I welcome this Bill. I was advocating that this Bill should be introduced long before now. I see it as a major contribution to the upgrading of our cattle herd in general, especially improving quality in beef and dairy herds. Agriculture accounts for one-third of our exports and it is in our interest to ensure that the quality of the cattle we produce meets the demands of the market and rewards the producer. For the financial well being of the country and the farming community the livestock industry is most important and every effort should be made to ensure that quality animals are produced.
This Bill is very necessary. Last week I was at the royal show and I visited the CBF stand. This agency are responsible for promoting the export of our cattle. I saw cattle exhibited there and I was disappointed at the quality on exhibit on that occasion. The farmers who were with me on that occasion were also disappointed. This is one of the reasons that this Bill is necessary. It is important to have quality. I am sure higher standards will be required by the countries to which we will be exporting our livestock in the future. I am sure when grading is introduced we will find it difficult to compete. I am sure it is the Minister's intention in introducing this Bill to improve the standards of our cattle to meet the demands of the market we intend producing them for.
Some people may feel that sections of the Bill are harsh. The Sneem Cooperative Society are concerned that they will not be in a position to produce cattle as a result of this Bill. I do not agree with this. In the long term we need this Bill for the improvement of cattle throughout the country even without the amendments that were introduced in the other House. We have pity for the small farmers and I am sure their problems can be overcome but we have to produce quality cattle. I am sure only a small percentage of the cattle produced in the disadvantaged areas will eventually reach the export market. Concern has been expressed in relation to the non-availability or scarcity of first quality animals. This will sort itself out. As I have already stated, the marketplace will determine whether it is possible to become breeders of good quality animals.
Our beef industry is a £1,000 million industry, of which 80 per cent of its products are exportable. Therefore, it is important that we have proper pedigree beef sires. Mention has been made of three-quarter bred bulls. I do not know what this means. It is just a glorified name for a scrub bull. The Minister is introducing amendments to the Bill to ensure that bulls will be examined, especially in the disadvantaged areas. It should be ensured that the people who are given licences for these bulls produce top quality bulls.
The position of our dairy herd has not been good despite the availability of AI. The yield of the Irish dairy cow is approximately half the yield of the dairy cow in other countries, for example, the Netherlands and Denmark. To improve on this situation the AI stations and the cattle breeding societies must become more thorough and selective in their selection of sires. This programme has been in existence for 30 years. It is a poor reflection on the programme that the national average milk yield per cow is approximately 700 gallons. TheIrish Farmers' Journal of 16 February condemned this Bill. It was stated in that issue that our legislators are still living in the distant past and so are many of our pedigree Friesian breeders. I should like to point out if pedigree Friesian breeders were allowed import their own sires for their cattle we would have a higher average than the 700 gallons national average.
A herd competition was organised by the Irish Friesian Breeders Association last year and the year before that. The highest average of the herd that won was between 1,500 and 1,600 gallons. This gives an idea of the contribution the pedigree breeders are making to agriculture. If everyone took example from the pedigree breeders, in their breeding programme and in their stockmanship, I am sure we would not be in the super-levy situation we find ourselves in today. We would have a higher base and would be in a position to maintain it. It is unfair of the editor of theIrish Farmers' Journal, who is a member of Bord na gCapall to say what he did. I do not know if his knowledge of cattle is equal to his knowledge of horses, but that does not qualify him for chairmanship of the board. I am sure it is his loyalty to one of the Government parties that qualifies him for it.
I should like to take issue with the Department in restricting the importation of semen of good bulls to pedigree breeders. Breeders visited England and saw a progeny of a bull and some of them imported the semen. When other farmers, including myself, looked for licences to import, we were told that they would not be granted to us. The Department are slowing down progress in this respect. They should take advice from the breeders who have experience in this area and have put years of work into a business that has been handed down from father to son. There should be no deterrent in regard to the importation of semen when breeders, who have been very successful in breeding top quality cattle, want to import such semen. This will be for the benefit of agriculture and for the national economy also.
I should like to refer to the National Milk Recording Co-op which is based in Bandon. Their report was presented to the Minister some time ago and he congratulated them on the great work being done. I should like also to congratulate them and their chairman, Michael Buckley. This is another scheme which was ridiculed and criticised by the editor of theIrish Farmers' Journal. If we are to make progress in the quality of our livestock production the Minister should take cognisance of the views put forward by pedigree breeders. It would be advisable for the Minister to meet these societies and hear their views.
The Minister should have his officials look more positively and leniently, especially when it is for the improvement of our dairy and cattle stocks, at the issuing of licences for the importation of semen from good bulls. I commend the Minister on the introduction of this Bill. I welcome the Bill and I hope the Minister will be able to implement it in its entirely.