Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Questions (40)

Bernard Durkan


40. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the extent to which he expects the income of farm families to be protected notwithstanding the impact from Brexit or other market forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49103/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Agriculture)

How satisfied is the Minister about the future income of farm families?

The agrifood sector is an essential part of the economic and social fabric of Ireland, especially in rural and coastal areas. Primary agrifood output in 2018 was approximately €8.5 billion and the vast majority of this was produced by farm families.

Teagasc in its Outlook 2020 published yesterday stated that the average family farm income in Ireland increased by an estimated 7% in 2019. It states that the key drivers of this increase has been a reduction in animal feed use on dairy, beef and sheep farms, compared to 2018, as well as additional supports channelled to cattle producers to alleviate the effects of falling beef prices.

Beef farmers are estimated to see an increase in income of about 10% in 2019 compared to 2018 due to lower costs and the beef exceptional aid measure, BEAM. Dairy incomes are estimated to increase by 14% due to higher production. Sheep family farm incomes will remain relatively stable. I appreciate where Deputy Durkan comes from and note that tillage farm incomes are estimated to drop by up to 24% as a result of lower prices, despite higher yields.

Teagasc further states that prospects for 2020 are forecast to see an increase for dairy, sheep and tillage, while beef farm income will be stable.

In 2018, €1.93 billion was paid to farmers by my Department. Direct payments for 2019 commenced in mid-September and over €1.1 billion has been paid to farmers to date. The beef exceptional aid measure provided support to Irish beef farmers to mitigate the market disturbance and sustained period of low prices which has occurred, at least in part due to Brexit uncertainty. A total of 34,517 eligible applications were received under BEAM with a projected payment of up to €78 million due to issue in December.

Brexit undoubtedly remains a challenge for the Irish agrifood sector. Budget 2020 made provision for €110 million to help farmers, fishermen and food SMEs as a first tranche of support in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Over the last four budgets, the Government has acted to assist farming to navigate the challenges of Brexit through a variety of supports.

Discussions on the new CAP proposals continue at EU level. I continue to work at building consensus among my agriculture colleagues in Europe to maintain the CAP budget and ensure the best possible outcome for Irish farmers from the CAP post-2020 negotiation process.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply.

To what extent has the Department measured, regardless of whether this examination has been concluded, the impact of Brexit on agriculture and the agrifood sector here? To what extent have alternatives been sought or adopted? To what degree will Mercosur impact on incomes or has it impacted to date?

I will make three points in reply. The Common Agricultural Policy moved a long time ago away from product support, where the Minister would return from every December Council with prices across the board, to income supports. That is why initiatives such as the exceptional aid measure or the environmental efficiency programme are important, as are all the other schemes. Second, one strategy in the context of Brexit was new market opportunities. We have had considerable success - Japan and China come to mind - not only in opening markets but also in respect of the protocol which determines the product flow into those markets. That is a really important part. The graph has continuously gone upward for live exports and is firmly rooted in high welfare standards, which is an important safeguard.

Mercosur concerns us in the context of the beef sector. A process must be gone through. We are taking every step possible to ensure that the adverse impact of a trade deal with Mercosur, should it be approved, would be minimised for us.

Having regard to all that has transpired and any remaining issues which may impact on the agrifood sector, such as climate change, what action can be taken to promote the agrifood sector and its products?

For example, in the world in which we live there is a great deal of starvation, a great need for food and despite what people may think, there is still a great need for high protein diets in some areas. To what extent can the Minister capitalise on that on behalf of the Irish agrifood sector?

The best investment in the future of the agrifood sector is in ensuring our sustainability credentials are recognised at home and abroad. Regrettably, there is a view in certain quarters that the production of greenhouse gases is in some way a consequence of sloppy agriculture. It is not possible to be involved in food production without producing greenhouse gases. It is important we produce it as efficiently as possible and the Paris Agreement clearly reflects same. On the other side, we must sequester as much carbon as possible so that in the agrifood sector we contribute to the national endeavour in the climate change agenda. That will deliver environmental sustainability and in many respects it will also contribute to economic sustainability because in those 180 markets around the world we are in, that is what consumers are increasingly asking. They are not asking if it is safe or traceable but they are asking if it is sustainably produced and how we are taking incremental steps year on year in respect of same. That is what our climate action plan is about and that is what the roadmap that was recently published for consultation in the agriculture sector is all about.

Question No. 41 replied to with Written Answers.