Carbon Sequestration

Questions (81)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

81. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the measures being taken to increase carbon sequestration through soil management in the farming industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13984/19]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

My Department recognises the importance of soil carbon and its contribution to the mitigation of climate change through its ability to sequester atmospheric CO2. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has made and will continue to make an increasingly significant contribution to the environmental sustainability of the Irish agriculture. One of the priorities of CAP is to protect grasslands and avoid any downward pressure that would negatively change their use.

In particular farmers are required to comply with the Statutory management requirements (SMRs) and Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAEC) provisions, and the agri-environmental measures contained in Rural Development Programmes (RDP).

The greening elements of CAP and GAEC contribute to protecting soil and landscape carbon pools. Temperate grasslands have the potential to sequester carbon, i.e. act as a carbon sink, helping to mitigate rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations, therefore potentially contributing to climate change mitigation.

In addition, measures contained within the RDP-funded Green Low-Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme (GLAS), encourage soil management practices that favour carbon sequestration, such as planting of cover crops, tree and minimum tillage practices. For example, almost 26,000 hectares of arable land is planted with catch crops annually which prevents soil erosion and absorbs valuable plant nutrients. This measure has the capacity to absorb 1.25 million tonnes of nitrogen annually, minimising the need for chemical fertilisers thereby having an environmental and economic benefit. The carbon sequestration potential of the 5,000 groves of trees planted under GLAS equates to approximately 450 hectares of woodland which is c. 900 tonnes of CO2 annually.

Scientific research also has a central role to play in developing our understanding of the carbon sequestration potential of our natural land resources. My Department recognises the important role that land use plays in mitigating greenhouse gases and is strongly committed to providing funding for targeted research in the area of carbon sequestration. Since 2010, my Department has provided more than €4.9 million towards on-going research into the carbon sequestration potential of agricultural and forest lands.

Tuberculosis Eradication Programme

Questions (82)

Martin Kenny

Question:

82. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on the comments made to the Oireachtas Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine that his Department is operating a tuberculosis containment programme rather than a tuberculosis eradication programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13986/19]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Since December 2018, Department officials, Professor Simon More of UCD and Veterinary Ireland representatives have appeared in front of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

The submission provided by Professor More to the Committee highlighted that prior to the development of a vaccine for badgers, eradication of bovine TB in Ireland was not possible with the policy tools available. However, following the successful scientific trialling of badger vaccination, research from UCD concluded that the current TB Eradication Programme has the tools available to achieve eradication.

Good progress has been made in reducing the incidence of TB in cattle in recent years. In the year 2000, 10,785 farmers experienced a TB restriction. In contrast, in 2018 there were 3, 874 herds restricted for TB, a 65% decrease on the year 2000 figures. While this historically low level of TB is very much to be welcomed, the work done in UCD tells us that without some additional measures the estimated timeline for eradication is 60 to 90 years.

The impacts of TB on a farmer are severe, causing financial hardship and emotional stress. This is why it is so important to reduce the numbers of farmers affected and to move to eradicate this disease. For that reason, I directed my officials to establish the TB Stakeholder Forum last year, so that all stakeholders can have a voice in discussing which policy options should be chosen to reduce disease levels and eradicate bovine TB from Ireland. Maintaining the status quo, with the addition of badger vaccination will lead to eradication over a 60-90 year period, but the science from UCD suggests that extra measures that could be applied to the programme can bring about eradication in a much shorter time frame. The forum has been tasked with agreeing measures that can further address disease transmission with the objective of achieving eradication by 2030. All stakeholders at the Forum have an opportunity to discuss which choices should be made to reduce TB levels.

I look forward to receiving a report from the forum in the coming months.

Agriculture Scheme Data

Questions (83)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

83. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of farmers in receipt of more than €60,000 from the basic payment scheme in 2018; the amount of BPS and greening payments paid to these farmers; the percentage of farmers entitled to the 30% top-up greening payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13803/19]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Under the Direct Payment system a farmer's payment can be a combination of payment under four separate schemes:

- Basic Payment Scheme (BPS)

- Payment for Agricultural Practices beneficial for the Climate and the Environment (Greening Payment)

- Young Farmers Scheme (YFS)

- Aid for protein crops

All eligible farmers will receive a payment under the BPS and a Greening Payment. The Greening payment is a top up of the Basic Payment Scheme and amounts to approximately 44% of the total value of entitlements activated. Over 90% of farmers automatically qualify for the Greening Payment on the basis of their current farming practices. The remainder a required to undertake specific measures to qualify.

123,307 eligible applications were received under the 2018 Basic Payment Scheme and payments amounting to €1.174bn have issued to 123,028 applicants. In total, 99.8% of applicants who have received a BPS payment have also received a Greening payment.

Of these, 275 applicants have received a BPS payment of more than €60,000. In all, these farmers have received €21.74m in BPS payments and €9.57m in Greening payments.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Questions (84)

Eamon Ryan

Question:

84. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he has revisited the herd expansion plans in view of the report of the IPCC on climate change and recent calls for drastic action in reducing emissions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13977/19]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Decisions in relation to the expansion or reduction in herd sizes are determined by individual farmers based on commercial considerations.

However, Ireland has a comparative advantage in grass-based carbon efficient livestock production. The EU Commission JRC report (2010) found that Ireland is the most carbon efficient producer in the EU per unit of dairy production, and the fifth most carbon efficient producer per unit of beef. However, inherent challenges remain for the sector in terms of contributing to Ireland’s climate change and renewable energy targets.

Food Wise 2025 is a ten-year strategy agreed by a range of stakeholders, both public and private, and adopted by the Government as an overarching policy for the Irish agri-food sector. It underlines the agri-food sector’s unique and special position within the Irish economy and illustrates the potential for further development.

Food Wise includes more than 400 specific recommendations, spread across cross-cutting themes including environmental sustainability; as well as specific sectoral recommendations. If these recommendations are implemented, the expert committee, which drew up the Food Wise 2025 Strategy, believed that the following growth projections are achievable by 2025: increasing the value of agri-food exports by 85% to €19 billion; increasing value-added in the sector by 70% to in excess of €13 billion; and increasing the value of primary production by 65% to almost €10 billion.

Food Wise is the latest in a series of strategies that are renewed every five years and preparations for a new strategy to 2030 are underway. Its development will involve: an analysis of a range of cross-cutting themes and the various sub-sectors of the agri-food industry; a formal public consultation; and the establishment of a committee to develop the strategy.

Without pre-empting the work of the new committee and the eventual content of the 2030 strategy, it is clear that the cross-cutting themes contained in Food Wise (environmental sustainability, market development, competitiveness, innovation, and human capital) will continue to be highly relevant. It is likely that environmental sustainability, and in particular the contribution that agriculture can make to climate action, will need significant consideration and prominence.

In this regard, my Department is currently developing an environmental sustainability roadmap for the agri-food sector to ensure that the future development of agriculture and the land-use sector, including forestry, will be built upon and contribute fairly to Ireland’s climate and energy targets. This roadmap will be published later this year and will form a key element of the 2030 strategy. In parallel, my Department is also working on the development of Ireland’s CAP Strategic Plan, which in line with the EU Commission’s proposals, will recognise that greater environmental and climate ambition is required.

Meanwhile my Department continues to review options that will enable our farmers to transition to a low carbon economy. The recently published Teagasc report “An Analysis of Abatement Potential of Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Irish Agriculture 2021-2030” is key to informing the type of measures we need to implement to continue to reduce the carbon footprint of the sector.

While the mitigation potential for agriculture is limited, agriculture can and must play a key role in contributing to Ireland’s climate change and energy targets in the years ahead.

Aquaculture Regulation

Questions (85)

Thomas Pringle

Question:

85. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the procedure for certifying Lough Foyle oysters after production as they enter the market; the body responsible for carrying out health and safety certification of Lough Foyle oysters; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13920/19]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

In relation to the certification of fishery products entering the market, the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) conducts official controls on live bivalve mollusc production areas to ensure compliance by Ireland with its official control obligations, and compliance by operators with their food safety obligations. Many of the requirements are set down in EU regulations. The Sea-Fisheries & Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006 clearly provides that the SFPA is independent in the exercise of its functions and as such I have no remit as to its work programme.

Under a Memorandum of Understanding with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, the official sampling of molluscs for both microbiological and biotoxin monitoring purposes is carried out by the cross-border Loughs Agency. The Loughs Agency falls within the remit of my colleague the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

The Marine Institute is the National Reference Laboratory for biotoxins in shellfish products. Harvesting of shellfish products for the market for human consumption can only take place when the biotoxin status is within the relevant limits. I understand that samples are sent from production areas around the coast to the Marine Institute for analysis in that regard.

I am advised that the Loughs Agency is responsible for coordination to ensure that product would not be allowed to be harvested from the Lough when a biotoxin regulatory limit is exceeded.

These are operational matters for the agencies concerned.

Agriculture Scheme Data

Questions (86)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

86. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of farmers in receipt of a combined payment of more than €60,000 from the basic payment scheme and the greening payment; the amount paid to these farmers under both payments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13804/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Under the Direct Payment system a farmer's payment can be a combination of payment under four separate schemes:

- Basic Payment Scheme (BPS)

- Payment for Agricultural Practices beneficial for the Climate and the Environment (Greening Payment)

- Young Farmers Scheme (YFS)

- Aid for protein crops

All eligible farmers will receive a payment under the BPS and a Greening Payment. The Greening payment is a top up of the Basic Payment Scheme and amounts to approximately 44% of the total value of entitlements activated. Over 90% of farmers automatically qualify for the Greening Payment on the basis of their current farming practices. The remainder are required to undertake specific measures to qualify.

123,307 eligible applications were received under the 2018 Basic Payment Scheme and payments amounting to €1.174bn have issued to 123,028 applicants.

Of these, a total of 870 applicants have received a combined BPS and Greening payment of more than €60,000 amounting to an overall payment of €73.24m, of which €50.86m was paid under BPS and €22.38m was paid under Greening.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Questions (87)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

87. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the measures being taken to address the 2.9% increase in greenhouse gas emissions from the agriculture sector in 2017 in view of EU climate mitigation obligations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13985/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

My Department is actively engaged as part of the whole of Government approach to transitioning to a low-carbon, competitive, sustainable and climate resilient economy and society.

The National Mitigation Plan (NMP) has identified a series of mitigation actions and measures for the agriculture and land use sector including forestry, including timelines for delivery. These measures not only focus on the mitigation of greenhouse gases and improving resource efficiency but are also aimed at restoring, preserving and enhancing ecosystems related to building resilience of agricultural production systems (i.e. adaptation).

The long term vision for the agricultural sector is an approach to carbon neutrality which does not compromise capacity for sustainable food production. Our policy approach is based on three principles:

i. reducing agricultural emissions;

ii. increasing carbon sequestration and

iii. displacing and substituting fossil fuel and energy intensive materials.

There are already a significant number of measures in place which support these principles. However, I am not complacent on this important issue and my Department continues to review and develop new measures that will realise the ambition for the sector.

Production efficiency improvements are a core part of the efforts being undertaken by the agricultural sector. I recently launched a Beef Environmental Efficiency Pilot scheme that builds on the success of the Beef Data and Genomics Programme with a funding provision of €20m in 2019. This new scheme is targeted at suckler farmers and specifically aimed at further improving the carbon efficiency of beef production.

Sequestration has also a key role to play in reducing the carbon footprint of the sector and €106 million has been made available by my Department in 2018 under the Forestry Programme to support afforestation and other forest initiatives with significant improvements in grant and premium rates under the agroforestry and forestry for fibre options.

The sector also plays a key role in the supply of biomass materials, adopting energy efficiency measures and renewable technologies on-farm as well as on-site energy generation all of which can provide profitability gains which underpins the sustainable production system as well as contributing to reducing Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Higher ambition on environmental and climate action are part of the new CAP, post 2020, and it is proposed that 40% of the overall CAP budget will contribute to climate and environmental action. This will require farmers to achieve a higher level of environmental ambition through both mandatory and incentive-based measures.

As we look towards defining measures and targets under the new CAP regime, the recently published Teagasc report “An analysis of Abatement Potential of Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Irish Agriculture 2021-2030” is key to informing the type of abatement measures we need to focus on to continue to reduce the carbon footprint of the sector.

While the mitigation potential for agriculture is limited, agriculture can and must play a key role in contributing to Ireland’s climate change and energy targets in the years ahead.

Animal Identification Schemes

Questions (88)

Willie Penrose

Question:

88. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to ensure marts and factories will be required to install EID electronic tag readers for sheep in order to eliminate unnecessary paperwork for farmers and assist them with keeping accurate records; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13962/19]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

My officials and I have met with mart and factory representative organisations on a number of occasions in the last year to discuss the extension of EID to all sheep and its wider implications and opportunities for these businesses.

DAFM wrote to all relevant marts and factories on 31st January 2019 informing them of the upcoming changes and advising them of the opportunity that the extension of EID to all sheep provides for them in operating as approved Central Points of Recording (or CPRs) from 1st June 2019. The letter indicated also that applications for CPR approval were now being accepted by DAFM. Since then, CPR applications have been submitted by 5 marts and written expressions of interest received from 6 marts and 4 factories.

Officials are engaging with these respondents to ensure their readiness to operate effectively as CPRs by 1st June 2019. Furthermore officials are making further contact with potential applicants to encourage additional uptake.

In recognition of the costs associated with the upgrading of mart facilities to the standards required for Central Points of Recording (CPRs), I introduced a grant aid scheme to part-fund eligible expenditure in this regard. Eligible marts will receive financial aid in respect of 40% of the eligible investments made (up to a maximum of €10,000 per mart) in upgrading their facilities to CPR requirements. Marts have been informed of this Scheme and have been notified that applications are now being accepted by my Department.

Greyhound Industry

Questions (89)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

89. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if progress been made by the Irish Greyhound Board towards creating a separate body for the registration of racing greyhounds in order that owners of greyhounds interested in track racing only will no longer have to register with the governing body for hare coursing. [13950/19]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Bord na gCon is a commercial state body, established under the Greyhound Industry Act, 1958 chiefly to control greyhound racing and to improve and develop the greyhound industry. Bord na gCon is a body corporate and a separate legal entity to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

The Irish Coursing Club (ICC) is the competent authority with regard to the maintenance of the Irish Greyhound Stud Book. The ICC is subject to the general control and direction of Bord na gCon, which is the statutory body with responsibility for the improvement and development of the greyhound industry, greyhound racing and coursing.

It is important to note that it is not a condition of registering a greyhound in the Irish Greyhound Stud Book that an owner participate in coursing or express an interest in coursing.

The Greyhound Racing Bill (which is currently before the Dáil) includes enabling powers to allow the board to make regulations to require the registration of greyhound owners, the registration of racing greyhounds and the notification by owners, breeders and trainers of greyhounds of many more life events than those currently captured on existing studbook and micro-chipping databases. The regulations will support the Board in its ambition to establish and maintain a new comprehensive tracing database for racing greyhounds.

Brexit Issues

Questions (90)

Mick Wallace

Question:

90. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on whether Brexit is an opportunity to commence the diversification of the agriculture sector here away from the concentration on beef and dairy production; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13957/19]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The formulation of Irish agriculture policy takes place in the first instance within the framework provided at EU level by the Common Agricultural Policy. This in turn sets the context for what is now a well-established process of strategy development at national level, with a new strategy developed every five years by all of the stakeholders in the sector.

From a CAP perspective, clearly the objective is to create the conditions for the sector to develop to its full potential. The increasing market orientation of the policy over the last number of years - which Ireland fully supports - has allowed farmers to respond to the demands of the market rather than producing in line with EU supports. Demand for food at a global level is continuing to grow, and Ireland is responding through the production of high-quality, sustainably produced products that the market wants. Whether this arises in the case of meat or dairy or any other products, Ireland will continue to meet those demands in a sustainable manner.

In terms of strategy development at national level, the latest iteration of this process is Food Wise 2025, which sets out a range of actions designed to ensure the sustainable development of the sector over the next number of years. Informed by the need to deploy human capital effectively, to ensure the competitiveness of the sector, to support market development and to encourage innovation, the strategy is also underpinned by the need to achieve sustainability in everything we do. Good progress is being made in the implementation of the strategy, and our thoughts are now turning to what its successor will aim to achieve in the period to 2030.

The decision on what to produce is ultimately down to the primary producer, and is dictated by the need to respond to market demands. The primary focus of my Department and its agencies will be to continue to create the environment for such decisions to be made in an informed way, and in a way that ensures the sustainable development of the sector into the future.

Tuberculosis Eradication Programme

Questions (91)

Willie Penrose

Question:

91. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if the concerns of farmers are being taken seriously regarding herd devaluation, compensation and the role of deer in the spread of tuberculosis at the bovine TB stakeholders forum. [13964/19]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Bovine TB remains a significant issue for Irish farmers with 3,874 herds restricted in 2018. 10,785 farmers experienced a TB restriction in 2000. This represents a 65% decrease in the number of herds restricted in 2000 highlighting the significant success of the TB Programme.

Specifically in relation to compensation, the Irish TB Programme provides supports in excess of other jurisdictions. Farmers receive the open market value for any bovine diagnosed as a reactor (On Farm Market Valuation Scheme) and supplementary supports are also available to offset additional costs and income losses (Hardship Grant and Income Supplement).

Research carried out on TB in deer in Ireland had found that in certain areas where there are high densities of deer, cattle and badgers living alongside each other, the same strains of TB can circulate between them. However, there is currently no evidence that deer play a significant role in the spread of TB to cattle in most parts of Ireland.

The impacts of TB on a farmer are severe, causing financial hardship and emotional stress. This is why it is so important to reduce the numbers of farmers affected and to move to eradicate this disease. For that reason, I directed my officials to establish the TB Forum last year, so that all stakeholders can have a voice in discussing which policy options should be chosen to reduce disease levels and eradicate bovine TB from Ireland by 2030. The Forum discussions include the issues raised here, and have been discussed at length in a series of Forum meetings. Additionally, a series of bilateral meetings between my officials and the farming bodies have been held in the context of the TB Forum, which specifically included the issues of compensation, herds with high risk TB histories, and wildlife.

Basic Payment Scheme Payments

Questions (92)

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

92. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on a €60,000 BPS ceiling for direct payments under the next CAP in order to safeguard small and medium-sized farmers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13983/19]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The European Commission’s proposals for the post-2020 CAP contain significant changes to the Direct Payments system. Perhaps the most substantial proposed change is in the form of a graduated reduction of payments over €60,000 per annum. A 100% reduction is to be applied to the amount of the payment exceeding €100,000, at least 75% to payments between €90,000 and €100,000, at least 50% to payments between €75,000 and €90,000, and at least 25% to payments between €60,000 and €75,000.

The proposals state that Member States shall first subtract the salaries of the farmer including taxes and social contributions, before applying capping. The cost of regular and unpaid labour should also be taken into account. It is intended that the funding released from capping is to be used for the mandatory redistributive income support i.e. moving support from large to small/medium farms.

Under the new proposals, reductions will apply to all Pillar 1 payments. This includes the complementary income support for young farmers, eco-schemes for the environment and coupled support.

Under the current rules, Member States must reduce direct payments to farmers in excess of €150,000 by a minimum of 5%. Ireland applied a 100% reduction to such payments. This means that no farmer can receive more than €150,000 under the Basic Payment Scheme. However, capping applies to the Basic Payment only; payments for greening and the young farmer are additional to this.

As regards the capping of direct payments post 2020, I have already said that Ireland is in principle open to the further capping of direct payments, and, similarly, to proposals to redistribute payments to smaller and medium sized farms within Member States. However, I believe the proposal to deduct salaries and labour costs is unnecessarily complex and would be a significant administrative burden for Member States to implement.

Laboratory Facilities

Questions (93)

Bobby Aylward

Question:

93. Deputy Bobby Aylward asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of the review and cost-benefit analysis of the regional veterinary laboratory in County Kilkenny that serves the farmers of the entire south east region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13918/19]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

My Department commissioned a cost-benefit analysis (CBA) of options that were proposed by a Working Group in 2016 for the future development of the Regional Veterinary Laboratories (RVLs). The team conducting the CBA included internationally-recognised, independent experts in economic analysis and animal disease surveillance. My Department has been presented with the CBA report and senior officials are currently considering the recommendations. Due consideration is also being given to feedback we received following consultation on two separate occasions with our stakeholders - following publication of the 2016 Working Group report and during the CBA process.

A proposal on how best to redevelop the RVLs over the next few years will be informed by both of those consultative processes and by the findings of the CBA. The focus of my Department is now on securing and improving the service to the sector at best value to the tax payer and on securing the necessary capital funding for investment.

Beef Exports

Questions (94)

Clare Daly

Question:

94. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he has had discussions with an organisation (details supplied) and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade regarding opening up the Iranian marker for Irish beef; and if so, the outcome of such discussions. [13917/19]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

I have not had a specific meeting with the organisation referred to or with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to discuss the opening of the Iranian market for Irish beef.

Total Irish agri-food exports to Iran in 2017 were around €11.5 million, the majority of which (€10.25 million) was accounted for by dairy exports. According to the CSO, 26 tonnes of beef were exported to Iran in 2017, but there have been no export of sheepmeat to-date. Iran was not one of the top 5 priority markets identified by Bord Bia for meat, as part of the market prioritisation exercise carried out at the request of my Department.

The role of my Department is to open up markets for the industry and it is then up to the industry, with the support of my Department and Bord Bia, to avail of these opportunities. However, the actual levels of exports will depend on a range of factors, including global supply and demand dynamics, currency fluctuations and individual customer requirements.

A veterinary health certificate for the export of beef from Ireland to Iran was agreed in March 2013. DAFM officials participated in a successful trade mission to Iran and Turkey in April 2016. While the trade mission was primarily dairy-focused, DAFM officials had the opportunity to meet with their Iranian counterparts in order to progress and ultimately agree sheepmeat access to the Iranian market and also to explore other common areas of interest. Access for sheepmeat was officially announced in October 2016. Therefore these markets are open at present but the resumption of exports is a matter for the industry.

Limited or no exports of meat to Iran can be explained by a combination of unfavourable trading conditions, cheaper supplies of beef from Brazil and of lamb from Australia to the Iranian market, and financial barriers. Work is on-going within the EU to devise measures to overcome financial barriers to trade between the EU and Iran.

Live Exports

Questions (95)

Jackie Cahill

Question:

95. Deputy Jackie Cahill asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the actions and discussions being carried out with his French counterpart by his Department and Bord Bia to expand the lairage capacity at the Cherbourg Port with a view to increasing live calf exports. [13915/19]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

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 agri-food sector, while ensuring that live animal exports meet the highest welfare standards. In 2018, live exports of cattle increased by over 30% to 246,000 head compared to 2017. This growth trend has continued into 2019, with live exports totalling 58,000 up to early March – a 35% increase on the same period in 2018.

However, I am cognisant of the challenges within the live export trade, particularly that of capacity in lairages in France.

My officials are in on-going communication with Irish exporters with regard to the need for co-operative management between each other 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 owners of existing facilities there 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 with local lairage operators, while Department officials held a meeting with the 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 and last week, I discussed the matter with my French counterpart, Didier Guillaume, at the EU Agrifish 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 for 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.

Live Exports

Questions (96)

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

96. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the actions he is taking to address with his French counterpart expanding the lairage capacity at Cherbourg Port in order to increase live calf exports. [13980/19]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

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 agri-food sector, while ensuring that live animal exports meet the highest welfare standards. In 2018, live exports of cattle increased by over 30% to 246,000 head compared to 2017. This growth trend has continued into 2019, with live exports totalling 58,000 up to early March – a 35% increase on the same period in 2018.

However, I am cognisant of the challenges within the live export trade, particularly that of capacity in lairages in France.

My officials are in on-going communication with Irish exporters with regard to the need for co-operative management between each other 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 owners of existing facilities there 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 with local lairage operators, while Department officials held a meeting with the 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 and last week, I discussed the matter with my French counterpart, Didier Guillaume, at the EU Agrifish 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 for 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.

Coillte Teoranta

Questions (97)

Thomas Pringle

Question:

97. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on whether it is time to commission an independent review of the Forestry Act 1988, which established Coillte (details supplied); if a review of the legislation will be announced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13923/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

I fully agree with the long-term goal of the decarbonisation of our economy and that sequestration through forestry will be key to achieving this. This is why this Government continues to invest over €100m each year in the National Forestry Programme. I also agree with the goal of increased broadleaf planting and mod-term review of this Programme introduced a number of policy changes last year which have already resulted in a 25% year on year increase in broadleaf planting.

As regards Coillte, one of its statutory functions, under Section 12 of the Forestry Act 1988, is to ‘carry on the business of forestry and related activities on a commercial basis and in accordance with efficient silvicultural practices’. A duty of the company, under Section 13, is also ‘to have due regard to the environmental and amenity consequences of its operations’.

In relation to the consistency of Coillte’s statutory functions with the principles of sustainable development and the EU’s Long Term Climate Strategy for decarbonisation, I consider that the existing Forestry Act 1988 facilitates Coillte in the continued sustainable development of the public forest estate.

Their operational matters are of course a matter for the company concerned and their policies evolve over time in response to emerging issues. Any issues concerning an operational or policy matter for Coillte can of course be directed to the Company for direct response.

The independent certification of Coillte forests by both FSC and PEFC demonstrates sustainable forest management. I know that Coillte works diligently to maintain such certification.

Coillte is also subject to the Forestry Act 2014, which was enacted to make further and better provision in relation to forestry, to provide for the development and promotion of forestry in a manner that maximises the economic, environmental and social value of forests within the principles of sustainable forest management.

Coillte, in carrying out its functions and duties, are providing a reliable supply of sustainably produced wood fibre to a thriving timber industry. Coillte forests continuously sequester carbon as they grow and products made from harvested wood, such as the panel boards manufactured by Coillte’s panel mills, safely lock-up carbon and provide an environmentally friendly substitute for carbon intense products such as plastic, concrete and steel.

These are matters which I am assured are kept under constant review by the company. I do not consider that sustainability issues are a matter for legislative change per se but rather one of ongoing operational review to ensure that it is fit for purpose.

Greyhound Industry

Questions (98)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

98. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on a media report (details supplied) that greyhound racing here is perceived as lacking integrity in view of concerns such as doping and irregular betting being made by high profile racing sources; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13949/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Bord na gCon is a commercial state body, established under the Greyhound Industry Act, 1958 chiefly to control greyhound racing and to improve and develop the greyhound industry. Bord na gCon is a body corporate and a separate legal entity to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

The Greyhound Racing Bill continues to pass through the Houses of the Oireachtas and specifically addresses doping, integrity and fair play through a comprehensive range of enabling provisions allowing Bord na gCon to make regulations to deal with doping control and the conduct of racing; these progressive measures should allay any public concerns that may exist on industry regulation.

In relation to the comments made in the article on betting, any patterns of irregular betting that are brought to the attention of Bord na gCon are investigated and if necessary, the results of any investigation are forwarded to An Garda Síochána. The comments made by SIS reflect an historic view of greyhound racing. The fact that nine race meetings are now broadcast from Irish greyhound tracks - up from the initial four meetings in 2016, demonstrates that the quality and integrity of Irish greyhound racing is gaining wide acceptance in the UK and other jurisdictions.

Brexit Preparations

Questions (99)

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

99. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of SPS and fisheries control officials that will be operational on 29 March 2019 of the planned recruitment of 116 staff for SPS and fisheries controls as agreed on 18 September 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13982/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

My Department is participating very actively in the Whole-of-Government approach to preparedness and contingency planning for Brexit. The Government sanctioned in the region of €4m for the commencement of a phased process for the recruitment of additional staff to carry out increased volumes of import controls and export certification arising from Brexit.

These requirements are significant, and arise in relation to the carrying out of documentary, identity and physical checks on imports of animals, plants, and products of animal and plant origin, as set out in EU legislation. The Department has carried out an extensive analysis exercise, based on examination of trade and container movement data, to establish the potential volumes of controls that will need to be carried out. This exercise has been used to guide our planning in relation to putting in place the staff that will be required.

In general, regarding staffing requirements, my Department will use a combination of recruitment, redeployment and temporary flexible solutions where appropriate and as necessary. My Department has been working with our recruitment partners, the Public Appointments Service to engage Veterinary Inspectors, Portal Inspectors, Plant Health Inspectors and Administrative support staff. Mechanisms to temporarily redeploy experienced people within my Department have also been initiated and the engagement of contracted temporary service arrangements is also being progressed.

My Department will have more than 120 people trained and in place to support Brexit-related activities by the end of March, and further staffing resources will continue to be assigned during the months of April and May. The final staffing numbers to be engaged in response to Brexit contingencies will depend on the nature of Brexit and the trading relationship with the UK that will ensue following the UK's departure from the European Union. Should a hard Brexit be confirmed as the probable contingency to be addressed, my Department, through the mechanisms I have outlined, will have scope to deploy appropriate levels of resources as may be required and will be responsive to the situation that pertains.

Overall, I remain confident that both the state, and my Department will be in a position to deliver the services required in terms of both imports and exports at the appropriate time in the future.

Brexit Supports

Questions (100)

Aindrias Moynihan

Question:

100. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if the compensation package being negotiated with the EU for beef farmers will be applied retrospectively; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13989/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

I and my officials have been working very hard for quite some time to sensitise other Member States and the European Commission to the potentially very severe impacts of a no-Deal Brexit on the Irish agri-food and fisheries sector. We have also emphasised that specific supports would be required in order to deal with these impacts. The threat faced by the Irish agri-food and fisheries sector is explicitly recognised in the Commission’s own communication on contingency planning.

I have held a series of bilateral discussions with Commissioner Hogan on this issue, including en marge of the Council of Agriculture Ministers in Brussels last week. I stressed the need to be ready to deploy a range of measures to mitigate the potential impacts on farmers and processors, including through traditional market supports and the exceptional aid provisions under the CAP's Single Common Market Organisation regulation, as well as increased flexibility under State Aid regulations. Commissioner Hogan has reiterated the EU’s readiness to respond and support Ireland, and we will remain in contact on these issues as the situation evolves.

The terms and conditions of any aid package will be announced in due course, in the event that a disorderly Brexit occurs. Obviously I very much hope that this outcome, with all its associated negative impacts for Ireland, the EU and the UK itself, will be avoided by the acceptance by the UK Parliament of the Withdrawal Agreement.

Beef Industry

Questions (101)

Willie Penrose

Question:

101. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on whether Ireland should prioritise protected geographical indication status for suckler beef in order that it could be marketed as a niche speciality product rather than making a generic application for all Irish beef. [13963/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

I am very conscious of the role played by suckler farming in sustaining the rural economy and rural communities across Ireland.

A Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), as referred to by the Deputy, is a product, which must be produced, processed or prepared in a particular geographical area, and where a specific quality reputation, or other characteristics are attributable to that area. I believe that such schemes can provide a positive economic opportunity for producers and for rural areas. An application can be submitted by, or on behalf of, a group of producers.

My Department recently organised a workshop on Geographical Indications, with participation by the EU Commission and a range of stakeholders, at which the possibility of applying for a PGI for Irish beef was explored.

PGI status requires products to be produced in accordance with a particular technical specification and producers are required to meet that specification to ensure production meets the quality standards set.

Where there are large numbers of producers, therefore, it can be a significant undertaking requiring a disciplined and harmonised approach to production and its verification. Nevertheless, there can be significant marketing advantages and there was very positive feedback from participants at the workshop. My officials are further examining the key elements required in such an application, in consultation with stakeholders.

An application can only be submitted by, or on behalf of, a group of producers. A formal national consultation period is also required.

Bovine Disease Controls

Questions (102)

Eugene Murphy

Question:

102. Deputy Eugene Murphy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the additional measures put in place to confine the spread of disease in circumstances (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13187/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The risk of infectious disease is a significant concern for all livestock farmers, but particularly for those who are starting new dairy enterprises or engaging in contract rearing. For this reason, there are a range of advisory and information services available to help farmers understand the risks they face and make practical decisions on how best to mitigate those risks in the most appropriate way for their farm enterprise.

In the first instance, farmers should discuss how to reduce the risk of disease with their private veterinary practitioner. Given how familiar the vet is with farms under his/her care, they are uniquely positioned to advise farmers on how to protect their cattle and their business.

I would also draw attention to the excellent resources offered by Animal Health Ireland, who have a work programme specifically dedicated to biosecurity. The biosecurity technical working group of AHI has developed a series of leaflets on how farmers can understand, manage and reduce the risk of disease. I would urge all new entrants to the dairy sector to engage with the Johnes Disease control programme, run by AHI and co-funded by my Department.

Regarding the risk posed by bovine TB, my Department provides advice to farmers through public meetings and online resources which are available on the bovine TB section of the Department’s website on how to reduce the risk to their cattle.

Contract rearing operations should pay particular attention to the risks of disease and Teagasc have provided a series of information sessions to farmers on this topic. My officials have spoken at several of these meetings on the veterinary disease risks and how best to manage them.

Tuberculosis Incidence

Questions (103)

Eugene Murphy

Question:

103. Deputy Eugene Murphy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the percentage of samples taken at slaughter plants from bovine herds in counties Roscommon and Galway in 2017 and 2018 that have shown evidence of tuberculosis after analysis at the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13186/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The information requested by the Deputy is provided below.

County

Year

No. Samples

No. Positives

% Positive

Roscommon

2017

153

87

56.86

2018

156

80

51.28

Galway

2017

252

115

45.63

2018

198

99

50.00

Abattoir surveillance is an important aspect of the TB Programme. All healthy TB-clear animals that are slaughtered in Ireland are examined for evidence of TB infection at post mortem. If an abcess-like lesion is suspected of being TB, it is sent for analysis in the laboratory. Nationally, in 2017, 3,564 animals were a suspect slaughterhouse case of which 1,603 were confirmed as TB (45%).

When a herd is confirmed as having had TB, it must undergo 2 clear TB tests, at 60 day intervals, as per EU directive 64/432. The first TB test following a confirmed slaughterhouse case is 11 times more likely to have reactors than the annual round test and it had a positive rate of approximately 14.5% in 2017 and 2018.

Beef Industry

Questions (104)

Thomas Pringle

Question:

104. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the way in which he plans to prevent beef factories absorbing benefits targeted at farmers in the production of beef; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13921/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

I am very conscious of the role played by the beef sector in sustaining the rural economy and rural communities across Ireland.

I am aware of the current challenges facing beef farmers, with a sustained period of low prices, following on from additional costs last year arising from the unprecedented weather events. However, as Minister, I cannot intervene directly in any commodity price; cattle prices are a matter for the processing industry and the farmers who supply it. Cattle prices are influenced by a variety of factors such as the level of consumer demand, production levels and exchange rate differences. Brexit also presents enormous challenges and ongoing uncertainty for the entire beef sector.

I am deeply committed to fully supporting and developing Ireland’s beef sector. I am strongly of the view that the existing range of supports available to suckler farmers, together with ensuring access to as many markets as possible, both for live animals and beef exports, are appropriate for the continued development of the sector.

While beef farmers obviously benefit from the full range of Pillar I direct payments and Rural Development Programme schemes, the Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP) is currently the main support specifically targeted for the suckler sector. This scheme provides Irish beef farmers with some €300 million in funding over the current Rural Development Programme (RDP) period. It is an agri-environmental measure to improve the environmental sustainability of the national suckler herd by increasing genetic merit within the herd.

In addition, I recently launched the Beef Environmental Efficiency Pilot (BEEP), a targeted support of €20 million for suckler farmers specifically aimed at further improving the economic and environmental efficiency of beef production. The pilot has been designed to be as straightforward as possible. Beef farmers will also be significant beneficiaries of the €23m in additional funding provided to the ANC scheme this year.

One of the unique strengths of the agri-food sector has been the shared vision for the sustainable development of the sector in Food Wise 2025. It is crucial that we all continue to work together. I have highlighted the need for stakeholders to recognise their inter-dependency, and to increase the strength of all links in the supply chain, including Beef Producer Organisations.

Officials in my Department are currently engaging extensively with stakeholders in relation to Beef Producer Organisations, which have the potential to help strengthen the position of the primary producer in the supply chain.