Vote 30 - Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Revised)

I welcome the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, again after a short absence. This meeting is being held much later than normal. It is usually held in the spring but there was an election and the committees were not reconvened. The secretariat told me the meeting had to be held before the end of the month. I thank the members for facilitating me in having it today. I remind members to ensure that, for the duration of the meeting, their mobile phones are turned off completely or put in airplane, safe or flight mode, depending on the device. It is not sufficient for members to put their phones in silent mode as this will interfere with the broadcasting system.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

This meeting has been convened to consider the Revised Estimate for Vote 30, Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which was referred by the Dáil to the committee on 30 September. I welcome the Minister and his officials. As members are well aware, the agriculture, food and the marine sectors are experiencing very challenging times, not least because of the impact of Covid-19 and the anticipated impacts of Brexit and climate action. Today, the committee has the opportunity to scrutinise the level of funding allocated for 2020. While it is acknowledged that more than nine months of 2020 have elapsed, this is a valuable opportunity to engage with the Minister.

The proposed format of today's meeting is that we deal with Vote 30 on a programme-by-programme basis. At the outset, the Minister will make an opening statement. There are four programmes and we will consider each separately, taking questions from members. Members will be called upon on a first-come, first-served basis. Briefing material on the Revised Estimates has been circulated by the committee secretariat.

I invite the Minister to make his opening statement.

I am glad to have this valuable opportunity to outline to members today, on behalf of the Department, the current challenges and opportunities across the various sectors in agriculture, food development, the marine and forestry. This year, 2020, has been a particularly testing one for the entire sector as it has been dealing with the ongoing challenges associated with Brexit in addition to the new challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

My immediate priority is to continue preparing for Brexit and ensuring we have contingency plans in place to support the sector to prepare for whatever may come. It is critical that we put measures in place to protect vulnerable farm incomes, support sustainable farming and jobs in rural and coastal communities and assist the sector to meet the challenges of Brexit. Since March, we have had to deal with the massive disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The 2020 Revised Estimate contain additional measures for the agrifood sector to help to address many of the problems. It is also my priority to maintain a strong focus on climate action and environmental sustainability to enable the sector to thrive in the future.

As the Chairman recognised, this year is unusual in that I am here today presenting the 2020 Revised Estimates two days after the announcement of the budget for 2021. This time last year, the 2020 budget was framed to preserve the strong financial supports that assist our agrifood sector. It will also prepare for the possible shock to the sector resulting from a potential no-deal Brexit.

For 2020, the total Exchequer contribution to the Vote of my Department amounts to €1.76 billion. That is comprised of €1.424 billion in current expenditure and €336 million in capital expenditure, including a carry-over of €19.8 million in capital from 2019. This figure represents a gross increase of approximately 5%, or €83 million, on the 2019 allocation. When appropriations-in-aid are considered, the 2020 net Vote is estimated at €1.4 billion. Regarding our 2019 performance, total expenditure was €1.635 billion. Current expenditure was 99% of the allocation, reflecting a very strong delivery of crucial supports to the agrifood sector.

The Vote is subdivided into four expenditure programmes, corresponding to the four key strategic objectives set out in the current statement of strategy. I will now speak about each of these four programmes, that is, A to D, and the key themes.

Programme A deals with food safety, animal and plant health, and animal welfare. The total allocation for programme A in 2020 is €278 million. I have provided increases in this programme to reflect the funding that is required in preparation for Brexit, including the associated development of supporting IT systems and equipment.

The world-class food produced by thousands of Irish farmers, fishermen and agrifood companies throughout the country is to the highest international standards of food safety and quality. Our food safety and traceability systems continue to be recognised as among the very best in the world. Regarding programme expenditure, I am continuing to fund vital services to ensure those standards are maintained. In this regard, I include the meat inspection service and the various supports provided by the Department testing laboratories.

On animal welfare, I have provided €2.5 million for the calf investment scheme. This scheme is a new initiative from my Department providing funding for a range of on-farm investments that will add significant capacity on Irish farms for the rearing of calves and will further enhance the health and welfare credentials of Irish agriculture.

Programme B deals with farm sector supports and controls. A total of just over €924 million is available under the programme for 2020, to be paid almost exclusively to farmers. That is in addition to the €1.22 billion in funding from the European Union in respect of the various direct payment schemes. This support is vital to farmers who deliver public goods and environmental benefits. As well as the inherent environmental benefits involved, this investment enhances our sustainability credentials, which are invaluable as we serve increasingly demanding and knowledgeable customers at home and around the world.

The provision for my Department, notwithstanding Brexit, will focus on the difficulties in the beef sector. Approximately €135 million will be provided in targeted schemes to support sustainable beef farming, representing an increase of 58% on the 2019 allocation. This includes approximately €44.5 million for the beef data and genomics programme, BDGP, and a further €40.8 million for targeted supports. The beef environmental efficiency pilot, BEEP, scheme that was introduced in 2019 has been extended for a further year and will provide practical guidance for the future viability of our suckler herd. It complements the BDGP very well.

Other supports available to the beef sector include the beef finisher payment scheme, provided as part of the Covid stimulus measures. The European Commission recently formally approved the €50 million scheme to support those working in the Irish beef sector who have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The beef finisher payment scheme is a one-off, Exchequer-funded grant aid scheme under the Covid-19 state aid temporary framework.

The scheme will address liquidity shortages for farmers adversely impacted by the Covid crisis between February and mid-June 2020 and is aimed at farmers with finished animals who suffered from both reduced prices and other restrictions in getting the animals to market.

Moving to the sheep sector, €18 million is included for the continuation of the sheep welfare scheme. In addition to the beef and sheep supports, I propose to increase the budget for Bord Bia by more than €1.6 million, with much of the funding to be used to promote the Irish beef and sheep sectors through promotion campaigns on the home market and in some European countries.

The work of my Department is very much in sync with the objectives of the report of the Oireachtas committee on climate action and the whole-of-government approach to ensuring Ireland’s transition to a low carbon economy. In that regard the provision for agri-environment schemes is increased by €7 million. This includes an increase in funding for locally-led schemes in 2020. These local environmental schemes are a highlight of our rural development programme. The Government is supporting farmers and local communities to deliver real environmental gains through schemes such as the hen harrier project, the pearl mussel project and many smaller local schemes. My Department is currently supporting 23 such locally-led programmes around the country. At a time of climate and biodiversity crisis, these schemes are showing real innovation and are focusing on measurable results in terms of climate, biodiversity and water as well as enhancing the viability of farmers involved.

An additional locally-led pilot scheme on the reduced management of farmed peatland was announced recently. This scheme is designed to increase carbon sequestration and contribute to meeting our commitments as part of the Government climate action plan. It will also enhance the protection of biodiversity and water quality and provide a template for action in advance of Ireland's next Common Agricultural Policy.

I am providing almost €93 million in support of the forestry sector in recognition of the vital contribution it can make in mitigating climate change and supplementing farm incomes. The forestry review in 2018 has given rise to adjustments to the programme which has resulted in a much more diverse species mix than previously. In line with our ambitions under the climate change plan, and together with the planting by Coillte in partnership with Bord na Móna, this provision can support over 6,000 ha of new plantings.

In terms of capital expenditure, I have increased the allocation for the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS, to a total of €104 million, including the capital carryover of €19.8 million. This will fund investment in a range of environmental and competitiveness measures, including low emissions slurry spreading, solar panels and slurry storage, as well as support for the horticulture and organics sector. Claims are being submitted on an ongoing basis with more than €55 million paid out already this year. Many farmers recognise the value of upgrading their equipment and improving their facilities and we will continue to match them in their ambition and pragmatism.

On programme C, policy and strategy, many of the programme allocations reflect the comprehensive approach to Brexit responsiveness and how that links with the continuing implementation of the FoodWise 2025 strategy. The total allocation for programme C in 2020 is €379 million.

In regard to the food sector, programme C includes a provision of more than €11.5 million to Teagasc's capital allocation which will permit it to proceed with the development of the food hub in Moorepark. A sum of €8 million is also retained to support innovation in the food sector. While these initiatives foster innovation and product development and are consistent with the direction of FoodWise 2025, they have also been given a greater focus by Brexit. The agrifood sector has been well served over the last 20 years by having a series of ten-year strategies such as FoodWise 2025 to guide its development and we have committed in the programme for Government that this should continue with the preparation of a new strategy to 2030. While the sector faces significant challenges, it also has many opportunities to develop further and prosper. We have a strong international reputation as a supplier of safe, nutritious and sustainably produced food. International consumers seek out our food and beverage products in a very competitive international market. We should be proud of this and work to build and enhance that reputation for the benefit of our farmers, fishers and all other stakeholders within the sector. A committee of sector stakeholders has been working since late last year on this new strategy. Their terms of reference are to outline the vision and key objectives, with associated actions required to ensure the economic, environmental and social sustainability of the agrifood sector in the decade ahead.

The pursuit and development of new markets for Irish agrifood exports is an ongoing and central component of the strategic development of the agrifood sector as set out in the FoodWise 2025 strategy. In recent times, it has gained particular relevance given the need to diversify our markets in the context of Brexit and in response to the circumstances created by the current pandemic. Over the last number of budgets, increased funding has been provided to Bord Bia to strengthen its understanding of consumer priorities and preferences in Ireland and in distant markets, and to communicate those insights to Irish food companies for use in product promotion, development, branding and marketing.

Trade missions play a key role in market and trade advancement. In 2019 and 2020, successful visits have taken place to Turkey, China, Japan, South Korea, Algeria and Egypt among others. Market access for Irish sheep meat to Japan was agreed during the trade mission, as well as confirmation of enhanced beef access to Japan with removal of the 30-month age restriction. Increased market access was advanced and achieved through these visits, some examples being the additional 14 beef plants being approved for export to China and the agreement with Algeria for the export of cattle for slaughter. Last year also saw visits to more traditional markets, including to the Netherlands in November where the former Minister, Deputy Creed, met representatives of the Dutch veal industry, visiting their facilities and receiving reassurances both on animal welfare and capacity issues. The former Minister concluded his 2019 schedule in December in the Netherlands and the UK, meeting key multinational supermarket groups. My Department, supported by Bord Bia, intends to hold virtual trade missions later this year, with Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia being considered. In addition to outward ministerial trade missions, the Department hosted high-level visiting delegations from a wide range of countries in 2019. The Government's focus on, and commitment to, new market development has been illustrated by its appointment of my colleague, Deputy Heydon, as Minister of State with specific responsibility for this task. In addition, my Department's international trade activities are being reorganised and further developed as we deal with the twin challenges of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic. More generally, my Department will continue to seek out and identify new markets, and I am of course ready to respond as appropriate to any opportunities that may arise.

The horse and greyhound racing fund will be retained at €84 million in 2020. An additional €1 million will bring the 2020 allocation for Horse Sport Ireland to €4 million to assist with the strategic development of the sector. The Greyhound Racing Act 2019 was signed into law in 2019. This Act modernises the legislative basis for the industry and provides the board with significantly enhanced powers which aim to enhance animal welfare standards in particular. Although the sector faces many ongoing challenges, it is hoped that the Act will provide a strong foundation from which the industry can develop. Horse Racing Ireland, HRI, continues to promote the thoroughbred equine sector, and the opening of the redeveloped Curragh racecourse in 2019 was a particular highlight. The sector continues to be an important source of employment and economic activity in 2020, in rural areas in particular. I am confident that HRI is preparing the industry for the inevitable challenges that Brexit will bring, and my Department will continue to work with HRI to that end.

Further to the announcement of the expansion of the future growth loan scheme and following the strong uptake by the agrifood sector in 2019, I have made provision for almost €20.4 million in the 2020 Estimate. I am aware that despite the strong uptake there has been some unfulfilled demand. This expansion will meet that demand and together with the evolution of the scheme will also assist in meeting the ongoing challenges faced by the sector in dealing with Brexit, in addition to the new challenges being posed by Covid-19. The unsecured nature of the funding is a crucial support to all parts of the production chain - farmers, fishers, forestry and food and beverage production - but particularly helps young and new entrant farmers, as well as smaller farmers. This scheme will help to facilitate innovation and ensure our enterprise base is sustainable into the future.

Following an appeal from the executive director of the world food programme, WFP, most of Ireland's commitment for 2020, €23 million, was paid by way of an advance in 2019. Ireland also facilitated an early disbursement of the €700,000 balance of its 2020 commitment in May this year following an additional appeal by the WFP in the context of its response to the Covid-19 pandemic. As part of the Government’s response to Covid-19, my Department was allocated an additional €20 million, which was provided to the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland to access finance support schemes.

On programme D, the seafood sector, the provision for the Department’s seafood programme has been increased by over €15 million to a total of €159 million. The provision will help fund vital investment in our fishery harbours, most particularly in Killybegs, Howth and Castletownbere.

As part of the July Covid-19 stimulus package, an additional €5 million was allocated to support the Howth Fishery Harbour Centre middle pier redevelopment project. The budget provision will allow the Marine Institute to progress the construction of a new €25 million modern research vessel. This will provide critical national infrastructure to enable Ireland to address the considerable challenges of Brexit and the Common Fisheries Policy as well as climate-induced impacts on our oceans.

The multi-annual financial framework negotiations were concluded in July 2020. I am pleased to say that Ireland has retained a CAP EU funding package in excess of €10 billion for the 2021-27 period. These funds are an essential support to the farming sector through challenging times. While this funding is not reflected in the Vote for 2020, significant preparations are ongoing in my Department to meet the challenges of a new delivery model for CAP funds.

That is a brief overview of the range of measures that apply in the agrifood and marine sectors for 2020. I believe these funding allocations will assist us in focusing on competitiveness, innovation, new market development and environmental sustainability, while responding to the uncertainty and challenges posed by Brexit and Covid. I look forward to the discussion and questions from committee members.

As I said at the outset - maybe one or two members were not here - we are going to go through it. We will have questions on the four sections. We will take questions on section A first and then on sections B, C and D. We might take some questions together to get through it as efficiently as possible. We will start with section A. Deputy Carthy is first.

My thanks to the Minister for the overview. I will ask a broad question first. Does the Minister see any areas across all programmes where there will be an underspend?

No significant one stands out. Last year, there was a small underspend at the end of the year which allowed for the forward payment to the WFP. This year we will be in a similar position to make a forward payment again. Otherwise, I do not see anything. While there are ups and downs within certain programmes, I do not see anything in particular.

The tuberculosis eradication programme falls under several programmes. I want to deal with it here. There is an increase of 23% attributed to laboratory services. There are increases across several areas. Yet, the number of actual TB tests has more or less remained static while the incidence rate has actually increased slightly. Is it fair to say that any increase in the costs to the Department is directly correlated to the reduction in funding coming from the EU in the form of penalties that have been imposed?

I think there will be several elements, in that the increased incidence in TB has an impact on compensation payments as well. That is a cost on the TB programme. The fact that, unfortunately, our TB rates are going in the wrong direction is something we all need to work on together to address. I held a TB stakeholders forum recently and will be holding further meetings on, and engaging with, the sector.

The EU funding is on a downward trajectory. Certainly, it is a real difficulty if numbers continue to increase. While test numbers will obviously be proportionate to the number of herds in the country, the incidence rate has a direct impact on costs and on what we can draw down from the European schemes.

I have a question on part 2 relating to office and information services. There has been an increase of 16%. It works out at approximately €6.5 million. There is a substantial increase of 103%. It works out at approximately €215 million in consultancy services and value for money and policy reviews. It has been indicated that these are Brexit related. Does the Minister have any information on how exactly these are Brexit related?

We have infrastructure in the ports in particular. Significant work has been carried out around that and with additional staffing allocations to prepare for Brexit as well. Inevitable changes will come at the end of the year, regardless of whether we have a hard Brexit or a good free trade agreement. Based on the fact that Britain will become a third country from the point of view of our imports, there are significant requirements on us. We are very much on the front line as a Department with regard to those checks and we carry out sanitary and phytosanitary checks and staff them. That is a round-the-clock obligation. We have other infrastructure at Dublin Port. This has led to an increase in these costs throughout 2020 and is the primary reason for increasing the Estimate for 2020 as well.

That is all on that section.

I see the number for blood samples on culled cows to retain our brucellosis-free status has significantly reduced from 2019 to this year. Is there a time limit on when that will expire? Are we going to reduce numbers each year? We have had brucellosis-free status for a significant period. I see the number has gone down to 14,000 from 50,000 in 2019, a significant reduction. Will that expire or will it have to be done continuously?

There is a requirement for continuous testing to maintain our brucellosis-free status. There will be ongoing spending around that as a result.

Is there a figure? It has dropped to less than one third of what it was in 2019.

I do not have it to hand.

It is a minute question. I saw it sticking out with the drop from 50,000 to 14,000. The Minister might come back to me with an answer on it.

I thank the Minister and his staff. I have some questions. I am looking at figures. A figure of €1.76 billion was the total budget allocated. Am I correct in saying it is €1.8 billion this year? Is that €40 million of a difference?

Yes, it is €1.82 billion this year. Is Deputy Fitzmaurice talking about the overall budget?

Yes, the overall figure.

It is €1.82 billion this year.

The difference is approximately €60 million. Is that correct?

I will explain where we are at with the Revised Estimate at the moment. Basically, where we are in terms of budget 2021 is 6% up on the existing Revised Estimate based on including funding during the year for Brexit. It also includes a €50 million one-off scheme - the Covid-19 response scheme for beef. Based on the budget day figures last year, it is up 11%.

I am asking about the spend. There was a total Exchequer contribution of €1.76 billion. We are going to €1.8 billion. Is that correct?

Yes, that is correct.

That is lovely. We know from 2016 to 2020 we have an underspend relating to a large amount of forestry because of the situation that developed. We know there is no knowledge transfer from 2019. We know that under the sheep welfare scheme €25 million was allocated and €16 million was laid out.

Where does the money allocated for those schemes go? I refer to tree planting. It is a general question. If those moneys are not spent, do they go back to the Exchequer for the following year?

It is possible to carry over capital from one year to the next for certain allocations. Regarding the current envelope, the current spend is in the year in hand. On the outgoings for 2019, the World Food Programme was paid a year ahead, towards the end of the year. The Department is legally constrained from exceeding the overall Estimate and allocation for a given year. There can be a small amount at the end of the year in current funding. It is important from a departmental point of view that we work to ensure that is kept within the Department where possible. That is why the World Food Programme was forward paid last year. That will be kept under review as we get towards the end of the year this year as well. That option will be available in regard to the residue of current funding.

Is there a departmental figure for what is unspent and goes back to the Exchequer each year?

We are currently on course for a more than 99% spend on current expenditure. We will have to keep that under review as we approach the end of the year. We are working to ensure it is kept within the Department.

Maybe I am getting it wrong, but I find it difficult to understand that because, for example, if a provisional sum is provided to plant 7,500 ha of forestry but only 2,500 ha is planted, the difference of 5,000 ha amounts to a fairly large sum. I do not know how it can come down to 1% in the overall figures.

One can carry over capital. Unlike current funding, one can carry over capital funding. There can be a carryover from forestry this year into next year to ensure funding is available next year.

I missed the previous meeting at which the Minister was present. I congratulate him on his appointment. I welcome him and his officials to the committee. On the TB issue, part of my question was answered. The increase in the incidence of TB is a worrying concern in my part of the country. It is putting significant financial hardship on farmers. Does the Minister envisage there being sufficient moneys for the coming term?

I support the comments made by the Deputy. There was a widely publicised letter to all herd owners. As the Minister stated, TB figures are rising. We need to have a serious discussion about how the issue of TB will be handled going forward. There must be a recognition of the significant financial hardship it is putting on herd owners.

I have several examples, particularly over the past two or three years, of young farmers who inherited a farm from their parents and put significant investment into the farm, but, all of a sudden, were locked up for months. When doing their financial planning for the years ahead, some of them had not taken into account that the herd might go down with TB. All of a sudden, they cannot sell animals and there is a lock on their farms. This is an area I would love to see the Minister, along with his officials, doing something to leave his mark on the Department. All farm organisations would very much support something being done because it is a significant issue that is putting financial hardship and pressure on people.

How much is being spent on badger vaccination? Are deer being tested for TB?

On the issue raised by Deputy Kehoe, the spend has been going up. Obviously, the test numbers have been increasing. There was an increased allocation this year. The budget that was just announced allocated another €6 million to support the demand that has unfortunately resulted from the increased positivity rate. To touch on the point raised by the Chairman and the Deputy, there is a significant job of work to be done to try to address the increasing positivity rate. If one looks at the rate a couple of years ago compared with the rate now, the increase represents just under nine herds more going down each week compared with two or three years ago. That is a massive hardship for each of the farms on which animals have tested positive. It is something that we must work very closely with farms to try to improve and address in terms of working within the eradication programme. Farmers have a significant role to play in that regard. That is why I will use the TB stakeholder forum as a key vehicle to try to address this issue. As a former member of this committee, I know it has had significant engagement with experts on the issue, held hearings and communicated a report on it. That highlighted the issue and was very positive in examining it. I welcome the engagement, support and advice of the committee in this regard. We all have a significant job of work to do to redress the situation.

Does farm safety come under programme A or another programme? I note the reference to inspections. It refers to plant and health. Does that relate to factories or on-farm inspections?

Farm safety is------

It is a matter for the Health and Safety Authority, HSA.

Yes. Farm safety is built in across various programmes. There is no specific budget line for it, but this year €1 million has been allocated specifically towards this area.

I very much welcome that we now have a Minister of State who has responsibility for farm safety. That is long overdue. These are not questions for the Minister of State, Deputy Heydon. It is an area about which I feel strongly. There are far too many farm deaths. A Minister with responsibility for the area must be able to provide financial reward as well as helping to educate farmers. It is necessary to reach out far beyond farms to agricultural colleges, technical schools and people who come from farming backgrounds. We must open our minds to ways and means of educating people on farm safety. The number of farm deaths is frightful. This is an area in which I have a genuine interest. A significant number of these deaths could have been avoided. Going forward, there must be further financial back-up of the work being done by the Minister of State to help the organisations. Some brilliant people are advocating on farm safety.

The Deputy's point is well made. The Minister of State has given a lot of thought to this issue. It is very welcome that a Minister has specific responsibility for farm safety. None of those present would have to travel across too many fields to reach a farm where there has been very serious loss or injury as a result of on-farm accidents. Farming is the most dangerous profession by a long shot. We have had a couple of bad years in that regard. From a Government point of view, and specifically with the leadership of the Minister of State, much can be done on this issue. His appointment and leadership will be important in that regard. On the budget, he made a specific announcement regarding funding for 50,000 farm safety training places in the year ahead.

This will be very important. The Minister of State feels strongly about the importance of peer advice, farmer to farmer, and of working in partnership with farmers to identify dangers and remedy them. It will be a great priority in the year ahead.

I have two brief questions in respect of programme A. With regard to the tuberculosis, TB, eradication programme, under what expenditure line would one find the infamous letters that were sent out? From where were they funded? How much did they cost? Does the Minister have a figure? There was a lot of work involved in assessing and compiling the information and in distributing the letters. Considering that so many of those letters ended up in bonfires outside Department offices around the country, does the Minister accept that there may have been a better way to spend that money with respect to the eradication of TB and the provision of information or the promotion of efforts that needed to be made?

It certainly comes under this heading although I do not have a breakdown of the cost of that particular communication. It is obviously an issue which led to a lot of debate and opposition among a number of farmers. As Minister, I ensured the matter was discussed by the TB stakeholders' forum. Significant work had been done within this forum previously. It has published an interim report which sought to put forward measures to address the rising number of incidences of TB across the country. Information and advice for farmers will be important in the future but it is key that everything we do is done in partnership with farmers and aimed at producing results. Likewise, as I said to the Chairperson earlier, I am very open to any ideas or advice the committee has as to how to address this issue. As I said when I was last before the committee, it is projected that not far off €1 billion will be spent on the TB eradication programme over the next ten years. This is massive expenditure on the disease. It is not sustainable if numbers are increasing rather than decreasing. We all have to make sure that the money actually achieves its objective and eradicates the financial pain and personal emotional distress visited on farmers whenever they find they have a reactor herd.

The Minister has hit the nail on the head. Partnership is really important. The big problem with the letters was that people got them out of the blue. We need to ensure that, if the Department is to take initiatives in this regard, the people who will be impacted by them or who will be asked to engage with them are consulted beforehand. As we have said before, we do not have the answer but we know the money being spent is not delivering results. In fact, the numbers are going in the wrong direction.

My final question on this programme relates to the number of inspections in respect of animal transport controls and animal health and welfare. With regard to all other inspections, the numbers have been fairly static or standard but there has been quite a substantial increase in the number of inspections in this category. Do these inspections relate to live exports or internal transport? Is there any particular reason for the significant increase?

The number is proportionate to the number of consignments and the numbers involved. The cost of inspections is determined by these factors. It is something that we-----

Do these inspections relate to food leaving the country?

They primarily relate to live exports. That is a big part of it.

What is the situation as regards meat coming in? We know that some of our meat factories are, bizarrely, importing quantities of meat. I cannot understand the logic behind that but it is something they do. Is there any inspection process in respect of the standard and quality of such meat to ensure there can be no fear of contamination? Is the Minister happy that appropriate checks are in place to ensure that food is accounted for on the other side of the factory gates?

Within the European Union, common and equal standards apply to products. These are consistent within the European Union. Each member country has its own oversight and inspection processes in place to ensure everything is produced in accordance with EU requirements. With regard to inspections of third-country products entering the country, our Department has a key role in, and oversight of, the testing and assessing of goods entering the country. The Department is notified of such imports in advance and carries out checks. As discussed previously, the cost of this may increase significantly as a result of Brexit. After December, Britain will be a third country in respect of food. Imports from Britain will be subject to the same checks and inspections as imports from other non-EU countries as a result.

At the level of the factories themselves, the Department has an ongoing presence and has oversight of movements in and out. It is the Department's role to ensure confidence in, and oversight of, how meat is produced. It ensures that this is done properly.

I will go back to the question Deputy Carthy asked about the increase of 103%. Will the Minister give a breakdown of this increase? Last year, 98.4% of the national herd was tested yet there seems to be an upwards trajectory. Does that indicate that there is something wrong within the system?

Deputy Browne mentioned an increase of 103%. To what was he referring?

I was speaking about the consultancy fees. Did the Minister give a breakdown of this increase? I may have missed it.

I am not sure what is being referred to.

Does this increase come under programme A?

It falls under the administration heading of programme A.

The 2020 figures show an increase of €215 million, or 103%, on the 2019 figure.

Will the Deputy show me where this is to be found in his document? Is he referring to the same document as I am?

Yes. It is in part II. It is subheading (vii) under the administration heading.

I am not exactly sure to what work this increase of €100,000 in consultancy fees relates. The figure is €100,000.

The Minister might come back to the Deputy with a breakdown.

I will come back to the Deputy with a breakdown of these consultancy fees. The Deputy's second point related to the efficacy of the TB programme and whether increasing numbers show that something is not working. It is a good and very pertinent question. It has taken up a good bit of the TB forum's time. The increased number of reactors is influenced by a number of factors such as increased stocking rates and so on. Overall, we have to look closely at the advice as to the different factors behind the increase and work with farmers to ensure that risk factors are addressed and that every step possible is taken at farm level to address the issue.

In particular, where there has been a recent history of a number of breakdowns on a farm we will provide additional resources, help and support to the farm to try to assess what the issues behind it are and to ensure they are addressed and a remedy put in place.

Before we move to programme B, on the issue of risk factors, as Deputy Carthy suggested lately, we need to get our teeth into the programme for tuberculosis. When we talk about risk factors, we have to talk about wildlife. I have serious concerns that not enough resources are being put into researching the role of wildlife in the increased incidence of TB.

On programme B, I have some detailed questions and if the Minister does not have answers at his fingertips, I will accept that. How much is being spent on the hen harrier project and what is the average payment per recipient? An ash dieback scheme was introduced in mid-summer. How many applications have been received for that scheme? Does the Minister believe all the funding allocated to the scheme will be utilised? There was a €19.8 million carry-over in the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS, in 2019. Is it envisaged there will be a carry-over at the end of 2020?

I do not have the precise detail on those matters but I will revert to the Chair directly on them. We are working on TAMS and there is a significant ongoing spend this year. I understand more than €50 million has been paid out so far this year. We can be certain the allocation will be fully spent and nothing will be lost. It will all be spent on TAMS grants and there is capacity for capital schemes if there is something left in the current year to carry them into next year and ensure it is spent then.

Can the Minister provide some detail on the ash dieback scheme?

I do not have figures but we will revert to the Chairman. The overall allocation for TAMS for 2020 is €82 million and as matters stand, we expect to spend that in full.

On subhead B2, non-pay administration, as a former Minister in a different Department, I consider the increase of 17% under this subhead to be relevant. Is that related to staff working from home, for example, for information technology? What is the reason for that?

I will also comment on subhead B7, knowledge transfer. I have raised this issue with previous Ministers. If we are serious about knowledge transfer, we have to look at it in a very different way because there is a major void in this area.

On subhead B9, is the early retirement scheme still in place or is the figure in this subhead a carry-over from early retirement schemes?

That is from the old retirement scheme.

Does the Minister have plans to reinstate the previous, very successful early retirement scheme? We are always encouraging parents to sign their farms over to sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, friends and so forth to get young people into farming. I ask the Minister to examine that possibility.

On forestry, this issue has been going on for a year or so and somebody needs to take it by the scruff of the neck. I spoke to the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, on this during Oral Questions in the Dáil. Having worked in forestry previously, I believe the Minister has to haul in the inspectors. The large number of appeals and objections is one part of it but I hear stories from farmers who have been waiting months for inspectors to call out. I am not sure if there is an issue in that regard. I ask the Minister to comment on that. Last year, in the nursery sector millions of trees were dumped for very different reasons. The Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2020 has been passed and I would like to hear the Minister's thoughts on it.

The sheep welfare scheme was successful and I supported it. We have seen a fall in sheep numbers. Did the welfare scheme support sheep numbers or are they still gradually falling?

On the figure for the early retirement scheme, that is due to the continuation of the previous scheme. The Deputy's point is well made on the importance of support to encourage generational renewal at farm level. This will form a significant part of our considerations on the next Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, strategic plan and ensuring it meets its objective of getting young farmers up and running in a sustainable way. No decisions have been taken on that yet. The matter will require a lot of thought and engagement with stakeholders. There will be a certain level of funding under the next CAP programme and we will decide the most effective way of spending it to support incomes and support younger people moving into agriculture.

The delays caused by appeals and in licences being granted in forestry have been a serious problem which has become acute in the recent weeks and months. The Deputy knows from his engagement on the recent amendment to the Forestry Acts that it seeks to streamline the way the forestry appeals committee works. We are hopeful the legislation will help to address the significant delays we have seen and which have affected the forestry programme this year. The delays have been a source of frustration to farmers and of concern for the industry in terms of volumes of wood available for felling. It is a major priority in the Department and the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, has spent considerable time trying to ensure it is resolved. That work will continue.

The sheep welfare scheme has been very important in supporting incomes and will be maintained for next year. For the past year or two, sheep farming has been somewhat better than at times in the past. I do not have figures to hand on sheep numbers but this is an important support and one I am committed to continuing.

Will the Minister comment on knowledge transfer and subhead B2, non-pay administration?

The figure for non-pay administration is related to Brexit and arises from Brexit costs. The knowledge transfer scheme was a positive one and next year we will be looking at training schemes around farm safety and biodiversity for farmers. In the budget, we have allocated €1 million for the first time for continuing professional development for independent agricultural consultants because of the central role they play in engaging with farmers and imparting that knowledge. That area will be a priority.

Has it cost the Department more to facilitate people working from home in recent months, with IT and so on? Is the Minister aware of any such costs? If not, he can revert to me in writing.

Not that I am aware of. The level of efficiency has been very good, but there has been some additional provision for laptops and some IT equipment.

The number of applicants to be paid under the organic farming scheme has reduced in 2020. The table for the 2018-19 year shows that the area of land farmed organically has remained unchanged. Are we achieving the success we want in that area?

Regarding forestry, the target for forestry planting output for 2019 was 6,600 ha. That is higher than the target for this year which is only 6,000 ha. Is this because of the chaotic state of the forestry services, which the committee discussed a couple of weeks ago? I also note that in the 2019 annual report there was little comment on the forestry sector here apart from some EU strategies. Are they being adopted?

What was the last point?

I noted that in the 2019 annual report there was little comment on the forestry sector here, apart from some EU strategies that were adopted. Have we planned for ourselves other than what was in the EU document?

With regard to organic farming, the figures for 2019 versus 2020 output are quite similar, with 1,570 applicants versus 1,550. The programme for Government clearly commits to try to increase funding and the area under organic farming significantly over the course of the programme to bring us up to the European average. There was an increase in funding for organic farming in the recent budget of 30%, if I recall correctly, which the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, announced and will manage in the year ahead. As an organic farmer, she is very committed to leading on that. There is definite potential in the country to increase the area and we have to work in terms of-----

Is there a target for the increase?

The target is to reach the current European average, which is 7% of the land area under organic farming. It is important there is a twofold approach to it. First, there are organic farming supports in terms of policy and funding in the Department. We also must try to develop the markets for it so there can be a premium for organic produce and that it is financially worthwhile for a farmer to do it. Ultimately, that would be a big driver of it. From the Department's point of view, it is what we can do to support State agencies to do that. I believe there will be increasing demand for organic produce among consumers in the years ahead, but it is important that we do what we can to try to grow that in terms of financial return while also supporting it from a policy and funding point of view in the Department.

I wish to talk about organic farming. The figures I have are for 2016 to 2018, which indicate 72,000 ha each year. Does the Minister have information from last year and this year on whether we have started to see an increase in that? I do not know if this is true or not, and I have been trying to elicit information from the Department, but everywhere I go farmers tell me there is an inbuilt discrimination in the Department against smaller farmers applying for the organic scheme. Will the Minister ask the Minister of State to carry out a review in respect of those who applied and those who were successful, so the Minister could give an assurance? I am aware of people who applied for the organic farming scheme and failed to get it, but have essentially continued to produce organically by adhering to all the rules. Their biggest fear now is that new applicants will be accepted and they will not qualify because they have nothing new to offer. They have no additionality because they are already meeting the criteria of the scheme even though they have not been receiving supports up to now.

Will the Minister give assurances to those people? They are the people we should be encouraging. In addition, will he seek to discriminate almost positively in favour of smaller farmers to engage in the organic farming sector? That is one of the things we should be doing.

Funding in 2020 is at €12 million, which was not an increase, but in the budget announced on Tuesday there is a €4 million increase to bring that to €16 million. There is a further €1.2 million provided for investment in organic processing as well as an additional €1 million for developing the sector. The Minister of State, Senator Hackett, will be engaging with the farming community on that additional spend in 2021 and considering the various streams of organic farming in terms of how that is spent, how it can be reopened and ensuring it is available to farmers, including those who are entering it in a small way. That is something she will be giving consideration to in terms of support.

These are small holdings. They are traditional family farms that have been operating for a long time. They have been moving towards organics, but they have not been able to enter this scheme yet. They tell me that there is an inbuilt discrimination against them. I do not know whether that is true and I am sure the Department would say it is not. However, before we start spending additional money, it would be useful to examine whether there are things we can do to improve the access. It should be something we try to pursue, particularly if people are interested in moving into the organic sector. We should encourage them as opposed to putting obstacles in their way.

To follow up on the organic farming, I went through the figures and there are 120 or 130 fewer people in organic farming over a three-year period. The figures vary from fifteen hundred and something to sixteen hundred and something. Even if we bring in 400 or 500 people now, it will still be minus those people. Why are those people gone? Was the scheme finished? To follow up on what Deputy Carthy said, the problem that is arising, and I ask the Minister to examine this, is that if a person has 30 or 40 acres and must register with the body involved in organics, it is €600 to €800. For a person with 90, 100 or 150 acres, it is €1,100 or €1,200. For the smaller farmers and what they get, the benefit is not nearly as good. It is not the Department but the body that must be registered with. Is there any way we can streamline this so the Department will register the farmer one way or the other? There are bodies that are carrying out inspections. There is a situation where their and the Department's inspectors could be coming to the farm. Would it not be better to pool it into one system and try to make it more workable for the smaller farm?

That is the process and set-up across various countries in Europe as well. Regarding how we can encourage and increase the number of people in organic farming and the percentage of land in organic farming, that is something we will be examining closely and on which we are very much open to ideas. The Minister of State, Senator Hackett, and I will be keen to hear any suggestions the Deputy might have in that regard. She is, and will be, consulting farmers and those who have a strong interest in policy in this area.

The number of farmers farming organically is at the lower end compared with our European colleagues. The ambition is to increase that significantly in a short number of years. It will require thought on what has worked up to now and the changes or additions to be made. I take on board the Deputy's point. We would be very open to engaging further with him on it.

We move to programme C, policy and strategy. I want to make two points. Horse Sport Ireland feels it is the poor relation of the sport sector. I know we are not to talk about this year's budget. It has plans for its industry. Where does the Minister see that sitting into the policy structure?

We talked about routes to market. The proposed meat plant at Banagher would be a serious advantage to us in getting a foothold in the Chinese market. What is the status of the decision on the proposed plant in Banagher?

The Chairman has raised Horse Sport Ireland directly with me in the past and he is very committed to it. The 2020 budget allocated an additional €1 million to the organisation, increasing it from €3 million last year to €4 million for 2020. In the budget announced on Tuesday an additional €1 million was allocated, which is a 25% increase on this year and the Estimate we are discussing today. There is considerable additional potential in the horse sport sector. It has put significant time and effort into setting out a strategic plan to develop the sector and add value. As Minister, I am happy to support the additional allocation this year. We will engage very closely with Horse Sport Ireland to find the potential to improve and develop.

My Department expects a submission on the proposed meat plant in Banagher. Once we receive that, we certainly will respond to it and play our part in the process.

I welcome the strategy engagement with Horse Sport Ireland, which will be very beneficial for that sector.

Is there any sign of the Department asking Teagasc to do something similar to what has been done in America on sequestration where a report has proved that some farms are sequestering more than they are emitting? Agriculture is the whipping boy or girl in all this. Every time people talk about climate, agriculture gets hammered. Can the Department ask Teagasc to look at what grain is doing; what it is sequestering; what bad land is doing in parts of the country; and what grass is doing given that it grows, is eaten and grows again? Can the Department drive that forward?

I acknowledge there is additional money for Bord Bia this time. I heard yesterday or the day before about a promotion in England on Irish grass-fed beef. I thought the plan was to get a protected geographical indication, PGI, status first and then promote it at a particular level. To put it mildly, a horse dealer would not go in at the level we are at now, saying that this is Irish grass-fed beef. We know it is. If we are going with a new PGI status down the road, no matter who it is, we would be looking at a premium price. Have we jumped the gun by running those ads in England now with, I understand, the same name as we are looking to use with the PGI status?

Teagasc has done, and continues to do, considerable work on emissions and sequestration on farms. Obviously, the work it did in producing the marginal abatement cost curve for identifying particular measures that could be adopted to help agriculture meet its emission targets under the existing climate action plan was particularly important. It was out early with that research and in identifying the measures that could be taken in agriculture to make a contribution. Teagasc has a very important role to play in the time ahead. We have a very good story to tell on our grass-based production system for livestock and dairy. We need to continue to improve and we need to be a market leader. The sector needs to be cognisant and play its part in meeting our climate change objectives. The existing climate action plan involves a 10% to 15% reduction in emissions by 2030. Consumers are looking for high-quality food that is produced in a way that is consistent with their values. Increasingly sustainability, the environment and emissions are key to that. Even from a consumer point of view, we need to keep up with that by ensuring that agriculture is making its contribution in respect of climate change.

The Deputy mentioned the PGI application that is under discussion. At the previous beef task force that I convened and addressed, I asked for further meetings afterwards involving the farming organisations, my Department and Bord Bia to discuss the proposal for a grass-fed PGI application. Engagement remains ongoing on that and there is considerable potential. The farming sector, my Department, marketing agencies and processors need to work together. Everybody needs to step forward in partnership to ensure it is a success. At the moment we have the Origin Green umbrella, which defines the standards to which we produce our food. A key part of marketing our livestock and beef in particular is that it is grass-fed. It is also a big part of what distinguishes it internationally from what competing nations produce. It has been a key platform in how we market our beef over the years. The assessment is that the PGI would enhance our capacity in that regard. Up to now advertising the grass-fed aspect of our beef has been an important part of the Irish meat brand and is an important reason we have a good reputation and a good customer base.

We all agree that we need to try to promote it as much as possible.

We hear that there are applications for PGI status in the Department and some applicants have not been contacted for the last four to five weeks. Is that the case? It is important to treat everyone the same.

I agree with the Minister about grass-fed cattle. My point is that we now have it promoted on British television. I have no problem with promoting something. However, if grass-fed Irish beef is the name of the new protected geographical indicator, and one has already advertised grass-fed Irish cattle, one cannot obtain a premium price when one lands with the new thing, and that is a problem. It is about being sharp with what one does. I worry that we will spend money on that, although we all agree with promoting our product and we all agree on what we are producing. Is there correspondence from Europe to advise Bord Bia and the Department that we were better off going for suckler PGI status rather than the way we are going at present?

In response to the Deputy's point about grass-fed PGI status being a new product, it would not necessarily be a new product but a tool which would enhance our capacity to market and to develop new markets for the product we already have, and to assess a standard which is easily communicated. Over the years, as well as now, the advantage for Irish beef on the market is the fact that it is grass-fed, and that adds to its quality. Where that is advertised, the objective is to obtain a premium as much as is possible at the moment. The idea behind developing from the Origin Green brand towards PGI status is that it would add additional value and capacity to further market that beef to try to increase its value and price. There is recognition of PGI among many consumers as being something of value. One would therefore hope that a successful application would be helpful in assisting us in our work to develop markets and get value for them.

I will ensure that any applications that come forward to my Department are engaged with. Advice has been given in that regard. I know there have been some already.

Regarding the beef task force, there has been ongoing engagement between my Department and the Commission about our intention to submit a PGI application. The detail of ensuring that an application goes forward that meets the tactical specifications required for PGI, and properly reflects the natural advantages of the product we have, is the subject of detailed negotiations with the farming organisations. We require a little more in that because we need to ensure that there is a full understanding of what is possible, that there is a successful application and that farmers feel it will deliver for the beef sector. It is something that I will want to keep a foot down on in the coming time to ensure that that engagement happens. Hopefully we can reach a place where it is a good application which will deliver on its objective and, importantly, allow us as a country to increase our potential to market abroad and to develop new markets. The idea that we would have something that is Irish grass-fed gives a clear identity which will be much stronger, given the capacity we have at the moment. It will be useful from a marketing point of view and reflective of the product we have.

Deputy Fitzmaurice's question is relevant to the future of the industry. We will try to stick closer to the business now to try to get through matters. I am not saying that the question was irrelevant to the industry but I do not know how relevant it was to the Estimates.

I want to support the Chairman regarding Horse Sport Ireland. It is a fantastic organisation that represents Ireland on the world stage. If the Minister has an opportunity to meet the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund and Horse Sport Ireland, I would encourage him to meet them to get a full brief of exactly what the organisation does. The Minister is probably well aware but it is a fantastic organisation and I urge the Department to give it more financial support. People say that Horse Sport Ireland is for a specific background. It is absolutely not. It represents all ages and backgrounds. It is for people who have a genuine interest in the sport. I encourage the Minister to meet with Horse Sport Ireland.

I welcome the additional supports for both Horse Sport Ireland and Greyhound Racing Ireland. I have done a lot of work with Greyhound Racing Ireland over the last months regarding Enniscorthy Greyhound Track. I was delighted that it worked with the local track and was able to keep it open. I know it has come in for much negative publicity over the last number of months. Not all greyhound breeders are bad. I assure the Minister of that. I come from a county where greyhound racing is extremely strong and there are some fantastic greyhound breeders. A negative side of greyhound racing was shown but not any of the positives or the good work that has been done within the organisation. I ask our national broadcaster to-----

I stopped Deputy Fitzmaurice for not sticking to questions on the Estimate so I will do the same with Deputy Kehoe.

I will finish on this. I ask our national broadcaster to reconsider its position on greyhound racing. It is only fair to do so. I know welfare is an important part of it. I saw the Minister on the news lately giving the reasons he increased funding and I support that.

Regarding Bord Bia, with the lack of international travel and shows to promote Irish food, what are the Department and Bord Bia doing? We already had them before the committee to question them individually. What is going on during the difficult times with Covid-19 to promote Irish food?

I met Horse Sport Ireland last week and had a productive meeting. We discussed where it is, how things have progressed in recent years, and its ambitious plans to develop the sector. As I pointed out earlier, there is a 25% increase in the funding allocation in Tuesday's budget announcement. In the budget line this year, a €1 million increase was discussed for the Estimate.

The Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund is in a sector that has been under significant pressure this year because of Covid restrictions. That is why there was an increase of €12 million in the Estimate, with €9.6 million for Horse Sport Ireland and €2.4 million for-----

I ask the Minister to address the 2020 Estimate.

That is a fair point. With regard to the current Estimate, €1.6 million was ring-fenced for welfare measures. It is something that the sector and Rásaíocht Con Éireann, the new name of the greyhound board, have done much work on. It will make sure that funding is dedicated to that.

In my opening remarks, I outlined the significant work over the past year that was done before Covid by the then Minister, Deputy Creed, and that previous Ministers in the Department have undertaken in support of Bord Bia's work on trade missions, which are important in developing new markets and maintaining existing ones.

Obviously that space has not been available in the past number of months but Bord Bia has been doing all it can with continuing ongoing customer engagement. It has done a significant number of virtual, online engagements. I did one alongside board staff this morning with a number of key German customers and did another a couple of weeks ago with McDonald's, which is a big and important customer for Irish beef in the UK and internationally. Bord Bia is finding new ways of doing the same work and maintaining a close engagement with customers and markets. Myself and the Minister of State, who was also on the call this morning, are doing all we can to support it in that important work too.

I insist we keep our questions to the 2020 Estimates and that the Ministers keep his answers to the Estimates as well.

I will certainly ask my questions in the context of the 2020 Estimates in that case.

That is not what I said.

The Minister mentioned there was an allocation of an additional €1.6 billion to Bord Bia. Is a value for money assessment carried out on that allocation? I ask because I fear a lot of money is being wasted in dealing with the PGI status. I question whether status will be granted and even if it is, whether it will bring any addionality. This is very much about whether the money we are spending and have allocated is being utilised in the best regard. Bord Bia told us the reason it has not done what is needed, namely, to have an Irish suckler beef brand PGI, is nobody outside the sector knows what suckler beef is. That is a failure on its part. Its job is to promote Irish food yet it has not done anything to promote the best aspect of Irish food. Will a value for money assessment be carried out to ensure Bord Bia is spending money effectively and whether it could be spent more effectively, particularly where suckler beef is concerned?

My second question is on trade missions and trade overall. I noted with interest the Minister's line on Brexit. When he talked of the significant challenges we face, he said, "the sector has also many opportunities to develop further and prosper". I have been listening to this since 2016 and there has been a lot of rhetoric but no specific detail as to what those opportunities are. I cannot see how we replace, for example, the British market over a short period. The referendum was in 2016 and we are now in 2020. We are now at the cliff edge of a no-deal Brexit and we are still hearing the same language of potential and opportunities but nobody has spelt out what exactly they are. There has been talk in that regard and the Minister mentioned Japan with regard to sheep and China with regard to beef. A lot of money is being spent on the trade missions and opening up these markets and we all welcome the opening up of those markets. However, is any analysis carried out in the Department to ensure the financial and economic benefits of the Department's work and all the trade work that is ongoing reaches farmers? There is little evidence that it is. I have some other questions but I will leave it at that for now.

There has been clear engagement between the Department and the greyhound sector over the past year or so.

I am talking about the agriculture sector. I did not mention greyhounds.

I am sorry. I thought the Deputy mentioned that at the outset.

My questions were on Bord Bia and the opportunities and then the benefits of the trade work. Perhaps the Minister was thinking of Deputy Kehoe's question.


On Bord Bia, there has been significant engagement on the PGI application between the Department and the Commission and, importantly, with farmers as well. It is also crucial that we ensure the tremendous product we have in suckler beef is fully supported and that is something I have engaged with Bord Bia on as well. I am determined that support will be available to develop that brand. The feedback at the moment from Bord Bia relates to consumer understanding of the suckler brand in particular and it is confined to certain areas. It is something we have to invest in and support. Working with the board and farming organisations, I am determined we will have a good outcome on this and a financial allocation to it.

The Deputy asked about trade missions and the need to diversify our markets, particularly where beef is concerned. The ongoing work in existing markets is important in terms of consumer and customer engagement because these are competitive markets. That is something Bord Bia is consistently focused on. It also focuses on identifying consumer trends and desires as these can change. That is something we do well. On beef, the potential in recent times has particularly related to developing the Chinese and Japanese markets and that is something we are continuing to work on. We are trying to address that in particular with regard to China and reopening that market for beef in particular.

There is no doubt, however, that our main market continues to be the British one. One does not diversify away very easily from such an important market. It has also traditionally been our highest-paying market. For British customers, Irish beef is regarded as almost as good as British beef. Naturally, as with any nation, there is a preference for home-grown beef but the evidence and research shows that Irish beef is perceived by British consumers in the same category and regard as their own beef is, where quality is concerned. Like the Deputy, I know there has been much discussion about diversification. I have been watching the figures over the past three to four years and the British market has maintained, proportionately, that significant place in terms of where our beef exports go. That is not a surprise given that there is a demand for it, that it is a well-paying market and that it is our near neighbour. That speaks to the absolute importance of the Brexit issue and of a good trade deal outcome to ensure this trade can continue.

Demand for beef at European level has been flatlining somewhat, if not a little depressed. Given where consumers are at and the slightly reducing consumption of meat in developed markets as well, it is important we look internationally. Having said that, while the UK is our highest-paying market, the EU has been our second highest-paying market and taken together they import 95% of our meat. Looking to eastern Asia, China and developing countries where consumption of beef is increasing, it is very important that we up our footprint there. That has happened in the Department by means of us increasing our footprint with agricultural attachés in embassies and also with the work Bord Bia is doing. Given the size of those markets, if we can secure a small proportion of them and get in there as they develop, they will offer significant potential in the years ahead. There is no doubt that Britain is, and will hopefully remain, our biggest customer and if impediments are put in as a result of Brexit, the beef sector will be in real trouble.

I have more questions.

I would appreciate it if the Minister would come back to the point I was making. We are spending a great deal of money, and rightly so, on promoting Irish food. We are promoting that on the back of the image of our farmers. We are using the picture of the farmer in the field with his cow and her calf but we need to make sure that that is the guy who is getting a financial benefit from the work we are doing and the investment we are making. Is there more we can do to ensure that it does not just go to the factories and the exporters and that by the time it comes down to the factory gates or the mart the people we are using to promote it are not seeing any benefit?

The Chairman will be glad to hear I have a question directly related to the figures before us. With regard to food aid donations and the World Food Programme, there has been a substantial decrease in the programme from €23 million to €700,000 in terms of value between 2019 and 2020. Is there a particular reason for that? Was there a particular reason for the upsurge in 2019 and the subsequent significant reduction in 2020? Is there a blip in either year with regard to that?

There has been talk about the funding going into the horse breeding and horse racing sector. This goes back to the earlier questions and the issues I have raised with the Minister. Is any analysis carried out in terms of the beneficiaries of that funding? I accept that this is an important industry but in terms of where allocations go, in large part they are the household names. I am not saying they should not get any funding but, for example, smaller horse breeders and horse trainers in my constituency and in many other parts of the country tell me that they get very little. They do not see the financial benefit of the State's investment in this sector. Has any analysis been carried out and, if not, can such analysis be carried out to ensure that everybody benefits when we are investing approximately €80 million into a sector? We need to ensure that every part of the country and every player within the sector gets some benefit from it.

I thank Deputy Carthy. On his first point about trying to ensure that farmers are getting a fair crack of the whip with regard to the massive contribution they make in driving forward our food sector and producing the livestock and product that is ultimately sold and processed, that is an important issue. It is one I have prioritised to try to address as part of my term as Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I made a particular commitment regarding a national food ombudsman and the establishment of an office to try to shine a light on the food supply chain and ensure there is a mechanism to bring transparency to the proportion of the price the farmers get. That could be of real help in that regard. I note that in his pre-budget submission this year, for the first time Deputy Carthy allocated some funding towards that office. I look forward to hearing ideas he might have on that. I will be consulting with all parties on how we can ensure that office works effectively.

Regarding the World Food Programme, the 2020 allocation was forward paid at the end of 2019. That is the reason it shows a drop from the previous year in terms of the 2020 Estimate. The €700,000 was likewise a forward payment of the cost for next year, which was requested as a result of Covid-19. The Estimate shows the drop in the previous year because we forward paid our commitment with regard to 2020.

What is the position with 2021?

It is my expectation that we will probably be in a position to forward pay some of the contribution for 2021 at the end of this year, depending on how we stand.

What was in the Estimate for 2019 was a forward payment for 2020.

What was in this year's Estimate, therefore, is for next year. There is still a reduction year-on-year.

In 2019, we forward paid our 2020 commitment. The €700,000 payment this year was a forward payment in respect of 2021. Depending on some space being available at the end of the year the expectation is that we will be able to forward pay some of the 2021 commitment also.

There is still a reduction.

Overall, it would not mean a reduction. I believe it is an equal payment every year. I will ask Dr. Smyth to comment.

Dr. Kevin Smyth

We promised the World Food Programme that we would pay it €70 million over the three-year period 2019, 2020 and 2021. What we are doing is paying them the €70 million in total a year early. The World Food Programme is very happy because it is getting its money earlier. It means that we are giving a commitment, and Ireland is paying its full contribution of €70 million a year early.

Were the first moneys that came out money left over? We would not have said at the outset that we would pay the World Food Programme a year early. Where did that money come from? Is it some money that was not used?

Dr. Kevin Smyth

Yes. It was unused current spending.

It was to go to farmers but it went to the World Food Programme because it was not used.

Dr. Kevin Smyth

It could have gone to a number of areas, not just farmers. It could be savings under administration, travel or statistics. We simply used current savings.

If Deputy Fitzmaurice does not mind, can I make a point on that? If there is some money left in the current expenditure at the end of the year and we forward pay for the following year we free up expenditure on other items in the year ahead.

The first question I want to ask is about the decrease in beef exports in 2017, 2018 and 2019. They decreased in value by 4% and by 1% in terms of the volume. It is something we need to keep an eye on as we move ahead.

To supplement that question from Deputy Browne, what proportion of Bord Bia's spend is spent on developing live exports? Also, the Minister referred in his opening remarks to the uptake of the loan scheme. The cost of money has to be examined. That is a major deterrent for farmers taking up the scheme. When we compare it to our European counterparts that money is extremely expensive. That is the biggest drawback in terms of the take-up of that scheme.

I thank the Chairman. I do not have the figure on it. There is a separate allocation for live exports but I will revert to him on that matter. On the cost of credit, that is of tremendous importance in terms of farmers being able to expand and develop. That is the reason we have introduced some financial instruments through the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, SBCI, and the future growth loan scheme, for example, to support the sector and to do what we can within the Department to reduce the cost of credit.

The first one of these schemes was introduced by the former Minister, Deputy Creed; I cannot recall the year. The money was approximately 2% less than what this is costing. If we are to make the scheme attractive to farmers they will need an interest rate between 2% and 2.5%. We should compare it with the rates available to our European counterparts.

We will move on to Programme D.

I asked a question on the funding for the equine sector.

I apologise to Deputy Carthy. Deloitte published a report on Horse Racing Ireland, HRI, in recent years which would have assessed the way money is currently being spent and also the potential of the sector. Arising out of that, it would have identified the horse racing industry in general as being worth €2 billion to the economy.

This year, in terms of engagement with the Department and budgetary negotiations, there will be strong oversight and interrogation with regard to spending, where the money is going and the plans for the year ahead. That is something that will also take place on an annual basis.

We are limited to two hours but we will move to programme D, the seafood sector. Do members have questions for the Minister on this sector?

This is the poor relation of the Department. The Minister referred to the investment in fishing harbours and mentioned Killybegs, Howth and Castletownbere. Are there plans for or has there been any expenditure on other harbours? Has he examined the particular issues that have been raised with regard to the proposed harbour in Connemara, which has been a long-standing ambition of the local community in terms of an economic driver? He will be aware that the fish factory that was located there has closed down. The failure to develop that quarter has been cited as the reason for the loss of a substantial employer.

I will provide the Deputy with a note on the spending within the harbour funding this past year. We have secured an additional €3 million in the budget but I will give him the details in terms of where it is currently being spent. In respect of Rossaveal, Deputy Ó Cuív and Deputy Denis Naughton would have raised that issue with me in recent weeks. I will be following up on it and engaging on it in terms of its potential.

If the Minister has a moment before we conclude, could I ask him about the particular challenges Brexit will present for our fishing industry?

If we conclude this section, we could ask him that question. I am conscious of time and I want to conclude our deliberations on it. If the Minister wishes to make a comment then, he can do so. Are there any other questions on fisheries?

The details on the appropriations-in-aid are in programme E. The amount of money is not unduly significant. I see that Land Commission receipts are still noted. I thought they would have gone into the history books at this stage. Do members have any questions on the appropriations-in-aid?

I have one more question. Going back to the issue of TB, the receipts from farmer contributions are cited at €7 million each year. It seems strange that we were talking about the exact same figure earlier. What makes up those farmer contributions?

I will come back to the Deputy with a note on that.

That concludes the select committee's consideration of the 2020 Revised Estimates for Vote 30 - Agriculture, Food and the Marine. In accordance with Standing Orders a message to this effect will be sent to the Clerk of the Dáil.

On behalf of the select committee, I thank the Minister and his officials for assisting the committee with its consideration of the Revised Estimate and also for dealing comprehensively with the questions from members. The Minister may wish to give a brief response to Deputy Carthy on the Brexit threat to fisheries.

I thank all the members for their engagement on the Estimates. We will come back to them in the days ahead in terms of the outstanding items.

With regard to the potential impact of Brexit on the marine sector, we are at a very important stage in the negotiations with the UK at European level. There is no doubt that from the outset the risk Brexit would pose to fisheries has been clear. Our access to and sharing of British waters is highly important to our fishermen. Also, with regard to the sharing of stocks in terms of quota, more than any other EU member state we share quotas for the same species with British fishermen. In the context of the task force team and Mr. Barnier, we have been very clear, as have the other seven EU maritime member states, on the importance of protecting the fishing sector in the negotiations, in particular the importance of ensuring that it is tied into negotiations on other aspects of the trade deal to ensure that that leverage is used to the full extent.

When I attended the EU Council meeting in Brussels three weeks ago, I met the Fisheries Commissioner, Virginijus Sinkevicius, to whom I outlined clearly our national position on this matter. I also had direct discussions recently with Mr. Barnier on the importance of protecting the fisheries sector in the ongoing negotiations. That is an issue of which he is very much aware. It formed a key part of the negotiations at the General Council meeting in Brussels during the week also.

The Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, and I had a meeting with the fish producer organisations on Monday last to discuss the current position with regard to the negotiations and the importance of taking a united approach to defending the interests of our fishermen.

The times ahead are important. The stakes are very high. I will be doing all I can, as Minister for the marine, to ensure that the outcome is one which will protect our fishing sector.

I thank the Minister.