I start off by congratulating the Minister on bringing this measure before us. All of us should have a deep interest in agriculture and in agricultural producers, those people who work so hard, in particular the small farmers. We all admit that it is one of the most difficult occupations for any person to engage in. Since we have not got five-day cows and defined working hours, there are enormous difficulties involved that do not pertain to any other type of industry or profession.
Agriculture accounts for a significant percentage of our economy. Everything we can do to further the agricultural interest will in the long run pay handsome dividends. Therefore, we should all be deeply concerned with this measure. It is only fair to say that down the years the Agricultural Credit Corporation have done a great job. They have agents in most counties. They give out money when a plan is submitted to them, when it is approved and examined by experts.
At the same time, I feel that in the past—I do not know what the position is at present—they gave very large sums of money to well-off farmers, but it was very difficult for the small farmer with five or six cows to get a loan. I agree with Senator Killilea that if we continue with a policy such as that, it would mean in the end that the transitional farmer would be wiped out. That would be a very sad day for agriculture. We have the development farmer and the commercial farmer, but at the bottom we have this small man, who has been the backbone of national production over the years. Indeed, comparing his acreage and so forth with the bigger and better-off farmers, he, in the past, produced much more tillage and more cattle. Consequently, we should be very concerned about the amount of money the Minister for Finance will make available here, particularly having regard to inflation in the last 12 months which was in the region of 26 per cent. The sum sought might look a big figure now, but when you compare it with previous increases and with the purchasing power involved, it might not be half as significant as people might be led to believe at a casual glance.
I notice somewhere in the Minister's speech that roughly £16 million of this went to merchants, meat factories and granaries. I suppose these are more or less directly concerned with farming. They would probably not be in existence at all but for the farming community. Some of them are owned by farmers. Not all farmers or producers are in co-ops. Neither are all the farmers in the IFA. There are certain farmers who have remained on their own, who work as family farms.
I cannot see how any Minister in 1975 could include meat factories in the amount. We had the sad experience last year of the IMP and even the co-operative owned meat factories who fleeced the farmers, their suppliers. Let there be no doubt about it. The private meat factories did it. The factory owned meat processing plants made up to £60 per animal. Very recently I heard the Chairman of Clover Meats adverting to the amount of profit they made last year. They did not even blush when asked how they made so much money, nor did they seem to have any conscience regarding the poor producer, the man down on the farm in the backward part of Ireland who was forced last winter to take out his cattle and sell them at a loss of £60 and indeed give them away.
In one sense I do not blame business people for trying to make as much money as possible. That is what they are in it for. I am sincere when I say that, while the co-operative meat factories have to exist, they took over some of the plants to show the private individuals how to run them. Some of them came along to the fairs and markets of Ireland and bought cattle at £10 a cwt, brought them to the meat processing factories and got intervention prices of up to £19 per cwt. They are crying and whinging today in many places about the decline in store cattle, saying the small farmer in the west of Ireland, in Donegal, Monaghan, Cavan, Galway and Mayo, should still keep producing store cattle, so that these people can come and buy them for nothing, or take them away, bring them up on the rich lands and make a profit again.
The sum of £16 million has tremendous significance. Does the Minister feel that it is a fair allocation to these people in view of the millions they took off the producers last year? I see no justification whatever for it. It would be better if that £16 million was readjusted and given out to those small producers, which is their just due, even given out in loans, to encourage them to increase their livelihood and to expand. We are now in the EEC and while the commercial farmer and development farmer may get all the big grants, these traditional producers at the bottom will be left out in the cold. The day that happens will not be good for agriculture, for the economy, and for the nation as a whole. These people will have to move out of these areas and houses will have to be provided for them in other areas. This will cause congestion and problems so far as schools and houses of worship are concerned. I ask the Minister and the ACC to consider that very carefully. Creameries get grants out of this, too. Many of them help in administering this scheme.
The time has now come for us to have another look at some of the stuff we are producing. It seems that in the EEC countries, in particular, there is a mountain of milk powder. There is no use saying in 12 months or two years that we were not warned of this. After all, the signs are there, and an efficient Minister of Agriculture should be advising the Minister for Finance and the ACC the best way to allot the funds available here to ensure that we will not find ourselves with a glut at the end of two or three years and unable to dispose of the finished product. If we cannot sell the finished product, there is no use in our producing the article.
Loans can be given for buying livestock. It is a very good thing to do. I do not want to say anything here that would injure the confidence that people engaged in agriculture should have in the industry. However I have no hesitation in saying that there will be no confidence whatever in the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and in the present Minister for Agriculture because of the way agricultural fortunes have fared in the last 12 months. In 1973, when this Government came into office, a dropped calf was selling at £70 and now you can buy them for 70p.
These are the facts to face any farmer, in particular the small producer. How in the world can anybody ask those people to go back into livestock and produce calves at that ridiculous price? It would not pay for the AI fee. In fact, the AI fee is about three or four times that at present. As can be seen from the returns last year, there is a downward trend all the way. The cattle population is falling. The pig population is falling. The sheep population is falling. This is happening in a country such as ours and at a time when every one of these should be expanding. That is what the ACC money should be used for. But we will not get the people to borrow this money if they find out that, having done so, they find themselves in the sorry position that they are not able to repay the loans on that, when they have done that, they will have no profit whatever at the end of it.
It seems, too, that money could be borrowed here for expanding pig production. My county was a traditional county for producing pigs as well as, Longford and Leitrim. Pig production has finished completely in Monaghan and Cavan, except for a few big units. The ordinary people, who had five, six and ten sows are gone out of existence, because of the price charged for feeding stuffs, because the right markets were not available abroad and the right drive was not behind it. I blame completely our Minister for Agriculture for that, because, having obtained through the EEC the right to sell, we cannot fulfil even our quota in the British market. That is a scandalous situation, especially for counties that were traditionally pig producers, producing the best pork and bacon, not alone in Ireland but I am sure in Europe. Our factory in Cavan then and even yet produces the best sausages, beef and pork in Ireland. Farmers in those counties, who have the piggeries built with the aid of grants, have no pigs housed in them. They know of the disastrous situation in the past. It is very hard to get these people back into pig production.
The Minister for Agriculture should be able to infuse confidence into any community. He and his officials should see that the markets are available. It is hard to have confidence in the Minister when we see the position in the sheep industry at present, with pickets outside the French Embassy in this city protesting about the French attitude towards Irish lamb. They did not tell us that the Minister for Agriculture went across to the EEC and was a party to allowing Australian lamb into the British market and that it is being reshipped over here. If they want to put on a picket the right place to put it is outside the British Embassy or some of these other places but certainly not outside the French Embassy. The French were buying our sheep and were paying for them. This is the type of bungled thinking that is going on in regard to agricultural outlets. It will confuse the people who really should benefit from these loans.
So far as the pig producers are concerned, except for a few units, their livelihood has been snatched away inside of the last three years. The bottom has fallen out of the cattle industry and there is no use anybody saying otherwise. We are well into the month of July now, when farmers will be selling off their cattle. What are the prospects? Will there be an intervention price this year? How will the consumer be protected? Will those meat factories take the traditional £60 profit on every animal? What is the Minister doing about it? Has he appointed any inspectors to go in and see that these people, who borrowed money under the EEC or otherwise, will be protected inside the closed confines of these meat factories where all this fleecing is done?
It is high time the Minister for Finance, who is handing out this money, had a chat with his colleague, the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries. He should ask him where this money is going and what benefit it is conferring on those people. It is not mismanagement on the part of the farmers. The whole rot is at the top, let there be no doubt whatever about it.
Money can also be borrowed for farm equipment and for seeds, grain and fertilisers. This racket of fertilisers is tremendously important. It has bedevilled the whole situation, particularly last year. We had a dry season this year and most of the farmers were unable to buy fertilisers. They could not buy them because they had gone through a disastrous winter and losing all they had in the flop of the cattle sales. But it has been stacked up in many of the co-operatives and trading houses around the country. The price was chaotic. It would not pay any farmer to buy fertiliser at that price unless he was a millionaire and could survive for two or three years without making any money whatever. So far as the small farmer was concerned, he could not avail of it. It is very important to provide money to buy fertilisers or subsidise them in one way or another. At present they are left lying with the merchants. Whoever is concerned will have to rethink because they will not be sold.
There are some loans available for farm equipment. There are parts of the country where farm machinery is needed for spreading farm manure. It is very costly. The ACC should concern themselves with that, or some of these designers might be able to design some type of smaller machine with which the farmer would be able to spread any farm manure around the place rather than having to go to the co-operatives and other merchants to buy expensive fertilisers.