Brexit Preparations

Questions (54)

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

54. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the contingencies being operationalised and supports that will be in place to safeguard farmers, fishermen and the agrifood sector here for all scenarios, including a no-deal hard Brexit, by the 29 March 2019 deadline; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14214/19]

View answer

Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Agriculture)

This question requests the Minister to give details of all the contingencies being operationalised and the supports that will be in place to safeguard Irish farmers, fishermen and the agrifood sector for all scenarios, including a no-deal hard Brexit by the 12 April deadline. As we know, the deadline has been extended from 29 March to 12 April on the basis that the withdrawal agreement is passed in the House of Commons, which looks increasingly unlikely. To date, we have not seen any detail from the Minister regarding what contingencies or supports will be in place for the agrifood and the marine sector. I hope that at long last, he will be in a position today to bring some clarity to his preparation in this regard and to the specific contingency plans that he has in place.

While ratification of the withdrawal agreement is still the Government's primary focus, and preparations are continuing for all scenarios, greater priority has of course been given recently to preparations for a no-deal Brexit.

My Department, as part of a whole-of-Government approach, has been very active in this regard. Regarding preparedness for import controls, we have been working with other Departments and agencies to have the necessary import control arrangements in place at our ports and airports in order to allow the Department to fulfil its legal obligations as efficiently as possible, while also ensuring the minimum possible disruption to trading arrangements.

The Department has also sharpened its Brexit communications strategy in order to keep stakeholders informed and to encourage them to take the necessary steps to allow their trading arrangements with the United Kingdom to continue. This is happening through increased engagement with stakeholders, an enhanced Brexit page on the Department's website, the circulation of focused trader notices, the establishment of a dedicated Brexit call centre and central email address, and the increased use of social media.

In order to help mitigate the impacts on the sector, I have introduced a number of budgetary measures over the past three years aimed at helping farmers and fishermen, at improving competitiveness, and at supporting market and product diversification. This included a €78 million package in budget 2019. This provided an additional €43 million given directly to farmers, including €23 million in additional funding for the areas of natural constraints, ANC, scheme and €20 million for the beef environmental efficiency pilot, which complements the €300 million beef data and genomics scheme.

More recently - including on the margins of last week's Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels - I have held bilateral discussions with Commissioner Hogan on the impact of Brexit and the need for comprehensive supports to be deployed, in particular to mitigate the impact on the beef sector. The common organisation of the markets, CMO, regulation, which was put in place under the Irish Presidency of the European Union in 2013, provides a comprehensive toolbox for dealing with market disruption. This includes intervention, aids to private storage and exceptional measures. The Commissioner has reiterated the European Union's readiness to respond and support Ireland, and we will remain in contact on these issues as the situation evolves.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

I also recently met fisheries Commissioner, Karmenu Vella, to discuss and share concerns about the potential serious impacts for Irish fishing fleets if they are excluded from UK waters in a no-deal Brexit situation. Commissioner Vella has already indicated that member states can have additional flexibility in the use of existing European Maritime and Fisheries Fund-funded programmes to support fishermen in the event of a hard Brexit. He has also indicated that the EU has the necessary legal framework to manage reciprocal arrangements after Brexit should the UK provide access to its waters to the end of 2019.

I thank the Minister for his response. While he may tell us he is increasingly engaging with stakeholders, unfortunately, he is not able to enlighten us any further on the specific contingencies or supports that will be in place in the event of a hard Brexit. For him to try to tell us that the beef scheme or the ANC scheme is somehow related to his Brexit response is a bit rich. Since October 2017 when budget 2018 was announced and published, he has been telling us consistently that the Brexit loan scheme he announced in that budget would be a key part of his response and preparation for a hard Brexit. Yet today, only a few weeks from 12 April and only three days from the original exit date, where is that loan scheme? It has not been delivered by him despite the fact that it was his response and first defence with respect to how he was going to do the devil and all to prepare for Brexit. Likewise, last August, we heard him indicate he was going to hire 300 sanitary and phytosanitary, SPS, officers but in September he revised that down to 114. How many of those are available today? The Minister cannot tell us because they are not there. Again, we are totally unprepared.

The Minister is aware of the massive pressure the beef sector in particular is under. The British Government has outlined its proposed tariffs. It is long past time that the specific supports that will be available from the Irish Government and the European Commission were made clear to the agrifood sector and to farmers in particular. The Minister needs to front up and provide clarity on that now.

On the loan scheme to which the Deputy alludes, we have already had two successful forays in this area. We had the €150 million working capital scheme and the €300 million loan scheme. The next one, the details of which will be announced and available shortly, is for those who are contemplating capital investment. I take the observation the Deputy made that it is long awaited but he will appreciate, in the context of the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, that the reality is that many businesses, agribusinesses included, have pressed a pause button until they see the certainty. The focus of the Government’s endeavour has been on trying to provide certainty in an area where we do not control the levers in terms of what the UK decisions will be. Our preference is that it would ratify a withdrawal agreement. I do not accept the Deputy’s rationale that it looks more unlikely. In fact, more recent developments might suggest that the withdrawal agreement might be moving back centre stage again in the context of deliberations in the UK Parliament but I am very satisfied that we are ready. The responses will be a collaborative endeavour between the Commission and the Government. The Deputy heard the Commissioner respond. We have discussed in detail what may be necessary but we will need to see what the practical fallout is.

I am glad to hear that the Minister is satisfied because I do not believe any others are, or certainly the agrifood sector is not. I am pointing out to the Minister nothing more than his own commentary since October 2017 on the loan scheme. He was the man selling it as a key panacea and measure by the Government to prepare for a hard Brexit. They were his own words. It was the first point he would make. Regardless of the issue or concern we would raise with him, his response was to the effect, "Don’t worry guys. I have this loan scheme coming". It is a bit rich, with the possibility of a hard Brexit only a couple of weeks away, that the scheme still has not arrived and that the Minister has not delivered on it. Unfortunately, that is symptomatic of the other preparations we have not seen from him.

When responding the Minister might update us on the 300 SPS veterinary officers he was to hire. Again, as recently as last September, he was telling us they would be in place in the event of a hard Brexit. I am aware he downgraded that figure to 116. How many of those are in place? That was another key measure he said would be in place.

The unfortunate reality is that the Government is not prepared for a hard Brexit. It has hoped for the best rather that prepared for the worst. Can the Minister clarify now the status of those veterinary officers?

In particular, we need absolute clarity in regard to the support packages that will be available to the agrifood sector in the event of a hard Brexit because it is already impacting on confidence and prices.

I assure the Deputy that, if the UK becomes a third country, the infrastructure that is required to keep trade moving at places like Rosslare, Dublin Port or Dublin Airport, and all of the necessary backup staff and front-line staff that will be necessary for that, will be in place to meet that contingency should it arise.

How many has the Department hired?

I will get the Deputy the exact figures but they are along the lines he has quoted in terms of the 120 between Rosslare and Dublin Port and the necessary backup staff, supervisory staff and veterinary expertise that would be necessary. I am satisfied we have that.

What we have been trying to do since 23 June is build resilience within the sector, inside and outside the farm gate, and I think we have succeeded in doing that. However, I would preface those comments by saying it is not possible in regard to Brexit preparedness to mitigate all of the downsides. I have always said there is no upside to Brexit. It is a damage limitation exercise in terms of our market exposure to the UK, of trying to work with State agencies to look at new market opportunities for business and of building resilience inside the farm gate in regard to areas of natural constraint, ANC, payments and a whole host of other initiatives. Brexit is a bad news story. It is about damage limitation in terms of what we have been able to do for the sector.

Brexit Issues

Questions (55)

Martin Kenny

Question:

55. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the results of negotiations with the European Commission regarding the threat by Britain to apply full WTO tariffs to agrifood products from Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13995/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Agriculture)

I ask the Minister to outline the results of negotiations with the European Commission regarding the threat by Britain to apply full WTO tariffs to agrifood products from Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. I particularly want to focus on the tariff issue because it will have the biggest impact on the whole agrifood sector, in particular the beef sector, given we export over 50% of the beef produced in Ireland to Britain. At the moment, we are looking at a tariff of between 75 cent and €1.60 per kilo, which is very serious.

I point out first that the tariff proposals announced by the British Government, somewhat regrettably, very late in the day, relate to a no-deal scenario, which is by no means certain at this stage. We have been aware from the outset that a tariff regime will significantly impact on the competitiveness of the Irish agriculture sector. Any tariff regime is unambiguously very serious for Irish agrifood exports to the UK and most particularly for the beef sector, which would be worst affected. That is why we have worked so hard to secure the withdrawal agreement that would enable both sides to negotiate a future relationship agreement with the aim of avoiding tariffs and quotas.

The UK proposals are complex and the Government is continuing to analyse the detail, as well as assess the potentially serious and negative impact for industry. However, it should be stressed that no option would be as good as what is available on the table in the withdrawal agreement. The Government has been engaging very closely with the European Commission regarding the potential impact of a disorderly Brexit and the need for the Commission to be ready to deploy a range of measures to help mitigate the potential impacts on farmers and processors. The Common Market Organisation regulation, which was put in place under the Irish Presidency of the EU in 2013, provides a comprehensive toolbox for dealing with market disruption. This includes measures such as intervention, aids to private storage and exceptional measures.

At recent bilateral meetings that I have held with Commissioner Hogan, he has confirmed the EU’s readiness to respond and to support Ireland. This process of engagement is continuing and the Government will not be found wanting when it comes to supporting the Irish agrifood sector.

The core issue is that mentioned by the Minister, that of exceptional measures. Everyone is aware of intervention and the various other market disruption measures that can be taken at any time when we have disruption somewhere in the market. Brexit is unique and is something we have not encountered at any time in the history of the EU. The exceptional measures are what we need to get to. How can Irish farmers be sure of what will happen in the next six or eight months, or in two years, even if there is not a crash-out and there is a deal? All we are talking about is an insurance policy until a proper arrangement is put in place but we do not know what that proper arrangement is going to be. If the past is a reflection of the future, it looks like it will be a very poor arrangement because the ability of the British Government to date to negotiate something which is serious and worthwhile, and which will bring a dividend for everyone, has been very poor.

As the Deputy rightly said, what we want to get to is a situation where, preferably through a withdrawal agreement and a transition arrangement, we negotiate a comprehensive free trade agreement. However, it is also the case that even if the UK crashes out by a more circuitous route, we will end up back in a situation where we sit down and negotiate. The Government's position has always been that it is preferable to do that sooner rather than later and to approve the withdrawal agreement.

On the tariff regime that was published, we had estimated that if the UK applied the full WTO tariff to the Irish agrifood offering to the UK, it would have cost in the region of €1.7 billion on our exports of €4.5 billion in 2018. The UK has not done that. Instead, it has taken a rather à la carte approach to tariffs. Obviously, what we would have calculated on a full WTO tariff of around €700 million on the beef side is somewhat less in the context of what it has proposed, but nonetheless damaging. For example, on sheepmeat, it has taken a position to apply the full tariff because it has a significant market in France and it is trying to protect its home market, given it is losing that French market. It has been designed to suit the UK's purpose. Our response will be tailored and, obviously, the beef sector, because it would take the biggest hit, although not as bad as it could have been if the UK had applied full WTO tariffs, would have to be assessed as to what the price impact is for producers who are finishing cattle, and how we would direct responses to those farmers.

We are all aware of the huge amounts of Irish beef that cross the channel to Britain. I have been speaking to people in the industry, in particular those working in the processing factories, so I know the same processors that own factories here own factories in the UK. Is there a situation where, rather than bringing meat across, they will bring the cattle across and do the processing over there? Many of the workers they have employed are transient because it is not like the past. When I was growing up, many people worked in meat factories and went around wearing white aprons, but none of them work in meat factories anymore. There are very few Irish people working in them and most of the people working in the meat factories are Brazilians or from other countries because it is a low wage sector. The danger is the processors could move everything, lock, stock and barrel, across the water and bring the cattle across to avoid these tariffs. That would be very detrimental for a whole sector of our meat industry and for the spin-off it has in the economies where factories exist. We need to arrive at a situation where we can get certainty, not just for the farmer but also for the people involved in the industry, to make sure we do not see the detrimental effects of these tariffs on the entire industry.

Our objective is to make sure we protect the beef industry because it is a very significant engine in the rural economy. It is interesting to note that there is a lower tariff schedule for live exports. Of course, we do not want the impact on the beef producers but neither do we want it on the broader economy which supports them, given 16,000 people are working in the meat processing sector generally. We are aware of all of the possible consequences. The exceptional aid was deployed previously under the Common Market Organisation regulation when the Russian market was closed and there was a particular impact on the Baltic states. I think the UK departure is much more significant for the EU market generally. However, the principle of exceptional aid was deployed then and the Commissioner has said the Commission stands ready in the context of exceptional aid, apart altogether from things like aids to private storage and intervention, which are the stock response for normal - if I might use the term - market disturbances. These will also be necessary but exceptional aid is where the game is at in the context of a hard Brexit in particular.

Live Exports

Questions (56)

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

56. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of discussions he has had with the French authorities to expand the lairage capacity at Cherbourg Port in order to increase live export of calves. [14215/19]

View answer

Oral answers (17 contributions) (Question to Agriculture)

What is the status of discussions the Minister has had with the French authorities to expand the lairage capacity at Cherbourg Port in order to increase capacity for the live export of calves? As he will know, the live export of calves, particularly bulk dairy calves, is essential in terms of ensuring we can address the oversupply issues we have seen in the last year undermining the beef price in our domestic market. Given the lack of action from the Minister, as I see it, I am interested to hear an update.

Live exports are a critical part of Ireland’s livestock industry. They play a significant role in stimulating price competition and providing an alternative market outlet for farmers. The Department facilitates this trade, recognising its critical importance to the agrifood sector, while also ensuring that live animal exports meet the highest welfare standards. In 2018, live exports of cattle increased by over 30% to 246,000 compared to 2017. This growth trend has continued into 2019, with live exports totalling 58,000 up to early March, which is a 35% increase on the same period in 2018. However, I am cognisant of the challenges within the live export trade, particularly the issue of capacity in lairages in France.

My officials are in ongoing communication with Irish exporters with regard to the need for co-operative management among themselves to ensure that the lairage capacity at Cherbourg is optimised. The development of additional lairage capacity is a commercial issue. The live export sector may wish to consider developing an additional lairage in Cherbourg or engaging with the owners of existing facilities to explore the potential for additional capacity. Notwithstanding this, there has been significant engagement with the French authorities regarding this matter. In September 2018, officials from my Department visited Cherbourg to discuss the capacity issue with the French authorities and local lairage operators. Last month, Bord Bia met local lairage operators, while departmental officials held a meeting with the IFA and French embassy representatives. I also raised the issue last month with the French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian and last week I discussed the matter further with my French agriculture counterpart, Didier Guillaume, at the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting in Brussels. I should make it clear that the facilitation of the French ministry relates to the approval of private sector developments. Following this engagement, I am happy to report that in recent weeks the French authorities have approved an increase of the holding capacity of the Qualivia lairage in Cherbourg. This will provide additional daily capacity for 400 animals. Based on current ferry sailing schedules, this provides increased capacity of some 1,200 animals per week. The Deputy can rest assured that I will continue to advocate on behalf of our exporters with regard to this issue.

The Minister said that I can rest assured that he will continue to prioritise this issue but I am not assured by his performance to date. I am not assured that he even fully understands or comprehends the importance of this issue or his role in ensuring that the live export trade is maximised. The Minister knows that the Irish beef sector is under massive pressure in terms of prices and the losses that farmers are taking. The only good market in recent months has been the demand in Spain and Holland for dairy bull calves, which have been plentiful in recent years as a result of the milk quota having been abolished. The Minister should have been working with the sector to ensure there were no blockages in terms of lairage capacity at Cherbourg that would limit the amount of animals that could be exported from the country. Instead, he washed his hands of any role in this. At the same time, he is trying to take credit for a belated and small increase in capacity. The Minister has been asleep on the job in terms of his responsibility here and farmers' incomes will take a hit as a result of the live export market not being utilised to the greatest extent possible.

What effort is the Minister making now to ensure that capacity can be further increased in order to maximise the market, albeit that the peak has unfortunately passed for this year?

The Deputy conveniently ignores the facts and relies on emotion but the figures speak for themselves. Year on year, up until the end of February, exports are up by 35%. We exported 160,000 calves last year and a total of 245,000 cattle, which was an increase of 30% on the figures from the previous year. Indeed, the 2017 figures saw an increase of 30% on the 2016 figures. The commitment of the Government and Members on this side of the House to live exports is on the record in that context. What I will not do, however - and I hope the Deputy will not condone it either - is facilitate live exports through the breaching of regulations. The surest way to bring the industry to a shuddering halt is by ignoring the regulations. I ask Deputy McConalogue to confirm that it is also his position that there must be no breach of the regulations because this industry is too important to Ireland.

I engaged directly with live exporters last July. I pointed out that there was an increased volume of calves coming down the line and that the Department would reduce the levy substantially, to the tune of 160,000 calves, resulting in a saving to the industry of €750,000. I asked them to engage with the lairage providers in France and told them to organise themselves so that they could share the facilities and sweat them to the maximum extent possible. It is regrettable that the sector did very little, if anything, to co-ordinate the use of lairage facilities in France. The Department offered to organise and help the exporters come together in a collective way to arrange that.

The Minister is seeking refuge by trying to spread the blame. He has argued that the export sector has not done as much as it could but he is ignoring his own responsibility here. Standards have to be met and regulations have to be kept but we must ensure that there is sufficient capacity to maximise the export market. The Minister has taken no action to do so. Bord Bia collects a levy on every calf that is exported. Last year, €300,000 was collected by Bord Bia for this purpose. The Minister said that departmental officials were in Cherbourg in September 2018 and Bord Bia was there more recently. Unfortunately, the Minister was working on the premise that there would be additional ferry capacity over the last few months, which has proven to be wrong. He did not take the action required to ensure that the capacity was in place in Cherbourg to maximise exports. The calves that did not leave the country in the last few weeks as a result of the Minister's inaction will be in the system here and will be oversupplying our market in 18 months' time. However, it is not too late for him to step up to the mark. The Minister must admit that he has a key responsibility here and stop washing his hands of the problem while farmers lose out on income.

Again, rather than dealing with the facts of the situation, the Deputy has failed to clarify his own position on compliance with the regulations. I will not permit a situation to develop whereby this trade is facilitated in a way that is in breach of-----

I said that the regulations had to be met-----

I did not interrupt the Deputy-----

----and the Minister must take on the role of ensuring that there is sufficient capacity-----

It is not the role of the Department to provide private lairage facilities in another country.

(Interruptions).

The departmental levy is gone as an incentive-----

Please allow the Minister, without interruption.

Does Deputy McConalogue want to subsidise the exporters?

Please let the Minister answer the question.

They did not take up the offer of a boat out of Cork.

What about Bord Bia's role here?

We told the industry clearly that we would not levy the charge that we had been levying, provided the exporters themselves organised additional capacity. We met them well in advance of this spring's calving season. Notwithstanding that, the facts show that the numbers are increasing significantly. I would like to see the industry organised sufficiently and co-operating together to increase the calf export potential but that has not happened. It is not the function of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to spend Irish taxpayers' money providing lairage facilities in a third country. We do not provide lairage facilities in Ireland, not to mind providing them for private business in France.

Live Exports

Questions (57)

Danny Healy-Rae

Question:

57. Deputy Danny Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the additional markets being sourced for live exports of cattle and provision of extra lairage for the export of dairy bred calves at Cherbourg, in view of Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14205/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Agriculture)

Farmers are at a low ebb. They feel beaten and let down. All over the country, they are on their knees and are at the point of giving up. More live cattle exports are needed, as well as more markets for processed beef. As Deputy McConalogue has said, extra lairage is required in Cherbourg for dairy-bred calves. I do not care whether it is the Minister or Bord Bia that provides the facilities but we owe it to the farmers of Ireland to provide additional lairage in order to take calves out of the system.

Live exports are a critical part of Ireland’s livestock industry. They play a significant role in stimulating price competition and providing an alternative market outlet for farmers. The Department facilitates this trade, recognising its critical importance to the agrifood sector, while also ensuring that live animal exports meet the highest welfare standards. In 2018 live exports of cattle increased by more than 30% to 246,000 compared to 2017. This growth trend has continued into 2019, with live exports totalling 58,000 up to early March, which is an increase of 35% on the same period in 2018.

My Department continues to prioritise efforts to gain access to new third country markets and deepen existing markets, particularly in the context of Brexit. I visited Turkey earlier this month to meet my Turkish counterpart, Dr. Bekir Pakdemirli, Minister for Agriculture and Forestry, when we discussed existing and future opportunities for technical co-operation, trade in agrifood products and live exports. I stressed the importance of the Turkish market for Irish livestock and the desire to re-establish trade as soon as possible. Dr. Pakdemirli indicated his intention to consider the reopening of the market in the second half of 2019. It was also agreed that officials from both countries would continue to explore opportunities for future co-operation and a visit by a Turkish technical team, including officials from the Ministry of Agriculture and the ESK - the Turkish meat and milk board - is planned for this summer.

Next week I will be meeting the Kazakh ambassador to discuss new health certification for trade of live animals to Kazakhstan. My Department is also engaging closely with officials to reach agreement on three proposed health and breeding certificates for the export of fattening, slaughter and breeding cattle to Egypt. Last November my Department reached agreement with Libya on a new veterinary health certificate for the export of breeding cattle and an amended veterinary certificate for the export of fattening and slaughter cattle. This increases the opportunity for exporters to export a wider range of cattle. A consignment of bulls destined for Libya set sail yesterday.

I have also extended an invitation to my Algerian counterpart to visit Ireland in 2019. This follows earlier contact with Algeria to try to reach agreement on revised and separate slaughter, fattening and breeding certificates.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

With regard to lairage capacity at Cherbourg, my officials are in ongoing communication with Irish exporters on the need for co-operative management between each other to ensure lairage capacity at the port is optimised. The development of additional lairage capacity is a commercial issue. The live export sector may wish to consider developing additional lairage in Cherbourg or engaging with owners of existing facilities there to explore the potential to provide additional capacity. Notwithstanding this, there has been significant engagement with the French authorities on this matter. In September 2018 officials from my Department visited Cherbourg to discuss the capacity issue with the French authorities and local lairage operators. Last month Bord Bia met local lairage operators, while departmental officials held a meeting with the Irish Farmers Association, IFA, and French embassy representatives. I also raised the issue last month with the French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, while last week I discussed the matter with my French counterpart, Didier Guillaume, at the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting in Brussels. I should make it clear that the facilitation of the French ministry relates to the approval of private sector developments. Following this engagement, I am happy to report that in recent weeks the French authorities have approved an increase in the holding capacity of the Qualivia lairage in Cherbourg. It will provide additional daily capacity for 400 animals. Based on current ferry sailing schedules, it will provide increased capacity for some 1,200 animals per week.

The Deputy can rest assured that I will continue to advocate on behalf of exporters on this issue.

I thank the Minister for the efforts he is making. I am glad that the mart in Castleisland now has a job to export 1,500 bulls to Turkey. However, more live exports and more permits are needed for small beef processors to allow them to sell beef to China and other countries. It is amazing that five licences have been granted to the major meat processing companies, while 11 other permit applications are waiting to be processed to allow smaller beef processors to sell beef to China, but they are being held up by the Department. Will the Minister explain why? The factories dropped their price again yesterday by five cent per kilo. We need competition in the market, as well as more live cattle exports and more competition in the beef processing industry. Why have the 11 applications from small beef processors been held up?

I advise the Deputy that they have not been held up by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The approval of permits for the export of beef to China is a matter for the Chinese authorities. We prosecute all applications on their behalf with the Chinese authorities. I will visit China again later this year as part of a trade delegation when I hope to progress these matters. I will also seek to do so in the interim. The Chinese market is significant. For dairy and pork products, China is our second biggest market after the United Kingdom. The same could possibly happen for beef. We attach a lot of significance to securing the maximum facilitation of trade, but with that trade comes terms and conditions. In many respects, we are takers. For example, if China determines that it will not take cattle under 30 months and that it does not want cattle that have spent the last period of their lives - 70 days - on one holding, or if international customers determine that they do not want cattle that have been subject to more than four movements, these are all conditions with which we, as an exporter, will have to comply. Obviously, we try to make progress to secure the maximum facilitation of trade and the least number of restrictions and the least amount of red tape, but competent authorities, the markets and retail partners determine the specifications.

Why are cattle in the United Kingdom, including the North of Ireland, making €200 per head more than cattle in the South? There is uproar about the grading machines used in the factories. The sergeant for weights and measures is responsible for measures at petrol pumps and in public houses. Does the Department have any role to play in the calibration of grading machines used in the factories? They should be sealed and calibrated by departmental officials. Is this happening? Is the Department playing any role in ensuring the farmer receives a fair price for what he or she is selling to the factory? It seems to farmers that they are not being treated fairly by the factories and that the Department is not playing the role it should be playing in ensuring grading machines and the grid system for pricing are operated fairly to ensure the farmer will be paid properly for his or her produce.

The Deputy has asked a number of questions. The issue of the price differential between here and the United Kingdom is often raised, but it must be borne in mind that Ireland has to export 90% of what it produces, be it to the UK market or anywhere else; there is, therefore, a cost element. There is also the fact that the UK consumer receives preference in the case of Red Tractor assured beef, rather than produce from other countries. Ireland enjoys preferential status in the UK market, but its beef is not valued as highly in the context of the British consumer's preference for Red Tractor assured beef. When I meet representatives of the meat industry, I repeatedly make the point to them that there would be no meat companies or meat industry without the beef farmers and that the industry must be conscious that this fact underpins the business.

I put it to Deputy Danny Healy-Rae that the position of sergeant for weights and measures is a thing of the past. They are now functions of the National Standards Authority of Ireland, NSAI. My Department has a function in the calibration of grading machines. The payment arising from the grid system stems from a contractual arrangement entered into between the farm organisations and the processors, depending on where one's cattle lands on the grid which is complex. There are 225 disparate categorisations. The payment that follows, depending on into which slots the cattle fall, is an issue between the farm organisations and the processors as negotiated; it is not something for which the Department has responsibility. As the competent authority, we have a function in monitoring the use of grading machines and carry out more on-site inspections than we are obliged to do by regulation.

Waste Management

Questions (58)

Eamon Ryan

Question:

58. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the assessment planned for the potential scale of anaerobic digestion as a new economic opportunity for farmers and a way of dealing with waste products; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14233/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Agriculture)

The development of anaerobic digestion will have a role in the new energy future and in the future of farming by way of providing income. We must, however, ensure it will be sustainable in every way and environmentally sustainable more than anything else. I am keen to hear from the Minister on the assessment he has made of the quantity of and the environmental side effects of the development of anaerobic digestion in order that we will not lead farmers up a cul-de-sac from which they must subsequently be withdrawn.

My Department recognises the potential environmental and economic benefits of using anaerobic digestion, including climate mitigation, water quality and air quality, as well as supporting diversification of income for farmers. Research suggests the biogas produced from anaerobic digestion could potentially play a significant role in the heat and transport sectors, in particular.

The anaerobic digestion industry in Ireland is at an early stage of development compared to the more established industry in many European countries. Potential for the growth of the anaerobic digestion sector in Ireland is strong, but it should be seen as a long-term development. The main support for the development of anaerobic digestion will be through the pending support scheme for renewable heat operated by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. The scheme will provide ongoing operational support for anaerobic digestion biogas boilers or biogas high efficiency combined heat and power heating systems.

My Department supports research, development and demonstration in this area. As recently as October 2018, two projects were approved for funding from the European Innovation Partnerships Initiative under the rural development programme. The Biorefinery Glas small-scale, farmer-led green biorefineries and the Irish BioEnergy Association's small biogas demonstration programme have each been awarded funding of over €900,000. In addition, my Department has a key regulatory role to play when using animal by-products as feedstock for anaerobic digestion. We encourage the use and recovery of these by-products in a safe and protected manner and look forward to the growth of the sector and the opportunities it can provide for rural Ireland to meet renewable energy and carbon and emissions targets. There are 12 anaerobic digesters producing biogas in operation nationally that are approved by and operating under licence from my Department. The capital costs of such anaerobic digestion systems are quite significant and challenges remain in the sustainable supply of various feedstocks for anaerobic digestion. My Department continues to work closely with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, the lead Department in this area, to ensure the supply of domestic fuels available in the forest and agriculture sectors will be mobilised to support green energy generation from a range of bioenergy technologies, including anaerobic digestion.

It is the last clause the Minister read where the challenge is in terms of feedstock. As well as looking at successes in other countries, there are areas at which to look which raise real concerns. North of the Border, in Northern Ireland, there has been a massive expansion in anaerobic digestion, which seems to serve certain self-interested industrial farming production methods with knock-on environmental consequences which are very serious. Research reports which I have seen show real concern about the availability of feedstock which would not if we, for example, used grass, kick into our ability to feed our national herd. We have had fodder crises in the last two years. There are potentially major knock-on consequences in the release of ammonia and the nature of the farming system one gets with this system. I come back to my key question; what assessment has the Department done of the environmental challenge of developing anaerobic digestion without developing a massive and polluting industrial farming system to go with it?

The issue is under active consideration in my Department and that of my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, in the context of the overall Government plan on climate change proposals. From our point of view, the concern is the very significant capital investment. In fact, I was looking at some data and note it can cost anything from €191,000 for a 4 kW anaerobic digestion, AD, plant to almost €4.5 million for a 500 kW plant. That is just the capital investment required and does not take into account issues around the supply of feedstock to sustain that and the renewable energy feed-in tariff scheme, REFIT, tariff that might be necessary. Supporting capital infrastructure, ongoing supports that might be necessary through a REFIT tariff, the availability on a sustainable basis of feedstock, either animal by-products or in other forms and how that might impact on the availability of feedstock for the national herd are all part of the complex matrix of issues that need to be deliberated. It is not possible at this stage to draw definitive conclusions other than to say that it is capital intensive and will have a significant ongoing cost. Whether it will be supported by the State or better use can be made of those funds in other areas of the climate change agenda is a matter on which the jury is currently out.

One of the recommendations from our climate report, which we have already agreed, is a national land-use plan to provide a strategy for how we use our land. Within that and by the end of the year or as soon as possible as part of our national energy and climate action plan, we should have an answer to the question of what the optimum level of anaerobic digestion is. That should be driven by environmental considerations first. While capital and other considerations are equally issues, they are not the key issue. We must ensure that if we are Origin Green in name, we are Origin Green in reality. We must not make the mistake that was made in Northern Ireland whereby certain types of production are increased massively, which may be harmful in other ways, just to get an anaerobic digestion grant out or to get capital projects over the line. We should run it from an environmental assessment first and that will need to be done by the end of the year in order to answer the question of what the optimum level should be to fit in with an Irish family farming system.

Any money the State spends on any initiative in the climate change area will be to deliver on the climate agenda and to achieve value for money. To put it another way, could the money available be spent on some other initiative in climate to deliver a greater dividend for us? That is the framework within which we are looking at it. We are considering capital costs, running costs, the availability of feedstock and what it delivers to reduce our carbon footprint. They are all in the mix. I await with interest the climate change report and I appreciate that a great deal of work has gone into it from all parties and colleagues. It will obviously form a very important part of the consideration. In particular, the Deputy referred to the possibility of a land-use policy in that context. I am less in favour of prescription and more in favour of encouragement. We have seen what is happening in Leitrim in the context of a land-use policy at the moment. People there are saying they do not want any more trees. A land-use policy might mean in some quarters telling people that they must engage in a specified activity on a specified soil type and on a different activity on a different soil type. I am not in favour of that. It is not fair to ask any particular community, as I have said several times, that on a particular land type, they must take all the trees while others get on with a different type of activity. It is not fair.