In the names of Senator Tunney, Senator McCrea and in my own name I move:—
That in the opinion of Seanad Éireann the Government should encourage and facilitate the establishment of a small number of co-operative farms, or co-operative farm units as an experiment, with a view to the extension of either or both of these systems of farming if found to be satisfactory.
I would like to make clear that I am not suggesting that there is only one system of agricultural co-operation. I believe there are several systems of co-operative farming which could reasonably be varied according to the sizes and types of farms and in accordance with the wishes of the persons concerned, but I believe that there is a great deal to be said for some system of co-operation in agriculture. Senators will notice that I mention, in particular, in addition to co-operative farms, the "co-operative farm unit" system. I should mention that this system was, I believe, first suggested in 1943 by Senator Orpen, who has spoken and written a good deal on this subject. It is one system of co-operative farming. I do not intend to go into any detail in regard to that because Senator Orpen is here, and I will leave it to him, the originator of that system, to explain it in detail to the Seanad.
It is desirable at the outset briefly to explain the reasons why I think it would be desirable for the Government to encourage this system. One reason, which I mentioned in the motion, was that the system might be extended if found to be satisfactory. There are two other very important reasons. One is that some of these farms might be used for experimental and demonstration purposes, and the other is that they could be used for the improvement of agricultural methods in general. Those two reasons are also mentioned, one by Senator Martin O'Dwyer and the other by Senator Counihan.
I would like to make clear that I am entirely in favour of Senator Martin O'Dwyer's suggestion that some co-operative farms or co-operative farm units could be used for experimental and demonstration purposes, with a view to the improvement of agricultural methods in general. I am also in agreement with Senator Counihan's suggestion that there should be more experimental farms in different parts of the country for the information and guidance of persons engaged in the farming industry, in addition to those already in existence.
On all these points I think we are in agreement, but I believe, in addition, that there is a possibility that this system might be found so satisfactory that it could be extended considerably throughout the country for the welfare of farmers generally, in addition to being used for experimental and demonstration purposes.
I am not suggesting for a moment that this proposal is the only important one, in regard to the improvement of agriculture. Some time ago I proposed a motion which I regarded as more urgent with regard to long term loans for the improvement of land and buildings, and I am glad that some of the suggestions made in that motion are being implemented.
I should now mention briefly some of the advantages which I think would accrue from this system. I intend to refer to them under five main headings. The first is: I believe it would bring about an increased output of food per acre and greater efficiency, for several reasons. First, many very small farms are so limited in acreage that it is very difficult for the farmers to pursue a correct rotation of crops.
In County Galway, where I come from, it is continually urged, and rightly so, that farmers should grow more sugar beet. There is a danger of the Tuam sugar factory being closed down unless more beet is grown. Yet, many farmers with very small holdings find it difficult to grow more sugar beet because it cannot be grown year after year on the same land. If several small farms could be worked in co-operation there could be a greater variety of crops, greater rotation of crops, and more sugar beet, wheat and other crops could be grown.
The second advantage is that it would bring about increased output per man-hour. I think everybody is agreed that the output per man-hour from farms in this country is low, compared with farms in many other countries. One of the reasons for that is that on these very small farms the farmers have not sufficient machinery, and more machinery could be obtained and could be more efficiently used if there was more co-operation.
The third advantage is that if we had more co-operation and more people working together for the common good, it would be encouraging to all concerned. When an individual small farmer is working absolutely on his own it may be an embarrassment to him when he is sick, and has to depend on the help of neighbours. If a number were co-operating, the illness of one member of the group would not be so serious, because the others would automatically carry on the work. Also, from a moral point of view, it is desirable that people should be encouraged to work together in co-operation, instead of being too individualistic. It is in accordance with Christian principles that people should be encouraged to work together for the common good and to help each other.
I should also emphasise that I am not suggesting for one moment that there should be compulsion, that people should be compelled or forced to co-operate, if they do not wish to do so. Some persons would prefer a small individual farm. Some persons, even if it meant a lower standard of living, even if it meant longer hours of work, would probably prefer to work on their own and, if they wish to do so, I am not suggesting that they should be compelled to do otherwise. But those who would like to work together in co-operation, should be helped and encouraged to do so.
A fourth advantage is that any profits made could be shared between the cooperators so that they would all benefit by any improvements brought about. Conversely any unavoidable loss would be shared, and I think that is a very good thing, because no matter how careful people are, as we all know, occasionally an animal may die even if it gets the best of attention. If a small farmer loses a cow the loss to him is very heavy, but if this loss is divided between three, four, five or six the hardship per head or per family would not be so great.
A fifth advantage of a co-operative farm, where the workers all work together for the common good over a farm owned by one man who merely employs men at a fixed rate of wages, is that there would be greater contentment amongst the workers, if they felt that the harder they worked the better off they would all be when the profits were shared, for in addition to a fixed minimum wage, they would look forward to some little extra at the end of the year, after the net profits had been calculated.
I have mentioned the five advantages which, I believe, would accrue from this system, but some people might say: "That is all very well in theory, but how would it work out in practice?" I would like, therefore, to make clear that I am not speaking on this subject simply from theory. One reason why I am convinced that there is a lot to be said for this system, is that I have had practical experience of it. I have worked on a co-operative farm, and I think it is the only one in Ireland to be worked continuously on this system for almost 17 years. We started this system almost 17 years ago in County Galway on a farm of about 250 statute acres, including some timber and bog, which gave full-time employment to seven men, and while we have had our ups and downs and our difficulties, I can say, after those 16½ years, that the system has worked quite well. The workers all receive a fixed minimum wage and also a share of the profits in the form of a bonus half-yearly or yearly. I found that since the system started the workers gradually took more and more interest in their work, because they felt that every one of them had a personal interest in it, and that it was up to each one of them to do his best. The harder and the more efficiently they worked, the better the output, and the better it would be for themselves, and their fellow-workers. Under that system there is also a tendency for every man, not only to work efficiently himself, but to encourage his fellow-workers to work efficiently also, for if his fellow-worker does not do his work right the whole group will suffer.
Another advantage of the system is that it is a very democratic system. On the farm which we have worked under this system, everything is settled by majority vote, and the workers accept the majority ruling. We have a full meeting once a month or oftener if necessary, to discuss all the working of the farm. Subject to the amount of money which is available, it is left to the workers to decide the rate of wages, hours of work and conditions of employment.