Agricultural Produce (Cereals) Bill, 1934—Final Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I wish to raise a point of principle which I have done before and of which, in this case, I have given the Minister private notice. Increasingly, the Government is laying its hands on the business of private people. It is not only in industry that that is happening. It is also happening in agriculture. For example, the Minister has taken power now to fix the price of oats in a certain emergency. He is also involved in fixing, indirectly, the price of sugar beet. I need hardly tell the Minister that there is a great possibility of trouble there because of the price he has fixed. I do not want to forment trouble but I have been looking at certain of my own costings with regard to the production of sugar beet and I do not see how anybody is going to pay wages even at the present low level and have anything left for himself. That, however, is only incidental, to illustrate my point. When his predecessor was in office, and also since he came into office himself, I pressed the Government to get active in ascertaining a real knowledge of the costs of production. It is not a bit of good taking estimates in the air and getting people, however experienced, to sit down and say: "You plough so much, hoe so much, harrow so much," and all that kind of thing. Some Senators are quite competent to do that themselves. The only possible way is to get returns from the working of selected farms. All that is required in the first instance, is that a man should have accurate information, that it should, be collected and collated and then get the whole thing put into shape by people who understand accountancy. In Denmark, this is considered so important that the farmers do it themselves. On one occasion, when I wanted to see their figures, I went to some Danish house in London and I was shown the cost of production over a period of years. At one time, it was considered important here and something, though not every much, was done. Then darkness descended. That was four or five years ago. About three years ago, I pressed the Minister or his predecessor on this question. I had taken advantage of every appropriate opportunity to do so, because it is a very important matter. I am afraid the Government is just putting it on the long finger. They do not deny its importance— they have too much sense to do that— but they say it means money and time. It is absolutely essential that we should have the cost of production ascertained if the Government is to go into business and sell the people up. This question has a direct bearing on what is going on now. The Government is selling people up and they should have knowledge of whether or not a profit can be made on present prices. That can be determined, to a great extent, by actual research. In the absence of any satisfactory reply from the Minister, I say that there has been neglect on the part of the Government in this matter. The Government has been guilty of contributory negligence—remotely, perhaps—in not taking steps to ascertain the cost of production. The Minister may say that they have ascertained some particulars. He should tell the public what they have ascertained. If they cannot show that sugar beet can be produced, paying present wages, at 30/- per ton, they must be prepared to find an agitation amongst the farmers sooner or later. I want the Minister to give the House a definite and positive assurance that he is taking active steps, through his Department, to ascertain the cost of production—not mere estimates but information which can be obtained from the actual returns of working farmers collected and collated over a period of years. Otherwise, this policy of increasing interference will mean that we will rush headlong to disaster. There is, of course, a legal obligation upon us to obey the law but there is a moral obligation on a Government going into business to make a price which will enable the people to meet their liabilities.

I endorse what Senator Sir John Keane said and I make a final protest against this Bill and against this policy of attempting to increase tillage by placing these terrible burdens on the people—particularly the farmers. That policy will fail, as it has failed up to the present. The policy of subsidising wheat and other crops has failed to put an extra acre under tillage. What will happen is what has always happened where a particular crop is subsidised. If a farmer finds that he can get a little ready money by going into a particular crop, he will go into that crop and neglect something else. He will do things which he has no experience of, instead of going along and improving the sound and well-tried methods which made this country prosperous and put the farmer in an independent and comparatively comforstable position, notwithstanding the world situation. I endorse all that Senator Sir John Keane has said regarding sugar beet.


That is outside the scope of the Bill.

The same thing applies to wheat. The farmers are only growing these crops because there is nothing else left for them. They know that they are doing wrong, that they are injuring their land, that the policy is fundamentally unsound but they must earn a few shillings to keep body and sould together. The genuine farmer—all kinds of people are called farmers but I refer only to the genuine agriculturist—is being put into and impossible position. I have still more figures than I quoted previously to prove that the maize-mixture is increasing the price of feeding stuffs and making it impossible for the farmers to feed his stock. I know that poor people—cottiers as well as farmers—have had this year, at great cost, to buy small bags of pure maize. Before the original Bill was introduced, I could buy whole maize at £4 per ton, get it ground at a local mill and mix it with barley and oats in proper proportions. In that way, I got a very cheap feeding stuff and one far superior to the stuff we have to pay for now. With all these efforts to increase tillage, the acreage is not increased. If the acreage under wheat is increased, the average under oats has gone down by 50,000. I think it my duty, on behalf of the farmers I represent, to protest against this policy of the Government. It is running and will ruin the country. It is making the people poorer and less independent than they have ever been.

I saw in one of the Sunday papers that the French people were exporting to Great Britain flour at 11/6 per sack of 20 stone. The British people were not very pleased to receive flour so cheaply as that. Why did the French nation export their flour at such a price? Because they had a surplus and because they had taken care to produce within their own borders sufficient food for their own people. Why were the English people not pleased to receive these supplies of flour? Those who reported the matter and commented upon it were not pleased because their idea was that in Great Britain as much flour as possible should be produced for the people of Great Britain. If that is a sound policy for these great and powerful nations—France powerful on land and Great Britain powerful at sea—why should it not be sound policy for us in this fertile little island to produce the food necessary for our own people? I do protest against Senator Miss Browne speaking on behalf of the farmers. She is a farmer—I am sure a very good farmer—in County Wexford but I do not know that she has a right to speak even for the farmers of Wexford.

The Senator says she has and, of course, one can never contradict a lady. Generally speaking, the farmers are, in my opinion, in favour of a balance between tillage and grazing. There are some parts of this country where tillage is impossible; there are some parts of the country where tillage is impossible there are some parts of the country which have been destroyed, which are actually moss-grown for want of proper tillage. I would have not spoken at all at this stage were it not that we have had a protest from Senator Sir John Keane, a sensible man. He made his protest on the old free trade lines. These are absolutely impossible. We must have tillage in this country and we must have industry.

As a point of personal explanation, I made my protest in general terms.

One can see from a particular application where the general trend of the Senator's mind lies. It was only a special application of the general principle. I think these statements ought not to be allowed to go forth from this House without at least a contradiction, and that is why I rose to speak.

I want to tell Senator Comyn that I represent the best tillage farmers in Ireland.

You represent the best in any case—we will not mind tillage farmers.

Senator Sir John Keane referred to the cost of production. He said the Government should inquire into the cost of producing different crops. He has mentioned beet.


We will not concentrate on beet. It would be better to refer to cereals of all sorts.

There are cereals, the cost of production of which at the present guaranteed price would not pay except one paid a starvation wage. When he is making out his costings the Minister should take into consideration the agricultural wages paid in different districts and then ascertain if he could produce beet economically at 30/- or potatoes for industrial alcohol at 25/-. This Bill aims at giving the farmer something which will compensate him in the matter of production cost. In my opinion it will mean a reduction in the production of another industry, an industry greater than tillage. By raising the price of oats, corn and other cereals, the Minister is going to interfere with the production of fat stock. He will interfere with the production of fat cattle, fat pigs, poultry, and others things. The big pig and poultry rearing districts are in the West of Ireland and, when it comes to the production of those commodities, the people who have not sufficient feeding stuffs, and who have not land suitable for the production of suitable feeding stuffs, will find themselves in grave difficulties, and the raw material will probably cost them an additional 25 or 30 per cent. In that way, though the Minister, through this Bill, is seeking to give the farmer something for the production of cereals, he will interfere with the ordinary avocations of those people to whom I have referred.

There are many considerations that arise on this question of the encouragement of wheat cultivation. Senator Sir John Keane has touched on a very important point when he deals with the cost of production. I have had great experience of growing wheat and other cereals. I am of the opinion that wheat cannot be grown profitably or economically on a large scale in this country. I think it is an absolutely uneconomic proposition. In the case of small farms, the average crop would be something like one or one-and-a-half acres. From my experience of the cost of threshing and handling, the crop could not possibly be profitable. In the old days the threshing used to be carried on with a fail, but in these days machinery is used and for that reason wheat-growing is definitely uneconomic. Of course, if we could rely on a continuance of free family labour, what I might call slave labour, unpaid labour, the position would be different. As conditions exists, however, we may give up the cultivation of wheat on these small areas, largely because of the question of production cost.

I think Senator Sir John Keane has raised a matter to which the Government should give very serious attention. Our experience during the last couple of years in the cultivation of wheat has shown that it has displaced other valuable crops such as oats and barley. These had to be displaced to make room for the wheat. Another important aspect is that the climate of this country is changing. I am not suggesting that it is impossible to grow wheat or other cereals. It is quite possible to do so, but the question of cost enters so much that it makes the cultivation of the crop absolutely uneconomic. In conjunction with the question of cost, you have to take into consideration the Irish climate. The climate is definitely changing. Even the birds have failed to come to the country in the same way as they used to for many years past. Take for instance, the swallows and cuckoos. They are actually leaving the country, or at least not coming in the same numbers, and that is very definite proof.

And the partridge, because you have no grain.

The Government again!

The wheat crop, besides displacing oats and barley, has also displaced other profitable produce which formerly was sold abroad. We have displaced other products, such as live stock, butter, bacon and milk, that we could easily sell abroad. I support the appeal made in regard to production costs by Senator Sir John Keane.

I would like to support the plea of Senator Sir John Keane regarding the publication of costings accounts. I have supported this idea for a long time. Even though it is done, I do not think there will ever, be any suggestion of being able to run agriculture in this country on economic lines. Neverthenless, it is desirable that we should know exactly how much is being lost by the individual producer of any crop. It might be a comfort to the Senator, in view of his reference to the growing intervention of Governments in economic matters, to draw attention to a statement made by the Premier of Canada, Rt. Hon. R.B. Bennett:

"I am convinced that there will be more and not less interference by Governments in private business— not to substitute Governments for men who are better able to conduct business but to regulate, control and prevent recurrence of conditions apparent to all.

All our efforts since 1930 (said Premier Bennett) have been towards maintaining the capitalistic system, Guarantees to the provinces and to the great transportation systems and other grants were deliberately aimed at the retention of capitalism."

It is quite likely that the Government here could repeat that sentence, and I would agree that it represents the Government's view, but if he has any regard for the opinion of a man of the experience of Mr. Bennett, perhaps the Senator will take comfort from the extract. Senator Counihan, too, might be a little less pessimistic than he appears to be if he would take note of a statement made by another Canadian Minister, Mr. H.H. Stevens, in reference to the cost of production of live stock. He said:

"Canadian packers, who ‘during these four depression years have piled up reserves not warranted even under normal business operations.' experiencing ‘the most prosperous years in their history,' while farmers sold ‘first-class steers for one and a half cents a pound.'"

That is 3/4d. per lb. without an economic war and without all the difficulties that we have suffered under that is the situation in that great country across the Atlantic. That is the complaint that is made there and that is the explanation of the policy that various Governments have taken.

This is not Canada. That cuts no ice at all.

Senator Dillon's conception of this measure is founded on a wrong basis, because, as far as I understand the Bill, it is open to any farmer to grow or not to grow wheat as he wishes. Farmers who grow wheat know better than anyone else whether it will be economic or not. They will grow whatever crop pays best. There was an increased acreage last year, and with the bounty they got more out of that crop than if they grew the crops that it substituted. It is optional with farmers to do what they wish. As the Government are helping in that particular line, and as there is no force, I do not see why the experiment should not go on until we see how far the growth of that cereal will meet the demands of the home market. When there are 500,000 or 600,000 acres of wheat grown, I wonder where the bounty will come from to induce farmers to continue growing it. As the acreage grows the cost of the bounty will increase, until a time is reached when the Government may have to reduce the bounty or the position is that the growing of wheat will be an economic proposition. I hope the present arrangement will continue. After all there is no harm in growing a crop to feed our own people.

If the land did not deteriorate.

With regard to the question of costings raised by Senator Sir John Keane, we have not had a section in the Department dealing with that question for some years. There was such a section in the Department during, and for some years after, the Great War. About 1924 the Government introduced some measures of economy, and amongst these was one doing away with the costings section. Since then we have had none. I have been trying since I took office to have that section re-established, but with the passing of Bills it has always been more urgent to get staffs to work them and the question of a costings section has been put aside. I intend to make a serious effort to have that section going in the near future. It is a pity that the Government have to do such work, because in most countries it is done by other institutions, such as agricultural colleges. It would be much better if it were done that way here, because if a Government Department does costings, and has to pay subsidies or a guaranteed price on, say, beet, wheat and other things, perhaps there is a suspicion amongst certain farmers that the costings are not done to their advantage. It would be much better if costings was done by a neutral body, such as University Colleges. There is no great hope that it will be done here by any other institution, and the Government will have to do it, at least for some time to come. I do not understand Senator Miss Browne's complaint about people buying pure maize. Pure maize is only used for human food in this country.

That is not so. I know people who had to buy large quantities to feed young poultry.

Surely they are not genuine farmers. I could imagine people buying expensive food stuffs for canaries or birds of that kind, but they would not be classed as ordinary commercial foods. If they did so for such a purpose they should not be classed as ordinary farmers. The Senator made the same assertion that was made by many members of her Party that pure maize was much superior to the mixture. The same views I believe would be held by Senator Miss Browne about any Bill brought in.

I never said that pure maize was superior. I said that the mixture the farmers made was far superior to the mixture the Minister imposed upon the farmers at a very much increased cost.

I am very glad to know that Senator Miss Browne does not object to the mixture provided——

I did object.

——it is made by the farmers. The objection then is to the person who makes the mixture.

And the increased cost.

Senator Miss Browne wound up her speech, as usual, by saying that the Bill—as is said about any particular Bill that comes before the House—would ruin the country. We will leave it at that. Senator Dillon dealt with the cultivation of wheat and stated that it is displacing oats and barley. That is not altogether a fact. It is true that the acreage of wheat was increased this year, and that the acreage of oats went down, but taking the two years that the scheme is in operation, the area under oats has not materially decreased. The area under barley and the area under wheat increased. Taking it in normal percentages the total area under tillage has considerably increased in two years. I do not think Senator Dillon is right when he said that it does not pay to grow wheat on a large scale; while it might pay farmers to grow it on a small scale, where slave wages were paid. We have a number of large growers registered this year, and in one district there are four growers with over 1,000 acres between them. That is large scale production for this country. It would not be much to speak of in Canada, but it is very good for this country to have an average of 250 acres in one district amongst four men. It should pay them better than the small farmers, because obviously they can get the work done much more easily by using machinery, and by working in larger fields.

It was the small area of production that I said would not pay.

I am sorry; I took the Senator up wrongly. As to the question of agricultural economy, I was going to say that we cannot go in that direction because unfortunately if we were to go in the direction of having big farms so that people could make farming pay better than, say, with small farms, we would be up against another difficulty—the social problem which we have to deal with and which is more important. We have a population which we must settle on the land in some way and the only way that can be done is by dividing large farms and putting the people on the land on smaller farms. As we intend to do that, I suppose we must in turn try, if possible, to look after the economic condition of the smaller farmers. The fact that the area under wheat is going up year by year is proof in itself that the price offered is a good one, because I think no farmer is growing wheat for patriotic purposes; farmers are growing it for the price offered. Obviously, if we have an increased acreage it is the price that is responsible for that. That is a rough guide to where we are going. I do agree, however, with some speakers who have advocated costings. I agree that it would be a great advantage to the Department of Agriculture to have proper costings in dealing with these things, if there is a price fixed for wheat and beet. I hope to get a costings staff as soon as possible.

Without claiming to know very much about how fowl are fed, I know that in the old days you generally saw meal given at one period of the day and oats at another period. Does the Minister claim that by mixing these two together, which, of course, as we all realise is more expensive, that you get a more efficient food for laying hens?

Question put and agreed to.