Thursday, 15 July 2021

Questions (4)

Seán Canney

Question:

4. Deputy Seán Canney asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to organise the sheep wool industry in Ireland to ensure that sheep farmers get a fair price for their produce. [37226/21]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Agriculture)

There seems to be a bit of crankiness this morning. Maybe it is due to the late night last night. I welcome the opportunity to ask the Minister what plans the Government has for the wool industry to ensure that sheep farmers get a fair price for their produce.

I thank the Deputy for raising what is a very important issue for many people involved in the sheep trade. Wool production is an important component of the agri-industry. There are approximately 46,332 sheep flock-keepers registered on the database of my Department and departmental officials oversee and inspect 50 approved and registered wool stores where wool is held while awaiting sale. Wool is a sustainable, organic and renewable natural material which can be used in a wide range of products such as textiles, fertilisers, insulation and packaging, as the Deputy will be aware.

One of the actions under the programme for Government is to undertake a review of the potential demand in domestic and international markets for wool-based products such as insulation and fertilisers. Following the allocation of €100,000 in budget 2021 for this review, we in the Department initiated a public consultation process in early March 2021 to determine the terms of reference for such a review, which included the identification of market opportunities domestically and internationally for wool-based products, carrying out economic feasibility and cost benefit analyses on proposed market opportunities, determining mechanisms that could be used to support industry initiatives, and identification of potential research projects applicable to supporting the identified market opportunities. As part of the public consultation process, we invited stakeholders to submit their proposals on the potential market opportunities for wool products on the domestic and international markets and more than 40 submissions were received.

I am pleased to advise the Deputy that through the competitive public procurement procedure the request for tenders seeking service providers to carry out this major study was established on the e-tenders website on 8 July 2021. The closing date for submissions is 9 August 2021. The successful service provider will be contracted to carry out a feasibility study in accordance with the terms of reference detailed above and will be required to examine and evaluate the proposals received during the public consultation and report on its findings. The timeframe for the completion of the review, including the tendering process, consultation with stakeholders which we are establishing and publication of the final report, is the end of November 2021. The recommendations from this review will help focus the development of a robust policy roadmap for the Irish wool industry.

I thank the Minister of State. I welcome the fact that some progress has been made in that regard. Having studies done, getting consultants in and getting what I would call feedings from the industry is one thing. However, to give one example, in my constituency of Galway East several sheep farmers came together to form a co-op. They set out a deal with Donegal Yarns for the purchase of more than 4,000 kg of Galway wool at a price of €2.50 per kilogram. The going market rate generally is 20 cent per kilogram. That shows there is potential to make sure the product we have, which the Minister of State described as natural and having the potential for various facets in production, gets a fair price. It is important we support this co-operative system.

I am very interested to learn more about that co-operative approach. I assure the Deputy that although we sometimes get caught up in discussing brand new and shiny initiatives that have never been done before, as far as I am concerne, as Minister of State with responsibility for new market development, it is not about reinventing the wheel; it is actually about looking at indigenous elements of trade that had great value for farmers in the past but that have lost that value in more recent times. I am happy to discuss further with the Deputy the initiatives that are happening in his constituency. He will be aware there were 3.88 million sheep in the State as of 31 December 2020. Market forces and demand dictate prices in industries such as the wool industry. It moves in cycles and the current cycle, in the context of the Bradford wool market in the United Kingdom that tends to set the price, is very low. As such, any new opportunities we can find to work together or to take new approaches such as a co-operative approach are something I am very happy to seek to extend further. The report offers a great opportunity to identify all opportunities in the sector.

I thank the Minister of State for the invitation. I will set up a meeting for his Department to speak to the people who brought this about and made sure it was a great day in Athenry on a Saturday two weeks ago when farmers came in with their wool and it was packed and sent up to the county of the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, to be used in Donegal Yarns. It demonstrates that simplicity is often key. We should not over-complicate this.

The Minister of State mentioned that insulation is a wool by-product. The price of insulation at the moment reflects its status as a scarce commodity. We need to work on this issue fairly rapidly. We do not have to reinvent the wheel. The approach to which I refer is currently being used across the world in the context of insulation. We need to take best international practice and support the setting up of the industry. That will create the demand and set the price within this country and keep the material here. There is also the fact that fabrics produced in Galway are being made in China and other places.

The Deputy is dead right that insulation is an area in which wool is used. It is also used in fabrics, carpeting, bedding and gardening. It makes an excellent compost. Another possibility for the use of wool is in the production of wood pellets, which is an excellent organic fertiliser. The current market uncertainties should act as an impetus for the industry players to come together, as the Deputy described happening in Galway, to see what opportunities there are to promote the excellent product to the market in as many ways as possible. My Department wants to assist in that regard. The work we are doing in terms of the overall consultation and the report that is being compiled and will be published by the end of November will be of great assistance to the industry. My office is open. I am determined to work with the sector to identify and maximise every opportunity to increase the value of what was always an integral part of the sheep industry and an integral income for sheep farmers in the past.