Sugar Industry

Questions (17)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

17. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the progress made to date on the development of a sugar industry here; the assistance given by his Department to this project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13079/14]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

I wish to confirm that in 2011 I met with two separate groups which had conducted feasibility studies into the possibility of establishing a new sugar/bioethanol facility in the country. I understand from figures published by the interested groups who are investigating the possibility of building a new facility, that the overall capital costs involved could range from €250 million to €400 million, depending on what type of facility will be constructed.

I informed both groups at the time and many times since, that any venture to develop a combined sugar/bioethanol production facility would have to be a viable commercial proposition, and supported by a business case which is sufficiently robust to attract the funding from investors for the very substantial capital investment required. I also informed both groups that it was my job to look for agreement at EU level to allow for the growing of sugar beet for the manufacture of sugar, at the earliest possible date.

In this connection, at the last meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers in June 2013, which I chaired under Ireland's EU Presidency, I secured agreement as part of the overall CAP reform package, to abolish all sugar quotas by 30 September 2017. This agreement removes, with effect from 1 October 2017, the current quota barrier for operators in Ireland or other Member States, wishing to re-establish a sugar industry. I am glad to note that this agreement has been welcomed by those parties who are interested in seeking to re-establish a sugar industry here.

Animal Welfare

Questions (18)

Thomas Pringle

Question:

18. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if the issue of unwanted horses and equines will be addressed in the animal welfare conference to be held in May; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13221/14]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The planning of the conference is still in the early stages but at this point I can say that it will focus on many of the changes being made to the animal welfare regime, including those introduced by the new Animal Health & Welfare Act 2013. The issue of animal welfare is broad and the welfare of horses will undoubtedly be one of the topics discussed.

With regard to animal welfare, my Department devotes considerable resources to this area and, in particular, to the welfare of horses. My Department paid some €3m to the Local Authorities under the Control of Horses Act in 2013 to enable them to deal with stray and unwanted horses. This enabled the Local Authorities to remove almost 4,000 stray or unwanted horses last year and thereby resolve a number of serious horse welfare situations. A further significant number of horses have been removed since the beginning of the year.

In addition, in December 2013, I announced funding of €1.8m to 136 organisations involved in animal care and welfare services throughout the country to support their activities in 2014. The level of funding being provided to these organisations was increased for the third year in a row, reflecting the importance I attach to their work. The increased funding was concentrated on those organisations involved in horse welfare, to ensure sufficient resources are available to enable them cater for any difficulties arising in the area of horse welfare during 2014 and to assist them in complying with new legislation on equine identification and equine premises registration.

I should emphasise that responsibility for the welfare of horses rests primarily with their owners and that the level of penalties to be imposed for breaches of animal welfare has been significantly increased under the new Animal Health and Welfare Act. My Department is working closely with the local authorities, the Gardaí and animal welfare bodies with a view to ensuring compliance with animal welfare legislation and addressing horse welfare issues generally and, where necessary, removing stray or unwanted horses.

Animal Welfare

Questions (19)

Clare Daly

Question:

19. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will implement a strategy to deal with the growing problem of neglected horses in view of the current logistical problems faced by the DSPCA which is located at a great distance from many of the problem areas. [13075/14]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

My Department devotes considerable resources to the area of animal welfare and, in particular, to the welfare of horses. In December 2013, I announced funding of €1.8m to 136 organisations involved in animal care and welfare services throughout the country to support their activities in 2014. The level of funding provided to the organisations was increased for the third year in a row, reflecting the importance I attach to their work. Increased funding was concentrated on organisations involved in horse welfare, including the DSPCA, to ensure sufficient resources are available to enable them cater for any difficulties arising in the area of horse welfare during 2014 and to assist them in complying with new legislation on equine identification and equine premises registration. The DSPCA received an amount of €210,000 (compared with €150,000 the previous year) to assist the society in its activities in 2014.

In addition to funding animal welfare bodies, my Department has very active engagement with local authorities and the Gardai on control of horses' issues. In 2013, my Department paid some €3.1m to the local authorities to assist them in their work under the Control of Horses Act, 1996 in dealing with stray, abandoned and unwanted horses. Of this, almost €568,000 was provided to the four local authorities in the Dublin area. This enabled the removal of in excess of 4,700 stray or unwanted horses last year (of which almost 840 seizures related to the Dublin county and city area). The removal of such a significant number of horses in the Dublin area has undoubtedly resolved a number of potentially serious horse welfare situations and has alleviated the burden on the animal welfare bodies, including the DSPCA, operating in the Dublin catchment area.

A further significant number of abandoned and welfare compromised horses have been removed since the beginning of this year. In addition to the ongoing work of local authorities in addressing horse welfare issues, my Department's veterinary officials continue to adopt a proactive approach in dealing with and addressing horse welfare issues, where appropriate in conjunction with the DSPCA and other animal welfare bodies and with local farming representatives and the local authorities.

Forestry Sector

Questions (20)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

20. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will provide a detailed report on the disease discovered in Gougane Barra Forest Park, County Cork and the subsequent felling of trees; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13944/14]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Gougane Barra Forest Park, County Cork is managed by Coillte Teoranta. Day-to-day operational matters, such as the management of their forest estate, are the responsibility of the company.

In relation to this matter, the company has advised that on Friday 3rd of January 2014, Phytophthora ramorum had been confirmed on Japanese larch trees in Gougane Barra Forest Park, County Cork. Samples were taken from different suspected larch areas in the park which were confirmed as positive from two separate laboratories on both a morphological and molecular basis. To prevent the further spread of the disease, control measures were implemented in accordance with Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine protocols.

Felling the infected trees is the appropriate measure with the aim of preventing further spread by limiting spore production. If no action is taken, the larch within the park would succumb to the disease over a short number of years and act as a source for further infection. Once the larch is cleared, Coillte will commence replanting with a range of different tree species including species such as Scots pine and oak.

Harvesting, which started in January is progressing with approximately 70% of the felling complete. There has been some storm damage in Gougane that will have to be cleared up but it is expected the park will remain closed for six months from when the operations began until its completion. Coillte estimate that up to 16,000 trees, primarily Japanese larch will be felled and removed under licence from the site for processing at approved facilities.

Phytophthora ramorum is a fungus like disease that can affect a range of tree and other plant species with Japanese larch particularly susceptible. Coillte have been working closely with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to detect and prevent the spread of this disease and has carried out all its operations in accordance with and subject to the protocols established by the Department. Regrettably, Gougane Barra is one of 20 Coillte forests where the disease has been confirmed in Japanese larch since first detected on the species in 2010.

In late 2002 the EU introduced Emergency Measures to reduce the risk of further introductions and spread of Phytophthora ramorum into the EU. Under the legislation surveys have been conducted annually by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Prior to 2010 the disease had been detected only on 'wild' Rhododendron bushes growing in woodlands in this country. Also prior to 2010, it has been detected in this country on imported commercial Rhododendron and other ornamental nursery stock.

Pure Japanese larch stands make up less than 2% of the Coillte forest estate and to date Coillte have carried out felling on 150 hectares of forest in an effort to contain and prevent the spread of this disease. Infected sites can range from recently planted areas to mature forests. Timber from infected Japanese larch can still be used, so after felling and having put in place the appropriate biosecurity precautions, the logs can be taken under licence to authorised processing facilities under Departmental approval.

Natura 2000

Questions (21)

Thomas Pringle

Question:

21. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of appropriate assessments, AAs, completed on Natura 2000 sites as part of the aquaculture licensing process; the number of AAs which are currently underway; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13219/14]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

In 2007 the European Court of Justice (ECJ) declared in Case C418/04 that by failing to take all measures necessary to comply with Article 6.3 of the EU Habitats Directive in respect of the authorisation of aquaculture programmes, Ireland had failed to fulfil its obligations under that Directive. As most aquaculture activity takes place in 'Natura 2000' areas (i.e. areas protected under EU Birds/Habitats Directives), it is necessary to undertake an 'Appropriate Assessment' of the effects of aquaculture activity on these areas before any new licences can be issued or any existing licences can be renewed.

In the negotiations to address the ECJ judgement a process was agreed with the European Commission. This process includes the following steps:

- Data Collection in 91 Bays/Estuaries

- Detailed analysis of the raw data collected

- Setting of Conservation Objectives by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) in respect of each site

- Carrying out Appropriate Assessments (AA) – by the Marine Institute - of aquaculture/fishery activities against the detailed Conservation Objectives set, and

- Determination of Licences/Fisheries on the basis of the Appropriate Assessment and other relevant factors

The carrying out of detailed surveys of marine habitats and species has been completed. Conservation Objectives have now been set for over 60 bays. Appropriate Assessments have been completed in respect of Castlemaine Harbour, Dundalk Bay, Roaringwater Bay, Lough Swilly. Donegal Bay and Dungarvan Harbour. Appropriate Assessments are currently underway in a further six bays.

This process is achieving meaningful results. In 2013, I made a total of 137 licence determinations, of which approximately 120 were in respect of sites in 'Natura' areas. I expect to be in a position to make in excess of 200 determinations in 2014.

The Appropriate Assessment process represents a significant financial, administrative and scientific investment by the State.

Beef Industry

Questions (22)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

22. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the extent to which he is aware of the disparity between beef prices to the producer and those charged to the consumer by the multiples with particular reference to the fact that Irish beef exports to the UK appear to not be treated in accordance with EU rules; if any action is likely to be taken at national or EU level to address the issues raised by producers in recent times; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13211/14]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

My Department monitors the price paid for cattle in Ireland on a weekly basis and reports these to the European Commission in accordance with Regulation 1249/2008. The Deputy will appreciate that ultimately questions of price and market specification are matters to be determined between the purchasers and the sellers of cattle and it is neither appropriate nor possible for me to intervene directly on these issues.

My Department does not monitor prices at retail level but we are aware that there are differences paid at market and retail level both here and in other countries including the UK. However, it is not appropriate or possible for me to intervene directly in these matters.

With regard to prices, it should be noted that Irish beef prices were 106% of the EU average in 2013. The average price change over the first 10 weeks of this year is an approximate 1.8% reduction but it must be remembered that it is common for prices to decrease slightly in the first quarter of any year. It should also be noted that with the exception of 2013 the prices paid in the first 10 weeks of 2014 for Irish cattle are comparable to 2012 and significantly in excess of prices paid from 2008-2011.

With regard to the price differential between Irish and UK cattle, a number of factors have been identified to explain why Irish-born cattle command lower prices than their British equivalents. These include a British consumer preference for indigenous product as well as additional transport and processing costs in supplying that market. Ireland's trade with Britain accounts for 53% of our beef export volumes, worth €1.1 billion and, at around 250,000 tonnes in 2013, is equivalent to 750,000 cattle with a high level of penetration in the multiple retail sector.

The potential to grow the live trade to Britain is also constrained by the buying specification operated by the retail chains in relation to cattle born in this country and exported live for finishing and processing in the UK. The retailers' longstanding policy is to market British and Irish beef separately. This means that beef must be sourced from animals originating in one country; i.e. born, reared and slaughtered in the same country. In addition, logistical difficulties arise when a small number of Irish-born animals are slaughtered in a UK meat plant. Under mandatory EU labelling rules, these carcases have to be deboned in a separate batch, packaged and labelled accordingly, thereby incurring additional costs for the processor.

While Bord Bia has repeatedly raised this issue with British retailers over the years, there are no indications that their marketing policy is likely to be reversed soon. Nevertheless, Bord Bia in its ongoing interactions with British customers will continue to pursue all opportunities, to maximise the full potential of the beef and livestock trade with our largest trading partner.

In relation to the current difficulties between farmers and processors I recently met with both farmer representatives and processers to discuss the current situation. Following that interaction, I am hopeful that the factories, in collaboration with the farming bodies, will be able to resolve the various issues that have lately caused difficulties for some producers. At my request, Meat Industry Ireland (MII) member companies have kept their livestock offices open to deal with farmers with any particular queries or concerns on the marketing of their stock. MII member companies have made available contact details for each of their main plants to enable farmers to phone them directly.

Agri-Environment Options Scheme Payments

Questions (23)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

23. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of farmers who have received payments under the AEO scheme 3 in 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13080/14]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Despite the challenging budgetary constraints facing my Department, in 2012 I allocated €20 million annually to fund the Agri-Environment Options Scheme (AEOS) and on foot of this I announced the re-opening of the scheme as AEOS 3. On the basis of previous experience in implementing agri-environmental schemes, I decided on a maximum payment of €4,000 per annum. This represents a welcome support to farmers operating to the highest environmental standards.

I was very pleased with the interest shown in the Scheme. There are currently 5,963 farmers in AEOS 3, bringing the total number taking part in the Agri-Environment Options Scheme to around 20,000. These farmers play a valuable role as custodians of our landscape. Their commitment to farming systems which deliver public goods builds on the success of previous agri-environmental schemes such as REPS. They are contributing to a sustainable future for farming in Ireland, and will assist with addressing the challenging environmental issues we face, such as loss of biodiversity, water quality and climate change.

My Department has made payments of €43.41m to AEOS 1 and 2 participants and €152.33m to REPS participants for the 2013 year, which represents a very significant disbursement of funds to the agri-environment farming sector. These payments are subject to very stringent EU audit standards, which is to be expected given that these are co-funded Schemes. All area-based schemes under the Rural Development Programme, 2007-13, are subject to EU Regulations which require detailed administrative checks on all applications, including cross checks with the Land Parcel Identification System, to be completed before payments can issue. These rigorous procedures, together with on-farm inspections, apply equally to AEOS 3, and are necessary to ensure that applications meet the scheme conditions and cross-compliance requirements.

It takes time to put these systems in place for any new Scheme, as there is a great deal of initial checking of applications and resolution of queries arising which must be carried out before progressing to payment stage. I am pleased to say that these checks are now well underway for AEOS 3 and I anticipate that payments for AEOS 3 in respect of 2013 will commence shortly. In line with the governing Regulations, the payments will issue in two tranches, a 75% payment and a 25% payment.