I understand that two motions on the Order Paper —Numbers 13 and 14—will be discussed together, four hours being allotted for the discussion. If Deputy Belton so desires, he may challenge two divisions at the conclusion of the debate, but there will be only one debate. I presume the Deputy agrees to that. Despite the fact that he will be four minutes short of four hours, the debate will conclude at 10.30 p.m. at latest.
Private Deputies' Business. - Food Production—Motions.
I agree. I move the following motions, which appear on the Order Paper in the names of Deputy Cogan and myself:—
13.—That the Emergency Powers (No. 53) Order, 1940 (Amendment) Order, 1941, be and is hereby annulled.
14.—That, in view of the alarming situation with regard to food, Dáil Eireann is of opinion that all difficulties and obstacles in the way of maximum food production in the present year should be at once removed and that adequate credit facilities should be made available to farmers to ensure full production; and, where farmers are incumbered with old bank debts and arrears of rates and land annuities, that these should be sealed during the emergency to enable such farms to be put into full production, and that the Tillage Order, 1941, should be amended accordingly. Further, that steps should be taken to prevent any increase in rates on agricultural land during the emergency.
The object of the seconder of these motions and myself is more to draw attention to this whole matter than to reverse the Order that has been made. When it became necessary to make a Tillage Order in 1939, and when that Order came up for review under circumstances similar to those under which the present amended Order is before the House, I put it to the Minister for Agriculture that his plan was wrong. He wanted one-eighth of the arable land of the country tilled. I put it to him that the Order could be complied with, but that still it would in no way help the food situation. I suggested to him that the proper way to approach the problem, a very important national one, was to have a survey made of the food position for both man and beast, especially of the items of which he feared a shortage, and that he should concentrate on the production of these. That principle I advocated in regard to the Order that was made for operation in the current year. If that had been done, I think a lot of the panic that has been created in the present cereal year would not have been created. We had, I suppose, about 30 per cent. of our wheat requirements in 1939, and about 40 per cent. in 1940, although the Minister for Supplies said on the last day he spoke here that all the wheat we had over last year from the 1940 crop was about 35 per cent. of our requirements.
Taking the present year, for which an amended order has been made, and continuing the same line of approach to this problem, I would strongly urge the annulment of that order were I speaking in September, 1940, instead of in March, 1941. We want a supply of wheat to give us bread. There are other things just as important as wheat, in their own place, if we are to maintain our agricultural economy and our national purchasing power. As I analyse this problem, I consider that the kernel of it is the white loaf. I am not now advocating a white loaf as against a brown loaf or a black loaf. I am advocating the food position, both for man and beast, that a white loaf would give us. Whatever it costs to produce it, I would endeavour to have it, and I would have started in September, 1940, for the current year. The Minister for Agriculture should then have planned so that we could maintain our people and our livestock out of the produce of our own country, because we were then driven back on our own resources. The ordinary man could see it; the Government should have been in a position to see it better. I take the Minister's own figures for wheat. I do not think the Minister will quarrel with me when I quote him as saying that it would take 5 per cent. of our arable land to produce an adequate wheat supply giving us a 70 per cent. extraction. I think the Minister will accept that as common ground. But why did not the Minister seek a 5 per cent. wheat crop? I cannot understand it. First he said we wanted one-eighth of the arable land tilled, and then he said we wanted one-sixth of the arable land tilled. But tilled with what? Supposing we sowed all potatoes, or supposing we sowed all cats, where would we get a balanced ration for the nation? The staff of life required 5 per cent. of the arable land to produce it. Why was it not asked to produce it? Why did not the Minister say: "It must produce it"? I consider that he failed; I consider that he did not grasp the life and death importance of the situation with which he was confronted.
The Minister said—I read it in a speech of his and it is substantially true—that about half of our feeding stuffs were imported. If he were planning last September, and taking a long view of the future, he should budget for home production of all our livestock feeding stuffs. But he did not. We know now—everybody knows; even the birds in the air know now—that we are thrown back on our own resources for feeding stuffs. We have got to produce them out of our own land or do without them.
The Minister should have made a calculation: after 5 per cent. of the arable land under wheat, we want a percentage of it under barley and oats. Then he would have made full provision, if the farmer, the fertilizer, and nature, did their share. If they did not, nobody could blame the Minister for not having made full provision. That was not done. Instead, what was done? We increased our extraction of flour; I think it is about 100 per cent. now. Notwithstanding the fact that we have lost 50 per cent. of our feeding stuffs through not being able to import them, we are also taking away from our feeding stuffs about 180,000 tons of bran and pollard. I would like the Minister, when he is replying, to tell the House how we are going to make up the deficit in our animal feeding stuffs. Butter is short this winter; we are told it is because of the dry summer. How will milk and butter be produced next winter if we are short of feeding stuffs?
I do not know how much oats and barley have been sown. I do not know how much wheat has been sown. I would like if the Minister would give us the figure of the area under wheat and the production he expects from that area, and stand over it. There was no trouble in having that ascertained week by week. He has the committees of agriculture under the direct control of his Department, and they could give the Minister returns even without any resort to the Guards. They could give him weekly returns of the amount of wheat sown, and the amount of land in the course of preparation. He could put his finger on statistics that would give him a substantially accurate picture of the food situation at any time. I am sure he is not ignorant of that and that he has made full use of it. I will ask him to tell us, as regards the essential feeding stuffs in the cereal world anyway, what acreage he expects this year—what acreage has been sown. That refers principally to wheat.
We have had a debate on the price of wheat. I do not think the price offered by the Minister, either his original price for this year or his amended price, was a sufficient inducement to bring about the results he desired. I think the Minister knows that now. Its repercussion on the market for feeding stuffs has been seen by the Minister for Supplies. The Minister for Supplies stated here on another occasion that he was about to issue an order making it an offence for anybody to use wheat for any purpose except for the milling of flour. We have not to go far in agricultural economics until we learn that the most profit out of any crop is obtained when that crop is directly available for human food, and the quicker it is available for human food, the better profit is attached to it.
Wheat is one of those agricultural products. It has only to be milled, and it can be turned into human food in a day. Yet the price fixed by the Minister—it was considered an adequate and a well-balanced price—was such that the Government realised the people would not cash their wheat crops directly for human food, that there was another way in which it was more profitable to use it—by feeding it—and they could thereby use it indirectly for human food. I wonder will the Minister contradict me when I say that the cheapest food for live stock at the present time would be wheat at 50/- a barrel, while he is allowing only 40/-.
The Deputy opened his speech with the statement that we have had a debate on the price of wheat.
Yes, but the point I am making is that the Minister offered 37/6, which he amended to 40/—that was the inducement to grow sufficient wheat. He did not make an Order that 5 per cent of the arable land, which would give us enough wheat, should be used for the production of wheat; he offered an inducement, and my point is that the inducement was inadequate.
The inducement being the price?
Yes, the price.
Yet the Deputy maintains he was not referring to the price of wheat as the inducement?
Not as a price, but as an inducement to grow wheat.
A rose by another name——
There was no special attraction to any man to grow one acre of wheat, except the inducement offered by the Minister. The Taoiseach appealed to our patriotism, but we can deal with that later on. The Minister is well aware that barley went to 42/- a barrel of 16 stones for feeding. There was already some feeding stuff in the country, and there is some available at the moment, but this time next year, short of a miracle, we will have no foreign feeding stuffs. I think that when the Minister fixed the price of wheat he very badly missed the mark and, if the price is too high—which I do not admit—and is reflected in the price of the loaf, then it might be good business for the Government to pay some little thing off the fixed price of wheat by way of subsidy. If you wanted to get your supply of wheat by inducement, you should have offered an inducement that would be attractive. If the responsibility were mine and I wanted 5 per cent. of the arable land under wheat, I would not tinker about it—I would have it. People might say that a certain price is too high or too low, and they would not bother any further, but I would put it to them that the nation wants it, and for that reason people should grow it. The question would be asked: "What is the price?" and then they would start to think furiously.
The same applies to other cereal crops. The cereal crops and beet are the important things. Potatoes are important in their way, and other vegetables down the line are also of importance, but to feed our cattle so as to sell them in good condition, we must have suitable feeding stuffs. If we have not got them we can sell only poor, half-starved cattle, and that is sure to react on our outside trade. The Taoiseach appealed to the farmers to do a little more. One would think from what he said that the farmer's job in producing certain commodities was like cutting cloth—if they wanted a little more he could cut another half-yard. He did not seem to grasp that from the resources at the farmer's command, he would very soon reach the point of a diminishing return.
Some Deputy made a very important contribution when he said that you can grow five acres of a crop, but you can grow three acres of the same crop and yet produce more food. It is not the breaking up of land that will produce the food; it is the manure you have available for the land when you break it up. The Taoiseach should not be so liberal in his appeals to the farmers to do a little more and to do with less profit. Very little profit they have seen for a long time. If the farmer does with less profit, will the Taoiseach appeal to those to whom the farmer owes money, and with whom he must reckon as the seasons go on, and ask them not to be so punctual or so severe in collecting their bills? If this appeal to patriotism is to be made, it should be made all round. It should not be made to a section, but to the entire community, and if one class of people are to be asked to make sacrifices, sacrifices should be made all round.
This point was brought home to me very strongly within the last 24 hours. A certain body was set up by Act of this House which controls a good deal of money which they want to invest. The Dublin Corporation asked them for a loan and, after long negotiation, were offered a loan for housing purposes at 4¾ per cent. Are those people doing their bit in this emergency? Where can 4¾ per cent. be got in a good security now? Yet this is a Government-built institution. We interviewed them, but appeals fell on deaf ears. It did not count that we in the Dublin Corporation looked upon the building of houses as a very good social service, and, more important, that we felt that the best service we could do the community in the present emergency was to keep people working. We can only keep them working by making sacrifices and this Government-built institution will not make sacrifices. They want more than can be got in the open market for money to-day—a half per cent. more than the quotation in respect of similar Dublin Corporation stock on the Dublin Stock Exchange to-day. I again remind the Taoiseach that in this emergency one section should not be asked to make all the sacrifices.
I remind the Deputy of the term of his two motions.
So much for the order. I am surprised that the Government have not devised machinery which, regardless of any local entanglements, will put all the arable land of the country producing food. If I had a claim on land, if the Minister had a claim on land in the possession of somebody else, in a national emergency, that claim should not be allowed to prejudice the national necessity for production. We know that it is in respect of some of the best land that frozen debts exist. These frozen debts are bank debts which were advanced on big farms. The Minister knows that it was only the big farmer who was in a position—perhaps unfortunately for himself—to contract bank debts and these people are in a position in which they always fear that the bank will pounce on them when they have a crop or when working their land. The same applies to rates and to arrears of land annuities.
I am not going to argue—it has nothing to do with the question at issue—whether or not such a person should pay bank debts or withhold them for the present, should pay annuities or withhold them, or should pay rates or withhold them. The problem exists in respect of good land, thousands of acres, on big farms. It is to them that the Government must look for increased food production, and nothing should be allowed to stand in the way of these farms being made to do their bit in the emergency. The best way to do that is the way suggested in the motion, that is, by a sterilisation of these debts during the present emergency, and by letting the apparent owners of the land work their land with that guarantee of sterilisation under which they may feel assured that the sheriff will not pounce on them and that they will be allowed to produce crops. I cannot see why the Minister did not take this matter up, or did not take any steps suggested to him in order to achieve the same objective, that is, of putting land under cultivation. If he did as is suggested here, it would perhaps in these times of emergency, when prices must harden, when people might be assured of remunerative prices for the crops they grow, give these people a chance of paying some of their debts and thereby becoming reinstated in ownership of their lands.
The Minister, in fixing the prices of agricultural produce, should, as is suggested in motion No. 14, take steps to ensure that these prices would have a real meaning, and that the prices obtained would not be reduced by increased rates or other increased charges to the producers. Instead of dealing with the matter in a scientific way, the Minister merely looked up some statistics, saw that the arable land of the country was 10,000,000 or 12,000,000 acres, and made his order; but he should tell the House what he sought to achieve by giving that as his final consideration this year, after his S.O.S. on 31st December on the radio, followed by the S.O.S. of the Minister for Supplies of 7th January, telling us, after we had been assured that we were all right, that there was a danger of a shortage of wheat, to economise, and to sow more, and informing us that there was still time to sow winter wheat. Will the Minister tell us why he delayed so long?
It will not deter anybody from sowing wheat now to speak the truth. He was only a fool who, in normal times, would sow winter wheat at the end of January. Anybody who wants a crop of winter wheat must have it overground on Christmas Day. Why were not steps taken to have it over-ground on Christms Day? From the end of January up to now, there was hardly a day on which you could sow wheat properly. If we were faced with famine, why were steps not taken to have wheat in the ground? Why were not proper steps taken to have an adequate crop? What would be adequate? On the Minister's own figure 5 per cent. of the arable land. Even yet there is no legal obligation on any man to sow an acre of wheat. That is trifling with a terrible situation.
We were called to meetings to establish a Security Force. The first and last line of any security is the bread basket. Yet there is not a single Order which makes it obligatory on any owner of the 13,000,000 or 14,000,000 acres to sow one grain of wheat. I repeat that if the responsibility were mine, and I was satisfied that 5 per cent. of our arable land was required to give sufficient wheat, I would make it obligatory on farmers to put down 5 per cent. of their arable land in wheat, and I would compensate them for so doing. Everybody else is compensated, and why should not they be compensated? No appeal is made to anybody to work for nothing now. The farmer was asked to do an impossible task. He had not the wherewithal to do it, and the Government did not give him the necessary help. I know that the Minister knows that barley is selling to-day for feeding at over 40/- per barrel; 40/- a barrel for barley, if its feeding value were equal to that of wheat, would be equivalent to 50/- a barrel for wheat, and the Minister fixed, as an inducement to farmers, 40/- for wheat, which is the mainstay and support of the people. Barley, which is 16 stone against 20 for wheat, is fetching in the open market 42/-. No wonder the Government have to make an Order that wheat is not to be used for any purpose except the production of flour. Take the case of a farmer facing next winter with 50 or 60 milch cows. What will he pay for feeding stuffs for these cows? There will be no bran. The last bran we saw was costing £15 or £16 a ton. Wheaten meal at £30 a ton was cheaper feeding. I challenge the Minister to contradict that £30 a ton for wheaten meal is equivalent to £3 15s. 0d. a barrel for wheat. The farmer producing wheat will be forced next winter to part with it for £2 a barrel. What will he get at £2 which will be half as good feeding for his live stock?
Take the case of the farmer who will not grow wheat but who grows oats and barley. He will get more money for these crops than the man who will grow wheat and his land will not be robbed. The whole thing has been dealt with in a haphazard way and has not received scientific treatment. It has not been approached in a way that would guarantee continued security for the nation. Take the case of the wife of the ordinary worker. She wants a dozen or 1½ dozen loaves for her household every week. Will she not make provision to get them? If we want the makings of x loaves for the people for a year, should we not sow enough wheat to produce those loaves? We have not done so. The Government have not made an order binding any man to grow a grain of wheat. The same applies to every other crop. I think that the situation has been badly and dangerously handled. No obstacle was put in the Government's way and the country requires an explanation as to why the food position has not been handled according to the nation's requirements, the ascertainment of which was only a matter of arithmetic.
No credits are available to help food production. I should like to know from the Minister how he approached the food situation, and what guarantees he can give the country for the period that will be covered by the 1941 harvest. How does he intend treating some of the best land in the country on which there are frozen debts and the owners of which are short of credit? The country is entitled to know, approximately, how much wheat we have sown. I have endeavoured to find out but I cannot get a reliable figure. I have heard people say that we have no more wheat sown this year than we had last year. I know very few who are growing as much wheat as they grew last year, and I know many who are growing less. Perhaps, in other places, they are growing more than in the places I know, but we should have an assurance from the Minister now so that the danger of famine may even yet be averted. The Minister should have a proper survey of the food situation made. He knows that a certain margin must be allowed for loss in the harvest and loss produced by various causes. We cannot sail too close to the wind. When the Minister has made a survey, he should commence a drive immediately, if necessary, for more cereals. That is, if he considers they are necessary for the human and live-stock population. The country will hold him responsible for any shortage of food for man or beast, and I hope he will take the necessary steps to provide against any shortage.
I beg formally to second the motion.
I feel as regards the first motion, No. 13, that either the carrying or the rejection of it would not affect me very much, because the area I represent has always done as much tillage as is being done now under the compulsory tillage order. It is a mixed farming area which could compete with the much-vaunted tillage counties like Carlow and Wexford in the amount of tillage done there. As far as the general situation is concerned, up to a fortnight ago, I had some respect for the Minister for Agriculture in regard to the way he carried out his job, even though he might not agree with you when you made a point or offered a suggestion. It is only in the last month or so that he has got to the stage that if anybody offers an objection or criticism, he is supposed to be doing it insincerely and for its publicity value. On a recent occasion the Minister accused everybody who spoke against his Supplementary Estimate of acting insincerely, and talking with his tongue in his cheek. It was the first time in my experience that the Minister lost his head completely. He went so far on that occasion as to justify his attitude by accusing people of having a motive in their minds that was only in the mind of the Minister himself.
So far as the general situation is concerned, one of the most vital factors in the production of crops is seeds, and I say bluntly that the Minister has not done his duty as far as seeds are concerned. We imported practically all the seeds we needed from England. Since November last, when the British Government withdrew the export licences for seeds, the Minister has been questioned time and again as to what he was doing about it. From his attitude, one would think that there was a scarcity of seeds in England. On one occasion he suggested that that was so, and Deputy Belton agreed with him. I want to know from the Minister, if, within the last three months, he has taken any steps to examine the situation as regards the import of seeds from England. Has he any idea whether there are seeds available in England that could be sent here? Has he made any attempt to find out whether the seed merchants in England are willing to send seeds here, or whether seeds are being held there because the British Government have stopped the export licences? I know two seed firms in England that state they have seeds which they are prepared to send to this country if somebody will negotiate with the British Government for export licences. Their attitude is that the only people who seem to have any interest in the seed situation are the seed merchants themselves. They have been using all the influence they have to get the British Government to give them licences, and they have got no support from this side.
What class of seeds is the Deputy referring to—is it grain seeds?
No, I am referring to turnip, mangold, and every other class of agricultural seed. So far as grain seeds are concerned, winter wheat is finished with, and so far as spring wheat is concerned I shall leave that to the experts. I say that there are firms in England who have vegetable seeds and who are willing to sell them to us, but they cannot get an export licence from the British Government. They would not have the seeds for sale unless there was a surplus there. I do not think it is correct to suggest that there is no surplus of these seeds in England. The increased tillage in England would not use up the normal surplus of seeds exported from that country, and England was a large seed-exporting country. Surely the Minister will agree that it is unlikely that any reputable firm would state that they had seeds available for sale to this country and that they would send them across if somebody would negotiate with the British Ministry of Agriculture to get them a licence if that was not so. If that is correct, the Minister or somebody on his behalf ought to get in touch with the British Ministry and find out if seeds are available for export to this country and if licences will be granted.
I wonder did the Minister do anything about that, or is it the position that the Minister says that nothing could be done, or that the seeds are not there? These seed merchants, who have been doing business with people here for 30 or 35 years, have written to their customers stating the types of seeds and the quantity available, and stated that they will be only too glad to send the seeds as usual if they can get a licence to export them. If there is a surplus of seed in England and the British Government have refused export licences, it is the duty of the Minister to do something about that. It is an extraordinary state of affairs, if there is such a surplus of seeds there, that the Minister cannot negotiate with the British Government for the release of those seeds. If they are not going to utilise them themselves, I cannot see what use it is to the British Government to keep them there. They might as well be producing crops over here as be hoarded in England, because they will not be any good in 12 months' time. I do not want to mention any names, but if the Minister is interested I will tell him who the firms are. They feel that they have been let down by the British Government. They are prepared to sell the seeds to the representatives of their customers here, but these people have made no effort to get the British Government to issue export licences.
Another matter in regard to which the Minister did not do his job was manures. I should like to know if the Minister is aware that some of the officials of his Department are telling people in the country that there will be 75 per cent. of last year's supply of artificial manures available this year. In view of what somebody knows, if an official of the Department made that statement on the instructions of the Minister it was a terrible thing to do. If some hare-brained official made it on his own account it was still worse. The Minister did not do his job so far as manures were concerned because he allowed the manure monopolists of this country to fix their own terms this year when they got the chance. He allowed them to alter the entire system of credit for manures, a thing that was not changed for two generations. He put the small retailers down the country in the position that they could not afford to give their customers the same credit facilities that they had been giving. The Minister knows as well as I do that it was a crying scandal and a shocking blow to the agricultural community that manure merchants were allowed to say to the retailers: "You will have to pay by the 10th of next month, and it you want another supply next month you will have to pay cash for it." For generations the system was that credit was given practically up to the end of the harvest season and that if you paid cash you got a very good discount. You could pay cash or you could pay a proportion on the 1st June, a proportion on the 1st August, and pay the balance on the 1st November. That was the usual system of credit between the manure merchants and the retailers. The retailers were able to pass that on to the small farmers. This year, however, retailers were put in the position of having to tell the farmers that they could not afford to give the manures on credit, because the manure merchants were squeezing them and they had to pay cash for it.
If the Minister had any idea in his head as to the position of the small farmers who have not money in their pockets and are living from day to day and from week to week, of men who have always been regarded as credit worthy by the retailers, he would not have allowed the present position with regard to manures to develop as it did. The retailers always stood by the small farmers. They stood by them in the times of the Land League, in good and in bad times. They were never afraid to give them credit, but this year they had to say to those men, whom they had always regarded as credit worthy, "We cannot afford to give you the same facilities this year because the manure merchants are not giving credit to ourselves." Of all the years that we have gone through, this was the very worst year in which the Minister should have allowed a change in the credit system for manures. It was a damnable thing to allow it.
I am quite satisfied that, no matter what amount of artificial manures we may have in the country, the people who enjoy a monopoly of that supply are going to make enough money out of them, and if they had to wait for their money, as had been the custom in other years, it would not have been a bit of harm. They should not have been allowed to jump on the retailers in the way they did, and to demand immediate payment in cash. The manure merchants had been dealing with these retailers for the last 20 or 30 years. Their custom was to have one agent in every town. They must have known well that the retailers were credit worthy. Surely if they were credit worthy in other years, they were credit worthy this year when we have an emergency. They ought to have been accepted as such by the manure merchants, so that they could pass on the benefit of the credit system to their customers, the same as they had always done.
The Minister knows that each of our retailers will only get a certain supply of manures this year. Assume that he gets five tons instead of his customary ten tons, the Minister for Agriculture is doing what all the other Ministers of this Government are doing—he is turning the retailer into a rationing agent. How is the retailer going to do that? If he has a supply of five tons of manures: if he has cash and credit customers, and some doubtful credit customers, what is he to do if a good customer comes in with ready money and offers to buy half a ton of artificial manures from him? Is he to say that he will only give him two cwts., and keep the balance for some others who may ramble in in a day or two, men who may not be able to pay him for what they may require. If the Minister wanted to have an equitable distribution of manure, he should have rationed it the same as everything else. I am certain the retailers will do the best they can. The farmers have acted in an honourable way. I have not heard of one who attempted to get more manures than he should get.
The real crux of the position arises in this way. In the month of March the retailer gets his quota of manures. Two lorries arrive at his door, and soon after his customers for 20 years will arrive and want to get their share of them. What is the unfortunate retailer to do? Is he to act on the principle of "first come first served"? As regards flour, manure and seeds, the retail merchants of the country have acted so honourably in the present situation that they have offended 50 per cent. of their customers, because they would not sell them what they had in their shops for cash. Instead of doing that, they tried to make an equitable distribution. That, of course, was the Government's job, but they left it to the retailers of the country. I think it is most unfair that those men should have been put in that position by the Government—of offending their customers and running the risk of ruining their business.
There is no use now in crying over spilt milk. We all know that these artificial manures are essential for increased food production. The manures are not available in the quantities they were in previous years. It was the Minister's job to see that the amount available was distributed equitably, and on the same credit system that obtained formerly. The manure manufacturers should not have been allowed to insist on the payment of ready money for whatever manures they had to distribute. At any rate, as regards seeds and manures, and the maintenance of the old credit system, all of which are vital items in the present situation, the Minister failed and let the country down. At the moment all he is doing is issuing advertisements asking people to do this, that and the other.
I was interested to hear Deputy Belton suggest to the Minister that he should have made an order directing that 5 per cent. of our arable land be put under wheat. That might work and it might not. A better solution, I think, would have been, if the Minister had made an area order—that is to say, that the people with good wheat growing land should grow wheat, and that those with rocky and mountain land should grow oats and barley. In places like West Cork, Kerry, portion of my own constituency in North Cork, and along the west coast, the only crops there is a chance of growing there are oats and potatoes. I do not see why the Minister should not compel people with land capable of growing wheat to grow it. There is very little good in attempting to grow it in the areas I have referred to. A certain amount of it can be grown. The people there are probably growing more wheat this year than ever before, so that they will have more for the use of their own families. I am sorry that the Minister did not appeal, earlier in this campaign, to the people with poor land to do everything possible to grow more oats and potatoes because, to my mind, these crops are as vital for the needs of the country as wheat is. They are not as much affected by a bad summer as other crops are.
Any time that we have a discussion in this House on agriculture, we seem to get into the rut of assuming that, as long as the tillage situation is all right, everything else is all right. That is not so, because there are other items in the agricultural industry that, in this emergency, are just as important as tillage. The dairying industry, for instance—it is in a way the forgotten man of agriculture—is as important as tillage.
Does the dairying industry come within the terms of the motion before the House?
Why not? I submit, Sir, with all respect that the development of any branch of agriculture in this country would be a reason for either annulling or keeping on the Tillage Order. If the Minister does not want to discuss dairying I do not mind, but it has been the accepted principle, I think, on two motions put forward by Deputy Belton, to discuss practically every aspect of agriculture on those motions. I submit, in any case, that as far as motion No. 14 is concerned it is perfectly in order to refer to dairying because the motion asks that all difficulties and obstacles in the way of maximum food production in the present year should be removed. If the production of butter, milk, beef, mutton or anything like that, is not as much food production as the production of wheat, potatoes, oats or barley, I do not know what to say.
I want to put this to the Minister. Is the Minister aware that, in addition to the fact that an exceptionally dry summer last year reduced the milk supply to the creameries of this country, the situation has been so much aggravated by the fact that the price of springing cattle went so high in November of last year that a number of people in the country thought it better to cash in on their good heifers than to retain them for milk supplies, and that as far as that was concerned they were either going to the people who had milk rounds in the cities or else were going out of the country altogether? No matter what money might be made out of any branch of agriculture, does the Minister think, unless he attempts to do something about the price of milk supplied to the ordinary creameries of this country, a very valuable item of food, that he is going to keep people in milk production for the coming 12 months?
The dairying industry is at least as important as any other branch of agricultural industry. Does the Minister seriously think that the dairy farmers of this country can afford to produce milk this year and sell it to the creameries at the same price as they got last year, or that they will be in a position to keep good dairy herds and feed those cattle in an adequate manner if they get only the same price for milk? The Minister will not be able to get it out of the heads of the farmers down the country who supply milk to the creameries that there is not some terrible discrepancy when they are getting 5d. a gallon for milk and somebody else is getting 2/- or 2/6 in the cities. One would think it would almost pay any farmer to buy a new car and drive 100 miles into the city to supply milk.
The position is that there is no inducement to the people of this country who engage in the dairying industry to keep better class cattle in their dairy herds. The Minister knows as well as I do that it was not the drought of last year which accounted for the reduction in milk supplies all round. It accounted for only a portion of it, and this year he will be very lucky if he gets anything like the same production as last year, because the people thought it better to get £24 or £25 for an in-calf heifer than to retain it on their land and chance getting 5½d. a gallon for milk afterwards. The same thing applies to every branch of production in this country. There is a danger that people will drift out of the dairying industry, because it will not pay them, and they will drift out of it because they will be keeping old cattle. That is a situation which the Minister never faced up to. If he is a dairying farmer himself, and finds that the price of milk is not profitable to him, if he has good young cattle coming along there is a great temptation to sell them and retain his older cows.
Even the Minister hoped to-day that such a thing would not arise. He hoped the production of young pigs would be kept going this year, so that we would have an adequate bacon supply next year. The Minister himself knows that the greatest drawback about the pig situation, or one of the things that is rapidly chasing people out of pig production, is the terrific uncertainty about price. The price one day is 118/-, the next day it is down to 112/-; then it jumps to 116/-, and then it goes down with a bang to 108/-. The farmer whose pigs are almost ready is engaged in a sort of perpetual round-the-mulberry-bush chase, hoping he will get in on the right day and not be 24 hours late when he would get 7/- or 8/- less.
Is there not a fixed price?
There is a fixed price which changes as fast as anything can change in this country. Deputy O Briain knows that in the past fortnight the fixed price was 118/-, and inside two days, bang it came down to 112/-. In an emergency situation, when you are asking people to produce more food, whether it is bacon, eggs, wheat or anything else, is it not the obvious thing to see that there would be no loss to anyone by fixing the price for a month? If the Minister decides that he would be able to fix the price at 112/- for the month of May, say, the hardship—if there were hardship on anybody—would be on the people who have to buy the pigs at that price. To my mind, it would be no great loss if the people who have to buy those pigs were made to bear a little of the brunt of pig production, for a while at least, because they have been getting away with it for a number of years past, and it would be no harm if they were stuck for a change.
The unfortunate farmer who has his pigs ready for a particular day, discovers that the price has gone down with a bang by about 8/-. What are his feelings when he has 30 or 40 pigs ready? I am quite sure the Minister would not be doing any wrong if he announced to the bacon curers: "I am going to fix the price at so much for April and so much for May, in view of the number of pigs estimated to be available for those two months. You will have to take them at that." After all, at the worst, it would merely take something back out of that odd £300,000 which they got a few years ago.
There is just one other point to which I would like to refer. I remember some time last year there was a suggestion that the Government intended to do something to relieve unemployment in the country by creating a scheme whereby the unemployed labourers would be available for farm work. That was mentioned early last year, but it seems to have been completely forgotten ever since. We are in an emergency situation, and we may have to take short cuts to many things, and may have to do drastic things to get over it. Would the Minister visualise a small country area where practically all the farmers are small farmers who employ one man and a boy, and who, on account of increased tillage, would be anxious to employ more, and willing to employ more, but are not in a position to do so because they cannot afford to pay them? In the same area, around the small towns and villages, there may be 100 or 120 men unemployed and anxious to get work, men who are willing to work for the farmers provided the jobs are available. The farmer cannot give them that work because he cannot pay them. A lot of those men may be on unemployment assistance or unemployment benefit. In his anxiety, as I am sure he has anxiety, for the relief of unemployment, and in his anxiety to get increased production, I am surprised that the Minister has not attempted to envisage a scheme something of this nature: if a man is getting, say, 15/- a week unemployment assistance, and the standard rate of agricultural wage in that area is 35/-, he would go to work for the farmer who cannot afford to pay him 35/-, but he would still get his 15/- unemployment assistance and the farmer would pay him £1. I know dozens of farmers who would be delighted to employ extra men but are not in a position to pay them the full wages. The State would lose nothing by continuing to give those men their unemployment assistance. They would be gaining a great deal. Somebody else would be paying them the balance of their wages, those men would be working and producing food, and would merely be getting from the State what they are already getting.
There might be dozens of objections to that. It might be that workers could be badly treated or double-crossed under that scheme, but as against that, in an emergency situation I do not see, if there are men in a country area willing and anxious to work, and farmers anxious to employ them, why some scheme could not be adopted whereby the men anxious to work could be sent out to the farmers anxious to employ them and be immediately put into the work of production.
I am very much afraid that for the last nine years the Minister for Agriculture has been too well treated. Of all the Ministers in the Fianna Fáil Government, he is being let down the lightest, and, because of his engaging way, the way he smiles at one, waves his hands and promises to look into this, that and the other, he gets away with quite a lot. The Minister seldom gets cross. The only time, to my knowledge, that he did get cross, was when he turned to the honest men behind him and talked about Clonmel. He has been getting away with so much for the last nine years that since this emergency started he seems to have been more soundly asleep than ever. He tells us that there is no use in crying over spilt milk. So far as the agricultural community is concerned, it is the Minister who will be crying over the spilt milk. He has been asleep in his job for so long that, if he ever wakes up, the country will get a bigger surprise than the Dáil.
It is no use for the Minister to suggest that the representatives of the people here, whether Independent, Labour, or Fine Gael, are talking insincerely. It was the Minister's last line of defence in the debate a fortnight ago that we were talking insincerely. If he has any doubt as to the position in the country as regards seeds and manures, he should walk around with the local Fianna Fáil Deputies, or go into the shops or the farmers' houses, and then he will find out whether or not our arguments are insincere. The Minister for Agriculture has built up the reputation of being a soft, decent type of man, and that is what will eventually wreck him. The other Ministers, perhaps, are not so well liked by the decent people on this side of the House, and occasionally they get what they deserve. But this decent, soft sort of man, the Minister for Agriculture, has been let down lightly—the decent fellow who is always doing his best to muddle through. That is what will ruin him.
I think it is a case of spare the rod and spoil the Minister. The only thing he can do now, even in reply to a suggestion by Deputy Corry, is to say that the Deputy who makes such statements is either insincere or is out for political propaganda. The Minister can cry propaganda as long as he likes, but, so far as seeds and manures are concerned, I invite him to go before a body of farmers, shopkeepers and labourers, and he will find that the task of explaining the position to them will not be so very easy.
I understand that Deputy Belton is taking his two motions together. So far as the first motion is concerned, I do not know that any Deputy would ask seriously for the annulment of the Order. A lot of us might have argued that the Minister would have got all the tillage he needed voluntarily from the farmers if the necessity for it had been explained properly to them, and particularly if there had been a decent inducement offered. I may say that if the vital needs of the country were properly explained to the farmers they would have been quite willing to produce the utmost amount of cereals— all that would be necessary for the country's requirements. Unfortunately, from Christmas until early in March, the weather was so unpropitious that it was difficult for farmers in many parts of the country to get in seeds, and I fear the harvest will fall very short of what might have been expected if the weather conditions were better.
Numerous farmers in my county had special difficulties to contend with. The nature of the land makes it perhaps more difficult to put down wheat than is the case in other counties. The soil is heavy, and the continuous rainfall affects it very much. Then there is the position that many farmers there have been tilling the land for the first time. I am aware of certain farmers who were ready to put in wheat early in January. Then there was a snowstorm followed by excessive rains. Many of them were unable to put in winter wheat, and they found it difficult to get seeds for spring wheat.
I should like to refer to the inducement that has been offered to farmers to produce cereals. I think a reasonable inducement might have been offered without any great hardship on the rest of the community. So far as guaranteed prices are concerned, we had a debate here in relation to the price of wheat some two weeks ago, and it is not desirable that we should go into that matter again. The Taoiseach considered that 40/- a barrel was a very good price for wheat in all the circumstances. He said he had taken all the care he could to get the best advice on the matter. I do not agree that 40/- a barrel for wheat in a war situation is the very great price that some people might argue. It would not be any great inducement to the type of farmer one would like to get into this tillage scheme, the farmer who has very good land. Such a farmer would not be altogether concerned with the guaranteed price. What would be of more importance to him would be the amount he would have to expend, when the tillage season had finished, and when he had taken two or three crops off without the land being properly manured, to get that land into good shape again. There should be some allowance made for that.
I am primarily concerned with the position of oats and barley. I have always held there should be a guaranteed price for oats and barley as well as wheat. The main argument against that will be that if you start guaranteeing prices you will raise the price on the community generally. If I thought that giving a fair price to the farmer was going to mean an increase on various articles purchased by the consumer, I should hesitate to make the same arguments. But I do not believe that and, as a farmer, I advocate the provision of a fair price for the farmers' products. So far as a guaranteed price for oats and barley is concerned, I do not believe it would have such an effect. For some years I have pleaded for a fixed price for oats. I have addressed myself to the Minister on many occasions, pointing out the desirability of it. Let me take the happenings of the last two years. In the autumn of 1938, oats was sold by the farmers for anything from 8d. to 10d. a stone. It was bought by the merchants, that is, any of it that was for sale, and the Minister always argues that the great bulk of the oats is not for sale, but the fact is that a large portion of it is sold, if not for human consumption for sending to other parts of the country where it is used for other purposes. The same applies to barley. That oats, sold by the farmer at 8d. or 10d. a stone, was resold for somewhere round about three times the price before the winter was over.
That fact was pointed out to the Minister early last year and the Minister was asked to take precautions to ensure that in the following autumn the same thing would not occur. Last autumn, we found that we got 1d. or 2d. a stone more for oats. It was sold at 12/- or 13/- a barrel, but, later, the buyers became a little more liberal and offered 14/- a barrel; but it was sold shortly after the harvest for 12/- or 14/- a barrel, or 10d. to 1/- a stone. The great bulk of it was bought by millers, some of whom manufactured it into food for the people, such as flaked meal and other products. That flaked meal was shortly afterwards retailed at about 4/- a stone, and I notice that, within the last six or seven weeks, the Minister allowed the manufacturers of flaked meal to charge an extra 1/- per stone because they made a case for the increase on the ground of the increased price of oats. Who increased the price? I believe, and I am prepared to argue, that it was the merchants who purchased the oats from the farmers and held it up.
If there had been a guaranteed price for oats of a very much higher figure than that which they got from the buyers at that period, it would not have resulted in a higher price for the commodity, as oats or barley, afterwards. In fact, I think it can be argued that it would result in the opposite. If, for instance, the Minister had, last year, persuaded the Government to guarantee a price of 20/- per barrel for oats, a price about one and a half times as great as the farmers got—1/5 or 1/6 a stone instead of 10d. or 1/- a stone—what would have happened would have been that the seller, the buyer and the country at large would have known that the price fixed for oats was 1/6, and no merchant would have ventured to charge 2/6 or 3/- for oats in a month or two. If he had done so, I am certain the Minister for Supplies would have stepped in and stopped him. The machinery was there to prevent his making more than an ordinary profit, and the same applies to barley.
One can offer instances of the value to the public generally of guaranteed prices for certain vital articles. Practically the only two items of food in respect of which there is not profiteering—they may be dear, but there is no element of excessive profiteering in the prices of them—are butter and flour or bread. Any Deputy may argue that flour, bread and butter are too dear, but no Deputy can argue that there are excessive profits in respect of them, because the prices are controlled. The Government have controlled the price of butter. They have been liberal, and I pay them the tribute of saying that they have given a fairly decent price to the farmer. It is a subsidised article for which there is a fixed price. The public know what the price of butter is and there is no profiteering in it. Neither is there profiteering in flour or bread because everybody knows what the fixed price of wheat last year was, and knows also what the price of flour and bread is, so that there is no room for profiteering in either of these commodities, which upsets the argument of those who hold that if you guarantee prices, you must, of necessity, raise prices all round.
If you set a fair price for any article the farmer produces—and I am not arguing that the price offered as an inducement to grow wheat, oats or barley must be an exorbitant price, but it must be a price that will give the farmer a fair profit and enable him to give a fair wage to his labourer— you are then offering a decent inducement to the farmer to go into production, and you are also affording, to my mind, a protection to the public against profiteering. If anybody attempts to profiteer, there is machinery, everybody being aware of the price, in the hands of the Government to prevent it, and the ultimate effect of it will be that even if the farmer gets more, the public will have to pay less. I hope the Minister will look into this matter before the coming harvest and prevent such things happening as happened in the last two years, like merchants or others being allowed to buy the farmers' products, whether oats or barley, at a very low price, hoard it for a few months and then sell it at three or four times the price they paid for it.
With regard to manures, I do not intend to debate that question very thoroughly as Deputy Linehan and others have spoken on it, but I do say that whatever supplies of manures were available this year did not seem to me to be equitably distributed. I do not know whether we are peculiar in my county, or whether we have not been as large users of artificial manures as other counties, but I have been inundated with letters from constituents asking if there is any possibility of their getting artificial manures. From inquiries I made and from statements by the Minister in the House, I was assured that farmers would get 50 per cent. of their usual supplies, but it now turns out that most of these people were not farmers who usually got supplies because they had rich land which did not require artificial manures, but after a year or two of tillage they find now that they need them, and cannot get them. That position will be greatly aggravated after this year's harvest, and I suggest that whatever distribution is made later on, it should be such as to give every farmer a fair chance of getting a share of whatever there is to distribute.
I do not propose to debate the matter of credit facilities at the moment.
They are not available. There is no such thing as credit facilities.
Not for farmers, and there is very little for anyone else, but I do not propose to go into it, as it would take too long. I am in sympathy with most of the things stated in motion No. 14. They have been debated many a time here and probably will be debated again. It was mainly to the question of the production of cereals and the matter of a fair and guaranteed price that I rose to address myself.
We all hope that, in the coming year, there will be a greatly increased acreage of cereals. One might hope that there would be a greater percentage of wheat but it looks as if, owing to the unfortunate weather we had in the first two months of the year, the efforts of all concerned will result in something short of expectations. I hope, therefore, that there will be a great increase in the acreage of other cereals, which may be necessary for human consumption. We ought to take care that, when these crops come to be harvested, the farmers will not be exploited again by merchants and others who have the power to do so.
Deputy Belton did not make clear whether he intended to pursue these motions to a division or not. He mentioned, I think, that he only proposed his first motion for the sake of discussion and that he would not attempt to have the compulsory tillage order rescinded just now.
It would be too late to rescind it now.
Deputy Belton may think it a simple matter to give figures regarding the acreage under tillage. Dublin County Committee of Agriculture may have a very good organisation. Deputy Belton says that his county committee of agriculture would be able to give figures from week to week showing the land under preparation, the amount sown with wheat and the amount under tillage in general. That could not be done in other counties. I have tried to get returns from time to time. It takes a considerable time to get even an estimate of what has been done or is intended to be done, and I could not give a figure. All I can say is that, from reports we have received, more winter wheat would appear to be sown this year than last year, taking the country as a whole. We have, probably, more spring wheat seed available than we had last year, so that we shall end with a bigger acreage than we had last year. That is hardly satisfactory enough for Deputy Belton or anybody else. What would be really satisfactory would be to be able to say with conviction that we would have about 600,000 acres of wheat for the coming year. I am sure we are not going to have that acreage. Consequently, there is no hope, I am afraid, that from the 1st September, 1941, for 12 months, we are going to have the white wheaten loaf. I think there is a danger that we shall not have a whole wheaten loaf. We may not have enough wheat to meet our bread requirements for the coming year, and we may have to mix some other cereal with it. Even so, we shall have something to be thankful for if we have enough bread for the coming year by mixing another cereal. I think we shall have enough bread from the time next harvest comes in.
I was very anxious when I went to the county committees of agriculture, starting with Deputy Belton's committee in County Dublin, that the farmer should do everything possible to grow more winter wheat, so that we would have a whole wheaten loaf. Nobody can blame the farmers for what happened between the 1st January and the end of February. It was absolutely impossible on certain types of land, and almost impossible on other types of land, to sow winter wheat. A fair amount of winter wheat may have been got in at the end of February or during the first few days of March, but we did not sow as much as we had hoped for, and, I suppose, we must make arrangements to get in what spring wheat we can, with other cereals. Deputy Belton thinks that a higher price would have got us more wheat. I am not so sure of that. Farmers made a great effort to grow more wheat, and failed. They failed because of the weather, and I do not think that a higher price would have got us more wheat.
Offered in September last?
I do not think that we would have got more wheat at that time by offering a higher price. It is quite likely that whatever spring wheat seed we have will be sown. It is not an unlimited quantity, but, in that way, I think we will get as much wheat in on the price announced as we would have got on the price Deputy Belton had in mind. Deputy Belton spoke a good deal about the danger that, if we paid only 40/- a barrel for wheat next harvest, wheat might be used for animal feeding stuffs. That is on the assumption that animal feeding stuffs will be as dear after the harvest as they are now, or, at least, that they will be more than 2/- a stone. I do not think that Deputy Belton has any right to assume that, because if there is a substantial increase in the amount of land under tillage this year—if there is a good deal more barley, oats and potatoes than last year—there is not much likelihood of the price of oats and barley being 2/- per stone or more immediately after the harvest. The farmer who has a mixed crop—wheat, barley, oats and potatoes—will, if he is selling any of these as a cash crop, get more for his wheat than anything else when the harvest is over. Deputy Belton thinks that we should have compelled farmers to grow wheat on a certain percentage of their land.
Adopting the principle of compulsory tillage for our essential crops.
He said that we were anxious to get enough wheat, and he asked why we did not go so far as to say to the farmer that he must put 5 per cent. of his arable land under wheat. Five per cent. would probably be sufficient. The reason is that we wanted to make the compulsory factor as small as possible. Deputy Linehan would go so far as to say that we should take each individual farm and say to the farmer: "Your farm is wheat-growing land; you must grow a certain percentage of wheat." Then we would come to the next farmer and tell him that as his land was not wheat-growing we would not ask him to grow any wheat. That would be a colossal job. I do not know if Deputy Linehan thought over it.
I suggested areas—not farms. We all know that certain counties are wheat-growing counties.
Even if you took counties, you would have in a wheat-growing county particular townlands or farms that would not be wheat growing, and in other counties you would have farms that were wheat growing. It would be rather unfair to proceed county by county without coming down to smaller units. I do not think it would be advisable to go so far as to compel a farmer to grow so much wheat. Deputies know that we have relied on appeal to a great extent. We have used the radio and Press advertising to a great extent. We have gone around to meetings and appealed to farmers to do more.
We have relied to a great extent on appeals in this whole food campaign. The Compulsory Tillage Order was only brought in to make the few who might not be disposed to listen to an appeal till whether they liked it or not, as far as the law can do it. There are reasons why the few should be made to till, because not only do we lose the amount of tillage that these people should do, but we lose a good lot also owing to the dissatisfaction amongst their neighbours, and that is nearly more important than the other. I have heard farmers say that they were doing their duty, and more than their duty, so far as the 20 per cent. was concerned, but that So-and-so was not tilling at all and we did not seem to be getting after him. It was rather a disturbing factor in the whole situation that certain farmers were evading tillage altogether, and it was considered necessary to make these men till in order to keep their neighbours up to the 20 per cent., or more than 20 per cent., which many of them are doing.
Deputy Belton more or less criticised the Taoiseach for appealing to farmers to grow a little more. He said the Taoiseach did not realise that farmers were doing all they could do. That may be so, but, after all, we appealed to them in 1938 and 1939 and last year to do a little more. I am sure the farmers worked very hard in 1938, but still they did a little more in 1939. They also worked very hard last year, and we appealed to them to do a little more this year, and they did a little more. Practically every farmer did a little more last year than the year before; practically every farmer did a little more in 1939 than in 1938. I do not see why the Taoiseach should not appeal to farmers to do a little more still, because a little more is necessary in order to be assured of essential food stuffs for the coming year. I do not see why we should not appeal to them even on patriotic grounds. I do not see why any objection should be made if we appeal to the farmers' patriotism to do something, because we feel that the farmers have some patriotism and Deputy Belton, I suppose, has too.
The appeal, after all, is not made to the farmers alone. Deputy Belton knows that a number of classes of people have been appealed to on patriotic grounds to join the auxiliary defence forces, the fire fighting forces, the Red Cross, and all these organisations which various people are joining to help in this emergency. All these things I take it are being done on patriotic grounds. We also appealed to the farmers on patriotic grounds, but we were not asking them to do the thing for nothing. We say to the farmer that he will get a good price for his wheat and beet, and that if he wants to maintain his livestock for the coming year he must grow his own oats and barley. In addition to that, we say to him: "We appeal to your patriotism to see that the people are not allowed to starve, other things being equal." Surely we have a right to appeal to a farmer's patriotism. Possibly every farmer will say that he has done his best. If I went to any individual farmer and said we were very anxious to get more wheat, barley, and potatoes grown, practically every farmer would say: "I have done all I can." Deputy Belton said on the last occasion when a motion like this was being debated, that farmers in County Dublin, including himself, could do more if we gave a better price. I do not think Deputy Belton meant that. I am sure he would not like to admit now that he has not done his best even at the present price, or to admit that he could do more, as he did say when we debated this question before.
I could do more, but I have to square my accounts. No appeal to the patriotism of my creditors will pay my bills.
I do not mind that sort of talk. I have been at meetings through the country, and I have not heard complaints from farmers that they did not get a decent price for wheat, or a fair price for beet. I have heard complaints about other difficulties, but that is not one of them. They were all satisfied with the price.
Did they agree to double the crop at that price?
Whether they could double it or not, no farmer at any meeting I went to would say what Deputy Belton said on the last occasion. Not a single farmer would say: "We will grow more wheat if you give us more money."
They have not grown more.
They have grown more.
Did any of them double their acreage last year?
Yes, I am sure they did. There are certain non-wheat growing counties where the acreage has gone up 400 or 500 per cent.
I doubled my acreage.
That is very good. With regard to frozen debts, Deputy Belton said that they were a terrible handicap on farmers. He said that a farmer cannot till his land or stock his land, as he is afraid that his stock will be seized on him for rent or rates or something else. These debts were contracted during the last war from 1914 to 1918, and that. was due to a too liberal handing out of credit. That is a thing I am trying to avoid, if I can, during this war. I do not want to see at the end of this war farmers all over the country having a millstone of debt around their necks which they are never going to pay up in peace times.
It is the reverse in this war.
I do not think so. People will make that sort of statement, but when you come down to hard facts it is not so. I admit, of course, that amongst the 250,000 farmers there will be 1,000 or 2,000 that could be cited as men who find it impossible to get credit. But that does not prove any case. I am sure that if you take, say, all the drapers in this country, you will find that some of them cannot get credit. If you take any other class you like, you will find that some of them cannot get credit. That does not say that there is a scarcity of credit. Taking the thing generally, there is not the very serious shortage of credit that some Deputies allege.
The great source of credit for farmers always has been and, I suppose, always will be, the seed merchants. It is true that the Department has a credit scheme for implements and that the county councils have a credit scheme for seeds and manures. You might say that these are only applicable to the small men, because there is a limit to the amount that will be given, and in most cases that limit is from £12 to £16. That means that it is only the man who is tilling five or six acres who can get very much out of that scheme, but it is very useful for the small men. The large farmer, however, has always dealt with the seed merchant and got his credit there, and the amount given by these merchants in the aggregate is a huge sum. I tried to get an estimate of it, but I could not succeed. I know it runs into millions of pounds. There is just as much given out this year, if not more, as was given out before.
There is no doubt about that, because I did get at least six or seven representative men to ask a question whether they were giving more credit this year than they gave last year. They said they were, and that they were enabled to do that because the banks had arranged with them to give them more credit than last year. I do not think this question of credit is at all as serious as some Deputies would appear to believe.
Deputy Belton said that I was too late in coming along with this appeal for increased food production on the 31st December: that it would be much better if I had done so on the 1st October. There was a serious change in the situation between the 1st October and the last day of December. Early in December it became clear that there would be no more imports of grain, wheat, maize, or anything else, and that we were going to be dependent entirely on our own resources for human and animal foods from that time forward. Immediately I got to know that, I made the announcement in the Seanad that I intended to ask the Government to increase the percentage under the Tillage Order. That was duly done. I made the appeal that Deputy Belton referred to on the 31st December. I do not agree with him that only a fool would sow winter wheat after that date. That is a rather parochial outlook.
The farmer should have his winter wheat up over the ground on Christmas Day.
Not at all. The big majority of the farmers in Munster sow their winter wheat after Christmas, and, taking them on the whole, they are as good farmers as the Leinster farmers. I do not think they are any better, but they are as good.
Is Wexford in Leinster?
It is. Therefore, I can say that I know the position fairly well. I know that in some of the counties surrounding Dublin—Leix, Offaly and Louth, and I think in Wicklow also— practically all the wheat is sown before Christmas; but, as I have said, in Munster most of the wheat is sown after Christmas. In Wexford it is practically all spring wheat they sow. All those areas have their own way of doing it, but it is not foolish to sow winter wheat after Christmas.
Deputy Belton devoted the greater part of his speech to the fixed price for wheat. That question was disposed of some time ago in the Dáil, so there is no need to go into it again. Some confusion has arisen in the course of the debate, and, therefore, I want Deputies to be clear on this point: that in this particular Tillage Order we are, of course, preparing for the year commencing on the 1st September next. We are not dealing in it with the period between now and the 1st September.
At the moment there is a serious shortage both of bread and feeding stuffs, and the Minister for Supplies is going to have a very difficult time in trying to spread that out until the next harvest comes in. What we are really providing for now is the position that is going to obtain here from the 1st September next for the 12 months following.
Deputy Linehan talked about the seeds on the hands of British merchants. He said those merchants are writing over here to their former customers saying that they are prepared to sell them the seeds that they have, and that they assume evidently that the Irish Government and English Government are quite callous about the whole thing. That is not the case. The Irish Government have done everything possible to get the seeds in. The English Government, on the other hand, have put an embargo on the export of certain seeds from England. We are not strong enough to compel the British Government to withdraw that. All we can do is to reason with them, and if that fails, well and good. The decision rests with them as to whether they will let them out or not.
Was it ever suggested, beyond the information that I have put before the House, that those people had a surplus of seeds on hands: a surplus that would not be needed in Great Britain? It was only this week I was told that.
The British Government have refused to allow these seeds out. They say there is no surplus there. In fact, they say there is a shortage. I do not know whether that is true or not. They say that they have not enough seeds for themselves, and therefore cannot permit the export of seeds. If it be proved to the British Government that they are wrong about this, and if they find when it is coming very close to the sowing season that all their own retailers are well stocked, they may then permit the export of seed, but that would be at the last minute.
What about the English growers who have been growing seeds for our merchants under contract? Will these seeds not be given to us?
Even the export of such seed has been refused.
I must say that is my information too.
Some have been refused. I do not think it can be taken that what Deputy Linehan says is true. I do not want it to be taken that I am saying there is a shortage of seed in England. On the other hand, I do not want it to be taken that there is a surplus of seed there simply because some people want to export seeds here. As we know, some people will sometimes try to do business with a foreign customer even though it may mean leaving their own country short.
The information that I have is from two of the biggest and most reputable firms in England.
It is, perhaps, correct to say that there are merchants there who are anxious to send root seeds to their customers here. We want the seeds very badly, and we have tried to get them released but so far we have not succeeded.
I take it the Minister will continue trying?
Yes. Deputy Linehan also said that some official of my Department said something to the effect that 75 per cent. of artificial manures would be available for farmers this year. I think I said myself, at one time, that I had hopes we would get 75 per cent. of them, and that 50 per cent. had already gone out. These officials may have been quoting me, or may have taken the cue from me, but I am not so hopeful now. Any time that I have been asked the question in the last three or four weeks I have said that 50 per cent. had gone out, and that I am afraid there will not be another 25 per cent. It may be in the region of 5 or 10 per cent., but that will be the outside, I am afraid.
Complaint has been made here before that the manure manufacturers and distributors—they are really the same people—have altered their system of accounts, or altered their terms this year. I do not think that is true. They have always distributed manures here on the basis of cash in, I think, 14 days.
May I say that what I said earlier about the variation in the credit system this year as compared with last year, so far as these manure manufacturers are concerned, was based on a personal experience of my own? I think there are other members of the House who can bear me out in this: that two of the biggest manufacturers we have had a sliding credit system running up to November which they altered this year.
I would like to get more particulars about that.
I will give them to the Minister. You got a great discount for cash in 14 days. If you did not choose to pay cash you could pay in instalments practically up to the end of the harvesting season on the very same terms as you were giving to your own retail customers. That is my personal experience; it is not hearsay.
I do not want to dispute that with the Deputy, but I understood that the distributors, in sending out manure to the retailers, invoiced it in the very same way as they have always invoiced it—cash in 14 days. They may be compelled—I am using that word "compelled"—to collect their accounts a bit more quickly than they did previously. Every importer of raw materials is in the same position.
As Deputies know, for some time back—for the last 12 months or so— it was not a case of cash on delivery; the importers had to send cash with the order, and I suppose they were hard put to it to keep things going when they were compelled to trade in that way. However, I take it that the Deputy is right when he quotes from his own experience; he knows what he is talking about. I suppose then that things are more stringent than they were in previous years, and as the Deputy says that makes it harder for the retailer to give good terms to his farmer customers.
The real point is that there is a number of retailers in the country who may be able to get credit from the bank to meet that situation, but there is also a number who are not able to get it. That is where the real difficulty comes in. There is nothing to close the gap between the manure manufacturer and the farmer who cannot pay cash.
The same thing applies with regard to the gap between the retailer and the farmer. We are trying to get, and we thought we had succeeded in getting, the distributors to give the same terms to the retailers, and the retailers to give the same terms to the farmers. We thought that was working fairly smoothly, but Deputy Davin, for instance, gave me a case where that did not operate. That was a case where cash was asked for, I think, in 14 days. In previous years that was allowed to run on; bills were sent out, but it was allowed to run on, and the last part of it was not paid until after the harvest.
The case I quoted for the Minister was a case where cash was demanded on the day of delivery.
There again, looking at the invoices for both years, they were exactly the same. The only difference was they did not press so hard for payment last year but did press this year.
The Minister would want to understand the business dealings there to see the difference. Any firm sending out goods will send an invoice showing the cash price in so many days. What the credit arrangement with the farmer will be will be an entirely different matter.
That is true. Deputy Linehan, referring to the distribution of manure, said, I think, that I was unfair to the retailers; he thought the Department of Agriculture should have done this rationing of manure themselves, instead of asking the retailers to do it. On the other hand, he said that the retailers had acted most honourably in the distribution of manures. After all, if the retailers have acted really honourably in this distribution, we did well to ask them to do it.
But at great hardship to themselves.
It may have created a bit of hardship for them, but, after all, a lot of people have to put up with a bit of hardship at a time like this, and if they are able to keep all their customers, that is all right. I do not at all agree with Deputy Linehan when he talks about asking people in the poorer areas, the mountain areas and so on, to grow more oats and potatoes and leave the good areas to grow wheat. I am not disagreeing with that part of it, because what I have done as far as I could was to say to the farmer: "Grow whatever you think best." I appealed to the farmers to grow as much wheat as they could for sale, because we want it in the towns, but after that to grow whatever they thought best. But I do not agree with Deputy Linehan that a bad summer will not affect oats and potatoes as much as other crops. As a matter of fact, I think the farmer who has experience of saving cereal crops during a very wet harvest will say he had more difficulty with oats than with wheat. Barley may be more difficult still. Wheat is the easiest crop of the season to save in such a bad year.
I do not think there was any statement made last year that the unemployed would be absorbed into productive agriculture. I did make a statement last year on two or three occasions that I hoped to bring in some sort of improvements scheme. That was brought in—the farm improvements scheme. It has not operated to any great extent this year, but I hope it will be operated on a much bigger scale next year. I do not think it is necessary to deal with the charge that I was asleep, because I think that everything that could have been done was done. For instance, let us take the manure situation. In the ordinary way manufacturers of phosphatic manures did not go to any great trouble to import the raw materials until towards the end of summer. Last year, on the other hand, we had consultations, and they commenced to import immediately the sowing season was finished. Were it not for that we would have very little manures in the country; the greater part of the manure now being used was brought in before the time at which it was ordinarily imported in other years. Those things have all been attended to as well as they possibly could be.
Take the question which is agitating the minds of farmers all over the country, and which was raised by Deputy Bennett, that is, the price of oats and barley. That is the question raised most often by the farmers when I meet them in the country. They do not find any difficulty with the wheat or beet prices. They do talk about the scarcity of manures, but when the matter is explained to them they say: "Well, we must do the best we can." The matter which they do raise is this: that they want to see a price fixed for oats, barley and potatoes, so that, as they say, they will not be let down this year as they were last year and the year before. It is true, as Deputy Bennett said, that in the autumn of 1939 oats was sold for 8d. or 10d. a stone, and afterwards realised, I think he said, two or three times that amount. I am not sure about the figures.
There is no doubt that oats was sold at a low price in the autumn of 1939, and that in the spring of 1940 it realised a very much higher price. But is Deputy Bennett sure of his ground when he says that the merchants made a big profit? Deputy Bennett must remember that Deputy Hughes, for instance, last summer, I think, was of opinion that those merchants had lost a lot of money. Deputy Hughes urged that those merchants should be allowed to export oats, or that they should get some sort of guarantee to get rid of that oats at a decent price.
What I suggested was that, as they were denied the right to export, they were entitled to a guaranteed price; in other words, that individuals should not be asked to finance a scheme to supply food for the nation.
But does not Deputy Hughes think, if he throws his mind back to that August or September, that the merchants had lost a certain amount on oats?
At that time?
When Deputies get up, I do not want them always to assume that the farmer is the only loser, and that other people are making the money all the time. It is a very easy assumption to go on.
Somebody is getting away with it.
I was going to deal with last year. After last harvest oats was sold for about 14/-a barrel, or even as low as 12/- a barrel. As Deputy Bennett said, quite truly, that oats went on to the maize miller. There were individual buyers of oats, there is no doubt, who bought oats as low as 12/- or 14/- a barrel, kept it over, and got twice or more than twice that amount last month, or are getting it now.
But the great bulk of the oats bought at the low price last September went to the maize miller, and it was sold by him to pig feeders in the mixture at the ruling margin, whatever it was. What made the big difference in the price was this: that when it became plain that no more maize was coming in, the maize millers got to know that quickly and they sent very urgent messages to the oats and barley buyers to purchase as much oats and barley as possible. The buyers went out precipitately to the farmers, and then the farmers put up the prices or held on to their supplies. The great bulk of the oats and barley bought at low prices from the farmers was passed on before the high prices came into operation. No doubt some was held over by the merchants with the object of making a profit.
The Minister said he did not hear any adverse criticism of the price of wheat, though he did about oats. I quite agree. He did not hear adverse criticism about wheat prices for this reason, that the farmer does not mention anything to you or to me; he knows what he will get for his wheat, but he does not know what he should get for oats. It is only when he finds out afterwards that he has been mulcted, that he grumbles.
The price of oats is now very much higher. It is an extremely difficult matter to adjust. Deputy Bennett talked about the Minister for Supplies permitting another 1/- a stone on oat meal. The Minister may have been in the position that he had to allow it. If an individual oat miller came along and proved he was buying oats at the present price, he might have been entitled to the 1/-. There are others who bought oats at a lower price and held it in store. It is difficult to fix a price for oat meal or seed oats. If the position remains as it is, and if there is no more maize coming in, we will be better able to fix prices after the next harvest. I would not like to announce any prices now, because it would be very hard to fix them. It will be easier to fix prices when the next harvest comes along and we will see that the farmer gets a fair part of what eventually the consumer will pay.
You will see that the farmer does not get too high a price. Wait until you see it operating.
He should get 90 per cent.
A fair cut?
Yes. Deputy Belton is afraid that something may happen.
I am afraid there will be a shortage of feeding stuffs, and that the price may go up. In this evening's paper it is stated that the English Minister of Agriculture says that the cattle population must be cut down in England, and after the foot and mouth disease scare is over here, they will not take so many of our stores. What will happen to them?
We need not go into the question of store cattle now. I want Deputies to make their own minds and the minds of the farmers easy on this point, that it will be possible after next harvest to do what we could not do with the same ease last harvest, and that is to fix a fair price for oats and barley—whatever the farmer has to sell.
You will fix the price?
If conditions remain as they are, yes.
Is it not advisable to fix prices no matter what the conditions?
That is true, if we could imagine what the conditions will be. I do not know if Deputy Belton wants to push the first motion, but so far as the second motion is concerned, it would be absolutely impossible to operate parts of it, and I shall have to ask responsible Deputies to vote against it.
If the motion be withdrawn, will the Minister meet a representative body of farmers to discuss the matter with them?
I never refused to meet farmers.
That is what destroys the farmers; the Minister is always willing to meet them, and he "cods" them up to the two eyes.
So far as motion No. 13 is concerned, it is not the intention of the proposer or myself to press it. Our object in putting it on the Order Paper was simply to ensure that there would be a discussion of the difficulties under which farmers labour in carrying out the compulsory tillage order. The farmers are a patriotic body of citizens and they are prepared to submit to an order which obliges them to put a certain percentage of their land under cultivation, but they have a right to insist upon a reasonable return for their labour and their expenditure of capital, and they are entitled to see that the obstacles in the way of carrying out this order are, as far as possible, removed.
The obstacles are numerous. We have a position in regard to artificial manures in which only half the amount available last year will be available this year. The difficulties created for farmers are very great. Numerous complaints have been made to me that farmers cannot get one-third of their normal supply of manures. Complaints have been made by beet growers who cannot get more than 4 cwts. of artificial manures per acre, whereas the normal quantity is 9 cwts. That shows some of the difficulties under which farmers labour and the need for taking whatever steps may be necessary to ensure that the farmers will get a reasonable return.
With regard to wheat, very little can now be done to increase the acreage. Farmers who can obtain spring wheat at a reasonable or, if you like, an unreasonable price, will attempt to get it into the land as soon as possible. I am not quite satisfied with the explanations of the Minister in regard to oats and barley last year. He said that certain quantities of oats were bought at 11/- and 12/- and sold subsequently at three times that amount. He said that practically the entire oat crop was bought at that price. As a matter of fact, 90 per cent. of the farmers who grew oats as a cash crop disposed of the crop in September and October, immediately after threshing, and, therefore, that crop passed into the hands of merchants and millers, and whatever price has been obtained for it since represents a profit at the expense of the farmers.
The fact that some farmers may have held their oats until a month or so ago, or until the present time, does not alter the fact that the merchants have made excessive profits and it does not enable the Minister to get away with the explanation that there has been no real profiteering in regard to oats. I think it is very desirable in the coming year that if the Minister does not consider it wise to fix a price for oats and barley he will, at least, take such steps as may be necessary to ensure that the price will not fall below an economic level, as it did last year, and he should be prepared to go so far as to purchase surplus oats and barley in the event of such a state of affairs occurring. I agree with the Minister that, from all the indications at present, it is not likely to occur, but nobody can forecast the future, and because nobody can forecast the future, it is the duty of the Minister to ensure that the farmer will not be compelled to sell his oats and barley at an uneconomic price next year. He can do that if the Department are prepared to compete with merchants in the purchase of the surplus crop. Justice demands that that should be done, having regard to the fact that farmers are compelled to comply with the Compulsory Tillage Order.
The second motion requests that obstacles which are preventing farmers from extending their acreage under tillage should, so far as possible, be removed. These obstacles are debts which have accumulated on many farmers for a number of years, and particularly debts which were incurred during the last war. The Minister has said, rightly, that he does not desire that there should be any excessive borrowing during the present war, as was the case during the last war. Everybody would advocate that, and, therefore, if credit facilities are to be provided by the Government, or under Government auspices, they should not be such as would increase debts upon farms. They should be of two kinds— short term credits which would enable farmers to increase their tillage production, and long term credits for the liquidation of old debts and the settling of frozen debts with the banks. These two forms of credit are urgently needed, and they require the immediate attention of the Government.
The credit facilities at present provided by the Agricultural Credit Corporation and by the local authorities under the Seeds and Fertilisers Acts are not sufficient. The credits for seeds and fertilisers provided by local authorities have this great disadvantage, that the finances of local authorities are so limited that local councils are forced to place the utmost restrictions upon any credit they give. They generally require two solvent securities in nearly all cases in which loans are made to farmers, and everybody knows how difficult it is to secure two solvent securities for such loans. We must remember that we are facing a very big crisis and in the midst of a very serious emergency, and that there is need for a bigger credit scheme than anything visualised by the Agricultural Credit Corporation at present, or by the Seeds and Fertilisers Acts.
Years ago, when it was decided to introduce legislation for the purchase of the landlords' interest in the country credit facilities were made available to farmers. At that time, there was no question of each farmer being compelled to bring in two solvent securities to guarantee repayment of the money advanced. The money advanced for land purchase was advanced on the security of the farmer's land. It ran into an enormous amount of money for the whole country, and yet, until political agitation arose, or was started by the Fianna Fáil Party ten or 15 years ago, there was never any question as to the payment of land annuities. As a matter of fact, land annuities were paid regularly and punctually, and we can always rest assured that if the farmer is given a fair chance he will, in his own interest, and in the national interest, repay money advanced. Therefore, the need at present is for far-reaching credit facilities, which must be provided by the State, because no banking institution, out to make profits, is prepared to finance agriculture to the extent required at present. The State must come to the rescue of the farmer and provide the necessary capital. The farmer, then, in the national interest, will provide the food the nation requires.
The House is asked in this motion also to consider the question of funding arrears of land annuities and rates. I know that the Government's objection to the funding of arrears is that arrears of land annuities were funded in 1923, and again in 1933, and that if it is understood that arrears are to be funded every nine or ten years, people will give up paying annuities altogether. I know that that is a very strong objection, but at least under the credit facilities which I have suggested, the State, through the Credit Corporation or some other financial corporation which they might set up, should be prepared to advance money at a low rate of interest to wipe out these arrears and to let those farmers at present in arrears start with a clean sheet, so that this millstone around the farmers' necks, which is creating great difficulties for local authorities and for the Land Commission, would for all time be removed.
I think the farmers are making a reasonable effort to meet all the demands which are being made upon them by the Government, and having regard to the difficulties which farmers are experiencing in meeting those demands, a reasonable offer, a reasonable gesture, should be made to them, both in regard to arrears of land annuities and rates and to credit facilities generally. The Taoiseach will realise that whatever difficulties farmers have been labouring under up to a month ago, those difficulties have all been greatly intensified by the fact that the sale of livestock is at a standstill, and, for that reason, he should be specially generous in regard to credit facilities.
First of all, in connection with the wheat position, we have the period from now until next harvest, which is surely sufficient for the Department of Agriculture to make up its mind definitely that there will not be the same gambling with the bread of the poor as has gone on during the past four or five months. If the farmers are to produce wheat at 40/- per barrel, that wheat should go direct to the miller at 40/-, and there should not be any middlemen profiteers allowed. The Minister has said that he intends to take care that the farmers will not have much chance to borrow. Steps should be taken to secure that others will not be permitted to profiteer at the expense of the farmer. I say, definitely, that if we had had a credit scheme for seed-wheat last September, we would have at least 100,000 acres more wheat growing in the country today. I say that without fear of contradiction because I know the circumstances. That credit scheme for seed-wheat would have gone through were it not for the anxiety to protect a section of the community who deserve no protection from this House or anybody else—men who are able to turn over 8/3 a barrel profit on what they purchase from the farmers. When we discussed wheat here some time ago, Deputy Morrissey interrupted me to tell me that the price per barrel of seed-wheat in Tipperary was 45/-. The same wheat jumped to 65/- and, a fortnight later, to 70/- I wonder if, when the farmers' price of 40/- was being fixed, those who fixed the price knew that the farmer would have to pay up to 70/- for the seed which was being sold freely at from 40/- to 45/-. That makes a difference.
I can see no obstacle in the way of the farmer getting his seed wheat on credit direct from the miller on a guarantee that, when he hands in his crop to the miller, the price of his seed will be deducted from his cheque. That would do away with the gambling that has been going on in seed wheat this year. It would be an incentive to the agricultural community to grow wheat before any other crop. They would say that they could have the seed on credit at any rate. Instead of that we have a position in which everybody can make money out of the farmer's crop except the farmer. I do not know how much wheat will be sown this year, but I would say that the farmer who does not provide, in the first place, for his own seed for the coming year, and in the second place for his own family, is an idiot.
It would be taken from him under Order.
Would it? If wheat is to be taken from the threshing mill, winnowed, and sold for 37/6, and if, two months afterwards, it is re-sold at 65/- or 70/-, the position is very unsatisfactory for the farmer. The gentleman who got it at 37/6 made a lot more out of it than the farmer who had the trouble of growing and harvesting it. I should like to get that point established—that the middlemen will get the road this year and that profiteering will stop. As regards the proposals in the tail-end of this motion, I do not think they count. The down-and-out farmers, as we may call them, would, if they had any credit facilities for seed wheat, go out and sow it. I know a lot of them. I do not know what sort of county council Deputy Cogan has. In Cork we grow one-fifth of the whole wheat crop, and only little bits are grown here and there elsewhere. The facilities Cork County Council are giving would enable a man to grow about 18 acres of grain.
How much are they giving out?
16 cwts. of wheat, 16 cwts. of oats, 16 cwts. of barley and half a ton of "spuds."
Put it in cash. How much did you issue?
I am giving you what each farmer can get, and that is the sowing of from 18 to 20 acres. There is no bother about this scheme. The class who come to us are the unfortunate devils who cannot get accommodation anywhere else. We are not worried about the sureties about which Deputy Cogan is so much troubled. We got over 90 per cent. of our money back last year, when we did the same thing.
What will be your rate next year?
The only pity was that we were not able to put the scheme in operation in good time. Like everything else from the Local Government Department, we did not get notification of it until the middle of December. Despite what the Minister for Agriculture said here some time ago, the scheme was passed at the following meeting of the county council. There was no delay on the part of the local authorities when they got the opportunity.
There is no red tape in Cork.
Let Deputy Brodrick tell us what his county council did. I can see no trouble regarding the credit position if a county council does its job. I admit it is a job that county councils should not have. I admit, further, that portion of the responsibility which used previously be borne by the State, is not now borne by the State, small as it was—half of the 10 per cent. As regards oats and barley, I hope nobody will set about fixing the price of oats and barley this harvest.
I hope not.
I am growing a share of oats and I expect to get double the price of my wheat for it. If we do not make it, it will not be sold, and that is all about it. We must get something to gamble on. That is why I asked Deputy Belton whether he was anxious to have a price fixed for oats and barley. Let the farmers get a bit of it this year. The dealers bought oats at £7 or £8 per ton last September, and they will sell it to you now for £25 a ton, if you are a good pay. Let the farmers get it this year.
The farmers are getting it this year.
You might say that 95 per cent. of the farmers have to sell their crops when they are threshed. If the Land Commission are not waiting for the money, or if the merchant does not want his pound of flesh, the rate collector will want it, and it is gone anyway. As I say, 95 per cent. of the oats last year was bought at from £7 to £8 per ton, and is now being sold back to the farmers by the merchants from £1 per cwt. up. That kind of thing must stop. I do not know what means will be adopted to stop it, but we are long enough talking about it. My advice to the farmer is (1) to keep sufficient of every class of seed for himself, and (2) to keep enough to feed himself and his family.
You will be accused of preaching revolution.
Whatever was the purpose behind the mover and seconder of motion No. 13, asking for an annulment of the Tillage Order, I do not think that anyone, realising the gravity of the situation of this country, will subscribe to the annulment of a tillage order, and I do not think it was for that purpose the motion was put down.
That was explained.
It would appear an extraordinary statement, and to many a misrepresentation of the facts if one suggested that this country, which normally exports over 50 per cent. of its agricultural production, was threatened with hunger. But this is the first time in recent history, and under a national Government, that this country has become the focal point of an intensive blockade, that it has been threatened not only from a defence point of view, but from an economic and food supply point of view as well. Listening to this debate, I asked myself how many of us really appreciate the critical position this country is facing at the present time, when we have to make up a deficit of approximately 300,000 tons of wheat, 450,000 tons of maize, and 60,000 tons of concentrated food if we are to feed our own people, and carry the number of live stock that we normally carry. How are we to do that, or what is the best method of approach? That is a matter that this House should concern itself about more than anything else. To my mind, there has been no proper attempt made by the Government to provide an effective food plan for the coming year.
I come from an area that has produced beet for a number of years, and I ask—is it good policy in the national interest to go in for 100 per cent. of our sugar requirements by the production of sugar beet, facing existing circumstances, and the shortage of an almost essential raw material, namely, artificial manure? I would remind Deputies that beet is a crop that requires an intensive dressing of artificial manure. In fact, if we are not in a position to give it that intensive dressing, there will be a 75 per cent. failure or more, no matter what sort of land it is grown on. We have the Sugar Company appealing for a very extended acreage under sugar beet, and ignoring the very pertinent situation which is present to the mind of any man conversant with the position—that there is a serious shortage of artificial manure. The Sugar Company entered into contracts with people all over the country to produce an acreage that would give us 100 per cent. of our requirements in sugar.
To-day the position is that contracts are being slung back wholesale in the four factory areas for want of artificial manure. I do not know that I regret that, because at the present time there could be more essential food produced for our people than the food we will get through the medium of sugar beet. I say that at the risk of offending many of my own constituents. But I think it is my duty to say that, because we cannot think for individuals or for sectional interests at present; we must think for the nation and for our people as a whole.
Any man who has surveyed the wheat position will agree that we will fall considerably short of our expectations, and that we will not produce anything like what we anticipated. Last year we grew 305,000 acres. If you add 100,000 acres to that, that would be approximately what you will get in wheat this year.
It is more than you will have.
I think it is an outside figure. That would be 400,000 acres. That means that we will fall short of our requirements by approximately 200,000 tons or more, because with the shortage of artificial manure and the land you will bring under wheat that is unsuitable for wheat production because it has not been turned up or properly aerated or because the fitness of the soil is not as it ought to be, there is bound to be a steep fall in yield and it is inevitable that the yield from wheat will fall very short of one ton per acre next year. Suppose we take an outside figure of 400,000 acres of wheat. That will not give us a yield of anything like 400,000 tons. What is the best substitute for wheat? We are now getting to the end of the sowing season. It is too late for sowing winter wheat. There is only a limited stock of spring seed wheat available, with the result that there is going to be a shortage there.
I suggested before, and I do so again, that the potato crop ought to be cultivated more extensively in the coming year. It is not, I think, sufficient for the Minister or the Government to appeal to the farmers, in advertisements, to increase the acreage under potatoes. There is no use in talking about the farmers' patriotism. They are as patriotic a section of the community as any other section—I think no one can deny that—but they have to meet their ordinary daily and weekly obligations. They have to plan their crops, from the financial aspect, so as to try to balance their budget at the end of the year. The bulk of them find it hard to do that, while many of them are unable to do it. I am satisfied that an appeal of that sort is not sufficient, and that it would be good national policy for the Government to fix, not only a guaranteed price, but an attractive price for potatoes. That has been done by the British Government and by the Northern Ireland Government. The latter fixed a very high price for potatoes last year, and that ensured for the people in that area a plentiful supply of very fine food.
Another point with regard to the growing of potatoes is this: that at the present time the British Government are carrying out research work with the object of making potatoes into flour. I believe there is every hope and prospect of their being able to make a success of that. If we take steps to provide ourselves with an adequate supply of the raw materials, then we can make use of the results of their experiments. It is almost certain that they will discover some method of making potatoes into flour or into some flour substitute. Therefore, I suggest that the present is the opportune time to fix a guaranteed and attractive price for potatoes. If that had been done earlier it might have had the result of inducing people to grow potatoes where they ought to grow wheat. Should we fall short in our wheat requirements a potato crop is the best substitute we can have for wheat. It will produce more food than any other crop. In regard to this, the Government have not gone far enough at all. It is not enough simply to make an appeal for the growing of more potatoes. We should go the full distance and say to the farmer: "Here is a guaranteed price of £8 a ton", or whatever the price may be that is fixed. That will get the crop grown. It has to be remembered that there is an enormous deficiency to be made good, and it is not going to be made good unless something, such as I suggest, is done. The Government must ensure that, at all costs, the food will be there when required. If people can get a good meal of potatoes and milk they will not die of hunger.
If the present position with regard to the pig industry continues, then in six months' time we will be scarcely able to supply our own requirements in bacon. Sows are being fattened off all over the country, because there is no food for them. I know big pig breeders who had been accustomed to keep 20, 30 or 40 sows, and at the present time all those sows are in the feeding yards and are being fattened off. A man who normally kept 20 or 25 sows told me a short time ago that he was fattening off all his sows with the exception of one or two. I said to him that was a very serious thing to do. His reply was that he had no alternative, as he could not get food for them. He is a man who has been in pigs in a big way for years. On that question, if we had a surplus of potatoes over and above what we require for human consumption, we would then be in a position to breed pigs. Normally, we take a census of production about the 1st June. I want to suggest to the Minister that this year it should be taken in mid-April. The farmer will then be able to tell what acreage he has put in under certain crops, or if he has not the crops in, what acreage he proposes to put under certain crops. I suggest that this census should be taken immediately by the statistics branch of the Department of Industry and Commerce. That branch of the Department would then be in a position to say what percentage of our production could be set aside for human consumption and what percentage of it for the feeding of livestock.
That is very important, I think, in view of the announcement which appears in this evening's newspapers from the British Minister of Agriculture. His statement was to the effect that an appreciable reduction in Britain's present numbers of livestock was essential because of reduced supplies of feeding material. He went on to say: "Even when Eire becomes free again from the foot-and-mouth disease, we shall have to restrict severely the imports of stores from that country." We have, therefore, to bear in mind that we are going to be left with an excessive number of stores, as the people on the other side will only take the finished article from us. It has, of course, to be remembered that we have a restricted number of acres available for the grazing of cattle to-day, due to the increased area of land under cultivation. I suggest to the Minister that he should get the census of production taken next month for the reasons I have already indicated. If the Minister sees that there is no prospect of our getting consignments of raw materials for the feeding of animals from overseas, and that the calculated production of food will not be sufficient to carry our present stocks, he should say to pig breeders that it would be good national policy to reduce their stock of sows to the calculated number that we will be able to feed.
In other words, it would be bad policy to encourage men to go on blindly breeding and producing animals, and find later that we had not sufficient food to feed them. Let us come to a determination now as to the number of animals which we can carry. We can only do that by making an estimate of what our production is likely to be from the area of land under cultivation. The sooner that information is made available the sooner we can make our plans to carry through next year. I think this work should be undertaken at once by the Statistics Branch of the Department of Industry and Commerce. It is a branch of the Department which does its work in an excellent manner. There is a vast amount of information available there to Deputies who are anxious to get that information. They know their job well, and do their job most efficiently to my mind. It is one of the most efficient branches of the whole Government. They ought to be set working on this job immediately to determine where we are, and what percentage of our production can be reasonably set aside to feed our livestock for the coming year.
Reference has been made by many Deputies to this question of credit for farmers. There appears to be a wide difference in the operation of the Seeds and Fertilisers Act in various counties. Some Deputies claim that it is doing a lot of useful work, while Deputies from other counties think that it does not by any means cover the ground that should be covered at the present time to provide credit for farmers. I do not think it should be the work of the local authority to provide credit for people who require it. The Minister said that the Government did not want to encourage the excessive borrowing which occurred during the last war. I want to say to the Minister that when Deputies in this House talk about credit they are not referring to the type of credit which operated during the last war. That could not be called credit at all; it was really an investment. Those frozen loans were advances made by the banking institutions in this country to purchase more land at an inflated value. Those frozen loans are a problem handed down from that time, and the problem has not yet been solved. The sooner those frozen loans are cleared the better not only from the point of view of the farmers but from the point of view of the banking institutions. The best way to solve the problem is to set up a commission to go into the merits of each individual loan advanced. Remember, those loans were advanced at the peak point of inflation, and the farmer was expected to face his liability in that matter during an abnormally low period, when deflation had occurred, and when, in fact, the world was passing through a post-war period of depression. Of course, many of them collapsed under the burden and were not able to meet it at all.
A commission should be set up to deal with each case on its merits; to ascertain what would be a fair amount for the farmer to pay in the circumstances; to assess what would be a fair and reasonable amount between both parties, and to fix an amount, spread over a period of years, that the farmer would be able to meet. I think the banking institutions would be very glad to have that done, because at the present time on almost all those frozen loans they are collecting nothing. They look on them as a bad debt which they will never recover, and anything they would be able to collect by such an arrangement as I suggest would be more or less a windfall from their point of view. When we talk about credit then, we do not talk about that kind of loan at all, because that was an investment for the banks, and if the banks lost money it is their own responsibility. They should not have made advances in cases where there was no possible hope of collecting the money. When we talk about credit, we talk about credit for restocking holdings; we talk about credit facilities for farmers to carry on their normal occupations, to buy seeds and manures and that sort of thing. There should be some sort of chattel mortgage arrangement made by the Government, and it should be a first charge. Where a man is prepared to grant those credit facilities his charge should rank as a first charge on the crop or on the lands as the case may be.
Deputies have referred to the question of seed wheat, and to the seed wheat ramp. There has been a seed wheat ramp here, and the Minister is not free from blame in that regard. It has been suggested to the Minister that he licensed a number of men to assemble seed wheat last autumn, and he was very careful to fix the price that the farmer got. He left the farmer no gamble at all; he fixed the price at 37/-.
But they were not prevented from paying more, and they did pay more in many cases.
They did not pay much more.
They paid as high as 50/- in some cases.
When? Last October or November?
The Deputy said that the Minister was careful to prevent the farmer from getting anything. I say that is not right.
I did not say "to prevent".
I say that is not right.
And I say that 90 per cent. of that seed wheat bought last September and October and November—and the Minister knows it as well as I do—was bought at 37/-.
I fixed a minimum price, not a maximum price.
But the mere fact of fixing a minimum price meant that the minimum price operated, and the wheat was bought at 37/- all over the country. The Minister cannot get out of it merely by suggesting that it was a minimum price; it was a fixed price.
The Deputy cannot get away with saying that I was careful to limit the farmers' price.
The Minister knows very well that that was the price generally paid all over the country.
The Deputy said that the Minister was careful to limit the farmers' price. It was the opposite.
The Minister fixed the price at 37/-, but he did not go to the other end at all.
I said, "You must pay 37/-."
Did the farmer get any more?
He did in some cases.
When the Minister said that, why did he not go further and say, "I will fix the price at which that can be sold back to the farmer at 45/-"?
That is another point.
It is a point discussed by several Deputies-that the Minister had a basis there for fixing a price and he did not use it. He was advised from his own benches time and time again; he was advised by Deputy Corry to-night, and on several occasions previously I listened to Deputy Corry saying to the Minister that he was standing over this ramp and permitting it to happen. The Minister cannot get away from it by saying that it was a minimum price; there is no one in this House going to swallow that.
On the question of manure, a motion was put down here by Deputy Belton asking the Minister to fix the price of wheat at 50/-. I suggested a compromise because in present circumstances, facing a dangerous situation for the country, I was of opinion that we should think of the poor man who has to buy the loaf. What happened? A month ago, a price of £8 per ton ex-factory for superphosphates was approved. Is there any justification whatever for a price of £8 ex-factory for superphosphates? The price in England is £5 per ton, and the raw material has to be bought in North Africa. It is manufactured in England. We do the same. I concede the point to the Minister that the British have their own boats, and the freight and transport charges on the raw material coming from Africa are much less for them, because we have to charter neutral bottoms, but it is inconceivable that that would run up the price by anything like £3 a ton. For that reason I hold that there is no justification whatever for an ex-factory price of £8 per ton for superphosphate.
In order to satisfy my mind that there was no justification for that, I put down a question to the Minister for Supplies, asking him to give us the approximate dates of the arrivals of raw rock cargo here for manufacture into superphosphates. He would not give it because it was not in the national interest. That is the simple way out Ministers have when you ask them an awkward question.
It is not the simple way out.
I asked the Minister when the last cargo arrived. I believe we did not get a cargo of rock since October. If superphosphate could be sold at £6 5s. a ton in November, December and January, there is no reason why it should not be sold at that now if we did not get in any raw materials in the meantime, and I believe we did not get any in since last October. I must continue to assert that until the responsible Minister gives me information that we had an arrival of rock at a later period. I went to some trouble to satisfy myself that the ex-factory price in England is £5, or £3 a ton lower than here. The farmer is expected to be so patriotic as to shut his eyes to that situation and do the donkey for the nation. If the farmers are to do their work loyally and well, and I have no doubt they are fully prepared to do so, they are entitled to protection. That sort of fleecing ought not to be permitted; that sort of exploitation and robbery ought not to be permitted, and it is the duty of the Government to see that it is not. We are trying to lead them into a realisation of the position. Evidently they are not prepared to face it.
Deputy Bennett referred to the desirability of a guaranteed price for oats and barley. There should be some guaranteed price for those crops. It is unfortunate that that did not operate last year. I agree with Deputy Belton that there is not the same necessity in the coming year, because the chances are that oats and barley will exceed the price of wheat.
Good feeding barley is above the fixed price for wheat now.
It is, definitely. If that precaution were taken last year the ramp Deputies have complained about would not have occurred. As regards asking the farmers to step into the gap and produce the food essential for the nation, one thing I take exception to is that the farmers have never been consulted. They have been treated in a vastly different fashion as compared with the industrialists, who were invited into the office of the Minister for Industry and Commerce, where an arrangement was entered into, a tariff wall built up around them, an attractive price fixed, and a monopoly given to them. In their case there is full consultation, and all arrangements are made before they go into production. Is the unfortunate farmer ever consulted? He is not. He is compelled to do it. He is kicked into the job, and given a price he was never consulted about.
The farmers were consulted.
When and where?
The members of the Council of Agriculture were consulted.
Yes; they were consulted, and they gave their approval.
Did they approve of the price?
They did. The Deputy makes assertions for which he has no grounds. They were consulted about everything, and they agreed.
Through what organisation?
The Agricultural Production Consultative Council.
When did they meet?
They meet about every two months.
Is that Consultative Council there still?
How often do they meet?
Every two months.
I am glad to know from the Minister that someone was consulted. I am surprised that we were allowed to labour under an error like that.
The Deputy is only too willing to labour under the error.
No, I want to be helpful, but apparently the Minister does not give me credit for that. It is the duty and the responsibility of every Deputy to be helpful. I made some suggestions that ought to be helpful. A guaranteed price ought to be fixed for potatoes in order to ensure that we will get an extended acreage, and an early census of production should be taken so that we may calculate our position from the point of view of the amount of food necessary for human consumption and available for animal use. We can then determine our pig population for the coming year and the Minister will be in a position to tell farmers by what percentage there shall be a reduction—that is, if it is necessary to have a reduction.
I think it can be said that every farmer here has been a canvasser and has set a good example by increasing the acreage under wheat. If it was not for the inclement weather in January and February, more winter wheat would have been sown. It is now too late to grow winter wheat, and, as Deputy Hughes has suggested, the only alternative is to grow more potatoes. Potatoes are the best substitute for wheat. It is our duty to feed the people. I think the Ministers who are responsible for supplies were asleep for a long time. This war did not come overnight. We found when it was too late that we had a shortage of petrol and other things that we require. I went to a merchant recently and he told me he had no artificial manure. What is the position of the farmers engaged in the cultivation of beet? What are they to do? We all know that they cannot grow beet successfully without artificial manure and that in many districts they will have a poor crop of beet because they cannot get sufficient artificial manure. With the 50 per cent. reduction in connection with artificial manure, some farmers are being treated very badly. There are people in possession of poor, worn land, and when they approached the local merchant for a supply of artificial manure they found they could not get it. That was a big mistake on the part of the Government. They should have asked the merchants what quantity of artificial manure they had in stock and then they should have made arrangements to distribute it fairly amongst ordinary customers.
A serious position has arisen in the county that the Minister and I have the honour to represent. Great difficulty is being experienced in getting turnip and mangold seeds. These seeds are the last to be sown and, if the farmers cannot get all the seeds they require, what will they put into the land? In many cases where a farmer has good soil, well manured for a green crop, he cannot grow barley or oats on that land because it will lodge, but he could grow potatoes. The Minister should be in a position to know how we stand in regard to seed potatoes. There is very little use in asking farmers to plough more land if they cannot get the seed to sow in it. Perhaps the Minister will inform us how much turnip and mangold seeds he will be able to get? I know merchants in my own county who have not one pound of mangold or turnip seed. I was talking to a local shopkeeper yesterday, and he informed me there was no hope of getting turnip or mangold seed. In normal times that man would sell five or six cwts. of mangold seed and four or five cwts. of turnip seed every year, but he has not one pound of that type of seed in his premises to-day. He tried everywhere and the answer he got was "nothing doing", so I suggest that the Minister should get in touch with the British Minister of Agriculture, or with whomever is concerned, and see whether they have any spare turnip or mangold seeds, because now is the time to get them over. I believe there was an expectation of getting mangold seeds from America, but are they likely to grow and mature in our soil? If they are, and if they come in time, it will be all right, but we must remember that turnip and mangold seed are the last to be sown, and if the farmers cannot get seeds to sow their turnips and mangolds, there will be nothing but weeds on the land, and that will be very poor compensation for farmers who tried to increase their tillage.
The pig feeder is hit very hard at the moment and I think the Minister for Supplies, or whatever other Minister is concerned, should get a sample of the stuff they are selling now for pig mixture. I don't know what it is composed of but I think there is sawdust, yellow clay and everything else in it. I know from experience that pigs are not thriving on it. The only thing good about it is the price. There is another industry which is going to be hit very much, that is, the poultry industry. I have been talking to a big number of poultry keepers and they tell me that they have to sell off their hens for want of feeding for them. I personally feel that the Government were very slow in looking after supplies in 1939. This war did not come overnight.
Did Deputy Dillon not tell us that it would not come at all?
I am told that the merchants of this country could have bought all the Canadian wheat their stores could hold in 1939 at 12/- a barrel. If my information from these merchants is correct, the Government would not give them a licence to import this wheat. It would be very good for the people to-day if they had plenty of Canadian wheat to keep the wolf from the door and give the poor man a cheap loaf. We were told that the Government were going to make this country self-supporting. They build a wall round it, but that wall was built when we had peace, and the wall is still there. My experience in going through life—and I am older than many here—is that the more you import and export, the more employment you give. You can always produce stuff which will realise a better price across the water than at home and can always buy feeding stuffs which will come much cheaper than the price at which you can produce them. If we want to give employment and to make this country prosperous, there is only one way to do it, that is, by mixed farming. Some people may speak of ranchers, but you can ranch much more easily by growing corn than you can by rearing cattle. The man who goes in for mixed farming gives employment all the year round, but the man who goes in for corn ranching, if he has not plenty of manure to put back on his land, gives no employment because he holds only for a year or two.
I intervene to make use of the occasion to draw again the attention of the House and the country to the position in which we find ourselves. I had hoped that when the second last speaker began, he was going to do my work for me and, if he had continued as he began, he would have done it. We are talking here as if we were living in normal times. In normal times there is the usual pull between different sections of the community, with each thinking that the other has the best of it, and each trying to keep for itself whatever advantage there is. This is a time in which we will all go down together, every section, unless we are mighty careful. It is not a service to the country to talk about the farmers being donkeys to be driven and not being attended to.
How were they attended to by the Taoiseach in the economic war?
The point is that they have their annuities at half.
They paid them several times to the British.
They did not. I am up for ten minutes, and let me speak without interruption, please.
I should like the Taoiseach——
Am I to speak without interruption or not?
I should like the Taoiseach to make it clear——
The Deputy must keep order or leave the House. The Taoiseach must be permitted to speak without interruption.
If he will only talk common sense——
I have ten minutes to say what I want to say to the country, and let me say it.
The Deputy must cease interrupting.
We are in a crisis, and it is not the time to tell any group that they are donkeys for any other section. If we do not get food enough from within this country, we are not likely to get it at all. We have to get food for our people here from the soil of this country and those who have the soil are only trustees, finally, for the community as a whole. Those who have the land have the greatest stake in this country, and I say to them that they should pay no attention to the people who tell them they are donkeys.
The important thing for the farmers, as for every section of the country, is to get food grown for our people this year. If they do not, we may not, as I have said, get it from anywhere. It is said that we have cattle, and that we will not starve, but it is going to mean a serious danger to this country if the food which our people have been accustomed to, bread, cannot be got. The speaker to whom I referred, who began so well and ended so badly, pointed out that we require some 200,000 or 300,000 acres of extra cereals —wheat if we can get it—for human food. The Minister and his officials inform us that they think we will be far short of what we expected in wheat. If so, we must make up for it in other cereals and in potatoes, if our people are to be fed. Not merely have our people to be fed, but, as the same speaker pointed out, we have to make up for the food for animals formerly imported here. His estimate was some 300,000 acres for human food, to make up for the shortage of the wheat we cannot get from outside, and 400,000 acres to make up for the animal foods which formerly came from outside. Perhaps that is slightly above what is absolutely necessary, but we shall want something from 500,000 to 700,000 acres of extra cultivation to give us the food which we would otherwise lack for human beings and for stock.
If you do not have the food for the human beings—they will have to get it in the first instance—then the farmers will be short for their cattle and will have to kill them off, as they have had to kill them off in other countries. Consequently, these few weeks are precious to the country, and, instead of talking in a way which would discourage farmers from using the time to plant their land, everyone of us, if we appreciated our duty to the nation, should be both in public and in private urging the farmer to grow more food. Is there any doubt that he will get a reasonable price for his products in present circumstances? Some of those who spoke suggested that we should not fix prices for certain crops. That is a new doctrine. The reason they do not want fixed prices is that they think the position will be such that famine prices will be paid. We do not want that. Remember, if we get into a situation like that, there will be a whole crop of difficulties, and the farmers, with other sections, will suffer as a result. Let every one of us, then, instead of trying by speeches here to discourage farmers, try to induce them to go farther than they would go, without inducement and encouragement, to provide the nation's food. I spoke of the food position before, several times, and I do not want to deal with it again. I was hoping that what I had to say would be said by the Deputy who began so well.
The next thing we want—again it is the rural community, in the main, who must provide it for us—is fuel. We shall, probably, be short of coal. We have a substitute to our hands if we go out and get the work done—if we get sufficient turf cut. Here, again, the hours are precious, and let nobody discourage the people who are inclined to do that work. We saw mention of a "dream" in the paper recently. Fundamentally, what is required for the realisation of that dream is co-operation amongst our people. We do not want any new organisation in order to get that. There are existing organisations which, if they give their will to it, can do it. Some time ago, we asked to have parish councils set up. They were set up largely for the purpose of doing the sort of work which this new organisation might do. They know their own localities better than anybody here in the city knows them and better than any central group know them. If these parish councils set about their work, as some of them have done, then we shall have the best possible type of organisation, from the rural point of view, to meet our needs—an organisation that can stand firmly on its local knowledge. I do not want to deprive the mover of the motion of the time to which he is entitled in concluding.
Ten minutes will suffice for me.
Then, I might mention some of the things which have been done by these parish councils. The Tipperary branch of Muintir na Tire did very useful work in getting land and arranging for the tilling of it on the basis that those who wanted a supply of potatoes, for instance, would make available a sum of £5, in return for which they were guaranteed one-eighth of an acre of potatoes—that is to say, a ton. Other places have carried out more or less similar schemes in regard to turf. If we get that local initiative, we shall have our allotment schemes developed much more than they are at the present time—that is to say, if we can have local groups of that sort making land available in the neighbourhood. Local bodies, keeping local conditions in mind, can get this work done. Departments of State will do everything possible to assist, but we should not, at the present time, discourage local initiative or induce any group of people to believe that the Government can act all the time as a sort of fairy godmother. They cannot do that. The funds which the Government have at their disposal belong to the people. If grants are given by the Government, the charge will come back, at some stage, on some section of the community or on the community as a whole.
At present, what is most needed is local initiative, the realisation locally that there is a crisis upon us such as this nation has never had to face before and of a type which it has never had to face before. The whole security of the nation depends upon local groups taking the advantage of any local circumstances and using them for the benefit of their own community. In this crisis, the parish councils can play a very important part. For instance, they can initiate a turf scheme, or some similar scheme. Once it is known that that is done in one area, other parish councils will be inclined to adopt the scheme. Take the Tipperary scheme. I am perfectly certain that that could be adopted in a number of other areas and that land could be put into cultivation, as a result, which would not otherwise be put into cultivation. As regards State lands, we have seen that these lands will, as far as possible, be used for the production of food. Everybody here should regard it as a patriotic duty in these weeks, which are of so great import to the country, to go out and encourage, in the first instance, the production of food—if you cannot have wheat, then other cereals and potatoes—and, in the second place, turf. We require a very large increase on the amount of turf cut in past years —three or four times that amount— and there is no doubt that a reasonable price will be available for it.
Would the Taoiseach say anything about the price of potatoes?
It is quite obvious that under present conditions, when we want food so sadly for man and beast, prices will regulate themselves.
Potatoes are dear enough for the poor at present.
As the mover of the motion, I wish to endorse pretty well everything the Taoiseach has said. I wonder the Government did not look for more co-operation amongst the people to whom they are appealing to produce food. What is the position to-day, 19th March? We are told by the Minister for Agriculture that with the rosiest expectations of a good crop and a good harvest, not only will we not have sufficient wheat to give us a white loaf, but that we shall not have sufficient wheat, without taking any offals from it, to give us a wheaten loaf. The position is terribly serious, and I agree that this is not the time to be criticising because of what has not been done. The question is: What can we do about it now? The position is that, when the present harvest matures, we will not only not have enough wheat to give us a white loaf, but we will not have sufficient to give us a wheaten loaf. Is not that a correct interpretation of what the Minister said?
We agree on that. Can anything be done now? The situation is serious. Is it not true that half our feeding stuffs for live stock are imported?
Pre-war, not last year.
We will have nothing if we lose that half. Are we not losing close on 200,000 tons of wheat offals in the shape of bran and pollard? Look at what was disclosed by the British Minister for Agriculture to-day as to what is confronting this country:
"Mr. R.S. Hudson, British Minister for Agriculture, announced at Leicester to-day that an appreciable reduction in Britain's live stock numbers was essential because of reduced supplies of feeding material. Foot-and-mouth disease in Eire is already causing the first steps in reduction of intake, the scourge there having reached a stage that makes the import of Irish stores impossible for some time to come. Even when Eire becomes free again, we shall have to restrict severely imports of stores from that country."
Store cattle form the largest volume of our live stock trade and the import of them to Great Britain will be curtailed for want of feeding stuffs. We here will have less feeding stuffs than ever we had. What are we to do with these stores? What will we have to sell abroad in order to buy petrol? Our external assets are frozen. What margin have we to buy anything abroad, even if we can get it? In bringing this motion forward, our object was not to find fault. As practical farmers, we had a fair idea of the position, and I must say that the position is worse than I had anticipated. There is no use in saying that the brown loaf we have at present, or a loaf with a mixture of other cereals, is as good as a white loaf. But that is not my point. A wheaten loaf made from our own flour is a guarantee that we have grown sufficient wheat for our own use and to enable us to take 70 per cent. extraction and leave available 180,000 or 200,000 tons of bran and pollard for live stock. That is why I think the white loaf should be our goal, if we can attain it.
There is a very slender margin between us and famine for live stock, first, and perhaps for human beings. Can anything be done now? Even if the consultative council was found to be useful, the results of its labours have not been very fruitful. If we set any value on a consultative council, it should not meet every two months but should be in constant session, and if it is of no use it should be dispensed with. The Taoiseach gave a wrong impression in his speech. I hope I misinterpreted him, but it struck me that this speech was rather hostile to the farming community.
Not by any means.
I accept that. He should not interpret the putting down of this motion or anything said on this side of the House as meaning that the farmers should not produce food. The farmers are not fools; they know what is in the national interest as well as we do. There are things a man can do in business and things he cannot do. If he cannot afford to do a certain thing, well he cannot afford it, and the
Government should help him out. The Minister said that the frozen debts of the farmers were there since the last war and he hoped that there would not be extended credit during this war to build up more frozen debts. The frozen debts are there because of the British policy of deflating their currency which made it impossible for farmers to pay their debts. The Irish Government should have intervened then and protected the farmers from being fleeced by that deflation policy.
There will be a Central Bank Bill introduced and the Deputy can talk as much as he likes on it.
The Government are introducing a Central Bank Bill?
I wonder will there be anything to put in the central bank as you have delayed so long about it. Why was it not established 10 or 15 years ago? We are threatened with a shortage of human food in the shape of bread and we are looking for substitutes. We have had to raid the bran and pollard; we are taking all that away, and the Minister told us that we would probably have to raid other cereals. Does not that prove that the plan I suggested in December, 1939, December, 1940, and to-day is the correct one? We should make a survey of what we want and get the farmers to produce that. No survey was made. The explanation given by the Minister as to why he would not insist on 5 per cent. of the arable land being put under wheat was that he did not want to go too far with regard to compulsion. I do not think that is a reasonable excuse. If we wanted 5 per cent. or more of the land in wheat, 5 per cent. or more in barley, and 5 per cent. or more in oats, why not specify that and get the land of the country to produce it?
The Minister was in a position to know exactly what was wanted. He has his statistical department to give him the figures, but I am not in a position to know, and other farmers are not in a position to know. It was the Minister's responsibility, and when he took up the question of the compulsory production of food he should see that what we wanted was produced. If a man wanted a suit of clothes he would not be satisfied with a pair of boots instead of the suit. If he ordered a suit of clothes, a pair of boots and a hat, so that he would be fully dressed, it would not do for him just to get a coat and be left without the rest. I suggest that the matter has not been tackled in the right way. Is the Minister now at the 11th hour satisfied that all the spring seed wheat which is available will be sown?
Is there any possibility of getting any more?
We will get it if we can.
Is the Minister satisfied that all we possibly can get will be sown?
I think so.
In order to make up the deficiency that the shortage of wheat creates in animal feeding stuffs, will the Minister even at this late hour take steps to ensure that sufficient cereals will be grown so as to provide a full supply of animal feeding stuffs? Can he guarantee that?
That is what we are trying to do.
If the Minister cannot guarantee that, I suggest that he should take the House into his confidence and establish an advisory council from the House. I would compel men or conscript men to engage in the production of food while there is time to grow it. We must act, and if we do not act now so as to get the food, we will be short of six months' to one and a half year's food. Now is the time to act, so as to save the country from famine. There should be co-operation in regard to the producing of food. The Minister should not hesitate to say what he wants.
I for one will hold the Minister responsible if there is a shortage of food either for man or beast. He has the resources of the whole country at his disposal, and he has a willing population to co-operate with him, and he will have no excuse if there is a shortage either for the human or livestock population. I am glad the Taoiseach is here. I appeal to the Taoiseach to leave no stone unturned in this matter. I agree with the Taoiseach when he said that the farmers in a crisis like this only hold their land in trust under the limited ownership that an individual has. I recognise the larger ownership that the State must have in times of emergency. In this emergency the Taoiseach should put that larger ownership into operation, take the people into his confidence, and produce the food necessary for the human and livestock population.
Is the Deputy pressing the motions?
No. The motions were put down for the purpose of this discussion, and were not intended to be in any way hostile to an extension of tillage. As a matter of fact, our viewpoint is that there is not sufficient tillage being done.