept the Deputy's point on electronic logbooks. The rules applied to Ireland must be applied to everyone. The Naval Service will enforce the use of electronic logbooks for every vessel in Irish waters, irrespective of its nationality. We must enforce the law in this regard and I have received a commitment from the Commissioner that she will support the approach we will take from the start of November onwards.
Will the rule be applied in the territorial waters of other EU member states?
As my focus has always been on the Atlantic, I am not sure what the position is in the Mediterranean and the Baltic Sea. I understand, however, that all fishing vessels will be required to use electronic logbooks from 1 November onwards.
Senator O'Neill asked a question on legislation dealing with food security labelling. Country of origin labelling which applies to beef will be applied to lamb, poultry and pigmeat in the not too distant future. Farming organisations have been calling for such a change for a long time. This is, therefore, a positive development which Ireland supports. The current proposals on country of origin labelling do not yet apply to dairy products.
Senator Comiskey has asked about the position of people who leave REPS 3 and 4. I have answered this question and do not wish to create carnage on it if I can avoid doing so. Those who complete REPS 3 or 4 are used to receiving a significant portion of their income under the scheme. Even moving to an AOS payment involves a significant reduction in income, not to speak of the reduction experienced by those who no longer receive any payments. While I am conscious of the position in this regard, I will not make promises in advance of the budget.
I concur with Deputy Ó Cuív on the importance of food security, food standards and traceability and the impact of food scarcity. I believe I addressed the points on over and under-grazing and I agree with the Deputy.
Regarding the change in maps payments, letters were sent to farmers this year, asking for clarity about buildings and farmland. We are trying to move toward an accurate mapping system that can assess the eligible farmed area on a holding. That becomes much more complex when there are commonage and hillside areas. However, there is an onus on us, driven by the Commission, to become increasingly accurate. We must try to digitise these maps which involves some hassle.
Regarding the farm assist scheme versus the rural social scheme, my Department does not implement either scheme which is the responsibility of the Department of Social Protection. However, I will make the not unreasonable point made in committee to the Minister, Deputy Joan Burton.
The business plans for fisheries harbours are pressing ahead and we have made investments. This summer we invested in a marina to be put in place in Rossaveal. We are putting a new economic stimulus package in place for Killybegs which will not necessarily involve spending a great deal of money. We have tried to pull all the stakeholders together to see how we might sweat the available assets in a more effective way. In like fashion we are looking at items such as the cost of rates and rent within the fisheries harbours we control - there are only six under my Department's control - to try to ensure that we are competitive and can reflect a fair cost in charging for the use of facilities. We cannot give these away for nothing and must pay for the cost of running harbours. This is a commercial operation. If fishermen are getting their boats hauled out, cleaned, painted or maintained, or if people are leasing premises owned by the Department, we have to get a commercial return or the taxpayer will have to pay. There is a constant balance between ensuring we are not inconsistent with fair practice in what we ask people to pay for services and the fact that we have a monopoly in some of those services. At the same time we must get a commercial rate of return.
A speaker referred to the Commission's approach to the west of Ireland. If one were to ask the Commission about that it would say the reason it took a hard line on some issues is that it wishes to protect and preserve what is special about the west of Ireland. I realise the Deputy disagrees with that approach.
No, I do not.
I know the Deputy would like to leave the matter to landowners and fishermen. However, when a piece of land gets a designation there is a reason for it, namely, to preserve the biodiversity that is present and whatever of environmental significance needs protection. It is about balancing that approach with commercial realities to allow people to live and develop businesses.
What makes it special is the people.
There is great biodiversity in homo sapiens, including linguistic, cultural and community factors. These create what is present in any area and that is the problem I have been living with for 20 years. The people create the balance on to which the Minister is trying to impose. If he actually talked to the farmers and fishermen he would find they have no wish to destroy anything. Instead of dictating from Brussels he should sit down and work it out with them and listen to the knowledge of the local people.
The point is made. We will not have a discussion on this today.
The point had been made.
Perhaps we could come back to this issue another day.
The evidence is clear. If we do not manage fish stocks, for example, they disappear. Let us be clear on that point. It is about balancing the two aspects.
We are moving into another area
With regard to Deputy Heydon's points on efficiency in running the Department, one area we looked at is our presence in beef factories. We are trying to reduce the cost of veterinary inspections. We removed the Department-funded stampers, as they are called, who stamp carcasses and are in the process of getting factories to take up the cost. We are seeking to streamline services and are continuing to reduce the number of people who work for the Department - which is not easy. As skilled people retire they are not replaced and we must find others to do the work. This is an ongoing efficiency process. There are other aspects of this which have not been published yet. When changes are being made in a Department the first people one tells are those who are affected so I shall return to that at another date.
I answered the question about sugar beet. I believe there will be good news for young farmers in the package tomorrow in the form of a significant top-up in the single farm payment for farmers under the age of 40 for up to five years. That is a very positive step in what we are trying to do in terms of land mobility and having farms handed over. If and when that transpires, as I hope it will, it will encourage same and should be welcomed. We shall see tomorrow. There may have been some last-minute changes.
The Chairman raised the issue of carbon measuring, which, as one who was a spokesperson on climate change, is something I strongly favour. One of the great injustices in terms of measuring emissions from food production is that the only aspect measured is the methane which comes out of the front and back ends of a cow. Nobody measures the carbon sink value of the permanent pasture upon which the great majority of those cattle actually graze. The Commission is working on a document on land use, land use change and forestry, LULUCF, which relates to the sequestration value of both land use and forestry and how that value will be factored into the emissions targets to which every country in the European Union has signed up. In Ireland's case this is for a 20% reduction on 2005 levels by 2020. We would make the case that when we can credibly measure the sequestration value of the permanent pasture that forms the vast majority of our grass, and likewise for forestry, that value should be factored into the emissions contributions counted for food production.
A growing number of scientists would make a very coherent argument that producing beef in Ireland on a grass-based system is carbon neutral. Nonetheless, we have placed a massive burden on the shoulders of farmers, particularly those who have livestock, because there is no factoring in of the carbon sequestration value of permanent pasture and forestry. There is an argument to be commenced and won on this issue. I have made my position very clear to the Commissioner for Climate Action, Ms Connie Hedegaard, for whom I have a lot of time in terms of what she is trying to do. However, in the area of food production there is still much work to do in merging the food security approach of the EU with the climate change approach, and rewarding countries such as Ireland for producing food at a very low carbon footprint.
I make a strong argument that if we want to make a contribution globally towards reducing emissions in the food sector we should dramatically increase food production in Ireland. On a relative basis compared to other countries, we produce food at a reasonably low carbon footprint in a very sustainable way. This goes back to the argument on the sustainable intensification of agriculture versus keeping tens of thousands of cattle in sheds that are fed on maize, as happens in many countries in the world. That is a much more carbon intense way of producing beef; dairy farming is just as relevant.
I am familiar with the welfare issues in regard to sheep, especially young lambs, when heavy electronic tags are inserted into their ears. We are trying to create the kind of traceability in sheep that we have for cattle but these are very different types of farming. One is flock based, while the other is individual based. Given the complexities involved, perhaps we might sit down, away from this setting, to work out how we can strike a balance between the need for electronic tagging and its benefits and the need for flexibility to take account of the perfectly valid concerns expressed by many farmers.
There was a difficulty in regard to the Leader programme in that the European Union had ruled on the matter. I agree with the Minister in what he said about artisan and small food production companies. I was very much involved in that issue when I was in the Department.
Up until a few months ago artisan and small food production companies were able to receive Leader programme grants under what is called axis 3 of pillar 2 of the CAP. Axis 1 essentially encompasses direct payments to farmers and food producers. For example, the TAMS is covered by axis 1, while axis 2 of pillar 2 covers schemes such as the AEOS, the REPS and so forth. Axis 3 of pillar 2 encompasses the Regional Development Fund, that is, Leader programme funding. A number of months ago the Commission made a ruling that under axis 3 one would no longer be able to provide grant aid directly for small food production companies. That is why many members will have received representations from their local Leader programme organisation to state it can no longer give money to micro breweries, cheesemakers and local artisan food production companies. That is damaging because the funding and support provided was important.
Most of the Leader programme funding comes from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. Certainly, the funding given to food production companies came from that Department. We are looking at ways by which we could change the axis from axis 3 to axis 1 to allow us to put together a fund for food production companies, but the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government would still be required to provide matching funding. However, the matter is not quite as simple as that because if we take money from axis 1, potentially, we will be taking money that may have been going to another source. We are trying to figure out a way by which we would not lose money for any of the other schemes we wish to run and, at the same time, open up a funding stream which would not involve a massive amount of money but which would be a large amount of money for small food production companies to allow such companies to be financed again.
There are ongoing discussions between my Department and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government on the issue because it involves the two Departments changing the axis used and retaining the matching funding from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. I hope we will have a decision on the matter within a couple of weeks.
I thank the Minister for his long and detailed contribution. He has given the committee plenty of material that will help it to concentrate on certain key areas of its work programme. The argument about not having agricultural production and the objectives of Food Harvest 2020 stymied by virtue of the fact that a simplistic approach to greenhouse gas emissions could hamper them is something on which we should concentrate.
In regard to the fishing industry, we have a level of expertise on the committee which could prove useful to the Minister and the Department. I again thank him and his officials for what was a comprehensive contribution.
As Deputy Tom Barry asked me to do, I will introduce my officials. I am accompanied by Ms Ann Derwin, an economist in the Department who does a particularly good job, and Mr. Heber McMahon who is head of the finance unit and, as such, involved in compiling the budget. They are two key decision-makers who, I have no doubt, are monitoring what I am saying to ensure I do not deviate too much.
I was not able to thank them individually because I did not know their names.