As I outlined in response to a question from the Deputy last month, tillage is an integral component of our Agrifood industry, making a significant contribution to overall agricultural output. Crops including horticulture, contribute approximately €700m annually to agricultural output at farm gate prices.
The cereals sector is a major contributor of high quality grain to the feed industry, provides raw material for the food and drinks industry and is a key source of seed production. Cereals are therefore a significant stakeholder in our agrifood industry from a supply/food safety and sustainability viewpoint and an efficient and viable tillage sector in Ireland is vital.
I acknowledge that cereal production has experienced difficult challenges in recent times.
However, my Department continues to provide significant supports to the sector. In 2017, I introduced the €150m Agriculture Cashflow Support Loan Scheme including the tillage and horticulture sectors. As a further support, the Tillage Capital Investment Scheme under TAMS II covers specific areas of investment for tillage farmers with over €7.7 million distributed to over 700 tillage farmers to date. Early last year I announced that the EU Protein Aid Scheme was extended for 2018, resulting in over €2.83m being paid to growers to date. This important Scheme will be available again in 2019 providing support to farmers who opt for growing eligible protein crops.
In August 2018 I announced a €2.75 million fodder production incentive measure for tillage farmers to encourage growers to participate in the fodder market. I am pleased to say that there was very positive engagement from growers with over 19,600ha of catch crops grown. Payments are on-going to tillage farmers who applied for aid under the measure.
My Department also provides a high quality official crop seed certification scheme to the industry, in addition to an extensive national crop variety evaluation programme, providing invaluable information to growers on the latest varieties available.
The agrifood sector continues to explore the development of novel markets for cereal products seeking to improve competitiveness and sustainability with Irish malting barley demand increasing with growth in demand for Irish whiskey.
I can assure the Deputy that I am committed to this important sector which plays a key role in the development of the wider agrifood industry.