Agricultural Produce (Cereals) (Amendment) Bill, 1955—Second Stage.

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

This Bill is essentially a Bill to incorporate in the Agricultural Produce (Cereals) Acts certain temporary legislation, mainly relating to wheat, which came into existence during the war and post-war years. If not so incorporated, this temporary legislation would lapse on expiration of the Supplies and Services (Temporary Provisions) Acts. It consists for the most part of Orders which are the concern of the Minister for Agriculture but also includes some Orders administered by the Minister for Industry and Commerce, who is concerned with wheat after it has reached the mill floor. The Bill contains nothing that is new in principle, and does not interfere in any way with the machinery established by the Agricultural Produce (Cereals) Act, 1935, to ensure that all home-grown millable wheat is purchased by the mills, as it comes on the market, and is subsequently milled.

The most important section of the Bill is Section 2, with which is linked Section 15, under which certain repeals are provided for. The object of Section 2 is to enable the Minister for Agriculture to make an annual Order controlling the price, marketing and disposal of wheat on the same general lines as the Wheat Order, 1955. An Order similar to the Wheat Order, 1955, has been made in every year since 1942. The main provisions of the annual Wheat Order, as made in recent years, are as follows:—(1), Legal effect is given to the decision of the Government in regard to the price for millable wheat of the harvest in question; (2), purchase of wheat from growers is restricted to certain categories of purchasers, including licensed mills (purchasing directly or through licensed agents), licensed wheat dealers and holders of seed (wheat) assembler's permits; (3), control is exercised over the use of wheat by purchasers thereof; (4), certain commission, handling or storage charges payable to licensed agents or persons collecting wheat on behalf of mills are fixed, and also resale prices for wheat sold by licensed wheat dealers.

Before 1942, wheat was bought directly by the mills and also by a large number of registered wheat dealers who resold wheat to the mills. In that year, each registered wheat dealer actually in business (with the exception of about 30 firms) was required to become the licensed agent of a particular mill, for which he was authorised to purchase a specified maximum quantity, on a commission basis. Approximately 30 firms were permitted to retain an independent status as dealers entitled to purchase and resell wheat. These firms were dealers equipped with drying and storage facilities who, because of the large scale of their dealings in wheat or because they had multiple branches, could not suitably be attached to a particular mill. The changes introduced in 1942 were designed to secure equitable distribution of available supplies between the mills, avoidance of undue competition and transport, and elimination of unnecessary handling and storage of wheat on the way to the mills.

The wheat marketing system established by the Order has, in general, remained unchanged since. Broadly speaking, apart from wheat purchased from the limited number of independent dealers, wheat is now purchased by the mills themselves, either directly or through some 300 licensed agents acting on a commission basis. These arrangements have operated satisfactorily since they were introduced and result in more economical handling of wheat.

The Emergency Powers (Cereals) Order, 1941, introduced a system of control over the assembly of seed wheat by purchase from growers. This, with modifications, has been incorporated in successive annual Orders made in the meantime, including the Wheat Order, 1955. It is considered advisable to retain these arrangements, with a view to ensuring that seed wheat is assembled in suitable premises, that minimum standards of quality are maintained, and that accurate information of stocks held is available. The system also makes it possible to allocate import licences for seed wheat in proportion to native assembly. There is not now the same need as during the emergency period to control the resale, disposal or use of wheat purchased from growers, but it is considered advisable to retain the general powers in this regard conferred by Article 10 of the Wheat Order, 1955.

The annual Wheat Order made in recent years has also fixed certain commission, handling and storage charges payable to licensed agents or sack distributors, and also prices for wheat resold by wheat dealers. It is proposed to retain power to fix these charges and prices in order to maintain uniformity of remuneration to licensed agents, etc., in respect of the services rendered by them and to ensure that wheat dealers receive a fair price for wheat sold by them (whether artificially dried or not).

Sections 12 and 13 of the Agricultural Produce (Cereals) Act, 1935, were suspended by the Emergency Powers (No. 39) Order, 1940, and the Emergency Powers (No. 201) Order, 1942. Section 15 of the Bill makes this suspension permanent. Section 15 also revokes sub-section (1) of Section 62 of the 1933 Act. This sub-section limited the purchase for resale of wheat to persons registered under the Act as wheat dealers. Retention of this provision would not serve any useful purpose now that the arrangements for wheat marketing which have been in operation in recent years are being put on a permanent basis.

Section 5 of the Bill replaces the Emergency Powers (Storage of Grain) Order, 1942. This Order was made at a time when it was particularly important to prevent loss or deterioration of grain. It has not been found necessary to make much use of the powers conferred by the Order, but it is considered advisable to retain them, particularly as grain stores are exempt from certain provisions of the Food Hygiene Regulations, 1950.

Section 9 of the Bill provides for the determination of moisture content in wheat in accordance with a method which has been prescribed in the annual Wheat Order since 1943. Under the Wheat Order as made in recent years, price deductions fall to be made in respect of excess moisture content in wheat purchased from growers. I am advised that there are on the market various types of rapid-action moisture testing apparatus but that these do not give uniformly accurate results, particularly in the higher moisture ranges. It is, accordingly, considered advisable to continue to specify the oven method, which gives accurate results and is reasonably simple of execution.

Sections 3, 4, 6, 7 and 8 of the Bill are primarily the concern of the Minister for Industry and Commerce, and I propose to indicate very briefly their purport. Section 3 is designed to permit the Minister for Industry and Commerce to vary milling quotas in circumstances where his present powers under the Cereals Acts are inadequate. It has been necessary in recent years to have resort for this purpose to the making of Orders under emergency legislation. Section 4 of the Bill replaces Article 6 of the Wheat Milling Order, 1953, and is designed to permit the Minister for Industry and Commerce, with the concurrence of the Minister for Agriculture, to relieve the holder of a milling licence from the obligation to mill the national percentage of home-grown wheat if there are special circumstances which justify that course.

Section 6 alters the method of calculating the quantity of wheat milled by licensed millers as provided in sub-section (2) of Section 14 of the Agricultural Produce (Cereals) Act, 1936, which is now being repealed. The new method is designed to overcome the difficulty of fixing a relationship between artificially dried wheat and green wheat for record purposes. The effect of Section 7 is to place wheat milled into wheatenmeal for biscuit-making on the same footing as wheat milled into flour for the same purpose.

Section 8 of the Bill gives permanent effect to an import concession first granted in the Flour and Wheatenmeal (Importation) Order, 1947. The remaining sections of the Bill do not, I think, call for any special comment.

As time is limited, I propose to be brief in dealing with this Bill. I think there is general agreement that we should get away from Emergency Powers Orders and get down to permanent legislation in all matters of this kind. That is what is proposed in this Bill, but, before passing away from the Emergency Powers legislation, it is well to say that the country owes a debt of gratitude to those who framed those arrangements for the purchase, price fixation, storage, etc, of our bread cereals. There is no doubt that a great deal of attention was given to these problems over the years, and particularly during the difficult years of the emergency.

I think it is also right to say that a deep debt of gratitude is due to those who framed and put into operation the schemes for improving the facilities for drying and storing our native wheat. There is no doubt we have at the present time very fine and substantial facilities for drying our native wheat. This was evident particularly in exceptional years such as 1954. It is well to express appreciation of the millers and their agents for the manner in which they tackled a very difficult problem at that time.

Of course, the main burden fell upon the farmers, but it is recognised that they would not have been successful in saving such a large proportion of the 1954 grain harvest, if it had not been for the facilities provided by the millers and their agents. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will be able to assure the House that these facilities will be further enlarged and improved, so that we can face the problem of coping with a larger acreage of wheat, of barley and of oats under exceptionally bad weather conditions. That is one thing that the State, in passing legislation such as this, is under an obligation to provide to the farming community.

As the Minister indicated, there is nothing new in this Bill. The Bill is seeking to make permanent arrangements which have enabled us to carry on this industry through the years. He is right in saying that Section 2 is the important section of the Bill inasmuch as it provides the Minister with very wide powers. I should like to say, in connection with the exercise of these powers, that it would be desirable if there were a provision in this Bill—or, if you like, an undertaking by the Minister outside the Bill—that, in operating these powers, the Minister would be guided by the advice of the organised farming community.

I think that, before putting any of these Orders into operation, the Minister should first meet the representatives of our farmers' associations. The farmers' associations have now reached a position in which they can delegate to a small group of men the power to represent them and to speak for them. The Minister should, in turn, indicate either in this Bill or outside this Bill that he would meet representatives of the farmers' associations and make the arrangements for the marketing and storage of wheat, and everything else connected with it, in accordance, as much as possible, with the wishes of the farming community.

Section 2, paragraph (d), provides that the Minister may fix, by reference to any specified matters, prices for such wheat sold by or purchased from growers during the sale season or any specified period during the sale season. The phrase "fix by reference to any specified matters" is a phrase which I do not quite understand. Possibly the Minister may be able to explain the meaning of these words. In my view, it should mean by reference to production costings which I think it should be desirable for the Minister to ascertain in the fixing of the price of wheat. I do not want to go into the question of wheat prices very deeply now, but I want to say that if the Minister had fixed a price in the past in accordance with production costings and if he had, as I have said in regard to the general application of this section, met and consulted the representatives of the farming community before taking action under this section, he would not have made the appalling mess of the situation which he made last year.

I do not want to dwell too deeply on that question now because the matter will come before the House again by way of motion, but I think that, either within the Bill or outside the Bill, there should be an arrangement by which the Minister would meet the representatives of the farming community, and that there should also be a definite decision on the part of the Minister to take costs of production into consideration. Furthermore, the whole question of price fixation should be more carefully considered in the light of modern conditions.

The idea of a staggered price is, to my mind, silly, in the light of modern methods of farming. The idea of paying a better price to the farmer who holds his wheat over until after the Christmas than would be paid immediately after the harvest is not in accordance with good farming methods and does not encourage good farming methods. At the present time, good farming methods are modern methods and modern methods are the use of the combine harvester and of all the other modern methods of harvesting—just as we seek and should seek to introduce and advocate modern methods in regard to cultivation and all other aspects of farming.

There was, in the Dáil, and I am sure there is in the minds possibly of some Senators, a certain feeling of uneasiness in regard to the power which the Minister mentioned he has under one section—I cannot recollect it just at the moment—which enables him to vary the admixture of imported wheat as between one mill and another, or, rather, to give exemptions to certain mills in regard to the admixture compared with mills in the rest of the country. There is, of course, a danger in that, namely, that some mills near the coast might bring pressure to bear on whatever Minister might be in power to allow them to use 100 per cent. imported wheat. That would be not only very detrimental to wheat-growing in this country, but would give an unfair advantage over the other mills, particularly in an unfavourable year. I have no doubt that in a year such as last year, when native wheat was exceptionally dry and the quality of home-grown wheat was equal to that of any wheat that could be imported, the question would not arise, but in certain years it might happen that the quality of the imported wheat would be superior and it would be very unfair to allow some mills to use 100 per cent. imported wheat.

Another matter concerned with this whole question of giving wide powers to the Minister is the position of the smaller mills in the provincial areas. I feel it should be the duty of the Minister to see to it that the smaller mills are not crushed out. I am not suggesting that any inefficiency should be bolstered up or protected, but I think there is always a danger in every economic and industrial activity that the smaller units tend to get crushed out. One of the advantages of the introduction of wheat growing into this country was that it enabled many of the smaller mills to reopen. In my view, the Minister should be zealous in his endeavours to see to it that these mills are kept in operation. They serve a very useful purpose, and, unless they were up against unfair competition, I think they would be well able to maintain their output. However, one thing they have to be protected against is unfair competition.

One of the burning questions— perhaps, it should not be described as a burning question—in regard to wheat is moisture content. It does cause a good deal of heart-burning and anxiety and worry amongst farmers when they find they are heavily mulcted in regard to moisture content. There is always the feeling that perhaps they may not have got a square deal in the ascertaining of the moisture content. I think it would be a sound proposition, but again the Minister should discuss it with representatives of the farming community.

It would be an advantage if the same protection were given to the wheat growers as is provided for the sugar beet growers, that is to say, that supervisors or inspectors or representatives appointed by the growers are permitted to supervise the taking of samples and the operation or the work of ascertaining the moisture content. It is not by any means an entirely foolproof operation, and, in the hands of one operator, it is possible to get a very different result from what you get from another operator without implying any dishonest motives to the merchants or to the millers.

It is possible that farmers might suffer a lot. At any rate, even if they did not, they would have reason to feel that they might not have been fairly treated, but with their own representatives present at the weighing and sampling of their crops, they would be in a position to feel reasonably sure they had got a square deal. The Minister could, in this Bill or in subsequent legislation, provide for such representation for the grower at the point of intake of the wheat into the mills or stores.

There is the other old grievance which we have all felt from time to time and about which some people have expressed their views. That is that there is no difference whatever between the price of wheat with 23 per cent. moisture content and wheat with as low as 16 per cent. No increase is given for the lower moisture content which is all to the advantage of the miller. It does seem that there should be an adjustment there in favour of the grower who, perhaps, has gone to extremes in order to ensure that his grain will be in the very best possible condition. If a grower uses a combine, uses the most modern methods and makes sure to harvest his crop in dry weather in a perfectly ripe condition and ensures that it comes to the miller with a much lower moisture content than 23 per cent., he gets no reward whatever for that amount of care and attention to his crop. That is rather a mistake, but the Bill as a whole is not open to any serious objection and I know the Minister is anxious to have it enacted and I do not think there would be any desire on the part of this House to hold it up.

There is nothing new in principle in this Bill, except that the Emergency Powers Orders that have been passed for the last few years relating to wheat are now being merged into one Bill. Senator Cogan threw some bouquets to the millers; I have no intention of throwing any bouquets to the millers of this country, because for the past 20 years they have fleeced the farmers of the country, left, right and centre, and certain Ministers seemed to turn the blind eye to their actions.

We know there are also certain millers in this country who do not want to handle native wheat. They have said it themselves that they would prefer to handle imported wheat at all times. Senator Cogan does not seem to be pleased with the action that the present Minister took last year. I think the farmers should be grateful to the present Minister for Agriculture for the action he took last year during the bad season to see that the millers treated the farmers fairly and gave them justice.

Senator Cogan also referred to the present method of testing wheat for moisture content and I think the Minister also referred to it in his opening speech. We all know that the present method has definitely given rise to a great deal of criticism with regard to the apparatus that is installed in different millers' premises and I know from farmers themselves—they have told me—that they sent samples to one mill and were told they had 24 per cent. moisture, and, when sent to another mill, they were told they had 21 or 22 per cent. moisture. That is too big a difference and I think the Minister should do something at least to see that there will be uniform apparatus installed in all millers' premises for the testing of wheat.

Senator Cogan also spoke about inspectors in the beet factories. There are only four beet factories in this country and I think we have something like 300 or 350 mills, so that it would be impossible for the Minister to place an inspector in each mill. Still, I think the Minister should have inspectors appointed to go at certain times into millers' premises and test the apparatus they have installed for ascertaining moisture content. I think he should also have authority to test some of the wheat that has already been tested and see if the millers' testings are correct.

I have nothing else to say, except one point: I believe the Minister should make provision to pay to farmers the price fixed or the price that is being given to millers at the present time for dried milled wheat. I think they can get up to 91/- per barrel and I believe the farmer who installs apparatus for drying wheat should be entitled to the same price as the millers get.

I do not intend to delay the House at this late stage in connection with this matter of the growing and handling of wheat. Tribute has been paid to the way in which the millers have been handling the people's wheat and the modern up-to-date methods they are using in dealing with it. My chief reason in rising is to ask the Minister if he or the officials of his Department are now satisfied that the wheat grown here at home is good enough for the making of flour and bread, without any admixture of foreign wheat, because there is still, it appears, a doubt in the minds of people as to whether or not that is so.

We are aware—I do not know whether I am in order in dealing with this matter, but I think I am, because the question of wheat moisture has been mentioned by the Minister and also by other speakers—that a sample of home-grown wheat was sent to Sweden some time ago in order to ascertain whether this native wheat is good enough for bread, without an admixture of foreign wheat. It seems that the analysis of the sample in Sweden revealed that our native wheat is good enough for that purpose. Then, of course, somebody else came along afterwards and pointed out that that was because of the very dry year we had last year. We are back again to the realm of doubt in this matter.

I should like to inquire from the Minister whether any further tests will be carried out in regard to this matter, because if it could be established, once and for all, that we could use our own wheat for the making of our own flour and bread, it would be a matter of great satisfaction to us. It would, perhaps, in the near future obviate the necessity of having to import the amount of foreign wheat we imported during the past 12 months, thereby widening the adverse gap in our trade with outside countries, making the adverse balance of trade worse than it should be.

May I take the points raised in their order, in reverse? First, Senator Kissane asks whether Irish wheat is good enough to manufacture flour from. The answer is: Of course, it is. Irish wheat is, so far as I know, in every respect the equal of Australians or Pacifics. For the manufacture of shop flour, that is flour purchased by the housewife for conversion into cake bread in her own home, Irish wheat of good quality is as good as any wheat in the world. But I believe it is true to say that to get a miller's grist suitable for the production of baker's flour which is to be baked into baker's bread on drawplate ovens, it is necessary to add to soft wheat, whencesoever it may come, be it Australia, the Pacific coast, the County Kildare or the County Tipperary, at least 20 per cent. of Manitoba No. 1 or No. 2, or its equivalent from North Dakota.

That is not a question of goodness and badness. It is a question purely of variety and protein content. Manitoba and certain varieties of North Dakota wheat have a high protein content which gives the bread made from flour which contains no less than 20 per cent. of that variety strength to retain within the crumb of the bread the gas generated by the yeast used in the preparation of the dough and the manufacture of baker's bread. Without that added strength to flour, the texture of the dough has not got the strength to retain the gases generated by the yeast, with the result that you get in a commercial baker's procedure of manufacture an unacceptable small loaf which the average housewife rejects in favour of the larger loaf resulting from using a flour containing a percentage of strong wheats which gives a larger, lighter loaf of bread.

Might I ask the Minister a question? Is it quite impossible to grow hard wheats in this country?

I believe so. So I am at present advised. But, as the Senator is aware, the process of inquiry continues perennially in the Albert College, at Ballinacurra cereal station and shortly at the new seed propagation centre which we are establishing at Back Weston. There may emerge a wheat which will be suitable for cultivation in our climate and conditions which would have these qualities. Taking into consideration that we have an average annual rainfall of 41 inches, I think it unlikely that such a wheat will be found, but research continues in that regard continually. I think that answers Senator Kissane's question.

Of course, I need not remind the Senator that there are two views on this matter. Some people passionately hold that the addition of the 20 per cent. strength wheat is unnecessary. The Senator asked me whether I had a view upon it. I have, and it is the one to which I have just given expression. There are people who believe no such addition is necessary and there are bakers who would maintain that you should add up to 50 per cent. of Manitobas to soft wheats in order to get a satisfactory grist.

I am afraid the Minister's view does not accord with the Swedish analysis.

If the Swedes come here sometime, I think we can teach them a deal more about wheat than we have to learn from them. I sometimes get tired of hearing about the Swedes, the Danes, the Dutch, the Greeks and the Italians.

The Minister brought quite a number of them over here one time and it cost this country a great deal of money.

That is a very Delphic observation into which I do not propose further to probe. Senator L'Estrange felt the Minister should have facilities in relation to moisture testing apparatus. Of course, I have. I maintain the staff of peripatetic milling inspectors who do just what Senator L'Estrange suggests. They regularly test these devices and it is for that reason that I felt bound to mention in my opening remarks that long experience with these testing devices has convinced me that, while they are pretty reliable, when you get higher moisture levels, they cease to be. The only method of testing for moisture which is uniformly reliable is the oven test.

A lot of people fall into this mistake. They run into a difficult period, say a year like the year 1954, when discrepancies such as Senator L'estrange referred to cause considerable heart burning amongst farmers; but what Senators may frequently forget is that over the last 30 years, with the exception of one or two bad years, there has been virtually no complaint whatever about the moisture content of Irish wheat. The reason for that is that, in a normal year, in 99 cases out of 100, the determination of the moisture content of any farmer's parcel of wheat is a matter of agreement between the farmer and the miller, and there is no difference of opinion about it. It is only when you get a bad year in which the moisture content is pretty generally in excess that you find farmers bitterly complaining. They will find one sympathetic miller who will say: "We will call it 26 per cent." He may be sympathetic in respect of some people, where another miller to whom that sample was tendered the day before has applied a strict and pernickety test and declared the sample to have 33 per cent. moisture in it.

Now, the pernickety man is probably right; but the friendly, soft miller says: "Call it 26 per cent." Now the farmer was told the day before it was 33 per cent. and the farmer says: "O.K. That is right" and they agree on the price. Now that farmer, instead of saying to himself: "Thanks be to God, I met an accommodating and friendly miller" takes the money and then goes and addresses a protest meeting because the strict miller said the day before that his wheat had 33 per cent. moisture and the day after another miller has bought it and paid for it on the basis of 26 per cent. The fact is it did contain 33 per cent.

As Senators well know, in 1954 we all put our telescopes to the blind eye and, if we had not done that in 1954, 50 per cent. of all the wheat tendered would have been rejected as unmillable. There was wheat bought in 1954 and manhandled and nursed along—we have only just finished using it, if we have finished using the last of it—which was not millable by any definition. Senators know that I sent for the millers and said: "We are face to face with something which is reaching the dimensions of catastrophe. Half this crop will be lost unless we stretch a point." Now there are some people who will say that was a wrong thing to do; the law is the law, and my function was to enforce the law. I did not enforce the law. I saw the law was not enforceable according to the strict letter and it was enforced, therefore, according to the spirit, as I believe Oireachtas Éireann intended it to be enforced. And if anyone does not like that, he can lump it. If I had not done that hundreds of farmers would have been ruined through no fault of their own.

Believe me, it is unusual to take the experience of that year, say we had discrepancies of moisture content as found by two separate millers and that that is clear evidence of the unsatisfactory nature of the testing procedure. I assure the Senator it is not. If it is evidence of anything, it is evidence of the pressure I brought on the millers to put the telescope to the blind eye and not enforce the letter of the law, in a year when the enforcing of the letter of the law would have involved the rejection of 50 per cent. of the Irish wheat crop, which rejection would have beggered many a hard working Irish farmer.

I am glad Senator L'Estrange has qualified Senator Cogan's observations. Senator Cogan abused the miller for helping to get in the 1954 crop. He praised the dryers and the farmers and a lot of other people. Now they are all entitled to praise but, if justice is to be done, I think we should ask ourselves the question: "What blight or curse has come upon the public men of this country that they always want to run down their own servants? Why is it that the servants of our people who are the admiration of every foreigner can never hear a word, not only of praise but of justice, from their own employers?" It just makes me sick.

If anybody helped to get the wheat of the farmers in in that catastrophic year it was the officers of the Department of Agriculture here, some of whom worked 18 and 20 hours per day in order to see that the crop was saved. It humiliates me to hear the work of these men praised and esteemed in London, in Paris, in Rome and in Washington, while in Dublin those for whom they work never conceive it worth their while saying a single word not alone of praise but of minimum justice. That indicates to me some wrong quality in the public life of this country, and I hope that those who are responsible for that will search their consciences and ask themselves how much longer must their servants look to the foreigner for their due.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 15th February, 1956.
The Seanad adjourned at 10.15 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 15th February, 1956.