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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 25 Sep 1985

Vol. 109 No. 1

Agricultural Aid: Motion.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

On item No. 5 the motion on agricultural aid, I would like to remind the House that the Senator moving the motion has 35 minutes.

I move:

That Seanad Éireann recognising the tragic circumstances of farmers in the west of Ireland and in the Shannon basin resulting from the disastrous weather conditions, calls on the Government to ensure that, in making emergency aid available, farmers in all parts of Ireland who have also suffered losses are compensated under the emergency aid programme.

The motion highlights in this House of the Oireachtas the crisis that the farming sector are facing arising from this year's disastrous and continuous rainfall throughout the whole country. It is the first opportunity that a House of the Oireachtas has had to discuss the problem and I am thankful to the Minister for Agriculture, Deputy Deasy, for being present for the debate and I hope he will have an opportunity of responding to it. It was important that the House agreed today to take this motion and extend the period of time to give Senators from all sides of the House who want to contribute to the highlighting of this matter an opportunity of doing so.

We in the Labour Party particularly recognise that the problem is a national one. It is not confined to particular areas within the country. It can be broken down into four categories. Most of us have first hand information about this problem. We have visited many of the farms involved in our own areas, with the good offices of ACOT, to whom I want to pay special tribute for the work they have done in advising the Minister in how serious the problem is throughout the country and, indeed, in keeping the picture updated every week since the problem has arisen.

I have visited areas in my own constituency that I know are in a desperate situation, for example, Solohead, Doon, Cappawhite, Hollyford, the Glen of Aherlow and so on. We are living in the Golden Vale and one would assume, on looking at particular regions, that an area such as that would not have suffered as much. It is because of this that the motion is worded in such a way that if and when aid is announced by the Minister and the Community the problem will be dealt with on an individual basis throughout the whole country and not just confined to any particular region or townland. Otherwise, one could find oneself assisting people, in that kind of blanket situation, who do not need assistance and could leave out those who are in desperate need.

The problem is a fourfold one. The first part which was identified — and the Minister was very swift in ensuring that it was identified — was tackled properly. There were 350 farmers who experienced what can only be described as a freak loss arising from the hailstorm which stretched across a four miles wide corridor from County Louth to County Carlow. Every farmer in that belt was wiped off the farming scene for 1985 and possibly there will be repercussions for 1986. We visited some of the farms and ACOT have estimated that 350 farmers had crops of every description — apples, peas, carrots, cereals, fodder and so on — wiped out in that freak night of destruction. There is a specific problem in that area. The Minister and his Department are aware of this. It has been documented fully for them by the ACOT advisory team, who have also analysed the financial consequences of everybody concerned in that area.

The second part of the problem was that of flooding which has afflicted very many areas throughout the country. We are all aware of the flooding in the Shannon basin. The motion actually starts off by recognising that there are tragic circumstances for farmers in that basin. This awareness was heightened for all of us by the presence of the media, television cameras, visits by EC officials, the Taoiseach and the Minister to that area. My concern is that while specifically picking out that area as having a major problem, which we all agree it has, that same problem of flooding has affected very many other areas which have not been visited by any EC commissioner or the Taoiseach, although they probably have been visited by the Minister. They certainly have been visited by the various ACOT officials in the different counties. Other river basins throughout the country — including the Shannon, because I want to be fair to that area as I know how bad the situation is there — are seriously affected, for example, the Suir valley, the Nore and the Barrow, the Aherlow and the Arrow. There are areas too numerous to mention.

Just before I came into this House I spoke to a friend in Donegal who wanted to be sure, first of all, that we were aware of the problems up there. They have had continuous rainfall in Donegal since 13 June up to and including today, with only one 24-hour period without rain. Whole areas were practically overcome by water, for example, the Finn valley and the Leannan valley Strabane and Ballybofey were also flooded last Saturday. Shops had to be evacuated. There was major flooding on 7 September and gales on 14 and 16 September. Farmers have had losses running from £50,000 to £200,000. I just want to make sure that all the areas in the country are identified and I am picking out the specific places that I can categorically prove to have difficulties. The information available from the ACOT offices will confirm this.

All the areas affected by flooding, and all the associated consequences, are in one of the more serious categories. There are repercussions, particularly a fodder crisis. Most of us would identify the fodder crisis because it is an immediate problem. It has affected not alone traditional haymaking areas. There are still traditional haymaking areas in this country where farmers will never make silage, never made silage in the past and will never be able to make silage, much as we would ask them to do so and much as we would like them to do so. Physically, it is impossible for them to make silage because of the level of the terrain. We are talking about Hollyford, Cappawhite and other places. You could not get silage machinery into them.

The whole area in the west is traditionally involved in haymaking. None of these has survived this fodder crisis. Not alone traditional haymaking areas, but silage making areas which would in a normal year make silage, were unable to do so because the conditions underfoot made it impossible, even in good areas, to bring in the necessary silage making equipment which is large, cumbersome and heavy. People were left with acres and acres of what normally would be silage which could not be saved because they could not get the machines on to them.

The fourth item which has caused concern for all of us is the cereal crisis, or the harvest. I recognise that because of the slight improvement in the weather in the earlier part of this month the harvest position was somehow eased. However, that easing was confined to certain parts of the country. There are other parts of the country that still have a cereals crisis, a harvest crisis that will not now be able to be sorted out. Those that did survive in the harvest — and I will give some figures in the meantime — find all their yields are down. Much of the crop is still lodged and is sprouting and could not be cut and crop that was cut and could not be saved is also sprouting. It is frightening to see a sudden spring growth in cereals, causing a second growth which makes the harvesting impossible. Certainly nobody in their senses would ever try to salvage it. Even if you did salvage it, it could never be used in a cereal context. It could possibly be used, with some additives, for animal feeding. It would not be very good, but it would not be a total write-off.

I have spoken to people in the tillage business and they have suffered this tremendous loss. Many of their crop yields are down and the moisture content is up. They have had all these problems. Their biggest problem is how to plan for next year. Some of them will now have to decide whether to go into what is a marginal area anyway. Judging by some of the figures that have been discussed by us at ACOT meetings throughout the country, the margins in cereal growing are questionable in the best of times. We can safely say that those who are in it have had a disastrous year, that there are no margins, and in many cases losses are actually involved.

I am hoping that the Minister might this evening be able to give us some details of assistance that might be forthcoming. He should clarify the situation because there are many doubts in people's minds about what assistance is forthcoming. If this was clarified once and for all in this House it would help to bring a hope of survival to the many thousands of farmers, small family farmers particularly, in all parts of Ireland. The psychological importance of that for them cannot be over-stressed by me or anybody else in this House. We know that they have come out and that they have rallied to help one another when they thought there was any hope if the weather changed. In the slight change they all rallied around one another like they did in the old days, assisting one another by way of exchanging machinery and so on. They need some assurance from the Government and from the Community of which we are a part that we are not unmindful of their problem. To spell out for them the assistance available will give them some bit of confidence to go on into another year.

I referred to ACOT and complimented them. They have research figures. Some of them have been disclosed in the newspapers and some of them have been made available to us at various councils and county committees and in discussions we have had with them. I am sure that as the Minister commissioned the ACOT people to research the problem on the ground, he has the full information. They will confirm that the total deficit in fodder requirements would range from 30 per cent deficit to 60 per cent and even upwards. ACOT will confirm that almost 40 per cent of the hay which normally would be saved is not cut and we all agree now that it is completely lost.

Let me give some of the figures for fodder that I have. Two-thirds of all the hay that is saved is bad or very poor and its nutritional value is extremely low. That is about one million out of one and a half million acres of hay. In other words, 22,275 farmers have from zero per cent to 25 per cent of their requirements. That is over 22,000 people with big problems. They have only one-quarter of their requirements and 32,220 individual farmers have been analysed as having between 26 per cent and 50 per cent of their requirements. That is over 32,000 people with only half of what they would need to be able to sustain their livestock over the winter. There are 37,345 farmers with between 51 per cent and 75 per cent of their total requirements. In other words, no farmer here is totally self-sufficient and that is a dangerous situation as farming is a very important part of our economic life.

We in Tipperary have some of the better areas and we have gone out and looked at them. Senator Willie Ryan, a colleague of mine from South Tipperary, the Fianna Fáil Party Whip, visited farms there with me recently. We saw at first hand people with cows which were brought in on 14 August this year because they would ruin the soil if they were left out on it. These cows were being fed this year's silage which was made in the best week of the year. The silage is very bad and its moisture content is very high and it is still the best silage in the country. In spite of that good silage — as they consider it and as we would consider it — and the provision of five pounds of feeding meal a day, the milk yield has dropped by 25 per cent from the comparable month last year.

Those of us who remember the beautiful summer weather last year will know that milk production in August last year was at an all-time low because of the drought. This year, with good silage as we consider it, plus the meal, they are still 25 per cent down on milk production. This worries me because people may feel that what is in their silage is good and the quantity is sufficient but when it is analysed — and ACOT will prove this — the moisture content will be so high that we have seriously to consider what advice to give them about adding other concentrates to ensure that animals will be sustained over the winter. If we do not do that, we will be facing the next spring with widespread outbreaks of diseases that are associated with bad weather.

Already we have grass tetany, not associated with the quality or quantity of grass but with the magnesium content that is in the grass. Because of this unusual kind of late stimulated growth in grass, suckling cows particularly are subject to grass tetany which is a killer disease. If they get a widespread outbreak of it farmers could have their whole herds wiped out. Animals would die within hours of having been afflicted with it. We would have thousands of outbreaks of red water which is also associated with wet and dry periods. We would have widespread outbreaks of clostridial diseases such as blackleg, affecting all animals. We would have a wide range of animals stretching from suckling cows and cattle down to sheep and lambs all suffering from immature flukes. I am glad to see that the advisory agencies are already telling people that it is vital now to treat for all these diseases, particularly liver fluke — and to treat them with drugs that are guaranteed to kill immature fluke because there is no point in treating animals with products that will only kill mature flukes, because by the time another month goes by they will all be reinfected if the immature flukes survive.

Cereals have been subjected to serious lodging and winter wheat is sprouting. In some cases the moisture content is as high as 35 per cent of the total matter. Naturally, cereals with that kind of high moisture content have to be subjected to a whole process of drying. Because the drying is so intense now, all the procedures for drying cereals have slowed up. It adds considerably to the normal cost of drying and to the cost of the harvest itself, and allied with the 50 per cent reduction in some of the yields, you can imagine the problems that cereal farmers have.

In the south east 85 per cent of the harvest has been saved, but saved at what cost? At least, it is not a total write-off. There is 70 per cent of the spring wheat cut. In the midlands you find that 99 per cent of winter barley has been saved and the yields are down to about two and a half tonnes. There are about 2,000 acres of winter wheat totally abandoned in the midland region. What has been harvested is fairly good, but the moisture content is extremely high. A large percentage of winter oats has been harvested, but about 20 per cent will not be able to be harvested and its value will be doubtful. There is about 90 per cent of the spring barley in the south east harvested. It is one of the most useful products because there are tremendous inter-farmer sales going on in the south east. This is a good thing. I was concerned when I discovered that a great deal of good straw was being purchased down in the south east and south west and going to the North, when I knew that farmers in the west would be in need of it. Once that message got out, it became bad taste to sell what we need ourselves to somebody else for the sake of short term gain.

We have protein peas which are a very important crop. Our county is probably exceptional in that this is probably one of the few crops that survived. In other areas it has been disastrous, with 75 per cent of the total protein pea crop being lost in many areas. In my region we are extremely lucky. The cost would be something like £100 an acre for areas that have lost that crop. Half the potato crop has been blighted and that, added to all the other harvesting problems, will have a very severe impact, not alone on the economy now but on the consumer's economy next year.

It is difficult to sum up and I do not envy the Minister his job in trying to ensure that the dispersal of any aid he might have would be done on a just and fair basis across the country. Right across the country there are critical situations that require immediate Government and Community aid. I hope the Minister might have some details before the end of this debate and if he does not have them tonight, I hope they will be made available to the House tomorrow. There is no doubt that money is needed to purchase roughage and if you look at the amount of roughage used with some meals, the roughage available is scarce anyway.

There are 150 days left in this winter in which to maintain your cow herd if possible and the additional cost for those 150 days will run at about £60 per cow. Food vouchers are important and the Minister has talked about them. Some people have doubts about the advantage of them. I see many advantages in meal vouchers because they can be interchanged between people. They will be needed to acquire additional protein rations or corn glutens or beet pulp or whatever else is available. The Minister has been responsible for easing certain restrictions, particularly in the area of 30 day testing. He has kindly extended that to 60 days at the request of the General Council of Agricultural Committees when they met him in Carlow. This was instrumental in stopping panic selling within the period when people were having the normal testing carried out. He has included heifers under the age of 12 months because technically, from the Community point of view, they are not intended for breeding at that age. There will be some confusion because we were unable to extend the 60 day exemption to breeding animals, cows and heifers, as we are about to go officially brucellosisfree shortly. I am sure the Community would not allow the Minister to extend the 30 day testing to 60 days for brucellisis, but the movement in that area of easing those restrictions was very important. Up to the end of July, about 5,500 herds were locked up. That is a problem for people who cannot sell their animals and cannot feed them.

I ask the Minister to ensure that the lifting of some of the restrictions in any scheme, particularly the farm modernisation scheme, is done through his development offices and ACOT. He should look at the whole area of silage slab grants. He did give them to people, and they still qualify for them if they are in the farm modernisation scheme and have not made silage before. We had a bad run two or three years ago and people stopped making silage and had not used their grants in the meantime. They should possibly qualify again now. That kind of easing of restrictions will help people to realise that, if there is any way in which they can help themselves, we can assist them in doing so.

We should also use all the influence we can with the lending institutions. This morning ACOT requested the lending institutions to look constructively at the problem we all have in this particular area. The lending institutions include the ACC, the normal commercial banks and the Central Bank who have a major input in taking up the guarantee on Euro loans. That could be useful to people in the cereal business who want credit. They do not want presents of money handed to them, but they want credit at a reasonable price to ensure that they can go into a whole re-seeding programme again for next year. I am asking the Minister and this House to recommend the lending institutions to look favourably on any proposals put to them by the farming organisations, by individual farmers or by the Government. Any existing loans should certainly be considered for a moratorium, particularly for the people involved in the cereal business.

Money already earmarked for development works within the Department of Agriculture could not be taken up because of the tragedy which has happened in the industry. There are many works that people would normally have carried out and for which they would be grant aided that cannot now be carried out and there are budgetary provisions made for these. If that kind of money is available in the Department, then certainly that should be re-distributed into these areas.

The question of social welfare has been raised by many people at public meetings throughout the country. I have had discussions with the Minister for Health and Social Welfare about this. One of the problems is that the smallholders' assistance scheme is not really suitable. The social welfare scheme is not suitable because it applies to the previous year's income. Possibly the social welfare code is a bit cumbersome to apply to an emergency like this. The initiative should really come from the Department of Agriculture. I want to say categorically that all the people I spoke to on the ground are not social welfare orientated. They want to be given assistance to survive. They want grants and everything else, but they want to work for them, to do something. They do not want anything handed out to them for nothing. In other words, they are not going around with a begging bowl.

I am asking the Minister to spell out his proposals and the Community proposals. It is not just a crisis for the 100,000 farmers who are involved — and they run mostly family farms. That would make the number of people dependent on what is going to happen something like 300,000 or 400,000. It is not just for the farmers, although they are a very important section that we should not forget. They are a section of whom many people at times are very critical. Their survival will ensure the survival of the country as a whole, the survival of the national economy.

For that reason, with that kind of serious implication, there is no doubt in my mind that this is a crisis for all of us, whichever Party we represent and whether we represent people in urban or rural areas. Each one of us will be affected by what has happened to these 100,000 family farms. I would say to the Minister that it is on his response to this that his whole performance as Minister for Agriculture will be judged. That is a serious thing to say to the Minister, but I say it with all the sincerity at my disposal. He has had some major successes in his Department and he has gone through many crises, between super-levies and otherwise. But his response to this is probably how most people in Ireland, farmers and others, will judge his performance.

The media are running polls on how popular people are, or are not, and what they will or will not do, but people are judged by how they will respond to the problem that is before us. It is a major problem for the nation and one for all of us individually. That is why my party, the smallest party in this House, decided that this was our turn for a motion to be discussed and we considered that this was important enough to warrant debate at the first sitting of the Houses of the Oireachtas after the summer recess. I am glad that the House has extended the period in which it can be debated to allow everybody who has an interest, including our colleagues in Government and Members of the Opposition who also have an interest in this.

It is for that reason that I accept and understand the reason the Minister switched his motion from where it was to become an amendment, so to speak, to my resolution on the basis that it was a legitimate way for him to get in on this debate. But in my original communication to the Seanad Office and to the Cathaoirleach it was my intention to ensure that however we would discuss this problem it should be done on an all-party basis, that there would be no political divide on this, because we all share a common interest in trying to do something about it. We want to ensure that there will be a reasonable debate in this House on the problem and that all of us from the various areas we represent and with access to information from around the country, will put our views on the record of the House to strengthen the Minister's hand both in Government and in the Community to respond positively on a matter so grave that all of us are at one on it. How will we handle the amendment tomorrow, because the difference between the amendment and the motion is negligible? If there is a vote on the procedure tomorrow I know that it will not take from the commitment of the Opposition to this problem or indeed the commitment from those of us on the Government side. At the end of the day we will all be at one in saying to the Minister that something specific has to be done. Various commitments have been given by the Government at national level. They have to be spelled out so that there will be no doubt in people's minds how they will be helped in trying to ensure that they can go on into next year with some bit of recognition for the efforts they have put in in one of the worst years ever. We have had very bad years, and Members of the House will remember them, but none of us will ever forget this year. In Donegal they had only 24 hours without rain since June. That makes it impossible to survive when one is depending on tillage. That was repeated throughout the whole country from the corner of Donegal to west Cork and even to the sunny south east, a tillage area that has suffered tragically also. I am moving the motion in that spirit and hope the response from the Minister will be a positive one.

I second the motion.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Seanad Éireann" and substitute the following:

"calls on the Government to declare a nationwide agricultural emergency following the disastrous summer weather, and in conjunction with the EEC to implement with a minimum of delay a programme of measures to alleviate the fodder shortage, to stop the panic-selling of cattle, to tide grain farmers where crops have been lost over until next year and to provide assistance to farmers whose land has been flooded."

One might say that there is very little difference between the motion and the amendment. I agree, but it is important that we here, on the first day of our return to work after the summer recess, should debate this very important issue which is of such importance that I thought it merited the recall of the Dáil and Seanad to discuss the crisis in Irish agriculture and to give the Government an opportunity to show the way forward and what they propose to do to help farmers.

The crisis in agriculture that we now face is the worst in living memory. The high rainfall, in particular in the past few months, has created problems that in many instances are unsurmountable. Indeed, in spite of our tremendous advance in technology, we still cannot find a suitable answer to our high rainfall. This year, of course, is an exception. The high rainfall has put the farming community into a spin because there just seems to be no end to it. Day after day farmers witness the complete erosion of their profits. In many cases a lifetime of hard work has been destroyed or put at risk.

Agriculture, as we all know, is our main industry. For that reason it is of vital importance that that sector would be vibrant and thriving, that confidence would be abounding. Unfortunately, that is not the position today. A great part of this is due to the atrocious weather conditions, but the Government must accept blame for the lack of confidence now apparent in Irish agriculture.

Since their accession to power they have set about dismantling many of the schemes that were the cornerstone of Irish agriculture. The first victim of that policy was the farm modernisation scheme which the Government suspended for a period and thereby took millions of pounds out of the pockets of Irish farmers. That scheme over the years helped to provide housing for our livestock, thereby getting cattle off the land for the winter period. This is something that we have all encouraged from time to time. We see this year that it is very essential that cattle be taken off the land as early as possible. That scheme provided yards and yards of concrete for Irish farmers. It helped them to improve their farm buildings, to concrete their yards, to put down silage slabs and all the other things that are so necessary to improve working conditions on Irish farms.

It was a very retrograde step for the Government to have suspended the scheme for that period, and even since then it has not got the go-ahead or the same degree of urgency that it used to have — there is certainly not as much going on under that scheme as there used to be. I believe that the Government at present are not promoting that scheme. It is unfortunate. The same applies to the lime subsidy, another scheme that was taken off. The AI subsidy was also taken off. Those are schemes introduced by a Fianna Fáil Government to help farmers when they were in real need. I cannot understand why the Government at a time like this, when agriculture is in such a crisis, cannot find the money and the means to introduce some kind of schemes like the ones Fianna Fáil introduced to try to get confidence back into agriculture.

I am only listing some of the things that have happened since this Government came to office. The Land Commission were abolished. Down through the years the Land Commission had been a battleground for many politicians: they blamed them and they praised them for things that happened in regard to the division and acquisition of land, but the Land Commission stood the test of time and did a good job. They were abolished overnight without being replaced by any other body. That was wrong. They should not have been abolished until such time as there was another body to replace them. This opinion is shared by the farming organisations, particularly the ICMSA and other bodies. They are concerned that the Land Commission have not been replaced by any other body to deal with land acquisition and land division. We know what will happen if some other body like the Land Commission are not put there to act as a watchdog to see that we do not go back to the landlord days, the days of the ranchers and so on.

The last straw has been the imposition of land tax on farmers. The party moving this motion today have claimed that the imposition of this tax was a victory for their members. We heard very little about the land tax in the past couple of months when we know that farmers are really on their knees and it is not now a question of how many millions the Government will get out of this tax or how it is to be imposed and collected — there is no talk about the land tax at present.

I refer to those things just to highlight the fact that the development of agriculture is not a very high priority with the Government. It is not surprising, therefore, that they are slow to come to the assistance of farmers in the present crisis. For many months the county committees of agriculture, the farming organisations and, indeed, everybody connected with agriculture have been highlighting the problems facing the farmers and trying to get the Government to listen and to act, but to date I am sorry to say no positive plan of action has emerged.

For our part, the Fianna Fáil group have been meeting and have tried to press the Government into some kind of action. We put forward some proposals that we feel would be of assistance to farmers in the present crisis. These include immediate financial aid for farmers seriously affected, particularly those in the Shannon Basin, restoration of and increase in the small farmers' unemployment assistance, an increase in headage payments to the maximum allowed and the restoration of the pre 1982 calf subsidy for calves born before 1 October 1985, a speeding up of payments of headage grants so as to create an immediate cash flow and a scheme to encourage the retention of stock, an extension of headage payments for newly designated disadvantage areas to this year and not next year, the provision of low fixed interest rate loans through the European Investment Bank, the reintroduction of full carcase beef intervention and export refunds immediately to maintain prices, pooling of surplus fodder to be encouraged through co-ops and farm organisations, the banks and the ACC to help farmers to bridge their present difficulties, without interest penalties.

Those are the proposals the Fianna Fáil Agricultural Committee have put forward. I believe that it is within the power of the Government to aid farmers immediately by implementing some of the measures which I have suggested here this evening. We know that assistance has been promised to farmers in the Shannon Basin. From my experience of that area I do not grudge the farmers there any assistance they will get. I believe the maximum amount that will be available for any one farmer is £500. I do not think that is enough. It certainly will not compensate any farmer who has lost his hay or his silage or his grain crop.

I wonder how the Government propose to define the Shannon Basin, because when you look at the Shannon you immediately think of the Suck, which is a tributary of the Shannon, and which has been flooded over the past few month. I am sure Senator O'Connor who comes from that area will have heard the voices of the Roscommon farmers who have suffered from flooding along the basin of the river Suck. Are they to get the same assistance as the people along the Shannon Basin? I believe they should because they are just as badly affected. That region extends right down into East Galway. There are two tributaries of the Suck which are very seriously affected by the flooding. All farmers along that area are entitled to the same type of assistance and, unless they get it, they will not be satisfied.

The second point I will refer to is the restoration of and increase this year in the small farmers' unemployment assistance. The Government have shown very little sympathy for people who have been getting small farmers' assistance. A few years ago most of them were drawing this kind of assistance and it was needed to supplement their incomes from their small farms. In the past two years we have seen the social welfare officers clamp down on those farmers. They investigated their means and in most cases the assistance was disallowed. In a year like this it has imposed considerable hardship on those people because many of them were getting up to £50 and £60 and more per week and now they have to find that kind of money to replace that assistance. As well, they are faced with the problem of the extra expense of finding fodder and meal for their cattle. The Minister for Social Welfare should show a little more compassion this year for those small farmers.

The Government have it in their own power to help a very large number of farmers by an extension of the headage payment scheme. The 12 western counties are in the disadvantaged area category and all those within the severely handicapped area qualify for headage grants. The Government have the power to pay those people the maximum rate of grants and they will be backed pound for pound by the EC. So far they have refused to do that. I appeal to the Minister here this evening to increase those grants immediately because by doing so he would be helping a large number of farmers along the western seaboard who are seriously affected. I appeal to the Minister to do that.

The banks and other lending institutions are not too slow to look for their pound of flesh in November or May, whenever payments are due, and I hope that this year particularly the lending institutions will be more sympathetic to farmers who find themselves in trouble. We in the Galway County Committee of Agriculture met bank and ACC representatives and discussed the problem with them. We asked them to lay off this year, not to press farmers who cannot make payments on time. I suggest that the Government should use some muscle on the banks in a year like this to get them to ease off their demands in present circumstances.

Farmers have been selling their stock at giveaway prices. There has been panic selling in the past two months. Mart sales have increased substantially, particularly of small store cattle. It is unfortunate that farmers find it necessary to sell such cattle because next year the results of that type of panic selling will be felt throughout the land. All farmers should be discouraged from going to the marts. They should get every encouragement to hold cattle over.

The Minister promised that Irish farmers would be supplied with intervention wheat. I am not sure if that is the right thing to do and I hope the Minister will explain the position here tonight. I hope he will tell us how the wheat will be distributed and if it is grain that will be distributed instead of cash. Will it be very costly to distribute the grain? Will the distribution be the responsibility of ACOT officers in different counties? I hope the Minister will tell us about the type of scheme he has in mind. I hope that in the allocation of grain from intervention grain producers at home will not be hurt. We must be very careful about that because we know such producers have suffered enough already — they have had enormous trouble trying to harvest the crops this year and have had the extra costs attached to drying their grain.

I have been told by farmers throughout County Galway that the extension of the 30-days testing to 60 days will not be a success unless brucellosis testing can be extended. Many farmers who have heifers to sell are not to get the same facilities as people selling bullocks. Perhaps the Minister could reconsider this and do something about it. Farmers who have locked up herds deserve our sympathy at any time but they should be given special concessions in a year like this. They should be given extra cash or grain if they cannot dispose of their stock.

In the short time I had I think I have outlined the problems facing Irish farmers. I know the Minister is doing his best to get as much as he can for the farmers. I hope he will get more support from his Cabinet colleagues — I am afraid many of them are not too well disposed to our farmers. Agriculture is going through a terrible crisis. If the farmers cannot survive it, it will be a bad day for Ireland's economy.

I second the amendment and will speak in support of it later.

I have listened to the debate with great interest, particularly because the matter discussed is of major importance to our greatest indigenous industry. I have been deeply involved personally in the efforts being taken and those yet to be launched to help to alleviate the very serious situation in which so many of our farmers have found themselves through no fault of their own.

The weather since June last has truly been disastrous — I cannot think of another word — in its effects on many farmers throughout the entire country but particularly in the western counties. They have seen their hay destroyed or rendered of little value for feeding purposes. They have lost crops such as cereals. But, of course, their biggest worry has been the loss of fodder supplies to maintain their livestock over the winter months. Farmers who depended on saving hay were particularly badly hit.

We can be thankful that the ACOT campaign to encourage farmers to change from the saving of hay to the making of silage, which is much less vulnerable to weather conditions, has had a fair measure of success. Otherwise the problems would be even more severe now. Since the wet summer of 1980 the switch from hay to silage had gathered momentum. It was helped by the first-time silage making schemes of 1980, 1981 and 1982 which were financed from Exchequer and Community funds. As a result some 60 per cent of the fodder saved is now in the form of silage and some 40 per cent hay. This is a very considerable improvement on the position that obtained, say, ten years ago. But it still is not enough, and this year's bad weather has shown that it is not enough. In our climatic conditions large numbers of farmers cannot just rely on hay alone.

In the western counties in particular, too many farmers still rely mainly on hay for winter fodder. I appreciate that it is not always possible or easy to change to silage. The physical properties of their land do not lend themselves so readily to silage making. In other instances suitable equipment for this form of securing fodder is not readily to hand. Also some older farmers may show a natural reluctance to try out a new system. Then again the transport of feed to outwintered stock is much easier when the feed is in the form of hay. There is also the consideration that hay is more convenient for calves. But the message of this year's weather is quite clear. Farmers who still make hay only and do not make silage are at great risk. They are dependent on the vagaries of the weather and, if the weather is bad, they are in serious trouble.

I have kept in close personal contact with developments since the start of the crisis and have visited various parts of the country to acquire first-hand knowledge of the situation. I have also had a number of meetings with farmer representatives and farm organisations to discuss the problem. I also went to Brussels on 28 August and met the Vice-President of the EC Commission, Commissioner Andriessen. With a view to obtaining Community assistance I outlined to him the exceptional difficulties that were confronting a large body of Irish farmers. More immediately then I sought the introduction of EC intervention for beef carcases with a view to helping to stabilise market prices here for cattle. The measures in this connection were later agreed and full intervention is to apply next week for three weeks. I regret that this period is not really long enough.

We would have liked eight weeks of intervention for full carcases, and at the very minimum six weeks, but the Commission have particular difficulties at the moment in that they have a huge supply of beef in intervention, a total of some 750,000 tonnes. This is proving to be most expensive for the Commission and they are finding it most difficult to get rid of it. As Senators may have read in the papers during the week, they have agreed to the sale of 200,000 tonnes to the Soviet Union at a considerably reduced price. That gets 200,000 tonnes of beef out of intervention and therefore creates a more buoyant market place for beef. Irrespective of the selling price we are glad to see it being moved from intervention as it may improve the prospects of full intervention being extended, but three weeks is an inadequate period and I stated this at last week's meeting of the Council of Ministers and we received considerable support from other countries including France, Italy and Germany. I hope the Commission will review the situation and have a change of heart over the coming weeks.

A major anxiety is to prevent the selling of young cattle, especially by farmers worried about the prospects of their being able to maintain their cattle over the winter months. To help cattle farmers we are speeding up headage inspections, and I have extended from 30 to 60 days the period of the pre-movement tests for cattle under the TB eradication scheme. These measures are designed to give more flexibility to farmers in deciding on the disposal of their stock and at the same time to discourage panic selling. I am glad to say prices for cattle have stabilised.

At the same time, with a view to alleviating the serious fodder shortage I announced on 8 August the introduction of a nitrogen fertiliser subsidy scheme and a subsidy for first-time silage making, the latter being on the lines of a somewhat similar measure adopted in 1980, 1981 and 1982. It was hoped that the use of the fertiliser would induce a late growth of grass and thereby enable a late cut of silage to be made. The cost of these two measures is £2.5 million which is being borne by the Exchequer. The weather has, however, militated somewhat against the full successful operation of these measures in some areas, particularly in the west. Nevertheless the degree of farmer participation in the schemes has been most encouraging and I hope that the schemes will make a useful contribution towards alleviating the shortage of fodder.

As a result of the continuous rain, extensive flooding occurred in the valley of the River Shannon in the middle of August. The floods have resulted in many farmers in the area losing their entire winter fodder supplies. It is estimated that some 3,000 farmers are affected to some degree in the Shannon valley and, in view of the urgency of the situation and the severe losses incurred, it was decided to announce quickly some measures of assistance for the flooded area. It was accordingly announced on 6 September that arrangements would be made for the payment to farmers in the Shannon Valley affected by the floods of the sum of £20 per livestock unit up to a maximum of 25 livestock units per farmer, that is a maximum payment of £500. Payments will be confined to people who are mainly dependent on farming and have not more than 60 livestock units. The total cost which is estimated at £1 million will be met from the Exchequer also. The detailed arrangements for the scheme have now been finalised and are being announced today. Application forms will be available at local offices of the Farm Development Service in Counties Galway, Roscommon, Offaly, Westmeath, Longford and Leitrim.

While some limited progress in saving fodder has recently been made and some further progress can be expected over the next few weeks, the overall position is already reasonably clear. It has been calculated that the losses of hay range from about 10 per cent to 20 per cent in the south-east, to about 70 per cent in the west and north-west where hay constitutes the bulk of the winter fodder.

I should say that, arising out of my discussion with Vice-President Andriessen at the end of August, it was arranged that EC officials would come here to see for themselves the extent of the damage. The Commission's Director-General for Agriculture with a colleague came here a fortnight ago and was able to get an idea of the losses sustained at first hand. I should like to express my appreciation of the helpful attitude of the Commissioner and his officials.

On their visit they saw, for instance, the Mulcaire Valley in East Limerick which constitutes part of the Golden Vale which Senator Ferris referred to. They also saw conditions in and around Athlone, particularly south Roscommon. They saw the bulk of the centre and the west of Ireland by helicopter. They saw the area around Carrick-on-Shannon in County Leitrim and are under no illusion as to the magnitude of the problem. They have recognised the serious problems that exist and are seeking to help us as far as they can. It is not an easy time for the Commission to give money. Budgetary constraints are very very severe and are comparable with our own domestic difficulties. Nevertheless they are prepared to help.

Last week the Government considered what further response they should make to the crisis and they authorised me to approach the EC Commission with certain proposals with a view to seeking Community aid for the measures envisaged. Over the past few days I have had discussions in this regard with Vice-President Andriessen in Luxembourg and as a result we have some information from Brussels this evening in this regard.

As regards the form of aid which we have in mind, the major problem confronting many farmers, mainly small and medium size farmers, is a shortage of winter fodder. What these farmers need is some cereal feed which could be used to supplement the reduced supplies of fodder. In this respect the Commission may be able to assist us by providing a substantial quantity of intervention grain at a specially reduced price. The quantity of grain involved is 125,000 tonnes and the price reduction involved is 25 per cent. The benefit of this price reduction and of a substantial contribution by the Exchequer will be applied to farmers who have a serious fodder problem. Obviously, the resources that will be available from EC and Exchequer sources will have to be directed to the farmers in greatest need. Thus, the aid will apply to farmers who are mainly dependent on agriculture and who have not more than a certain number of livestock.

I might also say that the distribution of vouchers would not be confined to the western counties but would apply to eligible farmers in all parts of the country who have serious fodder problems. That incorporates the spirit of the motion before us. We have difficulties all over the country. For instance County Meath may appear to be a particularly affluent county with very good quality land but a sizeable number of farmers in County Meath have fodder problems, though not as great as the numbers in some western counties. It would be improper to differentiate between people in trouble, so the scheme will apply nationally.

A point I wish to emphasise is that the aid measure, including the use of reduced price intervention grain, will be operated in a way that will not upset the cereals market. This aspect of great importance to cereal producers and to the grain trade is easily overlooked. Clearly, we should not do anything which might disrupt normal trading activities, thereby adding to the difficulties of cereal growers and causing upset to those engaged in the grain trade. The kind of arrangement we have in mind is to distribute feed vouchers to eligible farmers with fodder problems. These vouchers would be valid against the purchase of cereal feed. In other words, they would be used by eligible farmers as cash, and normal market conditions would not be upset. The vouchers would be redeemed by my Department from traders, and the Department will have discussions with the trade about this and about the handling of any intervention grain.

Senators will understand that if there were a major movement of grain from the intervention stores in the EC on to the Irish market it would cause tremendous difficulties for the home trade. We must be very careful to see that the quantity brought in is not damaging to the domestic trade but, nevertheless, that it comes in at a reduced price and is of considerable benefit to the people in difficulty.

During the current month some improvement in the weather has enabled considerable progress to be made in saving hay and making silage and in harvesting cereal crops. Of course, substantial losses had already occurred and, for example, the winter wheat was severely affected. There can, however, to be no question of having all losses for all farmers offset by the Exchequer, with some EC aid. What the Government can do, and what they are doing, is to make a generous amount of aid available to the most vulnerable farmers. In doing this we are mindful of having a useful amount of EC support.

I referred to winter grain which has been very severely affected by the severe weather. Winter wheat accounts for something less than 20 per cent of the total grain grown in this country, nevertheless 20 per cent is a significant proportion and there have been heavy losses by people who have been growing winter wheat. About 65 per cent of all cereals grown in the country would be spring barely and, while there have been difficulties with all forms of grain, spring barely has been saved in many places in reasonably good condition, but that is by far the biggest variety.

It would, of course, be very satisfactory if we could afford an aid scheme which would apply across the board to all farmers in an area or region. Indeed, such a scheme would be very welcome from an administration point of view. However, the amount of Exchequer resources which can be made available makes it necessary to be selective and to confine aid to those who have a significant fodder shortage and whose own resources are limited. In the present difficult Exchequer situation it just would not be possible to justify giving aid to all and sundry whether they need it or not, so the point raised by Senator Hussey does not arise. It is all very well to say that you should increase headage payments in the seriously disadvantaged areas or in all disadvantaged areas whether they are seriously or moderately disadvantaged. That would be very easy for my Department to administer but there would not be equity in such a scheme. You would not be able to finance the problems of people in other areas if you were to have such a blanket scheme.

As well as that, people in other sectors of the community would feel particularly aggrieved that some people who did not have a problem were getting Exchequer support. No Government could justify that. For instance, the 230,000 unemployed would feel very annoyed that they were not going to get any extra assistance. It is not entirely practical to do it and, moreover, it is not fair to do it in such a blanket manner. That option was considered but it was dismissed on the grounds of equity. If aid were given to every farmer, then less would be given to those who really need it. What we need is a scheme which is directed towards those most in need and to see that whatever money is available will be directed to genuine hardship cases. If it were given to people on an overall basis there would be very little for anybody and it would not be a fair scheme.

Of course, farmers can do much to help themselves, and this is what many thousands of them have been doing particularly when weather conditions permitted in recent weeks. In addition, several co-operative societies have been most active in organising the movement of fodder from surplus areas to areas where heavy losses of fodder have occurred. We owe a debt of thanks to ICOS who have arranged the movement of large quantities of hay and particularly straw from the eastern part of the country to the western areas. Some individual co-operatives on their own initiative had started such movements before ICOS became directly involved but they have played a very significant part in recent weeks. It is disturbing to see considerable movement of hay and straw from the South to the Six Counties. People wonder why it cannot be stopped. It is like any trade within the Community, particularly agricultural trade. You cannot stop the free movement of commodities. We depend on our exports of agricultural produce and it would ill behove us to be seen to stop movement from one part of the Community to another, so while it is somewhat disturbing it is something over which we do not have any control. I hope that sufficient fodder will be transferred from the eastern part of the country to the west to solve whatever difficulties may exist which that fodder will help to alleviate. This has involved an added bonus because it has provided a cash market for cereal straw which might otherwise have been burned. Senators will notice that they do not see cereal straw being burned this year as in previous years. Most of it is too wet and probably would not burn. A little of it is burned here and there but it is very bad quality straw and not worth while to bale. There have also been losses of cereals and the weather has affected other crops such as peas. The pea crop has been disastrous. It has been very severely hit and very little of the pea crop has been saved in any reasonable condition. It is a pity because it was the first year when people went out in a big way to try to grow peas as an alternative to soya beans which must be imported. Having had their fingers burnt, so to speak, people will be very slow to repeat the exercise next year. It is an expensive crop to sow and the losses have been very considerable. It is unfortunate from several points of view. Oil seed rape also has not been very good this year. There have been considerable losses in places but not as bad as in the pea crop and some of it has been saved in reasonable condition.

The biggest problem, however, is the losses of hay, and our main efforts have been directed towards alleviating that serious problem. The harvesting of cereal crops and the saving of fodder are, of course, still in progress and I am sure that farmers generally are making the most of any favourable weather.

The practical effects of the aid measures which the Government and the EC are putting forward are as follows. As I have said, the EC are making 125,000 tonnes of grain available from intervention at a price reduced by 25 per cent. The value of that we estimate to be about £4,250,000. As well as that the EC will bear the cost of transport of the grain to this country. That will run into something approaching £2 million as transport costs are quite high. The Government are providing a sum of £15 million. This includes the £1 million already announced for the Shannon valley but it does not include the £2,500,000 which was announced for the silage and nitrogen subsidy. All in all you have a scheme which will be worth to Irish farmers in excess of £20 million, even excluding the transport costs to the EC.

At this time I cannot commit any further national aid but, subject to this, I shall continue to keep the situation under review to see whether we might help in any other way. People will always say that measures are not adequate no matter what you provide but I consider that in very difficult circumstances a total sum in excess of £20 million is a reasonable figure which will go a long way towards alleviating the genuine hardship which exists.

On a point of information, I would ask the Minister to elaborate a little more on the value of the grain concession from the EC.

You have a right to speak on this.

He says that there is a 25 per cent reduction on the intervention price. Would he relate for us the actual price? I understand the market price in Ireland is above the intervention price. What in effect is the value of a tonne of grain to a farmer?

The intervention price is approximately IR£136 per tonne.

So it is 25 per cent of a reduction on IR£136?

I congratulate the Minister on his excellent performance in delivering this sort of package to seriously affected Irish farmers at this time. The figure of £20 million is very significant, very substantial, and if properly channelled should go a long distance towards alleviating the problems which exist. I congratulate the Minister, his two Ministers of State and, indeed, the entire Government for their vigilance and diligence in recent weeks in ensuring that we got this outcome.

It is of paramount importance that the money which will become available is channelled in the right direction, that it is given to deserving cases. There is no point in channelling money to places where that money is not needed. For that reason I believe that every case must be specially identified, specially classified and money channelled towards it accordingly. I am glad to learn from the Minister's remarks that that will be the approach, and with effective and proper adjudication of deserving cases it will help enormously in the problems which exist. As the Minister stated, no matter what figure is announced it would fall short of meeting in total the losses that have been sustained by farmers in recent times, but I do not believe that anybody would expect that we would be in a position to meet in full all the losses which have been sustained. It is impossible to quantify precisely the total losses as a result of the disastrous rainfall this year, but it is a very high figure. We have just come out of or are still in a national natural disaster, although in recent weeks we have had some dry weather which helps to alleviate a very serious problem.

I agree that the major area of difficulty is winter feed. We have the other problem areas which we cannot ignore such as the serious losses in cereals, potatoes, sugar beet and other crops. We have reduced yields, poor quality, high moisture etc., but the main loss is concerned with the winter feed and its associated areas, by which I mean the production of milk and beef and the maintenance of store cattle. Dairy animals were in eating silage in the middle of August of this year, and not in isolated cases. In many parts of the country animals were taken off pasture because of waterlogged conditions and had to be put in to eat silage. That should not happen sooner than November or even later. Farmers who were unable to make a second cut silage have already made heavy inroads into their first cut silage and that in itself, regardless of the location, remains a problem. Many farmers would have been able to make a second cut silage in recent weeks, but let us be realistic: there are still many farmers throughout the country who have not done so. This problem is most serious in the western areas. We have people who are still unable to make any quantity of silage and the grass remains growing throughout the year. We hope it will be cut and ensiled in the coming weeks but up to this moment in a sizable portion of the country people have been unable to operate machines to ensile grass. Some farmers have absolutely no winter fodder whatsoever, although their number is reducing.

I refer very strongly to that I consider a very serious consequence of this fodder matter. The indications are that by springtime there will be difficulties by reason of poor quality feed being fed to animals. This could result in a high level of mortality in stock. We also have the more immediate problem of people engaging in panic selling of stock. Perhaps those who had a limited number of cattle — maybe eight or ten — for sale sold them in a very rushed manner and at a very poor price, perhaps £100 or more less than what they would have been making 12 months ago. That is a serious reality and, unfortunately, it continues to be the case.

While cattle prices have stabilised, anybody here familiar with the cattle scene will acknowledge that small cattle are still being sold at giveaway prices. The measure the Minister has just talked about — the provision of grain at a cheap price — will help to keep those small cattle off the market until they are worth the price that is appropriate and proper to what they would normally be commanding. I am convinced that, if those cattle can be kept and sold in an orderly fashion, not necessarily right through the whole winter, they will command proper prices.

Let us acknowledge reality. Many people are well fortified in regard to fodder and are well able to buy these small cattle from people who are obligated to sell them. This is something we cannot legislate or regulate for but it is a fact of life that some people have an ample supply of silage, of hay or of a combination of the two and who can buy a lot of stock at this time at, unfortunately, these very giveaway prices and from people who can least afford to part with their stock at such prices. We must do everything we can to ensure that the weak do not get weaker and the strong get stronger at the expense of the weaker. This is something we must positively address ourselves to in so far as is appropriate and proper.

One cannot interfere with free trade, private enterprise and so on but I would say to the Minister that the price of cattle is usually a fair barometer of how things are in any country. We must not be misled by the fact that beef animals and large store animals near the beef stage are commanding good prices. We must be very conscious of the fact that the cattle down the line are at such giveaway prices and acknowledge that. For that reason we must channel most of the money that is available here, in kind or whatever, towards the people who have these stock to make sure they do not sell them. In that way we will be doing a great service to the individual and to the nation. We will be ensuring good stock for the future and we will be ensuring the continuance in farming of farmers who would otherwise be forced totally out of farming. There are some people at the moment who are on the brink of being forced out of farming.

The whole area of credit will be vital in the time ahead. Many may not agree with this, but I believe that the European currency loans to the ACC and the banks of £100 million presently due for repayment in the next couple of months ought to be extended for one year. In addition, to meet farmer requirements in the credit area, relating to cereals, livestock and so on, we need further European money at a reasonable price. I am talking about 6 per cent or 7 per cent and we would need, perhaps, about £100 million in order to meet the very serious problems that have arisen as a result of this disastrous year.

The State, the lending agencies and, indeed, individuals combined could be asked to share the exchange risks of foreign currency money. The risks may not be that great. They may not be much at all but perhaps if we had a combination of sharing it would help significantly to overcome the problems we have. With regard to credit, it is essential that that happens.

A point I wish to stress is that in the areas of the country where there is no fibrous material for the feeding of stocks in the coming months, no matter what meals are made available we need roughage, straw and hay. There is a lot of straw in the country but there is the question of the transportation of that straw from the areas where it is to the areas that do not have straw, hay or any roughage material. Indeed, the ICOS, the central organisation of co-operatives, are to be complimented on the excellent initiative they have shown in having this straw transported vast distances from areas where the straw is available. Individual co-operative societies have done trojan work both through the ICOS and on their own bat in getting that fodder across.

We have had a position that is unique this year where people have talked about the massive year it has been for grass. That is true but it came to a very abrupt ending at the end of July or in August and for that reason we should not be carried away with this great year. While people may have maintained milk yields, succeeded in keeping beef animals moving along, thriving and so on, it all has been at a very high cost and this all has to be paid for. In the long run, the Irish farmer after this year will be in a very serious position and in my view will be in need of a helping hand in order to continue in farming in the years to come.

Finally, at the risk of repeating myself, we must look at agriculture next year and in the years that follow and ensure there is sufficient investment in the industry so that people can develop along the proper lines. For that reason I stress very strongly that we need foreigh currency money, a Euro loan at the right price. Money being made available to farming must be at a fixed price and farmers must be aware that it will remain at that price for a certain length of time.

I would not be as joyous as are some Members on the other side of the House. When I had originally prepared what I wished to say on this matter I had not read the Minister's speech. His proposal to make available to farmers through direct Government aid and EC aid a total of £20 million is totally ridiculous. The loss to farmers from the bad weather over the past couple of months has been estimated at in the region of £400 million and that is put down as a conservative estimate. The Minister is now proposing to make up 5 per cent of the total losses that have befallen the farmers in the past three or four months. This is the extent of the aid that is to be provided at the moment. The amount proposed is not the equivalent of the doubling of the headage payments in disadvantaged areas, not to talk of taking into account spreading that money over the entire Twenty-six Counties.

The Minister may be hailed by the Government side tonight as having done a good job in securing this package but it will do nothing for farming. His proposals, like the earlier proposals which he tells us will cost £2.5 million, for a silage and manure subsidy were of little help to farmers. The silage subsidy as proposed would apply to only about 2 per cent of farmers. Those farmers who were able to avail of the nitrigen subsidy and who spread nitrigen on the land are not in a position to cut the silage on that land. The Minister's proposal tonight to give £1 million for flooding along the Shannon is less than the amount of headage grants paid in the area within a mile of the Shannon. This is sad, but it is a fact.

It is time that the Minister and his officials and the Government reassessed what they are proposing to give to farmers. Do they realise that one is talking in terms of £20 million spread over the entire farming population? Let us remember that farmers throughout the country are in a serious situation. How much grain has been lost? How much milk has been lost through the drop in the milk yield? How much beef has been lost due to the fact that the average beef animals this summer put on approximately 1 cwt to 1½ cwt less than would be the case in a normal year. That in itself is a loss of approximately £100 per livestock unit in the beef sector alone.

The recommendations of the Joint Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the European Communities at page 11 of their 21st Report would do a great deal to alleviate the hardship. They recommended also the bringing forward of intervention arrangements for carcase beef. We now have intervention for the next three weeks only. The Minister said that for this to be effective he would have hoped to have eight weeks and at least a minimum of six weeks intervention for carcase beef. How many of the cattle that are suitable for intervention will be slaughtered here in the next three weeks? Instead of helping to preserve jobs here, the slaughter of those cattle will benefit other parts of the EC and our near neighbours in Northern Ireland who have a different intervention arrangement and one which is more beneficial than the arrangement available to farmers in the south of Ireland.

There were requests by various organisations for the Minister to double the headage payments in disadvantaged areas. He does not seem willing to do this despite the fact that payment would be 50 per cent or pound for pound funded by the EC. In other words, the Government are not prepared to back the EC funds that are available pound for pound to help farmers who are in real need. The biggest losses so far as farming is concerned have been in the west and north-west and also in the tillage areas of the midlands. The position is that many farmers in the west and north-west have no fodder at all. They are now buying straw to use as roughage in the coming winter. Yet, if they are to feed their animals an average of six pounds of meal per day for the six months of winter, one is talking in terms of a farmer spending £80 to £90 per animal to buy feedstuff alone.

What the Minister proposes here tonight, with intervention grain at £136 per tonne, is out. One has also to take into account the handling charges the merchants will add to the cost of that grain. What price will it finish up at when it arrives at the farmer's gate? What will be the cost per tonne to the farmer when it is delivered? Will we have the old case that happened before where the middle-men will take what was meant to go to the small man? The grain merchants will benefit from another voucher type scheme such as happened in 1974. The effects of this farming crisis have not been felt either by the farmers or by people in our cities or towns but they will be felt in the next six months. Farmers will not have the necessary funds to buy the necessaries of life for themselves and their families in many cases.

Senator Ferris mentioned the fact that social welfare for farmers would be assessed on last year's income. I call on the Minister for Social Welfare to assess any farmer who applies for unemployment assistance or any social welfare payment on today's income and not on his income in 1984. The problem did not exist last year. There is no point in telling one of these farmers that he will be assessed on his 1984 income because he will be out of business. His family will have suffered and so too will the country. It is important that we as a body ask the Minister for Social Welfare to tell his officers who investigate cases of hardship among people applying for unemployment assistance to assess these cases on the basis of current income. Any unemployed person is assessed on the basis of present income.

The Minister has also mentioned some of the other schemes he tried to bring in in the past few weeks to help out farmers. He extended the 30-day testing regulations but that is not of much benefit if one arrives at a custom post or an export port trying to move cattle to Northern Ireland or England. A 30-day test is not acceptable except for 30 days and the export certificate after 30 days is of no value. The same is the position with regard to female stock and brucellosis. Therefore, the Minister's changes in the regulations are of little or no benefit to farmers when it comes to selling their cattle. It means that if they are going to sell them at a sale without having their export certificate, the number of people anxious to buy them will be greatly reduced.

It is regrettable that the Minister is not here to hear some of what I have to say. I have no doubt that the Minister of State will tell him what I have said. I appeal to him to go back and look at the situation and realise that the proposals they have brought before this House tonight as their aid for agriculture are nothing but a drop in the ocean so far as the losses of farmers are concerned.

Rural Ireland will, as a result of the present crisis, lose many of the small family farms which we all cherish and talk about and say should be kept. If finance is not provided in the hour of need, how can they be expected to be there in 12 or 18 months time? Many of them will be forced to sell off their stock, possibly in many cases to sell off their land and never be in a position to go back into farming again. The money they will receive for that stock will be needed to feed their families. They will not be in a position to go to the bank manager in six or 12 months time and say they want money to restock their farms. I know what they would be told by bank managers. I know what many of them are being told by bank managers already: "you pay your loans, we are not worried about the weather, our commitment is to our shareholders and to the people who have money on deposit."

When one considers the money being provided by the Government in the light of the money that was provided by them for the Insurance Corporation of Ireland, one realises the difference between our major national resource, agriculture, and what is thought of some of the lending institutions of this country. If the Government could find money for ICI, why can they not find money now for the farmers? Farming is our biggest industry. It is our biggest source of income. It is the only natural resource we have as a country and let us not now sell it out for the sake of a reasonable amount of money being provided. We provided money for the rescue of many other companies, semi-State and otherwise. This Government have done so during their lifetime and other Governments have done so also. But now the major resource of this country is going to be sold down the Swannee because the Government, even with the help of EC aid, are only prepared to provide approximately £22 million. The Government commitment is approximately £18 million. That is how much they are prepared to provide for the farmers.

I would at this late stage call on the Minister to implement the proposals that were put to him by the various farming organisations. I call on him to go back to the Government immediately and to go back to the EC if necessary to get the required funds to rescue agriculture. There is no use in throwing a lifebelt when a man has drowned. What is being done here now is that the lifebelt that is being thrown is not sufficient to hold the man up. It is the very same as if you gave a drowning man a leaf of paper to hang on to. It is no good. What I would say to the Minister here tonight is go back, examine your figures, talk to the farming organisations, ask them what they think of the moneys that you are providing, ask them what that money will do for Irish agriculture. I know what it is going to do. It is going to mean that many of the small family farmers of this country will go by the board. Many of our more efficient farmers who are in tillage or in livestock or in milk will also be forced to scale down their operations due to the losses they have suffered this year.

Many of the grain farmers will, in my opinion, not be in a position to sow their land next year. They will not have the finance available to them to buy the seeds, to buy the manures, to buy the oils for their tractors to plough the land. We can all talk about straw being moved to the west of Ireland but straw without sufficient meal is not of any great advantage to cattle. Every farmer here will know that. Earlier I suggested that it would take in the region of £90 in money to keep an animal in meal over the winter. I was being conservative and allowing for six pounds of meal to be fed for 180 days of winter. The Government must bring in a realistic farm policy even if that means borrowing more money because I have no doubt that if it was a different section of the community of this country who were in trouble the money would be borrowed no matter what the cost was. As I said earlier, money could be found for ICI, money could be found for Irish Steel and I hope that money will be found for the farmers.

First, I should like to sympathise with the Minister on this great natural calamity at a rather difficult period for agriculture anyway in the EC. However, I would like to congratulate him on the efforts he has made to date to alleviate some of the stress caused by this great natural disaster. In addition, I would like to thank him for his announcement here tonight of immediate aid for those farmers in distress.

From my own inquiries and indeed experience in speaking to farmers I find that the two commodities in scarce supply at the moment are winter fodder and finance. As the Minister has said already, a subsidy on fodder, on winter grain, would seem to be far more acceptable to the farming community and to the community at large than direct cash payments. However, as the Minister pointed out, it is important that we identify the people who are most in need of this support and this aid and that the scheme will be implemented with speed and efficiency and will not be restricted in any way by bureaucracy and that those people who are so urgently in need of this aid will get it as soon as possible.

Regarding direct financial problems relating to farmers, the previous speaker, Senator Hourigan, referred to the extension of EC currency loans to the ACC and I certainly would agree with him in this regard. I would also like to urge both the banks and the ACC to exercise as much restraint as possible in demands on repayments on existing loans from farmers who are in trouble. I would even recommend that they defer payments for some time and maybe spread them over a period of time. The co-ops could play a very important role in co-operating with the banks in making loans available to farmers and I would suggest that repayments could be made from the farmers' accounts through the co-ops to the banks, again over a period of time until the problem is alleviated. I have first hand experience of this problem in north Kerry and I feel that the bigger more efficient farmer has not been affected to the same extent as the smaller farmer. We must recognise, as Senator Ellis has said, that the small farmer is in trouble and is in danger of extinction unless we help him immediately. The loss of the smallholders assistance to many small farmers is not helping the matter. No doubt many of the small farmers who are in receipt of smallholders assistance were assessed during the summers of 1983 and 1984. These were summers when even small farmers enjoyed prosperity due to the fine weather. This summer must be taken into consideration and I would strongly recommend that appeals and fresh applications for smallholders assistance, or the dole as it is called should be speeded up. This could help in a big way to ease the problems for the small farmer.

Whereas I welcome the schemes already initiated by the Minister towards helping the small farmers and indeed all farmers, the small farmer, due to a number of reasons, did not avail to the same extent as bigger farmers or more organised farmers of the grant that was made available during the past two months. This is due to financial restraints and perhaps tradition. The small farmer, in north Kerry anyway, is not ready yet to go into silage making. The land was very wet and the cost of making silage is prohibitive. In addition, much of the hay had rotted into the ground at the stage when the grant was made available and it was not fit to make silage out of the hay. Farmers are suffering and I hope the grain subsidy will help them. Certainly as regards hay making or silage making, they can expect very little winter fodder from this source for this year.

We must look at the small farmers' dole for this winter in a new light. This has been brought up here in the Seanad on a number of occasions. Social welfare officers are very slow on going out and assessing farmers and at times their appeals take months to be heard. Extra staff should be appointed to the western counties to hurry up the whole process. Unless this is done fairly shortly you could have a large scale desertion of the land by these farmers.

As was pointed out, and I agree with it, the small farmer is a very important part of our community and it is important to support him and to ensure that life is kept in rural areas. We could have some form of repetition of what happened to the cottier during the famine times. The small farmer could be forced to sell his cows and to sell them at such a reduced price that he would never be in the position to replace them again. It has taken many small farmers years to build up to the stage they are at at the moment. We are talking of small farmers increasing their herds by perhaps one cow a year. If they had to sell them all at the same time it could take them the same length of time again to build up their herds. Many small farmers would be totally discouraged and would be very reluctant to go back again to small farming. In addition, their families would not be encouraged to stay on the land and this would create an extra unemployment problem. It is very important that we face the reality that the small farmer is in danger of extinction.

I believe that an announcement will be made shortly — and reference was made to it already by Senator Hussey — about the farm modernisation scheme. It must be revived as soon as possible to ensure that these people will have an opportunity of availing of grants to lay out silage slabs. We must learn from the lesson of this calamity and we must try to encourage people to change from hay-making to silage-making. To do this we have to make it easy for them. If you cannot afford machinery or to hire a contractor you cannot make silage. We must provide some subsidy for these farmers for making silage — as regards laying silage slabs and even towards the cost of the actual contracting of the silage. I am sure Minister Hegarty would agree with me it is of utmost importance that the farm modernisation scheme be revived for the small farmer.

Instead of being very negative about the Government's response, the farming organisations should encourage the small farmer as much as possible to try to hold on to his cattle and they should give him every type of psychological support possible. One particular organisation have created a very negative feeling among the farming community and have encouraged a fatalistic feeling that all is gone and that there is no hope of any reprieve. Farmers should be encouraged to hold on. They should be encouraged to avail of the grants and of the assistance that is being made available to them, no matter how small. Whereas the figure of £20 million may sound small, at the same time in light of the existing financial restraints on Government spending it is a considerable sum. If it is properly used it could alleviate much distress.

I welcome the announcement made by the Minister here this evening. I request him to continue bargaining on behalf of the Irish farmer, not alone the small farmer of north Kerry or the west of Ireland but the farming community as a whole in the country, whether farmers be in beef or cereals. From his record to date the farming community can have confidence in the Minister. He has proved himself to be very capable and competent in negotiating for the farming community in Europe. He deserves all the support that we can give him.

I have never had the experience of seeing the Minister for Agriculture on the dance floor. In my younger days I heard of a dance called the high caul cap. I think the side stepping and step-dancing the Minister has gone on with here tonight is most unusual to say the least. I ask Members to look again at his ministerial address to this House where he outlines that he was asked by the Government to approach the EC Commission with certain proposals with a view to seeking Community aid for the measures envisaged. Bearing in mind that we are faced with and living through one of the most serious disasters that has hit Irish agriculture, which has brought in its trail problems on an unprecedented scale, and taking into account that the media in the past couple of days heightened speculation among the farming community that today or yesterday a package would emanate from Brussels which would try to help Irish farmers through their difficulties, we had this spectacle here this evening of the Minister bringing in an address to this House and pencilling in towards the end of that speech some kind of paltry solutions to this problem. This motion has been down before the House for some time. Is it not fairly unusual that the Minister would have to pencil in some of the decisions taken by the Government to solve this problem? What he actually told us is not contained in this speech. When did the Government make the decision because it is as clear as night follows day that our negotiations in Brussels were an absolute disaster. They are trying to pull the wool over our eyes by suggesting that this grain proposal represents anything significant. I estimate having regard to the present price of intervention grain, that the price to the farmer in this instance will be around £102 per tonne allowing for the 25 per cent concession here.

Brussels has been exporting grain at figures below that to countries outside the EC for a considerable time. We in Ireland have a particular problem; we are living within the Community yet that is all that the Minister can win for us in Brussels. I do not expect the taxpayer with all the difficulties in the economy at the moment to be able provide the kind of funds that would deal with this disaster. Nobody would expect that but we would expect from EC sources considerably more than is on the plate at the moment.

I would like to put a question to the Minister: is what he said really on the plate? In this statement he says: "I am hopeful that these discussions will have a fruitful outcome." Further down the Minister goes on to say:

In this respect the Commission may be able to assist us by providing a substantial quantity of intervention grain at a specially reduced price.

The step-dancing starts at this stage because from there on he refers to this as if it was an actuality. He said that the benefit of this price reduction and of a substantial contribution by the Exchequer would be applied to farmers who have a serious fodder problem. There was a doubt until then but at that stage apparently it becomes a reality. My question to this House is: how could it be, in the face of this problem, that this document could not contain the simple proposals of the Minister? I suggest that whatever negotiations are going on in Brussels it is absolutely abundantly clear that they have failed. I am now calling on the Minister, the Government and, indeed, the Taoiseach, to go back to the European Commission. They should not take the crumbs from the table; they should not accept a scheme that is available to other countries outside the Community as a concession to Irish farmers in view of all the difficulties they have.

Before other Members on the opposite benches stand up and congratulate the Minister on what the Government are providing, I want to put it in actual terms. We are talking about £14 million. Although it is not clear I have to accept what the Minister said, that this will be devoted mainly to the grain voucher scheme. Taking into account the number of small farmers in the country who are hit by this problem that is equivalent to giving about 60,000 farmers in the disadvantaged areas one tonne of grain for five-and-a-half to six months of a winter. That would be the equivalent not to giving meal but to showing meal to about four or five cattle this winter.

In this document the Minister states that 70 per cent of the hay in the west was lost. If 70 per cent of the hay was lost in the west that means to me in raw mathematics that 70 per cent of the animals on the farms in the west of Ireland will not have in front of them for this winter anything approaching a satisfactory diet. The average number of animals on a farm in the disadvantaged areas in the west is between 22 and 29. One begins to see the range of problems that are there.

That is not to say that the west is the only place in the country. I said at another meeting here today that in every townland there are farmers who have been devastated by these problems. We are not coming into this House arguing with this Government that they are responsible for this problem or that they could solve it all but we have to get a decent response and we must get it from EC sources. In this case we are emphasising the question of winter fodder. I agree with the Minister that that is the central core problem that resulted from this bad summer. We have to maintain our stock numbers. Many of us can recall the 1974 crisis during which time 750,000 animals were slaughtered in nine months, a haemorrhage which had very long term effects for the beef herd in this country. Half a million cows from the beef herd were removed from Irish farmers and now 11 years later that beef herd is down to the level it was at after the 1974 crisis. If one contacts factories and agents one will be told that cows are being slaughtered at a considerably increased rate on what would be the average for this time of the year. One will also be told on the factory floor that many of these cows are heavy in calf. Why would a farmer sell a cow that is heavy in calf? He cannot sell the small stock. There is no one to buy them. Therefore, he is forced to sell the seed breed because that is the only animal on his farm that can either realise a price that is acceptable to him or, alternatively, he has not enough fodder to keep that animal for the winter. Thus, he is forced to take that decision.

I put it to Members that we have to be concerned that we do not allow panicselling and the disposal of cows, and particularly cows in calf, at the present rate. Therefore, we have to ask the Minister for Agriculture to do all he can for domestic resources but above all to try to get it across to our Community partners that they, too, have to recognise their responsibilities in this matter.

In this situation that is only one side of the problem. Out there there are potato farmers, there are grain growers and there is the pea crop. There are also many other farmers who are not in cattle production or in dairying but who have lost their whole enterprise and their whole income for this year. There is nothing contained in these proposals that will alleviate their problems to any degree. In a year that has been a washout as far as Irish agriculture is concerned, the Minister has washed his hands of many of these farmers all over the country who are demoralised.

I visited parts of this country looking at this problem and I just want to mention to this House the human aspects. They are proud people who tried to manage their meagre resources to the best of their ability. Many have young families going back to school, which is an expensive time for couples, and many housewives are drained to the last trying to cope with a problem which is totally outside their control. I talked to young farmers on the side of a mountain who were tearing up their fields with tractors trying to salvage silage into corners of fields which will be inaccessible in the winter but it was the best they could do for the moment. They stared out over my shoulders in utter despair because they knew what they were doing was the best they could do to salvage winter fodder but those fields are a write-off until next June or July. I do not want to over-dramatise this but I came home from my trip a shocked person. Having met people on the ground who were so utterly broken and demoralised I felt that it was very necessary that this motion should come before the House at the first possible opportunity. We should try to use all the powers at our disposal to win from the Government, and in particular from EC sources, funds which will help these people to cope with their problems.

Our economy is underpinned by agriculture. When our stock numbers are reduced our factory inflow is cut back, the spending power of the farming community is reduced and the debts to the co-ops, to the banks and to other institutions keep on mounting as people cannot meet the repayments because their way of living has been so drastically reduced. I think we have to find some way to carry some of that burden in their interest and also in the interest of the country.

I do not think it is fair for any Minister for Agriculture to present that kind of a document to this House. Either what he has said is real or it is not. If it is real he is not just hopeful about it, he knows it has happened. If it is real he is not just hoping that the Commission will be able to assist us, they are going to assist us. I think he should be on his heels and at the negotiating table at the first opportunity. As far as the Members of this House are concerned and, indeed, throughout the country, he will have all our support in an effort to try to win from EC sources substantial funds to try to alleviate this situation. The response so far has been totally inadequate. It is paltry, it deals with only one side of the problem and to an individual farmer it is of little significance. The Government cannot afford to carry all that problem and we recognise that. We have to lean on our partners to help us at this time.

Therefore, I call on the Minister to reject out of hand the proposals which have been brought forward from Brussels, to remove the doubt and to remove some of the hysteria which is rife throughout the country and to go back and seek a new way forward. To do less than that would be to write the epitaph of a number of people engaged in agriculture. I do not think that is what he wants to do and I do not think it is what anybody here wants to do. If this is the kind of response we are going to get from the European Community in this problem, I am afraid the future for Irish agriculture is dim indeed.

I know it is the role and obligation of an Opposition to oppose but seldom have I heard such a short debate littered and strewn with so many of the old clichés and emotional terminology. Do not get me wrong. It is not that I do not appreciate the problem or indeed that I have not got my finger on the pulse. As a person who comes from one of the 12 disadvantaged counties I am fully cognisant of the situation, its extent and magnitude, but when we reach the stage when the tax-payer offers the farmers £16 million and when that allocation is greeted in a derisory way by a parliamentary party as being paltry then we are at a sorry pass.

There is no question that there is unanimity on all sides of the House about the magnitude of the disaster. These farmers have the support and the sympathy of everybody in their difficulty. On a national scale we must have sympathy because when one realises that the agricultural industry in general accounts for 40 per cent of our exports we have to take serious cognisance of the situation. It would be most uneconomic, therefore, not to underpin agriculture and I believe the Minister has done this. Looking at the text of the motion and the amendment the central theme is fodder shortage. This is what it is essentially about in relation to stock, stock numbers and the danger that people might have to sell stock. The Minister has told us in no uncertain terms tonight that no stock will have to be sold as a result of shortage of fodder.

Senator Smith has made great play of the fact that the Minister did not include some of the things he disclosed afterwards in his speech. The implication seemed to be that there was something sinister afoot or that the Minister was less than sincere in his undertaking that these would be included. I draw to Senator Smith's attention that it was only in the course of his presence here in the House, during his speech in fact, that the Minister was in a position to make some of the announcements referred to by the Senator.

Over the past three or four months we have had a sorry saga for Irish farmers. We have had an excess of all the elements we do not want, rain, excessive humidity, lightning, hail and so on. There is no doubt whatever, as the Minister said, that as long as we have 40 per cent of our fodder coming from such a source as hay which is largely dependent on the fluctuations and vagaries of the weather and climate we stand to lose at all stages. The risks are too great. In the west, as has been said by Senator Smith and others, we have only got approximately 20 per cent of the hay crop. I am convinced that the measures taken here by the Minister, particlarly in relation to the assurances that grain through grain vouchers will be got to any farmer in need, will alleviate the difficulties and the disaster that would befall farmers if these measures had not been taken.

I congratulate the Minister for moving at the very start. He had moved before the IFA, the ICMSA or the Opposition moved. I could safely say that the Minister devoted the bulk of his holiday time to monitoring the situation to ensure he was kept fully appraised of the degree and the scale of the disaster. Who could have said four weeks ago that the disaster would have reached the proportions and levels that we have today? Who can say what it is going to be like next week or the week after because the situation has not only been changing by the week but by the day and by the hour?

To revert again to the silage problem, the Minister will have to tackle the problem of further grants seriously to ensure that small producers, in the west in particular, for whom it is not economic to produce silage, will be given every facility available to ensure that silage becomes the standard fodder from now on. I would urge strongly the reintroduction of the group fodder scheme so that these people can pool their resources.

I should like to welcome the Minister's relief for the Shannon basin. It may not be mind boggling but what we are talking about is not compensation but relief. It is physically impossible, in such a situation, no matter how large or how small the scale of it is, to compensate people 100 per cent. What we are talking about in this situation is relief for people in need. I should like to congratulate the Minister on the numerous efforts he has made to highlight at Brussels level the magnitude and the scale of the problem and for succeeding in getting M. Le Gras, the Director General for Agriculture to visit this country and graphically illustrating the problem to him.

I should like to welcome other measures that received scant recognition. I should like to welcome a measure which was sought for a long period of time, the extension of the pre-movement test period to 60 days. That positive move is having, to a large degree, the desired effect. I want to welcome the realistic suggestion of accepting the mart receipts as bona fide evidence that people had the stock at the time they applied for headage payments and that headage payments can now be made on foot of these.

I should like to welcome the assurance by the Minister that for the first time ever headage payments will be completed and in the hands of farmers by the end of November. There has been a great deal of agitation about the possibility of paying maximum headage grants to farmers but it is beyond the resources of the Exchequer, despite the fact that we have had emotional pleas and I, as a westerner would be sympathetic to the argument, to go into this to such a degree that we would have to double the headage payments. The early headage payments, plus the fact that the Minister is now prepared to receive mart receipts as bona fide evidence will considerably alleviate the problem. One of the difficulties in any package like this is to target the relief to the people who need it most. This has been fully addressed by the Minister. I know that there are people in the west who did not get their hay or silage but we all know of people who did. In a situation like this it is wrong to expect that we should have across-the-board payments to all and sundry. The same position operates in the Department of Social Welfare with people getting aid who do not need it while the people who are in need are being victimisedd.

I should like to say something in relation to the general lack of recognition of the amount of work that the Minister has done to get this package. Senator Ellis suggested that we should seek the views of the farming organisations. The Minister asked the farming organisations for their views and we should consider their contrasting responses. The ICMSA were reasonable, receptive and recognised with considerable gratitude the amount the Minister has done. By comparison, however, the attitude of the other main farming organisations was less than positive and appreciative. When the nitrogen subsidy was introduced it was derided. Again, the offer of the 60 day test and so on, plus the acceptance of mart receipts, did not receive the merit and the gratitude they deserved. When grain was offered to substitute for the lack of fodder the IFA looked for cash in hand payments. I honestly believe that these types of crude bludgeoning tactics serve only to turn people away, to turn the sympathetic attitude of the urban community away from the plight and the dire straits of farmers.

We had a similar attitude from the IFA in the period 1973-77 when one of the best Minister for Agriculture we ever had, former Deputy Clinton, was subjected to constant and persistent attacks. We had the same attitude from them when their deputy vice-president, Alan Gillis, went abroad to cash in with a Dáil Deputy on a deal that was already agreed by the Minister for Agriculture. We got no credit whatsoever for the 4.6 per cent derogation in relation to the super-levy when we were the envy of the rest of Europe. The people castigating the Government have short memories. Do they recall that a Member of the other House when Minister for Agriculture, left them sitting on the steps of Government Buildings and refused to talk to them? Later their leaders were jailed. The Minister has carried out his duties as Minister in a most responsible fashion.

The day has not finally dawned when all aid is terminated. The Minister, at the end of his speech, was open-ended. Senator Hussey was realistic in recognising that the Minister had done a considerable amount in putting the case before Brussels. I have no doubt that the fears and apprehensions of Senator Ellis in relation to maladministration and the danger that middle-men and grain merchants will get their slice out of the resources will not materialise following the assurances of the Minister that the new scheme will be well administered.

I feel very proud to be a member of a party whose Minister for Agriculture devoted his entire holiday period to continually appraising the situation, taking positive measures to rectify it and, indeed, has tonight brought before the House a package which will give fodder to Irish farmers. I am confident that the Minister will, come next spring, be seen to have taken measures to alleviate the difficulty, the worry, the hardships and apprehensions that many farmers in the west thought was going to spell doom, gloom and damnation as regards their farm and their farm welfare. Furthermore, I am confident that the farming organisations who have not been appreciative of the role played by the Minister for Agriculture will in time come to see the folly of their ways and to see that, just as Deputy Clinton as Minister for Agriculture in 1973-77 helped to build up farm incomes to an unprecedented level, Deputy Deasy as Minister for Agriculture helped to salvage their livelihoods and put them back on a solid footing for what is hopefully the boom years ahead.

I wish to speak in favour of the amendment, asking Seanad Éireann to call on the Government to declare a nationwide agricultural emergency. There is no doubt that there is cause for the Government to declare such an emergency. We all know how agriculture is very dependent on weather conditions for survival and for farming to make a profit. This year farmers experienced the worst conditions in living memory. People have asked me if I remember weather as bad and my reply was that I was sure the oldest person living never remembered a summer as bad as the summer of 1985. Such conditions affect no community more than the agricultural community. Silage may have been made when we got a few fine weeks towards the end of June but in the case of some of it the water content was immense. Any silage with immense water content is definitely very poor. Good silage makes good fodder but until it is opened up and the cattle are being fed on it during the winter months we will not know whether it is of good or poor quality. That will have to be supplemented because the hay crop was a complete disaster. I doubt if any hay was good this year. Many small farmers depend on hay as feed for their cattle. In many counties in the west, and where I come from, farmers depend on hay but the hay they saved is only fit to go into slurry pits. There is a case for declaring a nationwide agricultural emergency. We have heard that the Minister is doing a good job but I do not think the package is good enough. When there were similar emergencies before Fianna Fáil Governments doubled headage payments straight away without ever acquainting the EC. The money will be available from the EC because they have to match on a pound for pound basis anything the Irish Government gives.

In parts of the country farmers are 50 per cent dependent on hay and they may have to supplement that with rolled barley which can be very expensive. Some cereal growers might say it is cheap but after the costs of processors, millers and transporters are taken into account it can be very costly. The Government have to give a cash injection to ensure that farmers can maintain their cattle at their present levels and not have to sell them at giveaway prices.

In some areas in the last three weeks the weather was good and the ground has dried up but in other areas the rain has not ceased. In the west, Cavan and other areas, there has been continuous rain. Silage cannot be cut because due to the adverse conditions heavy silage machinery cannot enter fields because of the danger of getting bogged down. Green fields can look very deceptive in wet weather but some of them are so wet that even cattle cannot graze on them.

There is now panic selling of cattle. It started in mid-July. I understand that one of the Government's proposals is to grant headage payments on the production of receipts for cattle sold in marts but that should go back to July because there was panic selling as early as July this year because of weather conditions.

There is also a silage problem in my area where we have good dry land, better than some of the areas that we are referring to. Cattle have been kept in yards eating silage since mid-August. If they started eating silage in mid-August what will the position be like at Christmas-time? There will be a long winter from Christmas until the time when cattle are put out on grass next year, unless we get favourable weather in spring. In some areas cattle can be put out early which is an advantage to farmers but in my area where the land is heavy there is no hope of putting them out early.

Cereal farmers are suffering severe losses also. Yields are down; they are all under two tonnes. The Minister of State, a cereal farmer, may not have been subjected to the bad weather experienced in other areas.

Just as bad.

In that case the Minister of State knows the seriousness of the problem. The moisture content is very high and, therefore, the price for barley will be low. The winter wheat crop was severely damaged. There was a lot of lodging during the bad storm. The Minister and his Department should see if it is possible to obtain cereal seed that would not be subject to sprouting. If that was possible it would help farmers to deal with bad weather conditions such as we experienced this year. Farmers would not be experiencing such terrible losses or be asking the Government to compensate them. If something could be done in that respect it might help in some way.

I am not familiar with the growing of cereal — I grow enough cereal on my modest farm that is sufficient for my own feed — but I am aware that barley was making £120 per tonne in 1983, £108 a tonne in 1984 and in 1985 it is £100 a tonne, that is for barley with under 20 per cent moisture. That is very poor compensation for the people who invested a lot into growing cereals. The yields will be lower, there will be higher moisture content and farmers will get a lower price. That is something I am sure the Minister is aware of and recognises. I understand that 70 per cent of malting barley has been rejected for malting and must be used for feeding. There was panic harvesting of peas in July because of the bad weather. Farmers thought when the bad weather came that they would not be able to harvest them and panicked and as a result the peas were not fit for processing. They were fed to cattle resulting in a terrible loss.

The harvesting of sugar beet is beginning and it appears that the sugar content will be very low. The heavy hailstones, as big as apples, in the recent storm blew the leaves of the sugar beet thereby curtailing growth. As a result the sugar content will be less than in normal conditions. In other counties farmers are more concerned about the potato crop. Farmers in my area who grow potatoes will be at a great loss because of the weather. The seed rotted and did not germinate at all. I am sure that happened in other areas also.

The people who are most in need of fodder are the small farmers, especially farmers with holdings of between 20 and 60 acres. They may have 20 cows and a few weanlings but they do not have silage for winter feed. If hay or straw was made available at reasonable prices it would help farmers. There are areas where hay and straw are available, for instance in the south, but the hay crop is rotting and being put into slurry pits in other areas. Some pool, through the co-operatrive movement, should be arranged so that farmers do not have to pay a big price for hay. There is widespread exportation of hay and straw to Northern Ireland. That is a disgrace. There is an old saying, if we can be happy to do with what we need and forget about our greed we would be a fine country, and some people can be greedy in circumstances like this. The exchange rate of sterling can be very attractive to some people who would like to jump on the band wagon and sell straw and hay at high prices. That is going on. We are asking the EC to ensure that aid should apply to all Ireland but we cannot buy hay or straw from the North and bring it across the Border because of disease restrictions.

The Government have done an injustice to agriculture by abolishing subsidies, met pound for pound by the EC. They could be used now to alleviate the problems. I am referring to AI subsidies, lime subsidies and grants under the farm modernisation scheme. The abolishing of the farm modernisation scheme was the greatest disaster to hit the agricultural community. Housing for cattle is completely inadequate. There should be proper housing in winter. The provision of good housing would be a source of employment to builders. It would be better to put money to productive use than to ask the taxpayer to subscribe to those who are unemployed and drawing the dole. The greatest mistake the Government made was the abolition of the farm modernisation scheme. I should like to ask the Minister of State to ensure that the scheme is restored as soon as possible.

The Seanad should call on the Government to declare a nationwide agriculture emergency because of the hardships the farming community are suffering. While I accept that the weather has a lot to do with the problems of farmers I believe the Government must accept some of the cause.

I welcome the opportunity to make a contribution to this debate, because the topic is foremost in the minds not only of the people in rural Ireland but also in the minds of those in urban areas, who work in the agricultural related industries. I should like to congratulate the Minister, Deputy Deasy, and the Minister of State, on their unfailing efforts to minimise the loss to farmers. They made tireless efforts to assess the extent of the disaster. It is wrong of the Opposition, the media to some extent, and, more particularly, certain sections of the farming community, to attempt to make political gain out of this. It is very easy to do that as we can see from the suggestions made on a daily basis at the beginning and now on an hourly basis. Such people are outstepping each other in the schemes they are concocting. They hope by embarrassing the Government to raise the expectations of farmers.

The sad fact is that the Opposition are attempting to raise falsely the expectations of farmers. That tactic was used in the past for political advantage and it is unfortunate that in 1985 it is being used again. Some of the statements of the leader of the IFA, Mr. Rea, have been totally misguided. His demands were totally unrealistic and completely unbecoming to the leadership of a national farming organisation. I hope farmers will come to realise sooner rather than later that they are being misled in this crisis. The media are giving a slanted view of the problem. The PAYE person who heard the president of the IFA on television say farmers stood to lose a lot of money up to £100,000 in one harvest, may, considering his weekly take home pay of £50 or £60 ask what such people contributed to the national Exchequer in the good years. Farmers have had their good years. I should like to take Senator Kiely to task for saying that the Government have reduced the standard of living of farmers.

Definitely, and it will spill over into the whole economy.

Farmers' incomes increased by 5 per cent last year, despite all the rumours to the contrary. During the period of the Fianna Fáil Government, from 1979 to 1981, the real incomes of farmers declined by 40 per cent and if Senator Kiely can change that figure he should be outside helping farmers.

Debate adjourned.