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Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 29 Mar 2022

Vol. 284 No. 1

Impact on Farming Sector Arising from the Situation in Ukraine: Statements

I welcome the Minister to the House and thank him for taking time out of his busy schedule. As a front-line Minister we very much appreciate him coming to the House to deal with this important issue.

I thank Members for the invitation to be here. On behalf of the Government, once again I utterly condemn the illegal invasion of Ukraine. We are also mindful of the terrible toll being inflicted on Ukrainian citizens. As a Government and as a people, we remain resolute in our solidarity and support for Ukraine and we reiterate the call on Russia to cease all hostilities immediately and to withdraw from Ukraine unconditionally.

At a time tractors are in the fields, lambs are being born and cows and calves are heading for grass in Ireland, our farming brothers and sisters in Ukraine are taking up arms to fight for their country's freedom. I welcome the strong solidarity shown by Ireland and the European Union as a whole with Ukraine in the face of its illegal invasion by Russia. We will work with EU partners to consider and implement appropriate responses. This includes ensuring that food security is maintained for EU citizens, for the Ukrainian people and in the wider global context. Ireland is providing €20 million in humanitarian assistance to the UN and the Red Cross to deliver life-saving humanitarian assistance in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries. My Department also provides flexible funding of €25 million per year to the UN World Food Programme, supporting that organisation to provide a flexible timely response to humanitarian crisis. In addition to the immediate humanitarian crisis, which must take priority, there will be implications across all sectors. Considerable volumes of both global feed and fertiliser originate and are traded through Ukraine and Russia. Fuel and energy costs are also a concern for farmers and the food industry.

Since the invasion of Ukraine, I have taken a proactive approach to dealing with the massive challenges facing our sector. Farming is not alone in dealing with these challenges but our great sector is particularly exposed as a result of the invasion and we are working hard to support farm families through this situation. I met with the main farm organisations and Teagasc on 8 March to discuss the impact on Irish agriculture and supply chains. I have also met members of the Irish Grain and Feed Association, IGFA, and representatives from the fertiliser industry. I established the national fodder and food security committee with the preparation of a response to the emerging crisis in feed, fodder, fertiliser and other inputs and to developing contingency plans and advice to assist farmers in managing their farm enterprises. I will continue to engage closely with the sector as we work together on this significant challenge.

Within my Department, I established a rapid response team, chaired by the Secretary General, to actively monitor the impacts on agrifood supply chains and to contribute to the whole-of-government response to the crisis. Last week, I announced a targeted intervention package for the tillage sector and a multispecies sward initiative, worth more than €12 million to support farmers. This is an exciting initiative that will help us reduce our dependency on imported feed.

At EU level, I attended an extraordinary EU agriculture ministers meeting in early March and the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels last week. The Ukrainian agriculture minister, Roman Leshchenko, spoke via video connection at the Council about the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on the agricultural sector. My Department has also been engaged at a number of other EU meetings in recent weeks to discuss food security issues, including a meeting of the European Food Security Crisis Preparedness and Response Mechanism, EFSCPRM. I outlined to my EU colleagues that Ireland has continued to strongly support the most extensive EU sanctions on Russia for its outrageous actions. We must also ensure that the actions we take in that wider context, together with the burden that must be borne, are sustainable, and this will only be the case if we work together to do all we can to maintain food security for our own citizens, for the Ukrainian people and in a wider international context.

I outlined my particular concerns regarding the impacts of the conflict on agrifood supply chains, especially on inputs such as fertiliser and feed. As the situation is obviously volatile and evolving, I stressed the need from an EU perspective to continually assess developments and to be ready to take necessary responses to minimise the impact on our collective food security.

At farm level, the fallout from the invasion is likely to have an impact on the price and availability of animal feed and fertiliser, which are vital farm inputs. Ireland imports significant volumes of animal feedstuffs, including feed from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. Russia and Ukraine are significant sources of global cereal exports, so the price and availability of cereals globally is impacted. The availability and price of animal feedstuffs are a concern across all farming systems. The effect of these impacts is being felt most sharply in the intensive pig and poultry sectors where feed costs represent a significant portion of overall productions costs. There are sufficient supplies of animal feed at present and Irish importers are actively competing on the global market to ensure that supply continues uninterrupted. Animal feed stocks and imports are being monitored weekly by my Department. The role of Teagasc and farm advisers is crucial at this time in providing timely, practical advice for farmers on nutrient use efficiency. Fodder availability on farms for next winter depends on several factors, particularly grass growth and silage production this year.

In the main, we came into the winter in decent shape in terms of fodder stocks. While there are cattle and sheep out on grass on many farms, I am conscious that the winter season is not over yet for many. We must think conservatively when it comes to silage grain to ensure that we have more than enough to cover the amount of stock on an individual farm. In essence, what farmers plan to breed, they must also plan to feed. There has been a reduction in fertiliser use on farm to date this year in response to the Teagasc soils, nutrients and fertiliser campaign. Last October, I tasked Teagasc with developing this roadmap to reduce our dependency on chemical fertiliser. It was launched earlier this year. It is a credible roadmap that will be good for the environment, as well as good for farmers’ profit margins.

I am also aware of the particular issues in horticulture and I have engaged with the sector. Energy is a significant input for many horticultural enterprises, because crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers and mushrooms are grown indoors in glasshouses and in protected greenhouse structures.

Fertiliser costs are rapidly increasing also. This is an immediate issue for all farmers. Russian fertiliser imports accounted for 22% of our total fertiliser imports in 2020. Fertiliser availability is key to ensuring sufficient fodder for next winter, as well as grass for the season ahead. There is a need to ensure the most efficient use of organic and chemical fertiliser, so that farmers have sufficient feed for their animals. We are in regular contact with the fertiliser industry on possible mitigation measures. We are inputting to cross-governmental consideration of related issues as well.

Fertiliser stocks nationally are down this year to date in comparison with last year. However, it is estimated that there are adequate supplies to meet farmers’ spring requirements, although prices have risen considerably. All farmers are encouraged to review requirements over the next two months to secure fertiliser supply, if that is not already in place. It is important that all farms put in place a nutrient management plan to set up their farms to grow the grass that is required for the year ahead. Advisors will be assisting farmers with this plan.

A recent Teagasc survey found that most tillage and dairy farmers have secured their fertiliser requirements for the moment, while dry stock farmers, many of whom plan on spending less fertiliser on grazing ground, are finding it more difficult to secure their fertiliser requirements at the moment. I would be concerned that these farmers will be unable to secure their fertiliser requirements over the coming weeks and months, because it is critical and crucial that we have enough fodder for the winter and spring coming.

The new national fodder and food security committee, NFFSC, which I have established, will play an important role in discussing contingency plans and in providing advice to farmers on how to manage under constrained fertiliser supplies, if that proves necessary. The agrifood sector relies heavily on fuel of various types, from road diesel to agricultural diesel, to marine diesel and to natural gas. The year 2020 saw fuel prices at their lowest in a decade, while 2021 and this year see fuel prices rise to their highest in a decade. This is adding a significant additional cost to farmers, processors, road haulage and the fishing industry. For many farmers, the energy cost has risen by 80% to 100% in the past year. All sectors have been impacted by the crisis, including the seafood sector. The price of marine diesel has increased significantly, and net profit margins have fallen. With weak profitability, some vessels are now close to being uneconomic with the increased fuel costs. There is the possibility that vessels will cease operations and will tie up. For most meat and dairy products, and subject to no significant disruption in food processing, there is no immediate threat to domestic food supply, because Ireland is a net exporter of these products.

Our great sector is facing one of its most significant challenges in many decades. In times like these, it is crucial that we take a proactive approach and that we take steps to limit any potential disruption to our feed and supply chains. I know that farmers, fishers and the agrifood sector will rise to the challenge and will meet it head on. By working collectively and collaboratively, we can ensure that the sector is insulated against the worst of what might come from supply chain disruption. However, the next number of weeks and months will undoubtedly be challenging, some of the most challenging periods in our lifetimes. I will support our farmers, their families and their businesses in the best way possible over the time ahead. I will continue to engage with stakeholders to consider how to manage any disruption to supply chains, in particular to animal feed supply chains, that will be caused by the ongoing situation.

I thank the Minister. I now call Senator Paul Daly, who has six minutes.

I welcome the Minister to the House for this important debate. I condone his condemnation of the illegal and unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine. This will create trying circumstances for us here in Ireland, in our agricultural community in particular. However, these are mere shadows of the turmoil, the pain and the grief that are being suffered by the Ukrainians. I would like to be associated with the Minister’s remarks in asking for the Russians to leave as soon as possible, without any conditions.

Many people in conversation say that mechanisation and nitrogen have underwritten global population growth when it comes to food security since the Second World War. The fertiliser nitrogen, as well as our diesels and fuels, were already heading for a crisis situation before the invasion. Costs had escalated and this was putting much pressure on our farming community. Many farmers decided, due to cost, to possibly cut back. This was irrespective of whether or not they were in the schemes. They decided to cut back on their fertiliser for the coming year because of the exorbitant costs. They probably even cut back on some of their work. There may have been bits of tillage that were not to be done this year, but that would have been done in previous years. This is because of the price of bringing in contractors, who incur enormous diesel expenses. When we combine that with the invasion and with the situation in Russia and Ukraine at the moment, we are heading towards a serious crisis. Desperate times call for desperate measures and we are in desperate times.

The weather is the one area over which we have no control. This area could have a big say over this situation before the year is out. We are hoping that we will have a good summer, one that is not too dry, and that the harvest and winter coming will not be too bad.

I welcome, as the Minister has outlined in his own statement, the national food and fodder security committee, the soils, nutrients and fertiliser campaign, and the Minister’s rapid response team, which is to be chaired by the Secretary General. I also welcome the fact that he met with the farm organisations and Teagasc early in the crisis. I also welcome his targeted tillage support package and multispecies swards. However, just on that issue, I have a couple of questions and a couple of observations. That money is available to people who plant crops, to those who go into tillage and who have not had tillage previously, or to those who put tillage in fields that have not been ploughed previously or in which there were no tillage crops last year. The Minister outlined the potential for a fodder shortage in the coming year if we do not get this right. I also ask that question from my own perspective as a beef farmer. If I were to consider tillage to help out with the crisis, I would have to plough land from which I took silage in the previous year. Therefore, while that might be providing grain to help the cause, I could and possibly would, leave myself with a fodder shortage, because of the silage I would no longer have. Not many people would have land sitting by that did not have a purpose last year that was being used to meet their own feed requirements.

I would also like to mention the Minister’s results based environment agri pilot programme, REAP. I do not know if he can revisit that at this stage. However, many people signed up land to REAP last year. One of the biggest conditions of the REAP scheme is low input. As we have said when referring to the importance of fertiliser in achieving our targets in feed and fodder, a lower input will possibly mean a lower output. People signed up to that scheme, myself included, last year with no idea of the position we would be in this year. They budgeted for the same. I achieved my own fodder targets. However, if we now have to increase, and I might not have the possibility of being able to get grain next winter, this could in certain ways hinder me going forward.

The biggest issue I have is with diesel costs. The Minister and I have addressed this before and I will address it again. If people who are not accustomed to doing tillage on a regular basis decide to do so, they will have to bring in farm contractors. They do not have the equipment to plough, till, seed or harvest. The farm contractors are crippled at the moment with diesel costs. I welcome that there has been a small reduction in diesel prices, as well as the fact that there are ongoing negotiations to enhance that further through VAT. However, farm contractors have to charge enormous prices at the moment just to break even. This is because of their diesel costs. They have been caught. While farmers themselves can write off a part of their diesel costs in their tax returns, contractors are not in a position to do that.

Even at this late stage, I encourage the Minister to consult with the Ministers for Public Expenditure and Reform and Finance to see is support can be provided for farm contractors when it comes to the cost of diesel. A scheme similar to, or better than, the one that has been introduced for hauliers may be possible. There is going to be more demand on contractors if farmers who are not accustomed to doing so will try to do tillage. Many of them do not have the necessary machinery.

The Minister, together with his colleagues in Europe, may have to reconsider the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, going forward. Irrespective of the duration of the war, it will be a long time before everything come back to normal. This crisis may be ongoing for the duration of the next CAP. I do not know whether it would be possible to look at that.

He mentioned horticulture, fruit and vegetables. We have had the debates, and I will not go over them again, about the importation of peat from the Baltic states. That is also an issue. Our horticulture sector, which has been depending on imported peat to meet its needs, will not have access to the same quantities. We need to look for a solution on this island.

The Minister is welcome to the House. I think this is the first time I have spoken to him since he took up office. It is a bit late to be congratulating him on his appointment. I congratulate him on the speed at which he picked up the problems associated with where we are right now. He has moved from one crisis into the next crisis. He has done well and shown himself as somebody who is willing to get out there and speak to people on the ground.

The picture we are painting here today is pretty frightening. It is no secret I served in the military and I have seen what tracked vehicles do to agricultural land. I can anticipate the damage that is going to be done to land in Ukraine and it will not be repaired easily. Even if the war were to stop in the morning, it would be very difficult to get that land back up and producing quickly. That is a serious concern.

I am a city boy and have been all my life. For me, milk came in cartons and bread came in wrappers. I never had to think much more about it until now. Every part of our agricultural and fisheries sectors is going to be severely impacted as we move forward. As the Minister rightly pointed out, trawlers going to sea for several days at a time require thousands of litres of diesel, the cost of which is going through the roof. The Government can only do so much. There is a time when one can no longer provide subsidies, cut costs or whatever else, and we are rapidly heading to that position. We are going to have to put a lot of thought into how we allocate resources in the coming months.

We talk about the outrageous behaviour of Russia in the Ukrainian conflict as if it is going to pass in the near future. We have no idea when it is going to stop. We do not know if Putin's war will stop in Ukraine. It may very well move into Macedonia or Poland. Who knows where it is going? Right now, we are in a state of flux and we have no idea where things are going. Ukraine is the bread basket of Europe. Ukraine and Russia produce approximately 30% of the cereal crops required in the world. As we move through this time, the wealthy part of the globe will be able to meet the prices. We will have to cut back on other items but we will be able to meet the prices that will be demanded for cereal crops. My concern is particularly for Africa, which is going to suffer terribly. There are ships off the ports in Ukraine that Putin and his war machine will not allow put to sea. Those ships are loaded with grain in places such as Odessa and Mariupol and have nowhere to go.

Where do we go from here? How are we going to solve this problem? I have no idea. When we talk about agriculture, we talk about the need for fertiliser. A lot of fertiliser over the years has come to Ireland through Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. How are we going to solve that problem in the near future? My colleague, Senator Paul Daly, spoke about putting what is, for all intents and purposes, beef land into tillage. That is going to be a serious problem. The Senator made the point that farmers are now being asked to move away from their area of competence into a new area where they will be involved in planting cereal. The Minister has been good in putting forward supports for them. Teagasc and various other organisations in the State are there to assist them in any way they need but, at the end of the day, we are talking about a major step forward.

Whenever I think of agriculture, I think of my dad, who planted our garden every Good Friday. He went out at 6 a.m. and did not go to bed until it was fully planted and there were enough vegetables to feed us for the best part of the winter. The end of planting season is quite close. We are running into serious trouble in that regard.

I received an email, as did many others, from Growing Media Ireland. It refers to our reliance on peat and its importation, as Senator Paul Daly mentioned. That goes against the green agenda in this country. We are prepared to take peat from somewhere else but we are not prepared to use our own. I understand the problem. I visited Iceland a couple of years ago and Taiwan in 2020. In both those countries, I saw that there can be a very lucrative horticultural business without the use of peat but it requires massive inputs of energy. It is easy in Iceland because the energy is flowing under the ground and it is easy to get to it. We do not have access to energy like that in this country. I am outraged about the closure of the generating system in Derrybrien, Galway. We are in the middle of an international emergency and what are we doing? We are taking apart a generating system in Derrybrien because it did not comply with planning. I do not have a difficulty with the planning issue but there should be a moratorium put on it tomorrow to keep Derrybrien generating until such a time as this crisis has passed. The last thing we need is energy shortages. I believe the Government needs to move to preserve what energy production we have so we can reduce our reliance on other fuels and use them in the agricultural sector.

The Minister has my support for what he is doing. Fair play to him; he is out there on the ground. I know he is very close to those the fisheries industry in his own constituency. They will need massive support.

The Minister is more than welcome to the Chamber. I sympathise with the Ukrainian people and, in particular, the Ukrainian farmers who are stuck on the horns of a dilemma at the moment. When they should be out working the fields, they are in the middle of a war zone. I do not know, and can only imagine, what they are going through. I pass on my sympathies to them on what they are going through at the moment. There are stuck with an unfortunate dilemma.

Ukraine is the bread basket of Europe. It is the second largest exporter of grain into the EU and it is also one of the largest exporters of grain into Asia and north Africa. There will be a significant impact on world peace if we do not find a solution to the war. If we do not find suitable solutions to the need for grain in Egypt and other countries, it will have a considerable impact on world security. That will be a knock-on implication of this unfortunate war.

The costs associated with this war have gone through the roof. The costs of energy, fuel and grain have all increased dramatically. Last year, I was buying fertiliser for €208 per tonne. This year, I paid €1,027 for the same product. That is an indication of how costs have gone through the roof. Meal for cows has gone up by €180 in the past four months. There have been significant increases in the cost of farming. Balancing that cost will mean price inflation at the other end and the consumer will, unfortunately, pay more for products on the back of this war. There will be considerable issues in the short term with the cost of fertiliser and fuel.

As other colleagues have stated, fuel costs have gone through the roof. I was speaking to one contractor yesterday who had paid €1.28 per litre. He was literally paying double what he paid last year. That is going to have a huge impact. There is going to be a massive issue with how we are going to look at our food policy going forward. This is a sea change. We are going to see price inflation and because of that we will see a huge issue with food security.

Today we had a protest by the pig industry. It is one of the first casualties of this war when it comes to food security in Ireland. Energy and transportation costs have gone through the roof but the price of meal has gone up by nearly 90% in the past four months. It is quite possible the industry will go into significant decline and it is questionable that it is sustainable going forward. It is a debate we are going to have at the agriculture committee but the Minister might give us his thoughts on how we are going to sustain that industry in future.

The tillage industry is going to play a major role in trying to ensure we have enough grain going forward. This is not only for our cattle and sheep industries but also for the flour we need. We have specialised grain farmers who are significant operators. They can produce high-quality grain in volume but need support to do it. The proposal from the Minister needs to be clarified with respect to how we can entice these competitive, capable operators to do more with what they have. I mean no offence to Senator Paul Daly and beef farmers but having them come into that sector is questionable in many ways. We need to try to promote the specialised people in that market. The analogy I was given at the weekend was that is like telling grain farmers they need to go milking cows because we are going to be short of milk. Growing grain is a specialised practice. We need to find a policy where we can get these productive lads in the ring so they can deliver the tonnage we require by next September. That is going to be a body of work that will, I hope, be solved in the next few weeks.

The real issue here is the European food policy as well as European policy on food security and energy. All of these must be looked at again. Our food policy and our food security policy has been shown to be very weak. They depend on bringing in large volumes of fertiliser from third countries that we have no control over the volatility of. As a result, we are now going to suffer a food crisis. The same thing is said about the production of grain. If we bring in large volumes of grain, again from a third-country source, how can we have food security on our own Continent? A complete rethinking of our food security policy is needed. When the CAP was originally set up it was about producing enough food that Europe would not starve. We had moved away from that but we are now moving back to it. That is because we are stuck in a scenario of increasing costs that will unfortunately mean we might not have enough going forward. Other speakers are correct that we do not know where this is going to end. Europe will survive but north Africa will be in exceptional chaos in 18 months if there is a shortage of grain. That is a real problem for the world and for Europe especially. What we do in Europe will have a knock-on impact on the north African economies and could destabilise them. That will have massive implications for how we are going to ensure we have a safe and secure world in future. This war is a game changer and we must now change policies we never previously thought we would have to change. However, if we do not change them we could have a scenario where the unthinkable happens and we could have unrest in countries that have been stable for decades, due to a lack of food and energy security.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. It is definitely not an easy time for farmers in Ireland. The war has just highlighted the huge issue that has been there for a long time. We cannot blame the Ukrainian war for our overdependence on a monoculture of dairy or beef and nothing else, because that is what has happened. We have been siloing farmers into one of two options and we see very little food grown. We must distinguish between food for people and feed for cattle. We must also distinguish between food security and feed security because they are also two very different things. We export much beef and dairy and they are not feeding the world; they are actually luxury items.

This war has shown two very important things, namely, that we must become more resilient and self-sufficient as a country to feed the nation and everybody who is forced to come here and that the farming model we have siloed most farmers into, thanks to certain lobby groups and big parties, is not fit for purpose anymore. That is what the Ukrainian war has really highlighted. Farmers have become so reliant on external inputs, as they call them, to the farm and borrowing lots of money to expand exponentially and to bring in things from outside the farm that cost them more. My experience, from many farmers I know locally who are not big dairy or beef farmers, which do not really exist in County Clare, is that the smaller farmer has also been forced to go down that road. There is so much stress for farmers to continue with that model whereby we are so dependent on nitrates, building big slatted houses and borrowing more and more money from the banks. I have seen suicides of good farmers around west Clare due to the financial pressures they were forced into because of the model of farming we have been practising in Ireland for far too long. There is nothing positive about war but it has made us face the reality of how inappropriate that system is. With or without the war we have always said fossil fuels and relying on fossil fuel products was never going to be sustainable in the long term because it is completely out of our control. We see that now and Senator Lombard has highlighted the costs.

I welcome the Minister's work on providing some financial incentives into tillage and the growing of other foodstuffs. I have friends who are organic food growers and seem to be doing quite well. Conventional vegetable and fruit growers seem to be struggling the most in some ways because their costs have gone up much more because they bring in so many other inputs. I also have friends who are organic growers of fruit and they seem to be doing very well. We see that with the organic dairy and beef sectors as well. I have not met an organic dairy or beef farmer who is giving out because they have not got so reliant on outside inputs to the farm.

For Senator Lombard and farmers like him who continue that practice, we cannot regress. We have a climate emergency as well as a fossil fuel, which is needed by all the farmers, emergency. The model does not work. We have been misguiding farmer into this model for years. I used to teach about Fairtrade bananas when I was a civics teacher and the smallest slice of the banana would go to the grower. We now have the same thing with the Irish steak or litre of milk, that is, the smallest amount is going to the farmer. It is not working and the Ukrainian crisis has shown why it is not working. There is too much emphasis on spending money on bringing more inputs into the farm instead of having a closed circle, as many organic farmers manage to do, which brings down their costs. It is time to face the reality and unfortunately we have been forced into that reality. It will also help us deal with many of the issues with water quality, soil erosion, the lack of biodiversity and the increase in the flooding of farmland due to our butchering of all the stuff that used to hold all the water back, like the roots of the trees or hedges.

We have been going down a very bad road that has not served farmers. Maybe it has served a small percentage of really big farmers who are happy to push a model that only suits certain sizes. The war in Ukraine has highlighted how inappropriate this two-sizes-fits-all model is. It is dairy or beef and go big or go bust, yet we cannot feed ourselves. We say we are feeding the world; we are not. We are selling baby milk formula to people who should be encouraged to breastfeed rather than buy formula. That is the reality of what is happening with much of the milk, unfortunately.

We know this for a fact. I know this from being involved in Genetic Concern and Nestlé campaigns. We know for a fact the powdered milk we are selling is unfortunately being pushed into developing countries with poor water quality. The companies know that. They are using poor-quality water to mix formula to get women away from free breastfeeding in order to make money out of it. There are huge issues there and we could talk about them all day. Let us be realistic and have a proper, intelligent debate if we are going to talk about farming in Ireland. It is not just because of the Ukrainian war. We have failed. This model of farming has failed farmers.

They have been advised for years to keep spreading the 10-10-20 and to keep expanding. They are struggling as a result, and that is the problem. It is not necessarily the rise in the cost of fuel; it is the over-dependence on external factors being shoved onto farmers and the practices we have told them to follow for many years.

I hope that something good comes out of this. It is not just about the need to grow more feed for cattle; we need to be growing more food. We import 110,000 tonnes of potatoes from Scotland and England. We cannot even grow our own potatoes. Let us be realistic and talk about food, not just feed. Do people know that you can grow 40 times more food for a person if you plant to feed them directly rather than if you try to grow food to feed dairy cows or beef cattle in order to feed that person? It takes up so much energy because these animals are ruminants. There is a lot to think about here. I am not vegan or a vegetarian, but big dairy and big beef have let everybody down. They are not serving the small farmers, they are not serving our environment or nature and they are not serving people's mental health. They are serving the banks with all the money they are being forced to borrow to go with a system that is not fit for purpose.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I echo what others have said in condemning the completely outrageous actions by Russia. The war on Ukraine has certainly shone a spotlight on food production, not just in this country but also internationally. We are only at the tip of the iceberg of this food crisis. I am aware that officials are insisting that food available availability is not at stake in the EU, but they are conceding that food affordability for low-income households is. We are facing a situation where there will be enough food, but not everyone will be able to afford to eat. This is within the EU. When we look at the global south, food availability will become a much bigger issue.

As others have stated, fertiliser price increases of up to 228% are happening in tandem with unsustainable increases in feed and energy prices. The completely unsustainable costs for farmers who are operating in a distorted market where the dominance of retailers and processors mean that primary producers are not getting a fair price at the best of times. While it seems apparent from the European Union Commission that market supports will be made available, including the possibility of the use of the €500 million European Union crisis reserve fund - I am aware that the Government has announced a scheme for the pig sector - this will only amount to a few days feed for those farmers.

Against the backdrop of the war, one thing is very clear: our agriculture and food systems are very exposed to shocks such as the price of gas and the increasing cost of fertilisers and animal feed. Our food system is broken. This is not a new phenomenon; it is something that agrarian movements have been raising for years.

As Senator Garvey indicated, organic farming is one of the ways that we can absolutely reduce our vulnerability to spikes in the costs of inputs. Organic farming has been neglected in the context of Government policy. It shows that Ireland is almost bottom of the EU table. Malta is the only country that has less agricultural land dedicated to organic farming than Ireland. Our figure is 2%; I believe that the EU average is 8.5%. There has been a complete lack of ambition for years, particularly during the ten years of Fine Gael in government. There was a point at which one could not even enter the scheme. Even if someone wanted to be an organic farmer, they could not actually access the scheme because it was closed. We now have a target for organic farming of 7.5% by 2030, but this will not even bring us to up to the EU average. Meanwhile, we see the EU storming ahead in setting a target of 25% by 2030.

We are always hearing the narrative that Irish agriculture thrives on a sustainable and green reputation. The truth is that this is not true. There is a complete lack of support for truly green and sustainable agriculture that is organic. It undermines our reputation and it also does nothing to support farmers who want to go into organic. One of the proposals from my colleague, Deputy Carthy, is for an additional €15 million for organics in 2022. There is a reason other countries are storming ahead when it comes to organics. As we did with the dairy industry when we created a market and incentivised farmers to go down that road, Denmark did exactly the same with organics. The authorities there promised farmers a market. If farmers there go into organics, they will have a market. The authorities in Denmark did this by ensuring that any supermarkets over a certain square footage in size were mandated by law to stock Danish organic products. We could do exactly the same here if we had the same ambition when it comes to organics. Teagasc and An Bord Bia should be resourced with ring-fenced funding to promote organics and create a market for them. The Government knows it can do it because it was done with powdered milk and the dairy industry. Make the market for organic products.

I also want to raise issues relating to global considerations and sustainable agriculture and systems. Before the war in Ukraine broke out, we were already facing the unprecedented challenge of pursuing human development and ensuring the right to adequate food for everyone on the planet. We waste 30% of our food. We have a distribution problem, not a food shortage problem. We need to find a way to feed 9 billion people by 2050 in ways that do not break essential ecological and planetary boundaries, while also tackling poverty and extreme inequality. We must rise to those challenges with restricted deliveries of important foods like wheat and agriculture-related commodities such as fertiliser. More than enough food is produced but 811 million people go hungry. Since 2015 that number has been on the rise. Covid-19 aggravated it and now the war in Ukraine is going to make it even worse. I have raised previously with the Minister one of the measures that Trócaire has been calling for, namely, that there should be greater support for an enabling environment for sustainable food systems through its agricultural investments and that sectoral investments should be directed at the sustainable approaches that an increasing scientific and practitioner evidence base is pointing decision makers towards. The policy recommendations - endorsed by Ireland - in Agroecological and other innovative approaches for sustainable agriculture and food systems that enhance food security and nutrition - which is the long title - recommends that governments redirect their policies, budgets and investments towards those agroecological approaches. I call on the Government to follow through on its endorsement of the recommendations in that report and make sure that the necessary resources are put in place to allow us to pursue an agroecological future and address the food production crisis we have. The war in Ukraine has brought this matter into focus, but it has been there for a very long time. The way we produce food is unsustainable.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. A number of points were made by colleagues that I would certainly agree with. I agree with Senator Lombard about the implications for global food security. We are seeing rising grain prices on international markets, particularly in Turkey and the Middle East. I have concerns that half of the wheat used in Lebanon is imported from Ukraine, 22% of that used Yemen is imported from Ukraine, 43% of the wheat used in Libya comes from Ukraine and Egypt gets 14% of its wheat from Ukraine. Much of what became the Arab spring was originally driven by an increase in food prices. The challenge around global food security is significant in this volatile part of the world. I would hope that at European Union level this issue is being discussed and that we are preparing to deal with it. We are already facing a very significant refugee crisis with regard to Ukraine, but if we end up seeing similar problems in the Middle East and North Africa that arise from food scarcity or food shortages, that will again fall on Europe's doorstep. I am hoping that preparations are being made at an EU level to address that.

I also agree with comments that colleagues made about the fertiliser sector. It has been very clear for a long time that there is a lack of competition in the fertiliser sector. There is evidence that price gouging is going on. I am aware that the US Department of Agriculture has now invited public comment on anti-competitive market practices in the fertiliser sector. Now really is the time that the EU takes this on. We have known for a long time that there is not sufficient competition. There is an oligopoly within that sector. I do not believe that the latter has been taken on sufficiently at EU level. It should have been dealt with previously, but, very clearly, it needs to be addressed now.

I welcome the fact that the Minister has engaged closely with the farming organisations. We know this is not simply a case of being able to transform the face of farming and food production in Ireland overnight. He will be well aware, as colleagues have said, of some of the challenges the tillage sector has been facing. I am certain that the farm organisations are more than willing to step up to the plate with the necessary supports and levels of engagement to ensure they too will play their part, in the short-term, in ensuring that we have sufficient levels of food and in addressing issues around food security in the long term as well. This crisis is a humanitarian one but it has also brought to the fore those issues of food and energy security that this country has not dealt with realistically. This crisis is forcing us to deal with that now.

I have mentioned commercial flour production to the Minister previously. We continue to import more than 80% of our flour into this country. Those of us who served on the Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union will be aware that there was an issue around rules of origin. The wheat that was coming in through Canada and milled in the UK was hit because of the rules of origin and that led to price increases. An average individual consumes 54 kg of bread and bread products every year and, therefore, we are quite significant consumers of bread and bread products. It makes sense, therefore, that we look to ensure we can commercially mill flour in this country. There are a number of mills that do it. Some of them carry out specialised flour production but there is no commercial mill production in place. More than 80% of the flour we import is coming through the UK and the events in Ukraine and Russia, even though we do not import a lot from those countries, will have an impact on the global markets. We need to take this seriously. The Kavanagh brothers have planning permission for a commercial flour mill in County Wexford and they are keen to go ahead with that. They say they have received limited support from Enterprise Ireland to date. I appreciate that the Minister cannot necessarily be seen to support one particular project but in the interests of our food security, particularly in respect of bread and bread products, we need to ensure we have a reliable supply of commercial flour. In addition to talking to the farm organisations about the production of grain and so on, I ask the Minister to also engage with the bakers and those involved in the use of flour on how we can ensure we can commercially produce flour on the island of Ireland and be guaranteed that we have that supply going into the future.

There are a series of big challenges ahead and we have to act in concert with our European partners on all of this. I know the Minister is doing that and I know he is also working closely with the farm organisations. He has our full support in that.

I welcome the Minister to the Chamber to discuss this important area. Hindsight is wonderful and this time last year no one predicted a war in Ukraine and the situation we are in. It has happened, despite the best intentions of the vast majority of decent people across the world. As a result there has been an impact on lives and livelihoods and mass migration from Ukraine. The impact this has had on families across the region is foremost in our minds. We are also mindful of the impact of this on individual countries that are suffering and have concerns about food security because of the war.

Food security was to the forefront of the CAP and it was almost a case that in recent times it was no longer an issue. It is not an issue until it is and now it is an issue because of the war in Ukraine. Two countries at the heart of that war were the major producers of wheat and other crops as well as being major producers of fertiliser. We can talk, as other have done, about the path we have been on but we are a net exporter of food. Food is important for employment and for net exports from this country, which is hugely important to our GDP. We take pride in producing, predominantly, high-quality beef as well as milk exports in the form of cheese and baby formula. We cannot judge the rest of the world on breastfeeding as it is a personal issue for many women. We should not lecture other countries on choosing to use baby formula.

They are not choosing.

I commend the Minister and the Department on the tillage schemes that have been put in place. I also commend them on the €12.2 million package to attract farmers to grow more grains this year to mitigate the events in Ukraine and their impact on important inputs for our milk, beef, poultry and pig sectors. The supports that have been put in place will make a difference and all we can hope and pray for is that we have decent weather during the harvest, as well as for a decent summer with neither drought or flood. I also acknowledge the setting up and establishment of the national food and fodder security committee and the expertise of Teagasc and the Department to consider initiatives that can impact quickly on the problems there are this year.

The increases in the cost of fertiliser are having a significant impact on farmers as is the price of fuel. While there was a small change in agricultural duty in the recent announcements it is a real concern to farmers. Many farmers will make decisions not to buy extra cattle for the summer grazing period and not to keep as many cattle next winter. The impact may already be evident in the marts and it will be seen in the weanling trade next autumn. We need to consider initiatives for a temporary period such as supports to cull a certain number of dairy and suckler cows that are aged over seven or eight to try to reduce the volume of breeding stock for a short period. We can also accept that, while pig and poultry farmers are struggling due to the high import costs, the slurry from their farms could be worth a lot this year. Any supports that can be put in place to encourage the use of pig and poultry slurry on neighbouring dairy farms or elsewhere would assist with fertiliser costs.

Other Members have commented on livestock but livestock are needed in uplands such as the Burren to protect the ecosystems we have. Livestock produce organic manures, which are hugely important for the production of food. We cannot be entirely down on the system that has developed in this country over a long number of years. It is a system of high-quality food that is grown to the best standards in the world. It is traceable and it supports rural communities up and down the country. Some of those farmers are part time while others are full time but we need to keep generational farmers on the land. It is an industry we can be proud of and one we need to protect and support going forward.

I am sharing time with my colleagues. The Minister is welcome to the House to discuss this very important issue. Several months ago, I highlighted the rising cost of fertiliser. Unfortunately, in the intervening period, not only has the cost of fertiliser rocketed and its availability become such a challenge but energy costs have also soared across the board, so much so that we have a crisis on our hands in the farming sector. Farmers, as the Minister will well know, are used to difficult times, but their current circumstances are totally unprecedented.

A poll published in the Irish Farmers' Journal at the weekend showed that one third of farmers have yet to purchase any fertiliser this year, while a further 70% said they would cut back on its use. Given the prices being quoted, at up to €1,200 per tonne of urea, it is easy to understand why that is the case. I recently spoke to many farmers from different sectors of the farming community who have never experienced a time like this. Pig farmers will today protest outside the Minister's offices in the city centre to highlight their circumstances. I compliment him on intending to meet a delegation of those farmers later.

I also compliment the Minister on his sensitivity and on his understanding of the situation in which the farming community finds itself. He outlined the measures he has taken and the various working groups and committees he has set up, all of which are vital. Teagasc has an important role to play in advising farmers on what they can and should do during this period. I spoke to an agricultural contractor at the weekend who referred to rising fuel prices. He fears that much of his plant will not leave the yard this year because farmers simply cannot afford the prices he would have to charge them. Like the pig farmers in town today, many farmers do not want handouts; all they want is a helping hand to guide them through this very difficult time. I have no doubt they will bounce back and respond, but the fact people are cutting down on fertiliser will have a knock-on effect further down the line because crops will not yield the same volume due to that lack of coverage.

Farmers need help. I have never seen matters as dire as they are at the moment. I sincerely hope, and have every confidence, the Minister will rise to this challenge and ensure farmers can overcome these difficult circumstances in which they find themselves.

Like many other Senators, I welcome the Minister. I greatly admire his approach of meeting farmers and speaking with them, which is vital. For many years, we got it wrong and we spoke down to farmers. In that context, the Minister's approach is very important. I met about a dozen farmers for a chat a few evenings ago in a park near Ballinasloe in south County Roscommon. They are all suckler-to-beef farmers, with 60 or 70 acres, some good land and some bad. They rely on farm payments. Every one of the 14 people I met gave me one clear message, namely, that they want to help out. Some of them spoke about when their fathers before them grew small volumes of grain. One issue that irritates them a great deal relates to the argument - I have noticed this myself - that we cannot grow grain because nobody will mill it. I assure the House that if farmers start growing grain, there will be people to mill it because Irish people will rally to the cause and do what is necessary. As has been reiterated numerous times during this debate, the war has taught us the value of self-sufficiency. I have spoken to the Minister throughout my time in politics about the horrendous levels of importation of vegetables and fruit, some of which, of course, we cannot grow in this country. I read recently that we import almost €80 million worth of apples. We have perhaps the greatest climate in the world. Our Bramley apples are known throughout the world and are far nicer than any other apples. There are many things that can be done.

I, too, acknowledge the way the Minister has accepted that pig producers are in a lot of bother. They have proposed a very good deal and they are not seeking a handout, as another Senator said. Rather, they are looking for a helping hand and we need to pay back some of that money. We should remember that through the years, when pig producers have got into bother, they have really come together, got themselves out of bother and traded well again. I appreciate that this is a focus of the Minister's at the moment and that he will do his best for them.

We have to grow more grain. We cannot rely on places such as Russia and Ukraine. I would love even to see beet production brought back. That might not happen, or perhaps under the new CAP we will look at it differently from a European perspective. The will is there. People see this now as a crisis and they will produce food. We can produce even more good food for other parts of the world.

I welcome the Minister. He is here to speak about the impacts on farming arising from the war in Ukraine. We have heard today and for recent weeks about millions in Ukraine starving, desperate for food and in dire straits. They are starving in a country that is, as has been mentioned, the bread basket of Europe. President Zelenskyy is asking those farmers to stay in the country and farm. Farmers are trying to continue, in some cases in conflict areas, and are putting their lives at risk. The average farm size in Ukraine is thousands of acres and exports have been banned because the country needs to feed its own population, so farmers cannot export grain. Russia is now trying to take over the ports, which will mean there will be no possibility of export. On Euronews, a Ukrainian farmer, Serhiy Vakhnyuk, talked about how life goes on. Calves are being born and farmers and vets have been given an exemption by President Zelenskyy. He spoke about how the soldiers have their battles and how farmers have their own battles to keep people fed.

Ireland earlier expelled Russian diplomats - three other European countries have done the same - and made a clear statement, as did the Minister, that it was because they had breached international standards of diplomatic behaviour under the Vienna Convention.

For farming in Ireland, too, we have to battle. We have to battle for commodities that are now at prices that were way beyond anyone's conception prior to the war. It is beyond control. Farmers are having to focus on having enough feed for their cattle and fertiliser for their land to ensure they will be able to survive and we can look after animal welfare in the months ahead. The Minister stated that Teagasc had carried out a survey in which tillage and dairy farmers had secured their fertiliser requirements for the moment, while drystock farmers, many of whom plan on spreading less fertiliser, are finding it difficult to secure their fertiliser requirements. He went on to state that whatever farmers plan to breed, they must plan to feed. Given everything that has happened through Covid, the lockdown and a war, when we do not know what will happen in the weeks ahead, how on earth will farmers be able to plan for five or six months when they do not know what the price of fertiliser or feed will be? We are trying to give warnings to say this situation is volatile. It is clear, even from the Minister's contribution, that certain sections of the industry are finding it difficult. I welcome the investment he announced regarding the €12 million for tillage farmers. We are all broadly from the same part of the world, but how many limestone areas are there in the west?

It is said that small parts of farms can be dedicated to this but how much fertiliser is going to be needed in some of those areas to be able to bring tillage on? These are some of my main concerns.

I appreciate there is a rapid response unit within the Department and the Minister has been very focused in convening the national food and fodder security committee. Teagasc has been looking at nutrient-rich areas and will be issuing guidance and advice to farmers.

How will farming families be supported in the months ahead? Farmers are under enormous stress and there are huge levels of anxiety among the farming community. I would like to see the Department engaging with Macra na Feirme on the ground, as well as with Teagasc and farm advisers.

This is not an easy time and the Minister has a very difficult task in the months ahead. We will support him in that. As Senator Murphy said, his visits to the west and all around the country were very welcome. I also wish to acknowledge the work of the officials in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. They held a meeting in Ballinasloe recently, part of which I was able to attend and it was very important that they met people on the ground. As the Minister has said, we have to plan ahead. The CAP was originally designed to ensure food security for our nation. Perhaps the Department's regional meetings could happen again in six or eight months' time, when we will have a better understanding of the situation. In some cases, the regional meetings are not due to take place again until early next year.

I thank the Minister for his time. The situation is extremely difficult and we all have to work together. Farmers are trying to plan for first, second and third cuts, not knowing what fertiliser they will be able to get or whether they will have silage for the winter. We have faced fodder crises in this country previously and farmers from different parts of the country delivered what they could to those who were short. They gave to others when there were shortages of feed and fodder. There must be a whole-of-government approach to this and a whole-of-country response to support farmers in different parts of the country. I hope that will be part of our plans, going forward.

I will now call on the last speaker, Senator Maria Byrne. The Minister must be given ten minutes to reply to the debate and we must conclude by 7 p.m. Senator Byrne has six minutes but if she could conclude within five minutes, that would be great.

I thank the Minister for coming here to discuss this all-important issue. I welcome the fact that the Department is providing €400 per ha to encourage Irish farmers to grow more cereals to offset the loss of Ukrainian and Russian grains. The aim is to increase the amount of tilled land by 25,000 ha. While I know farmers will be going out to sow the crops, my concern is whether we will have enough. So many farmers are dependent on grain to feed their animals. Pig farmers were protesting on the streets today and I thank the Minister for agreeing to meet them this evening. We have been heavily reliant for so long on imported grain and animal feed. Members of the Irish Grain & Feed Association are working hard to find and import grain and I urge the Government to support them in their endeavours. It is a very worrying time for them. The tillage scheme will significantly improve our capacity to grow grain. Ireland imports two thirds of its grain annually, which is quite a high proportion. In that context, I welcome the fact that the Minister is encouraging Irish farmers to grow their own.

As one can see from the complaints, farmers are really concerned about sky-rocketing input costs, particularly fuel and fertiliser prices, both of which have been heavily affected by the war in Ukraine. I condemn what is going on over there. It is so sad for the people in Ukraine. The scenes on our television screens every night are terrible. The war is having an impact all over the world.

I suggest farmers need cuts in excise duties and carbon taxes. It is critical that sufficient agricultural diesel supplies are available during the key spring and summer months when planting and harvesting takes place. Rather than receiving one blanket payment, farmers are asking that certain taxes and duties be cut and that diesel supplies be set aside for them. I would also like to see that happening. The Government should look at a temporary break in taxes and duties on vital inputs including fertiliser, green diesel and grain.

Irish dairy and beef farmers are being urged to start growing crops. We have all been inundated with emails about the provision of peat. The Minister is well aware of the issues in that regard. It is crucially important that farmers have sufficient peat but the costs have increased significantly. Senator Lombard drew our attention earlier to the cost increases in recent months and I support his call in that regard. The horticultural sector, including nurseries and garden centres, is also heavily reliant on the provision of peat. It is an issue that I would like the Minister to consider in the course of his deliberations.

I thank the Minister for all of his work and support his ongoing consultation with farmers. They are on their knees and need all the support that the Government can give them.

I thank the Senator and now call on the Minister to reply to the debate.

I thank all Senators for their comments and contributions to what was a very constructive debate. We are all very aware of the challenging situation we are currently facing but I assure the House that my Government colleagues and I are sparing no effort to lessen the negative impacts of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It is not possible or desirable for the Government to respond to every unfavourable price move on global markets as the country does not have the resources to do so, especially given our current underlying levels of debt. Furthermore, history teaches us that chasing inflationary pressures with ever more Government spending would, in fact, be counterproductive. While the Government is responding, and will continue to respond, we have to be clear that it is not possible to cushion citizens and businesses from the full economic impact of the war in Ukraine and many of the factors driving up costs are outside our control. Inflation is rising around the world with year-on-year inflation rates in the OECD at 7.2% in January and at 6.5% in the G20 area. This compares to 5.6% here in Ireland in February.

A large portion of the animal feed used on Irish farms is imported and about 30% of world wheat and maize exports originate in Russia and Ukraine. In the past year, the price of key ingredients used to manufacture animal feed has doubled, as a number of Senators mentioned. All of the chemical fertiliser used on Irish farms is imported and over 20% of that originates in Russia. The cost of fertiliser for farmers has more than doubled this year compared to last year. The combined impacts of these changes, especially the uncertainty around fertiliser price and availability, will affect fodder supply in the coming winter and next spring and could, in turn, potentially lead to animal welfare and food production issues if we do not act collaboratively to address it.

We have introduced a number of measures in recent weeks to reduce the impact of the international crises on the agrifood sector. Given the seriousness and urgency of the situation, I have put in place a rapid response team in my Department, chaired by the Secretary General, to actively monitor the impacts on agrifood supply chains, to design appropriate responses and mitigation measures and to contribute to the whole-of-government response to this crisis. I have also established the national fodder and food security committee to examine how best to advise the sector to manage the disruptions. I am grateful for the contribution of all stakeholders and representatives working together on that committee.

Last week, I announced a targeted intervention package for the tillage sector worth over €12 million with the aim of supporting the growing of additional tillage and protein crops and the establishment of multispecies swards. This package is aimed at producing more native crops and crops with a low demand for chemical fertiliser, which is limited in supply as a result of the invasion, while also reducing our dependency on imports.

These targeted measures will help build resilience against the expected impact of what is happening in Ukraine. This three-pronged approach will contribute towards the expected deficit in tillage and protein crops. It will also assist farmers to deal with the challenges related to both the availability and price of animal feed and fertilisers.

The tillage incentive scheme will incentivise farmers to grow additional crops such as barley, oats and wheat this year. For an area of crops to be eligible, farmers must grow more tillage than they did last year. In addition, the land must not have been tilled for grain in 2021. The scheme is targeted at increasing the overall tillage area and making a real impact on increasing our supply. A payment of €400 per hectare is proposed.

The support for protein crops, which have been a success story in recent years, will encourage farmers to grow more protein crops and build on what we have achieved so far in areas being planted for peas, beans, lupins and combi-crops. Some €3 million is already provided under the protein aid scheme and a further €1.2 million will be provided. There is an appetite among farmers to grow more protein crops but under the current structure, the number of crops grown is divided by the amount available so the more farmers grow, the more that amount drops. I wanted to provide certainty and I did not want any disincentive for farmers to do what we want them to do this year. We have put a floor on that scheme, guaranteeing a payment of €300 per hectare for all protein crops and €150 per hectare for combi-crops. We are providing this guaranteed payment rate to encourage farmers to grow those crops and give them certainty around that.

The multispecies sward scheme, including support for red clover, is aimed at reducing nitrogen fertiliser while maintaining forage yields. Multispecies swards have been proven to reduce our dependency on chemical fertiliser while maintaining forage output. I am very confident there will be strong farmer interest in this initiative. I see lots of potential to progress this in the years ahead but we have to step that up as much as we can this year, given the backdrop. I am particularly pleased with the co-operation received from our independent agri-retailers and co-operatives, which will play a vital role in the operation of this measure. It will support the establishment of approximately 12,000 ha of multispecies swards and approximately 4,000 ha of red clover silage mix.

The total package is projected to cost in the region of €12.2 million, with €10 million for the tillage incentive scheme, €1.2 million to guarantee the payment of €300 per hectare of protein crops and an additional €1 million for the multispecies sward scheme. I take this opportunity to remind farmers to declare the relevant crops on their 2022 basic payment scheme, BPS, applications. If farmers have submitted their BPS application for this year and they now want to take on additional land, they can log back in to agfood.ie to make any amendments, but they must make sure they do so before the deadline of 16 May 2022.

On the EU response, the European Commission announced on 23 March, via the communication, "Safeguarding food security and reinforcing the resilience of food systems", a range of actions to enhance global food security and support farmers and consumers across the EU in light of rising food prices and input costs. The communication sets out actions in three areas. First, it presents immediate actions to safeguard food security in Ukraine and around the world. Second, it addresses the challenge of food stability in the EU's food system, with a range of measures to support our farmers and maintain affordability for our citizens. Third, it confirms the EU agenda to make our food system sustainable and resilient in the years to come. The package includes an allocation of €15.8 million in exceptional aid for Ireland, which can be topped up by national funding. We are examining how to best mobilise this support as soon as possible, taking account of the detailed requirements and conditionality attached to this exceptional aid provision. The EU package also includes a new temporary crisis framework for state aid and plans to deploy market safety net measures to support specific markets, including private storage aid for pigmeat.

Pig farmers were experiencing a significant cost-price squeeze before this war crisis and very significant losses are likely to be incurred by the Irish pig sector over the next period. Indeed, they already have been. Feed price and availability is critical to the welfare of pigs on farm. Earlier this month, I announced an emergency aid scheme for commercial pig farmers of €7 million, which opened for applications on 7 March. The maximum payment under this scheme is €20,000 per undertaking, which is in line with de minimis state aid requirements. The first payments to pig farmers under this scheme were issued last week and are arriving in bank accounts this week. This is an urgent, short-term response to assist producers that would be viable but for the extreme current and urgent circumstances we are facing. It will allow space for a more medium-term adjustment to market signals. This scheme is augmented by intensified efforts by Bord Bia to promote quality-assured Irish pigmeat in the domestic and export markets, with dedicated media advertising campaigns under way nationally, as well as EU-funded pigmeat promotion programmes in key export markets. Teagasc has also intensified the dedicated, ongoing advisory supports it provides to pig farmers and is actively engaging with farmers to explore the options and supports available to them.

My Department is in ongoing contact with the main banks and the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland regarding the current situation. The advice remains that pig farmers should engage with their banks, and they have been doing so. We know from the protests today the particular pressures farmers are under. I met yesterday with the Irish Strategic Investment Fund on the possibility of developing a suitable instrument to manage market volatility, which is particularly acute for pig farmers at the moment.

I emphasise to pig farmers that help is available to them. Animal welfare, and, indeed, human welfare, issues can arise quickly when people are under pressure. Where farmers are feeling that pressure and anticipate animal welfare issues, I encourage them to seek husbandry and veterinary advice on the development of an action plan to manage and avoid this risk. If a farmer is coming under pressure they should make contact with my Department's dedicated animal welfare helpline. All contact details are available on my Department’s website. Teagasc is engaged in supporting pig farmers at the moment as well. I met with the farmers outside the Department earlier today and will meet them again this evening. It is important that we bring clarity to them so they can plan for the time ahead. I am very conscious of that and will seek to bring that clarity as soon as possible.

On 22 March, the Government approved the general scheme of the agricultural and food supply chain Bill 2022, which will provide for a new office called the office for fairness and transparency in the agrifood supply chain. The events of recent weeks have reminded us all of the fragility of the agrifood supply chain, and it is now more important than ever to ensure that there is an independent voice to promote and, indeed, enforce the principles of fairness and transparency in that chain. This new office will bring greater transparency all along the agricultural and food supply chain. It will do this by performing a price and market analysis and reporting function, publishing reports on price and market information on all sectors in the chain. It will engage with retailers, processors, wholesalers, farmers, fishers and others on matters affecting fairness and transparency in the chain.

I and my Government colleagues are acutely aware of the short-term challenges arising for farming households and businesses, and we have taken steps across the board at Government level to help address these. These include the increase in the living alone allowance, the package of electricity cost measures and the package for supporting fuel costs. As Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, I am conscious of the real challenges for agriculture, farming and fishing at the moment. We have taken a number of steps to try to address these to support farmers through the time ahead and back family farms. We will continue to do that and will continue to assess the situation. It is important that we work together because this is a challenge like we have not seen previously. There is war on European soil for the first time in two generations. That is the reality facing us and that changes things. We have seen that already. We are all feeling it in our daily lives. Farmers and food producers are feeling it too, and we will all feel it and encounter these challenges over the remainder of the year. It is important that we plan ahead and work together. It is important that the Government, and I as Minister, back family farms and fishers. We will do that. We have been doing that and will continue to do so. It will be more challenging than ever to produce food but it is more important than ever that we continue to do it. That is why I have acted by putting together the fodder and food security committee, as well as the support packages. The key message to farmers is to consider the situation. They should have a 14-month horizon, looking from now up until the end of next April. They must plan ahead and plan their breeding and their feeding. It is important that this happens within each farm.

We are moving into the grass growing season now. Come next autumn and winter, we will have what we will have. We will not have the usual safeguards to be able to import extra. We will not have the usual safeguards if we are short of fodder and of importing extra grain to be able to produce fodder. As Minister, I will not be able to grow more grass at that stage, I may well not be able to do anything and may well have big challenges in the supply chain. It is important now to plan in order that we are secure up until next April. We must look at that horizon and work together in doing so. That is what we are all working on. I will continue to back family farmers and fishers on that challenge and ensure that we continue to play the really important role of producing food domestically and for countries and citizens throughout the world at this very challenging time.

I thank the Minister. That concludes statements. The Minister is staying for the next business, which is Animal Health and Welfare and Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021. Senator Dolan will chair this.

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