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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 1 Jul 1931

Vol. 14 No. 24

Agricultural Produce (Potatoes) Bill, 1931—Second Stage.

Question proposed: That the Bill be now read a Second Time.

This is quite a simple Bill. Part II provides for the registration of premises and for the licensing of exporters. It provides that all potatoes exported from this country shall be exported from registered premises; that they may be exported either from premises which have been registered in the name of the exporter or from premises registered in the name of the farmer. It also provides that railway stations may be licensed for the purpose of examining potatoes. The fees to be charged are also set out in this part of the Bill. They average about a shilling a ton. Two classes of potatoes are dealt with, ware and seed potatoes. Ware potatoes are all potatoes that are not seed potatoes Part III of the Bill gives power to the Minister to make regulations for grading and packing. The important section in Part IV provides for the inspection of seed potatoes while they are growing. We contemplate inspecting all seed potatoes intended for sale abroad while they are actually growing to see that the growing crop is pure. That will have advantages afterwards when we are giving a certificate for the export of the crop.

At the moment we grow about 350,000 acres of potatoes. We export considerable quantities of ware potatoes and seed potatoes. At present we import very small quantities. Our exports of seed potatoes are considerably greater than our imports. We export about 20,000 tons of seed potatoes. There has been such a complete change in the market in the last five years that we now import very little seed potatoes. There is a big market in England for seed potatoes. The Scotch farmers send hundreds of thousands of tons of seed potatoes there every year. There is no reason why we should not have a share of that market. Potatoes are grown successfully in every county in this State, and we hope, as a result of this Bill, to be able to get a larger share than we have at present of the English market. So far as the home market is concerned, we have, of course, the whole of that. The imports are negligible. Consequently, if we are to expand at all it must be by getting a hold of a considerable share of the big imports of potatoes into England.

I wish to support the Second Reading of this Bill. I believe it will be of great assistance to exporters. There is always a market for potatoes in England. The demand varies from year to year. In the past this market has been damaged by the manner in which some potatoes have been sent across. A few years ago I was speaking to the manager of a large firm in the north of England, an Irishman who was anxious to handle Free State produce and who had been in the habit of getting produce from the Free State. He told me that he had to cease taking potatoes owing to the manner in which they were sent to him. The export of ware potatoes from the Free State is not very large, but it is capable of great expansion. I believe this Bill will largely assist the development of that market. I feel that in a few years' time the export of potatoes, carried out under the regulations to be made by this Bill, will show a big increase on what it is at the moment.

This Bill deals with seed and ware potatoes and will frankly be of advantage to the producer. I was glad to hear that practically the whole cost of the scheme will be met by the fees received for exporters' licences. This Bill follows the lines of the Dairy Produce Act and the Live Stock Breeding Act. I think that, in itself, ought to be sufficient to commend it to the approval of the House, because it is admitted that the operation of these Acts has resulted in great benefit to the country. The tendency with regard to the potato trade during the last seven years has, I am sure, afforded much satisfaction to members of the House. Imports during that period have been reduced by one-third, while the exports have increased fifteen fold. That tendency is in the right direction. Anything that Senators can do to improve that position they will, I am sure, be only too willing to do. The Bill commends itself to the agriculturists of the country, and I feel certain it will get the unanimous approval of the House.

I am very far from objecting to this Bill. The only feeling I have about it is that it seems to mean that the foreigners will get all the good potatoes and that our own people will get all the bad ones. That has been the effect of previous legislation in regard to eggs and butter. We have to eat all the bad eggs and bad butter, while the English people get all the good butter and the good eggs.

We have not any bad ones.

I desire to support the Bill, principally because I believe there is a good future before this country so far as the export of seed potatoes is concerned. I am not so confident with regard to the trade in ware potatoes. The export of potatoes depends almost entirely on the price obtaining in England. Frequently the price offered in England is lower than the price paid in Ireland. Should that continue there will, of course, be no export trade. The best market for potatoes in England or Ireland is the market held in the City of Dublin. You get a higher price there than you do in any part of England. As regards the export of potatoes, the price paid for them will depend on the condition of the crop in England. Frequently the crop there is excessive. A few years ago all they were paying for potatoes in England was £2 a ton. In the case of ware potatoes, I am afraid it will be impossible to get guarantees as to the price to be paid for those exported. In the case of seed potatoes, if that end of the trade is properly handled, there is no reason why we should not get a portion of the market now largely held in England by the Scotch growers. That is certainly a valuable market and offers a remunerative price to those who grow potatoes.

I would like to hear the Minister's comments on the revelations made by Senator Wilson; that notwithstanding the fact that there is a surplus of potatoes on the farmers' hands to be sold, and that they are naturally habitually looking for the best market, they find the best market in the City of Dublin. The supply is almost illimitable when contrasted with the demand, but yet the price does not come down. I would like to hear the Minister's comments on that curious economic fact.

The fact of the matter is that if the Cooley people were allowed to send potatoes to Dublin the price would drop at once.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Thursday, July 2nd.