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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 30 Jan 1957

Vol. 47 No. 3

Price of 1957 Wheat Crop—Motion.

I move:—

That Seanad Eireann is of opinion that the price announced by the Government for wheat of the 1957 crop is entirely inadequate and should be substantially increased.

I am glad the Minister is here to deal with this motion. I sincerely hope that if, as last year, he asks any questions, he will have the courtesy to wait until those questions are answered. This motion expresses the disapproval which farmers generally feel towards the level of prices fixed for the wheat crop for the coming year. That feeling of dissatisfaction is well known but, lest there should be any question about it, it might be no harm to quote briefly from a statement issued by the National Farmers' Association during the past week. I am quoting extracts from a letter published in the Carlow Nationalist of 26th January, 1957. The Secretary of the National Farmers' Association writes:—

"Present indications are that many, including farmers, are labouring under the misapprehension that the National Farmers' Association is satisfied with the price fixed for wheat in respect of the 1957 crop. The National Farmers' Association is not satisfied and, as previously indicated, sought a price for wheat based on economic expediency."

With your permission, Sir, I think it would be better to quote the entire letter. He goes on to say:—

"On the basis of calculated costs of production the National Farmers' Association asked for a price of 89/6 per barrel, which was based on the 1954 price plus the increase in cost of production since that date. The Association felt that this incentive would call forth an increase in output of wheat sufficient to obviate the present necessity of spending £5,000,000 on imported wheat, which seriously affects the much quoted balance of payments situation. From this point of view alone, the announced increase, which at most would amount to 2/6 per barrel, is totally inadequate, not forgetting for a moment the rising costs of production. The National Farmers' Association offered the Government a ceiling on the quantity of wheat to be paid for at the full price and the fact that the Government has spurned that offer shows that it realises that the new price is insufficient to call forth the amount we require. We may reiterate that, so far as wheat is concerned, the call for increased production has now been officially abandoned."

There we have a clear statement from a representative and responsible body of farmers indicating that the Government, by their failure to meet the reasonable demands of the organised farmers, have ensured that we will not get the increased production desirable in agriculture. Having regard to the economic condition of the country and to our balance of payments position, it is a very serious responsibility for any Government to retard increased production. Now that we have a representative organisation of farmers, it is unfortunate that the Minister did not endeavour to meet the very reasonable demands of that body. With the farming community organised, I think on sounder lines than ever before, there is machinery at the disposal of any Government to ensure greater output and efficiency in agriculture.

With a Government working in co-operation with the organised farmers, there would be a future for agriculture. But, as this letter has indicated, the Government, in their wisdom or in their folly, have failed to meet the demands of the farmers. If they had met those demands in a reasonable way I am quite sure that the entire farmers' organisation would have gone wholeheartedly on a campaign to increase the area under wheat. However, the Minister has decided he will impose his own policy and is not prepared to accept the advice of the farmers. Neither is he prepared to do as was done in regard to the organised civil servants, nor is he prepared to leave the matter to arbitration. He has chosen to dictate what the price shall be for the coming year.

The Farmers' Association have acknowledged that the price fixed for the coming year represents an increase of 2/6 per barrel on the price fixed for last year's crop. The Minister may or may not dispute that figure. We know that the price this year is on a different system of grading and there is the introduction of a bonus payment in regard to moisture content. The matter has been carefully studied by the Farmers' Association and other wheat growers and the general consensus of opinion is that, while the two systems of payment are not exactly comparable, the net benefit to the wheat grower on the average would be an increase of 2/6 as compared with last year. As the bonus is based on moisture content the price may vary according to the nature of the season. If we get an exceptionally dry season the price paid to the grower may be something more than an increase of 2/6. If, however, we get a wet season the price may be very, very considerably less.

This question was gone into in some detail last week in the Farmers' Journal and the estimate of the price for next year is that, if we get an average harvest, there will be an increase of 3/10; if we get a wet harvest, there will be an increase of 1/3; if we get an exceptionally dry harvest we may get as much as 4/8. On an average therefore, and we know what the average harvest is, we can estimate the increase given as roughly about 2/6 over last year's price.

Now, an increase of 2/6 was given in 1956. In 1955 there was a reduction of 12/6. The cut in the price of wheat in 1955 has been restored to the extent of two-fifths and three-fifths of that reduction is still withheld from the grower. The National Farmers' Association is right in saying that the farmer is entitled not only to the price paid in 1954 but also, in justice, entitled to some increase over the price paid in 1954 having regard to rising costs of production. It must be accepted that the cost of production in agriculture, as in everything else, has increased considerably. In proof of that, we need only compare beet costings, which have been very carefully investigated. When a dispute arose in relation to the increased cost of production of beet this year, as compared with last year, the matter was referred to an independent referee and he decided that the increase in the cost of production per acre amounted to 7/-. If the increase in the cost of producing beet amounted to 7/- we may take it that the increase in the cost of producing wheat is also substantial. It would not be quite as high as it is in the case of beet because, in the first place, the labour content is not as great. Nevertheless, the increase in the cost of production would be substantial.

The National Farmers' Association was, therefore, justified in asking not only for the 1954 price but for something more than that in order to compensate the producer for increased costs. Against all reasonable arguments put up to him the Minister has turned a deaf ear. He has pursued his own policy of yielding as little as possible to the growers. He took 12/6 off the growers in 1954. Two years later he hands back 5/-. That 5/- represents two very grudging concessions spread over two years. At that rate it will take the Minister another three years to restore the cut imposed in 1954, but I am very doubtful if the Minister will be afforded those three years in which to make restitution.

It is unfortunate that a dispute in relation to the price of wheat should again arise as between the Minister and the farmers' associations. We have heard a good deal of boasting recently about the establishment of an Agricultural Consultative Council and various research bodies. Can the Minister say if the Consultative Council has approved of the price he has undertaken to pay for wheat in the coming year? Has the matter been submitted to that body? Has the body, by a majority or unanimously, given its approval to the Minister's decision? I think those are fair questions because, if we are to have a consultative council in relation to agriculture, then that body ought to be permitted to express an opinion on a matter of such importance. If the Agricultural Consultative Council is not permitted to express its views on matters of this kind, if it is muzzled and gagged by the Minister, then it can serve no useful purpose.

Last year the Minister spoke at considerable length on the price he had then fixed for wheat. He claimed that the price at that time was a generous one. One of the arguments he advanced against paying a higher price was that such a price might in some circumstances lead to a surplus. He challenged Senators on this side of the House to tell him what Fianna Fáil would do if confronted with the danger of a surplus of wheat. When the Minister hurled that challenge across the House I assumed he would wait for an answer. Before I had time to reply, he ran—to use his own colourful words— like a scalded cat. He did not wait to hear my reply. He can listen to it now. My reply is that, unless the price of wheat is substantially increased, more substantially increased even than the farmers' associations demand, there will be no danger of a surplus.

The National Farmers' Association have offered to present the Minister with a plan to deal with a surplus, should such a surplus at any time arise. It is idle to talk of a surplus at a time when we are importing £5,000,000 worth of wheat per year. As far as one can foresee the future there is no danger of a surplus, but, if a surplus should arise, there are reasonable and effective measures for dealing with it. Prices, as we know, are an effective way of dealing with this matter. If the acreage of wheat were excessive, the payment of a better price for some other product such as barley would bring about a reduction in the acreage of wheat. Cutting the price savagely and drastically is not the only way to cope with a surplus; it is the least efficient way to cope with a surplus. If there is a surplus in any industry, a savage slashing of prices is not the effective or the efficient way to deal with it.

I believe that the problem could be discussed and could be solved by arrangement between the organised farmers—as they are now organised— and the Minister's Department. The most important thing is to secure a measure of confidence between the Department and the farmers. If we could create in agricultural Ireland the feeling that those who are appointed as spokesmen for a farmers' organisation, those who meet the Minister, will be treated with due regard, that their views will be carefully considered and that a reasonable attempt will be made to meet their requests, we could look forward to a greater measure of prosperity in agriculture, a greater output from the industry, with resultant benefit to every section of the community.

As I have indicated, the Minister spurned the requests put forward by the farmers and suggested his own price. Let me say, in fairness to the Minister and in praise of the farmers' association, that the change in grading, made by the Minister at the request of the farmers, is a step in the right direction. Farmers for some time past have been suggesting that a cut of 2/6 in the price when the wheat falls below a certain bushel weight is too steep and that a cut of 1/- for each pound less in bushel weight is fairer to the growers. It has been frequently suggested that the millers and merchants were against that system, but I do not think that they were so strongly against it. I have met millers and merchants who have expressed the view that the new grading scheme is quite acceptable. It is satisfactory inasmuch as the Minister met the growers in that respect. I always like to give credit where credit is due. If the Minister could have gone a step further and had met the growers in regard to basic price, everybody would be happy and we could look forward to a substantial increase in the acreage.

The Minister may be reaching the end of his ministerial career. One of the outstanding achievements of which he may boast is that he cut the acreage of wheat by 150,000 acres in two years. There was a reduction of 130,000 acres in 1955, which was followed by a reduction of 20,000 acres last year. That represents 150,000 tons of wheat that had to be imported from abroad because the Minister had prevented the farmers from growing it here. That was a tragic occurrence, which will always reflect discredit on the Minister and his period of office.

I do not intend to probe into the question as to why, when he introduced that savage cut, the Minister did not leave the price at least at the level at which he found it when he took office. Surely the Minister must have realised that no Government, no matter how friendly or sympathetic they may be to the farmers or the wheat growers, could have been paying a price that was excessive to the extent of 12/6. The Minister took that course and the only thing we regret is that he has not fully retraced his steps. He has retraced them to a certain degree but has not retraced them fully. He has not restored the money which he unjustly took from the wheat growers.

One of the arguments which the Minister used fairly extensively last year in justification of the reduction in the price of wheat and in justification of the price which he fixed last year was that certain farmers were able to set their land in conacre at high prices. Anyone who knows anything about rural Ireland and about agrarian and agricultural problems knows that the price paid for conacre is not a true reflection of the real value of land or of the crop grown on it. Prices are forced up by competition between the small uneconomic holders, who must take additional land in order to give employment to their families and to provide work for their horses and implements, and the larger contractors who take land in conacre fairly extensively because the prices and the market are guaranteed.

I take it they are making a big profit.

No. They are not making a big profit, but they are making some margin of profit. Senator Hickey, as a city dweller, may not be able to grasp the meaning of this problem. It is only those who live in rural Ireland, in areas such as the area I live in in County Carlow, who understand the factors which cause people to pay high prices for land taken in conacre.

There are many farmers who are hard-headed business people also.

Yes. The hard-headed businessman, who has invested a considerable amount of money in tractors, farm implements, combined harvesters and so forth, must find work for them. There are two ways by which he can get remunerative work for his tillage and harvesting implements; he can hire them out to farmers in the locality, or he can take conacre. In the case of hiring his machinery out there is uncertainty about the amount of work that will be available and about the time at which he will get paid. He may have to wait for six months or more for payment.

If he takes land by conacre, such a man will give employment to his machinery right through the year, and if he gets at the end of the year only sufficient profit to pay for his machinery he will be satisfied. People of that kind are not only going in for wheat growing on conacre lettings but are also going in for barley growing because there is now a minimum price per barrel. It is not the high level of the price that attracts them but the fact that there is a guarantee about the price.

The man who takes conacre land in order to grow cereal crops wishes to have, and must have, some assurance that the crop he grows will find a market at a guaranteed price. If he gets that assurance, whether it be for barley, wheat or any other crop, he, as a hard-headed businessman, will be prepared to take a chance. The people who pay high prices for conacre land on a large scale—they are in a different category to economic holders—are able to make a fair estimate of the quality of the land they are taking. These people do not go out and take land which will not give a high yield.

The yield per acre in regard to wheat varies considerably and the men who go out to take conacre land, being good businessmen, will see that they take land which is fertile and which will give a good yield of wheat. If they succeed in getting such land they will be able to make substantial profits out of which they will be able to run their machinery without loss for the greater part of the year.

The fact that yields of wheat per acre vary according to the different types of land was emphasised recently in a statement made by the Minister. Speaking at Fermoy, and reported in the Irish Press of Friday, January 18th last, he said that farmers sent 2,700,000 barrels of wheat to the mills last year. If you divide that figure by the total number of acres under wheat that year it represents eight barrels per acre. Some people have paid as high as £20 an acre for conacre lettings. If the average yields were eight barrels an acre those people would make a very small margin of profit. The fact that average yields last year were only eight barrels of wheat per acre indicates that there must be some people growing wheat who get very much below eight barrels from an acre. I can assure the Seanad that if that type of land was taken for conacre it would not make the £15 to £20 per acre that is sometimes paid.

I think the Seanad should have no hesitation in accepting this motion. It asks the Minister to arrange a meeting with the National Farmers' Association and discuss this matter with them. I feel quite sure that in the past he has found them to be reasonable men. I believe he will find them so again. If he can make reasonable concessions with regard to the price of wheat he will get agreement and co-operation in the drive for increased tillage, not only in regard to wheat but in all other fields of increased agricultural production.

The case has been made by the Minister in the past—it certainly has been made frequently by representatives of the Government—that there is a wide margin between the price paid for wheat to the Irish growers and that paid for imported wheat, that the price paid to the Irish grower has been very substantially higher than that paid for imported wheat. I do not accept the view that the Irish farmers should be compelled to grow wheat at the same price as the farmers of North America or of Australia, because it is my belief that they are entitled to a considerable measure of protection. Each country in Europe pays its home wheat-growers more than it pays for imported wheat and each country in Europe, with the exception of Denmark and Holland, paid a higher price in the past to their own producers of wheat than was paid by our Government to Irish producers last year.

In addition to that, we must have regard to the impact of wheat production on our general agricultural economy. Everybody who has studied the question of getting higher output from the land acknowledges the fact that it is desirable to increase very substantially the total area under tillage. If we are to get a higher acreage under tillage every year, there must be one or two tillage crops from which there are fairly generous returns. Otherwise, the natural tendency of farmers, since farmers are free to use their land in any way they like, would be to go in more for permanent grazing. But if at least one or two of the tillage crops carry guaranteed prices which are reasonably remunerative that fact will strengthen the tillage policy. Such guarantees would be something in the nature of steel reinforcement to the whole tillage policy.

That is why it is desirable we should not merely pay the wheat growers of Ireland the bare cost of production, but that we should allow them some return, some margin of profit, that would enable them to keep producing the maximum on their land by taking the plough all over the farm and keeping the land cultivated. Therefore, I ask the Minister to meet the farmers again in a fair and reasonable spirit.

I will not say anything on this occasion that might annoy the Minister; I will not remind the Minister of his past policy in regard to wheat. I think it is better that we should forget that and instead express the hope that the Minister will, at this late stage, mend his hand in regard to the price of wheat and endeavour to reach, as far as possible, agreement with those who are qualified to represent the wheat growers. That is all I will say at the moment, except to express the hope that the Minister will meet the request contained in this motion.

I second the motion.

I have been interested in listening to Senator Cogan on this motion for the past 40 minutes, but I do not think he has put any facts whatsoever before the House. He has come in here and said that the National Farmers' Association were not satisfied with the price the Government had fixed for wheat. It could not be expected that the representatives of this body who approached the Minister for Agriculture with regard to the price of wheat would go out and give a statement to the Press saying they were delighted with the price the Minister had fixed for wheat. Such action would make it difficult for them to discuss the same problem again next year. It might also put them in the wrong with a large number of their members. When we look at these problems we ought to see what are the facts, and the weakness of Senator Cogan's case is that he did not put a single fact before us. His whole statement was a form of agitation for an increased price for wheat based on no facts whatsoever.

I do not propose to delay the Seanad at any length on this matter because I believe that the people who grow wheat know they are getting a good price for it. In fact a very progressive farmer said to me recently: "I hope the Government do not pay too high a price for wheat because that will have the effect of getting a whole lot of businessmen into the wheat business." They would buy plant and machinery and big tracts of land. By taking a small profit on producing that wheat the farmer who wanted to get a few acres of conacre would be in a position to do so. If a group of people got together and took a couple of thousand acres of conacre they could make an enormous profit. The farmer does not base his economy on that sort of production.

I indicated Senator Cogan for not producing facts and he would be quite right in saying that he would hope I would produce facts, which I am prepared to do. I grew nine statute acres of wheat last year and I put nearly a ton of compound fertiliser on those nine acres which cost me just over £28. I had £28 7s. worth of seed wheat at £6 a barrel and I valued the work done on that, including combining it, at £10 per statute acre, which is very liberal. The total cost of those nine acres of wheat was £146 17s. I received £292 5s. 4d. for that crop of wheat and the price I got per barrel was 67/6; a shilling a barrel for cartage brought it down to 66/6. I valued the straw at £5 an acre and on nine acres that gave me a total net profit of £190 8s. 4d. or £21 3s. 1¾d. Per acre. I am sure the millers did not pay me 67/6 for this year's crop unless I had a low moisture content and I presume that having the same moisture content next year I will receive 72/6 a barrel. I have often got more but it was a wet year last year. In next year's crop I should get £23 12s. an acre for my wheat.

It is said the average farm in Ireland is about 50 statute acres and on the basis of £23 12s. per acre I should get nearly £1,200 net profit. I presume on the 50 acre farm that the farmer would be working himself and that he might get the equivalent of £5 an acre on the work which he would do himself. That would enhance his profit very considerably. I know I am leaving myself open to someone saying: "The farmer cannot put down 50 acres of wheat." I grew beet this year and I did not make less than £30 a statute acre; I want to say that in passing. Wheat is a very good and very profitable crop and instead of growing nine acres this year I intend to grow 16 acres and I hope I will get the £23 12s. an acre. If it is a good year I would be expecting to get £25 or £26 a statute acre.

These are facts and this agitation that has gone on and continues to go on about wheat prices when there are no facts to back them up is destroying confidence. Senator Cogan said that if you paid a good price you would restore confidence. If anyone takes a paper and pencil and makes up what he gets for his wheat that will show him whether he has confidence or not. I say anyone who is growing wheat is delighted with the price he gets. If people are getting the bad yield about which Senator Cogan spoke I would suggest that they should consult their local agricultural adviser who will tell them the proper manure to use. Every year before I decide on the crops, I bring out the agricultural adviser and we spend a day going around the farm and deciding what we will sow.

I know it will be argued that wheat takes a good deal of good out of the ground. It does, but you will solve that problem if you grow beet after the wheat, clean up your ground and put the manure back. If you get £30 an acre for putting it back, I think what you have lost on the swings you make up on the roundabouts. Beet is a laborious crop and it has often to be pulled in the autumn, but take that 50-acre farm again. It will not kill that man to grow an acre and a half or two acres of beet. He can manage it comfortably.

As I have said, Senator Cogan has made no case at all in relation to this motion because he has not put any figures before us. I have been able to produce figures to show that I have been able to make a net profit of £21 a statute acre with the prospect of making over £23 10s. an acre in the coming year. The volume of wheat which farmers produced last year shows that they are anxious to secure a greater yield from a smaller area. That is more important. I would like someone to show me how to produce more wheat on a statute acre and, even if I reduced my acreage in the coming year from 16 acres to ten or 11 acres, I could have that land for something else.

Senator Cogan spoke about a reduction in the number of acres. That means nothing to me. The 150,000 fewer acres of land probably produced at least as much wheat, and these 150,000 acres are probably producing something which is much more important. I believe they are producing some of the bullocks that gave us the 15,000 cattle exported in one week early this month. I believe the figures I have produced show that there is good money in growing wheat. As one who has been farming all his life as well as engaging in other occupations, I am going to continue growing wheat and to grow more wheat on the basis of the present price. I think it would be a pity if the local farmer who wants to take a few acres of conacre should be pushed out of business.

This is an opportunity which we should not let pass without expressing our views. The motion would be very popular if there was any sincerity behind it but I think it merely represents a repetition of similar motions put down here to pour poison on the present Minister for Agriculture. Like Senator Burke, I wish to unmask some of these hypocrisies. I was reared on a farm and my people are all very substantial and progressive farmers. I come from one of the most intensive wheat-growing districts in the State and I am living on the borders of one of the most intensive tillage counties. I am mixing with farmers every day and I hear no complaints about the present price for wheat. There is very little land for letting but I will give Senator Cogan some hard facts. In regard to some recent lettings, there was one gentleman growing over 200 acres who travelled 20 miles and was runner-up for a ten-acre field which was taken at £400 for a wheat crop. Another small portion was let by a colleague of the Senator, an auctioneer, at four acres for £149 plus fees.

I grow about four and a half acres. I have my own machinery and plant and I do not go into the costings but I realised £342 15s. A farmer with 500 or 600 acres of land does not travel 18 or 20 miles to take land for growing wheat merely for the exercise. He is going there to take it so that he can make a profit out of it. The good results we have had, not alone in regard to wheat but also in regard to grass lands and other grain crops, are due to the approach of, and the facilities given, by the present Minister for Agriculture. We all know that and nobody knows it better than Senator Cogan. Such schemes as the ground limestone scheme and the land reclamation scheme have put farmers in a very independent position.

The Senator said that he did not like to hurt the Minister's feelings but I am sure I will not hurt his feelings when I compare the present wheat-growing policy with that under the compulsory wheat-growing programme of Fianna Fáil. I have a vivid recollection of the time when the inspectors were in the farmers' yards for breakfast, dinner and supper and when bulldozers and tractors were on the roads to break into farmers' fields. I know of one poor, lone, defenceless girl to whom it happened. She had her lands entered and ploughed for a wheat crop towards the end of May. That was the policy of Fianna Fáil. A farmer came to me one day and asked me where he would get a barrel of seed wheat. I told him I had none and that I had only a quantity of sweepings which he could take to feed his poultry. He said that he would take the sweepings and sow them and that he did not care whether they grew or not. "I will keep these gentlemen away," he said.

I have been speaking to groups of farmers recently and they told me that they were very happy about the present rates. There is one thing, however, to which I would draw the Minister's attention. They complain that the bushel weight is too high for our climate and that even in an Indian summer it is very hard to get it up to 64 lbs. They are perfectly satisfied; they are growing wheat and will continue to grow it, but they would like to be assured that the price will be guaranteed for more than one or two years. I think, coming from the district that I do, and Senator Cogan is well aware of it, that there is not a town in Ireland where more wheat is handled than in mine. They are good, hard-working, honest farmers doing well. If there is an acre of land to be let I could make a profit out of it tomorrow of £30 to £40 an acre.

The Senator mentioned ten acres for £400. Was that conacre?

Yes. I can give particulars.

I welcome the approach of Senator Burke and Senator McCrea who are concerned with furnishing the Seanad with facts, leaving it to the Seanad to determine, in the light of the facts, whether there is any merit in the terms of Senator Cogan's motion. I want to answer one specific query addressed to me by Senator McCrea. He discussed the prices with groups of farmers who found themselves generally satisfied, except that they felt that 64 lbs. was a very high bushel weight. It is a very high weight but I would draw the attention of Senators to the fact that a farmer presenting wheat of 64 lbs. bushel weight, with a moisture content of 22 per cent., is entitled this year to receive 78/6 per barrel, which is 6/- per barrel more than he would have received last year. If his bushel weight is between 63 and 64, he is entitled to 77/6; between 62 and 63 lbs., he is entitled to 76/6, and between 61 and 62 lbs. bushel weight, he is entitled to 75/6, and so on in steps of 1 lb. downwards, with a reduction of 1/- in respect of each lb. Even if a farmer does not realise the top bushel weight, he does not suffer a substantial reduction if he attains only to 63 lbs. That is one of the changes that has been introduced this year.

Heretofore, the change in price payable as related to bushel weight fell into groups of 3 lbs. and if a man did not attain the highest group he suffered a relatively substantial cut. Under this new schedule, which was drawn up to meet, in so far as I could, what appeared to me the reasonable representations of the N.F.A., the steps are now related to each lb. of bushel weight and the differential between each step is 1/-.

Senator Cogan, as has been pointed out, did not deal extensively in facts. I want to put the facts before the House and then leave it with confidence to the Seanad to make up its own mind on the merits of the Senator's proposal. I am a member of a political Party and proud of the fact and, as I understand, the obligation of a member of a political Party is to support and defend the policy for which his Party is responsible. Senator Cogan is a member, as I understand it, of the Fianna Fáil Party and I take it that his purpose is to defend and justify the policy of the Party to which he belongs. I want to remind the Senator of the policy of the Party to which he belongs as recorded in a memorandum issued by the Government constituted from the Fianna Fáil Party on the 22nd January, 1954, signed by the Secretary of the then Government and it runs as follows:—

"I am to refer to the memoranda, dated the 18th instant, submitted by the Minister for Agriculture, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Industry and Commerce relative to policy in regard to the growing of wheat and to inform you that the Government at a meeting held to-day decided that the general aim of policy with regard to the growing of wheat should be to secure an annual mill intake of about 300,000 tons of dried native wheat; and

(2) that the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Industry and Commerce and the Department of Finance should consult together immediately with a view to (a) finding solutions of the problems concerning transport, drying, storage and finance that are likely to arise in connection with the disposal of home-grown wheat of the 1954 crop and (b) ensuring that adequate facilities will be provided on a permanent basis to handle in future years an annual crop of the magnitude represented by a mill intake of 300,000 tons of dried native wheat."

I have not heard any statement on behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party that they have departed from that policy. That is in relation to the volume which their Government appears to believe appropriate to the requirements of the country, bearing in mind the claim expressed on behalf of the miller that without a certain admixture of Manitoba wheats it is not possible to produce the kind of baker's bread as distinguished from cake bread made on the griddle which is acceptable to the majority of consumers in this country.

Before departing from the volume, I should like to inform the Seanad of the results of the policy I outlined to them about this time last year when a similar matter was raised. Senators will recall that I said there were two ways of attaining to a preconceived volume of production. One was to appoint an army of inspectors and to give each farmer in the country an acreage quota for wheat but that I recoiled from the thought of establishing an army of inspectors who would have the right to direct farmers in that matter and to levy penalties upon them if the farmers did not comply with the quota imposed upon them.

I said the alternative method of securing a preconceived volume of wheat was the operation of Ricardo's law and that was to set a price at which farmers would find it remunerative to produce approximately the quantity of wheat which it was desired to evoke and that while, of course, that was difficult to do with precision one did it to the best of one's ability. It was a method which involved the least possible interference in the day-to-day work and life of the individual farmer and I, therefore, proposed to the Seanad and the Government a price which I believe, in accordance with Ricardo's law, would evoke a supply approximating to that represented by 300,000 tons of Irish wheat dried delivered on the mill floor.

We have to date received 2,726,000 barrels of wheat, green, and we expect that we will receive some wheat over and above that. I do not think it would be unreasonable to anticipate that before deliveries of wheat are completed we would receive at the mills between 2,750,000 barrels and 2,800,000 barrels of green wheat. Allowing for a drying loss of about 10 per cent., that would give us about 2,500,000 barrels of dried wheat and would represent 315,000 tons of dried wheat—about 15,000 tons more than the objective set by the Fianna Fáil Government, without the appointment of any inspectors, without the imposition of any quota, without the supervision of a single farmer and with no interference with anybody except the deployment of all the resources of the Department of Agriculture to ensure that facilities would be made available to farmers in, I think, the worst cereal year this country has ever experienced to get the crop taken in expeditiously and with minimum loss. It was all taken in with minimum loss despite the fact that we had a higher incidence of sprouting in the last harvest than has ever been experienced in this country.

The Senator, in the course of his opening remarks, found serious fault with me because he said he believed that I was responsible for reducing the acreage of wheat. I think it was a little disingenuous of the Senator not to go on to say: "But if he reduced the acreage of wheat he also produced, or appeared to produce, for the benefit of the farmers, another interesting result and that is that from 338,000 acres of wheat last year farmers delivered to the mills as much wheat as was delivered from 662,000 acres in 1945." Surely, as Senator Burke said, if it is possible to deliver 30 cwts. of wheat from one acre, that is better than delivering 15 cwts. of wheat from each of two acres. If you deliver the 30 cwts. from one acre, you can use the other acre for some other useful form of production to contribute to the national income for the nation's benefit.

We have every reason to congratulate ourselves that we are now delivering to the mill something approximating to a national average of eight barrels per statute acre, when we remember—and that in a year such as we had last year—that back in 1934-35 the average mill delivery per acre was 4.4. In 1937-38 the average mill delivery was 4.71. Omitting the war years, the average mill deliveries were, in 1949-50, 6.7; in 1950-51, 5.69; in 1951-52, 5.30; in 1952-53, 6.27; in 1953-54, 7.4; in 1954-55, 6.74; in 1955-56, 7.27 and in 1956-57, approximately eight barrels. I believe that, as Deputy Burke has said, at these levels the production of wheat in this country is remunerative.

However, I want to say with great deliberation that I do not think Senator Cogan does the farmers of this country any service by initiating debates of this character in Seanad Eireann. When he proceeds to make the case that the price provided by the Government for wheat is inadequate, it must and does evoke in the course of the debate a quotation of figures which could give rise in the minds of many to the belief that the price for wheat is unduly generous.

The Senator spoke of the right of the Irish grower to a differential in price over and above that payable to the North American or Australian producer. The Government has taken cognisance of that right, in the fixing of the prices for this year, but Senators do not need to be reminded by me that the comparison made is not between the price of wheat here and the price in Australia and the price in North America: it is the difference between the price payable here to our growers, for green wheat, with the price payable for dried Australian or North American wheat, not on the pacific coast of America, nor yet on the Pacific or Atlantic coast of Australia, but delivered c.i.f. Port of Dublin or Port of Cork. At the present time, freight rates, for a variety of reasons into which it is unnecessary to go, stand at unprecedentedly high figures.

The Government have, however, accepted the view that the price payable to our farmers should provide a margin of inducement over and above the price at which dried Australian wheat can be delivered c.i.f. an Irish port. Now, it is not easy to establish a strict identity between the price payable for dried Australian wheat and for dried Irish wheat, on a basis of strict equality. We try to approximate it as best we can, by determining approximately a price for dried Irish wheat on the mill floor and comparing that with the closest approximation we can make to the price of dried Australian wheat on the mill floor.

I cannot contrast the price which Irish farmers will receive next September or October for their wheat, with the prices which will then obtain for Australian wheat—because I do not know what prices will then obtain for Australian wheat, as I do not know what the wheat will be selling at and I do not know what the freight rates then will be. If I take the price payable for dried Australian wheat, as of to-day, c.i.f. an Irish port, after freight has been paid at the very high rates for the moment obtaining in freight markets throughout the world, I reckon that the Irish farmer will receive £3 to £4 per ton more for his wheat dry on the mill floor than the present cost of Australian wheat dry on the mill floor. That, I feel, is certainly a reasonable, if not a liberal, differential between the two prices.

Senator Cogan speaks glibly of the desirability of avoiding the outlay of £5,000,000 a year on the imports of wheat. It is interesting to note how, if a figure like that is perennially repeated, everybody begins to accept it as true. I wonder where the Senator got that figure. I cannot find it. The total outlay on imports of foreign wheat in the year ending 31st August, 1956, was £3,523,000; in the year ending 31st August, 1955, it was £4,284,000; and in the year ending 31st August, 1954, it was £2,105,000. Where did he get £5,000,000 a year for imports of wheat? I do not know.

I have not the slightest doubt that the figures quoted by Senator McCrea and Senator Burke approximate very closely to the truth. I have not the slightest doubt in my mind that wheat is a very profitable crop now for any farmer who grows it well. I have not the slightest doubt that the methods employed by Senator Burke are the right methods, in that he consults the agricultural instructor or parish agent as the circumstances require, as to how best, in his particular circumstances, wheat can be most successfully grown. Any farmer who follows that example is assured at present prices of a very satisfactory return.

I want to remind the Seanad of one or two other facts which are very important if farmers are to be fully informed on what the wheat crop means to them this year. If they grow wheat and present it in millable condition, with a moisture content of 22 per cent or less and a bushel weight of 64 lbs., they will receive 78/6 per barrel for all the wheat they grow, delivered from the field. If they choose to stack that wheat, and thus relieve the pressure on our resources when the bulk of the crop is coming in, until the 1st December, and thresh it and deliver it then, they can receive 81/-. If their circumstances will permit of their further retention of the crop until the 1st January, they are entitled to receive 83/6 per barrel of wheat delivered.

I know a man who is equipping himself this year to hold his wheat until the 1st January, because he believes it will pay him well to install bins to hold the wheat and earn, on the acreage he proposes to sow, the extra 5/- a barrel which is available to farmers who want to avail of it. It is a means of making accessible to farmers the storage charges which otherwise would have to be paid to warehousemen, at the same time providing a great relief to the whole organisation for handling the wheat crop by reducing even in small degree, the total volume of wheat which falls to be handled in the course of the harvest itself.

In the course of his observations, Senator Cogan said that the great desideratum was to encourage farmers to till more, and that guaranteed prices were the means to do it. Well, there is a guaranteed price now for wheat and there is a guaranteed price for feeding barley; there is a guaranteed price for Grade A pigs and for milk. Barley, milk and pigs are a combined operation and they have this immense additional advantage, that there is no foreseeable limit to the market available for the produce of such husbandry. We could grow with confidence another 150,000 acres of feeding barley and use it all ourselves. In fact, if we grew another 250,000 acres of barley, I believe that over and above that which we use ourselves, a market could be found elsewhere for the surplus.

In regard to feeling barley, the ideal is that it should be grown, fed and processed on the farm where it is produced, so as to avoid imposing upon it storage and transport charges. Feeding barley grown by a farmer in East Cork is the raw material of a man who feeds pigs in West Cork and if that feeding barley has to be stored and transported from East Cork to West Cork it is made that much dearer. If it has to be stored and transported from East Cork to Monaghan, Sligo or North Mayo, then the burden of charges becomes truly formidable.

We are faced with what always appears to me to be a gross anachronism, that of asking the 15-20 acre farmer of County Mayo to meet the surplus charge involved in transporting feeding barley from one end of the country to the other. Infinitely better it would be if the farmers in Mayo would grow the bulk of the barley they themselves require, get it ground by the neighbouring miller or let one of them get an electric mill of his own and grind it for himself and for his neighbours or let the co-operative society, if there be one, provide that facility for all; and let those who grow large acreages of barley in County Cork redouble their efforts to consume the barley that they grow on their holdings by converting it into pigs and bacon; thus retaining for themselves, whether it be in Mayo or in Cork, the bulk of the profit, without inviting the transport worker, the storage proprietor, the storage worker, the sack manufacturer and all the others, to take their share of the value of the grain if we go on growing it in Cork and consuming it in Mayo. Therefore, I agree with the Senator that we want more tillage. The limit of our capacity to absorb wheat from tillage is the limit of our own people's desire to consume bread.

I would like to remind Senators that the consumption of bread and flour is falling steadily year after year in this country. One of the great indices of a rising standard of living is a decline in the per capita consumption of bread. I often hear people bemoan the sad state of our people. I can look back personally or vicariously over a long term of the social history of our people. Certainly it is true that west of the Shannon the grandfathers of the people who live there to-day never dreamt that their grandchildren would enjoy the standard of living that they now do. One of the indices of that happy change is that they eat less bread because they have available to them the means for a more varied and more suitable diet. That factor must be borne in mind when considering the optimum wheat acreage.

It can be forgotten that we are dealing with our objective in the production of coarse grains which, in our circumstances, mean feeding barley and oats. Oats have become for us a problem crop because the tractor has taken the place of the horse, the bus has replaced the tram—I refer to the horse tram, not the electric tram—the taxi has replaced the cab and, in rural Ireland, the outside car. Buses, taxis and the like do not eat oats. Therefore, there has been left from our traditional practice, which was originally designed to provide for a very large horse population in this country and abroad, a potential surplus of oats; not so with feeding barley.

We have the legitimate aim to-day of completely displacing imports of maize which have been for many years traditional to our people. It is a remarkable achievement that in this year the total allocation of maize to millers is only 10 per cent. of their datum purchases. The other 90 per cent. is being supplied by home-grown barley. We anticipate that that situation can and will continue up to the end of March or April and then, from then on to the arrival of the new harvest, we will depend largely on imported grain which, this year, will be imported in the form of barley so that we may maintain the same feeding practice and policies which will enable us to rely exclusively on barley produced at home.

This motion deals primarily with the price of wheat. I have given you the yield which we have seen in the year gone by. I have explained to the Seanad that certain considerations of freight and otherwise justify in our judgment some upward adjustment of the price of wheat in this year so that a modest and reasonable differential should be maintained in favour of the Irish farmer between the price to-day for Australian wheat delivered dry on the mill floor and Irish wheat delivered on the mill floor.

In conclusion, I want to go to the heart of this matter—to the fundamental fact—so that it may be recorded again on the records of this House and, I hope, in the memories of the Senators. The price a farmer will receive for wheat this year, green from the harvest field, will be 78/6 per barrel if it bushels 64 lbs. weight and has a moisture content of 22 per cent., or less. If he keeps it for delivery on the 1st December he will receive 81/- per barrel and if he reserves it for delivery after the 1st January he will receive 83/6. Some Senators will naturally ask: What is the average moisture content of Irish wheat, delivered? I cannot give the answer and I do not think anybody can, in all honesty, give to the Seanad a faithful and accurate estimate of what that truly is. The estimate I can give you is based on a regular system of spot checks that take place every year to determine by that method the general average of moisture content of wheat as it reaches the mill. It has no pretension to be an accurate record. It is an approximation founded on that procedure. For what it is worth, our experience has been as follows:—


19 per cent. moisture content.


25.5 ,,,, ,, ,,


22.5 ,,,, ,, ,,


19.9 ,,,, ,, ,,


22.3 ,,,, ,, ,,

Then I shall go back, year by year, giving the Senators the moisture content as attained by that method.

These are the figures: 1950-51, 21.2 per cent. moisture content; 1949-50, 20 per cent.; 1948-49, 20 per cent.; 1947-48, 21.5 per cent.; 1946-47, 23 per cent.; 1945-46, 20.5 per cent.; 1944-45, 21.5 per cent.; 1943-44, 21.5 per cent.; 1942-3, 20 per cent.; 1941-2, 20 per cent.; 1940-41, 19 per cent.; 1939-40, 19.5 per cent. This carries us back to the year 1939-40 when moisture contents were first surveyed.

In view of these facts, I think on the whole the farmers are getting a fair deal. If there is any departure from the narrow and strict path of equity, the divergence is in favour of the farmer rather than that of the consumer. I believe that, in moderation, it would be the desire of all that that should be the rule. I think the Government is correctly interpreting the general desire in the schedule of prices it has presented.

The Senator asked me have these matters been discussed with the Agricultural Production Council. The answer is "Yes". But the function of that council is to advise me. I have no right to come to the Seanad and claim on its authority any mitigation of my responsibility. The Senator asked me have these matters been discussed with the National Farmers' Association. The answer is "Yes." They have recorded their sentiments in public——

On a point of order, the Minister is misquoting me. What I asked was: did the Agricultural Consultative Council agree to those prices, either unanimously or by a majority?

I am endeavouring to reply. The answer is that these prices were discussed with the National Farmers' Association, who have placed on public record their reaction to my decision and that of the Government, taken in the light of the views expressed by them. The responsibility for this schedule of prices is the responsibility of the Government, acting on my advice, and I invite the Seanad to say that the Government acted wisely in accepting the advice I tendered to them.

On principle I cannot support Senator Cogan's motion. Having met farmers throughout the country, I think the majority of them are quite satisfied with the prices being offered for wheat this year. Despite misrepresentation in various political organs, and even in farming journals, that the price has only been increased by 1/6—one said 2/6 at the most—we all know that any farmer who produces good wheat this year will get an increase of 6/- per barrel over last year's prices. That is something that should be told to the farmers of this country.

We give top prices for Grade A bacon. We are trying to get our industrialists to produce Grade A goods. Therefore, it is only right that this Minister should try to encourage farmers to produce good wheat. When they do produce it, he will give them a fairly good price for it. I do not think there are any farmers in this country who are prepared to hold the nation up to ransom. I will admit that the farmers will not be millionaires on the prices offered for wheat, but they are getting a fair return for their money and work. The bread of the poor is not a commodity from which anybody wants to make a fortune.

My first reaction would be that I would like to see the farmers getting, perhaps, £4 10s. or £5 per barrel for wheat. But we should take the time and the circumstances into consideration. In view of present conditions, we must all admit we have an economic problem here. We are appealing to labour and other people not to press for more wages or make extra demands. Is it not right that the farmer should also try to do his best to pull his weight to get the country out of its economic difficulties? I think that the farmer, when he views the whole matter properly, will be quite satisfied with the price offered and will be prepared to pull his weight. A Government must govern in the interests of all sections of the community, not in the interests of any one section. When the Government were coming to their decision, they had to bear that in mind. It should be remembered that at the present time there are something like 30,000 farmers producing wheat in this country——


In any case, there are 12,000,000 acres of arable land in this country and less than 500,000 acres are producing wheat. I would ask Senator Cogan or any other Senator is it right that the poor farmer living in places like Kerry, Leitrim, Sligo and other poor counties should pay the people growing wheat a subsidy of around £9,000,000 per year? Does Senator Cogan hold also that it is right that the people in the cities should pay that subsidy to the farmer?

Senator Cogan had different views and different ideas a few years ago. If he looks back to Volume 92, column 1200, he will see where he stated on one occasion:—

"Suppose you fix a price for wheat sufficient to enable every farmer even on the poorest land to grow a crop, you would require to fix the price at £4 or £5 per barrel. That would mean that the farmer on the rich land would reap an enormous benefit."

That was Senator Cogan's idea at that time. It does not seem to be his idea at the present time. Senator Cogan states that wheat does not pay and is not paying at the present time. Why is it then that level-headed farmers and good business farmers this year gave over £30 per acre for land in County Louth to grow wheat? In County Meath, £30 per acre was paid, and in my own county £22 or £23 per acre has been given. No matter what Senator Cogan or anybody else says, the farmers must be making a profit out of growing wheat.

None of us can foresee the future. None of us can forecast what will happen but I believe there will be sufficient wheat grown this year to meet our needs. The Minister has pointed out that it was the aim of the Fianna Fáil Party at one time to produce 300,000 tons of wheat, and he is to be congratulated on the fact that the farmers last year produced 2,700,000 barrels of wheat, that is, 300,000 more than the Fianna Fáil target in 1953. That is the quantity of wheat delivered to the mills from last harvest. Remember, the Minister achieved that not through compulsion, not through filling ten fields full of inspectors, not through tucking down ditches and tucking tractors in to rip up the land; the Minister achieved that by inducement, by his lime scheme, by his land rehabilitation scheme and by his fertiliser schemes. All these helped to increase the fertility of the soil and enable farmers to reap much better crops than in the past.

It should be our aim to go in for intensive farming rather than extensive farming. We have heard a good deal about the amount of wheat produced. Taking the year 1947, there were only 6.3 cwts. produced per acre. That was 2.5 barrels. At 57/6 per barrel, the farmers received only £7 per acre. In 1948, the figures are 12.3 cwts. or 4.9 barrels. At 62/6 per barrel the farmers received only £15 10s. per acre. In the last harvest, there was something over eight barrels produced and at the price offered the farmers got something in the region of £30 per acre. Taking everything into account, Senator Cogan, this House generally and all interested parties should be satisfied with the price offered by the Government.

I spoke about intensive farming as against extensive farming. In 1945, we had 662,000 acres under wheat.

That produced 2,837,000 barrels. Last year, we had 330,000 acres under wheat and that produced 2,700,000 barrels. That wheat has already been delivered to the mills. We want to get the most out of the land. Last year, the area of land under wheat was halved. The other 300,000 acres were growing oats, barley or roots, or perhaps fattening cattle. Despite what some people have said in the past about the British market being gone, and gone forever, thanks be to God, we should remember that we have 12,000,000 acres of fertile, arable land. We have no underground wealth. We are dependent upon the cattle and the sheep we feed and fatten on our land for export to Great Britain for the money to keep the wheels of industry turning, to keep our people in employment and to maintain our standard of living. In 1954, when the price of wheat was reduced, our farming policy had become lopsided. During that year, had the harvest been satisfactory, we would have had more wheat than we needed at a time when the Minister was compelled to give permits for the import of barley from Iraq, oats from Scotland and elsewhere.

What we need in this country is a balanced agricultural policy. We want, and this has always been the aim of this Government, to grow all the food we can for our own people, to grow all the food we can for our own cattle, sheep and pigs. This year, there is a guaranteed price for wheat, for barley and for beet. It is my opinion that the price offered by the Government is a fair price, taking everything into consideration. Instead of playing Party politics here, Senator Cogan and all others interested should appeal to our farmers to put their hands to the plough and grow all the wheat necessary to feed our own people and increase the acreage under barley and oats, so that it will no longer be necessary to import these commodities.

This motion is opportune. It expresses the general view of the farmers. I am sure the Minister agrees with me in that. I am equally sure that he would have changed his mind to our way of thinking, were it not for the Coalition Senators who have spoken against this motion. I can see the Minister coming closely to our way of thinking. On a few occasions, he has heeded the advice I have given him and I know he does not regret having done so. If it is not too late now, I would strongly advise him to change the price of wheat for 1957. A reduction of 12/6 per barrel was a bit outrageous.

The farmers cannot be expected to engage in a balanced economy if one Government say they will give them 80/- per barrel for their wheat and a succeeding Government say they will cut the price by 12/6. That sort of cut is not right and I do not believe the Minister thinks it is right. Some people say that he is prejudiced against wheat growing. He may have been in the past, but I think he is big enough to have overcome that prejudice. We are living in a very critical time and we should be growing at least 90 per cent. of our own wheat requirements. We can do that, if we want to. The Minister knows that as well as I do.

The millers used to say that one could not make a good loaf from native wheat. The fact is that, if we grow the proper varieties, we can make a good loaf. That has been proved conclusively. The Swedes make their own loaf from the most suitable varieties and they are very satisfied with it. Experiments have proved that a good loaf can be made from the wheat grown here, too.

Is the Senator or Senator Cogan authorised, on behalf of his Party, to say what price he thinks ought to be paid for wheat?

Senator Cogan is the mover of the motion and I shall leave that in his hands. I am sure he will deal with it to the satisfaction of the Minister.

I trust he will also satisfy the Senator.

I understood the Minister to say he had the sanction and approval of the National Farmers' Association.

Did I understand the Minister to say that he had the approval of the Agricultural Production Council?

He has not the approval or sanction of either of these bodies. I am a bit surprised, because I understood otherwise and I thought I understood from the Minister that he had the approval of these people.

Debate adjourned.