Deputy Murphy is a rural Deputy like myself and represents people who live and work pretty much like the people I represent. He has gone very thoroughly into this whole question of agriculture and into the Minister's speech. I appreciate that the Minister's speech is useful and also the other document which explains the various activities of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, if one had time to read and study them. I must admit I do not always find the time, in spite of my best efforts. With all the documentation that is flowing today from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, semi-State bodies and other places, it is not always possible to find time to study everything. Deputy Murphy referred to the fact that the Minister was not in the House and he was a bit critical of the number of Deputies in the House this morning. He seems to forget that we are working in new time. We are an hour ahead. We all find it a little bit difficult this year to get up in the dark of the morning and turn out. We are not accustomed to it yet. On this occasion I would be inclined to excuse the Minister and the Members of the House for being a little bit late because it is due to this new time. We are all finding that problem.
In the course of the Minister's speech he pointed out that the present year was a boom year, that it was a year of great progress in agriculture. He stressed the increases in production under various heads, particularly such items as grain—an increased production of wheat and of other grain crops. Most Deputies would agree that that was due, in the main, to the exceptionally fine year we had. As other Deputies said, we should thank God for that. He went on to stress that the farming community, the people engaged in agriculture, have got increased incomes as a result of this increased production. It is true to say that many people, particularly farmers who have economic holdings of land and who have a sufficiency of capital, have had a very good year of it. As a matter of fact, it is also true to say down through the years, generally speaking, people with economic holdings and farmers who minded their business and were reasonably lucky in their undertakings could make a reasonably good living. But it should be borne in mind that we in the West of Ireland particularly, and in areas like south-west Cork where Deputy Murphy comes from, have a problem which is much greater.
When it is a bumper year and a good year, the people in those areas gain very little from it because they have not the land or the resources to gain from such factors as an improvement in the weather, an improvement in prices or anything else. Our people are always labouring at a disadvantage because of the smallness of their holdings. It is quite true to say, as anybody who reads this document must be convinced, that people in such areas stand to gain very little from this Vote for Agriculture. It is true that the amount of money is increased, but it will not reach the small farmers in the West of Ireland to the extent it will reach farmers in other parts of the country whose holdings are larger and whose resources are greater. Therefore, I want to make the point that our people in the West of Ireland will still continue to emigrate, will still continue to go to England, as they have done down through the years.
It is a well-known fact that roughly 10,000 people leave the land every year. There is a continuous drain from the rural areas to the built-up areas even in this country and on a much larger scale across to England. Deputy John Fanning, when speaking here last night, pointed out that one of the problems Irish Agriculture is faced with is the problem of providing labour on reasonably large holdings of land. We all know even small farmers must employ a certain amount of labour at certain times of the year, if they can get it. We have in this country at the present, as they have in other European countries and other parts of the world, the 40-hour week. The county council worker, the teacher, the civil servant, all those people finish work on Friday night. The farmer has not finished on Friday night. He must continue to work Saturday morning, Saturday night, Sunday morning and Sunday night. We know there is considerable unrest at present and for some years past because of the fact that a person engaged in other activities can have his 40-hour week while the farmer must work seven days of the week and very often 15 and 18 hours a day.
That is one of the reasons why we have such a drain from the land. I do not know exactly how we are going to solve this problem, but this I do know: it is having serious adverse effects on production from agricultural land. Because of the fact that so many of our young people are leaving the land, we find the situation today that it is nearly impossible for any farmer to engage in tillage activity particularly. In olden days, and up until some years ago, even in the west of Ireland, as is also true of other mountainous regions, small farmers engaged in quite a lot of tillage activity. Today, with the increase in wages, and now that time has become more valuable, we find that it is no longer possible to engage in putting in reasonably big acreages of tillage. The majority of the people in those small holdings have now turned to grazing a few cattle or sheep, rearing them up to the store beef stage and then selling them to somebody from the eastern counties—from Westmeath, Meath or other parts of the country where the land is able to carry such type of animal—who is able to sell them off for beef for the export trade.
Some Deputy said here this morning that it was a serious loss to the small farmer that he had to sell the store beast one and a half years and two years old. I agree with that line of thought. It is the man who takes over that beast for the three months or the six months who has the real profit and that profit is at the expense of the poorer man from the small holding. It is no wonder, therefore, it is from the west of Ireland and from the mountainous regions that the majority of those 10,000 people who leave the land every year come, and that you have so many derelict holdings in such regions at present.
We also labour under the disadvantage of high freight charges in such regions. You have very little export from ports like Ballina, Sligo and Galway, which in the past were used in a big way for the export of farm produce. These ports should be utilised much more in an endeavour to bring about a reduction in trade charges on incoming goods and on goods being exported. It is true that farmers in those remote areas are faced with heavy additional charges and, as I have said, they have to labour under that disadvantage. They have to sell their store beasts to individuals who can fatten them in a hurry at great advantage in a short period. While such disadvantages are suffered in the West, the flight from the land will continue as it has done during many years past.
Therefore, I suggest it will be necessary for the State to subsidise transport into and out of such regions. I appeal to the Minister to go into the whole matter realising the disadvantages those people labour under in the matter of freight charges generally, realising that those farmers have to carry that additional burden. As a result, I hope the Minister will do something to subsidise freight charges into and out of such areas because at the moment they are competing with other farmers at a serious disadvantage on that one item.
I do not think the seed potato scheme has been mentioned during this debate so far. In North Mayo, and indeed in other parts of the county, people in the past engaged in the production of seed potatoes suitable for the requirements of farmers in other parts of the country. As well, they had a lucrative market in some European countries. Those who engaged in that type of farming had to conform to the highest standards. Their lands were suitable for the purpose of seed potato growing. They were under keen inspection by Department inspectors. If it became known that any individual farmer who engaged in that activity had committed any offence in the way of mixing another variety with his main crop, he was immediately struck off the list; his produce would not be accepted anywhere and in all probability he would never again be recognised by the Department. Such tight regulations were necessary, as we all know. It is imperative that people of repute are engaged in this activity so that only top quality produce would be sold in foreign markets.
For some reason or other that industry also has been declining. I have said it was operated in my county and it was also carried out in counties like Sligo and Donegal and was a valuable sideline for the small farmers who engaged in it. I am convinced that, due to some mishandling along the line, whether caused by strikes and other difficulties at the ports, the farmers over a period of a few years suffered losses on their sales of seed potatoes. They were forced to sell some of these potatoes to the Corroy alcohol factory, which is now a glucose factory, at prices as low as £4 or £5 per ton. This was a serious loss to those people.
Having been a member of Mayo County Committee of Agriculture for a long number of years, I and my colleagues on that committee appealed to the Department to come to the rescue and subsidise these people in a crisis year. They ignored our appeals and said that money could not be provided for such a purpose; in fact, they told us we were lucky to have the Corroy factory to take the potatoes and to give them anything for them. Those farmers who had difficulty in disposing of their crop got out of that business, and this valuable sideline in the west of Ireland is going to the wall as other good sidelines have already gone. That is a pity and the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries of the day, no matter who he is or from which side of the House he comes, should be alert and awake to these possibilities and should not allow a good industry like this, which is valuable not alone from the point of view of providing reliable seed potatoes for farmers within the country but also for the export market, to go to the wall. Unfortunately, as I have already said, it is going to the wall.
Much more could be done to increase production of sheep and lambs in the mountainous western regions. I am convinced that much could be done to improve the quality of the herbage on these mountainsides with liming and fertilisation. I believe that an improvement could be brought about in the quality of the herbage and I do not think these matters are getting sufficient attention. It is true that we have agricultural instructors going around giving lectures. They are stressing the importance of going into more and more sheep-farming and of increasing our activities in that respect.
The proper steps are not being taken to utilise the resources available. Grants have been made for fencing in mountain regions where agreement was reached with the co-holders as to the areas each individual would fence and I believe that has been a success in some areas. The problem is not being tackled on the large scale that is possible. There are still thousands of acres of mountain land that could be usefully developed if lime were applied. Even if the lime had to be spread by helicopter, the result would justify the trouble in the improvement of the quality of the herbage for sheep and cattle because in many instances cattle as well as sheep graze there at some periods of the year. While the situation is allowed to continue that the Department do not take sufficient interest in these matters and do not encourage people to take advantage of these schemes, the industry will be slow to expand.
In the course of his speech the Minister did not refer to the sheep experimental station in Creagh, in Ballinrobe, although he has referred to it in another document. In my view it is worthy of mention in his speech introducing the Estimate. This is an industry that could be expanded and developed, hand-in-hand with the store cattle trade for which there seems to be some future.
Reference was made by the Minister to the interest being taken in the schemes with regard to pigs, sheep and oats which were initiated by the Minister. I have pointed out that the scheme for the improvement of sheep has not progressed and will not progress while things continue in the doldrums.
It is well known that pig production is a declining industry in the west of Ireland. The old methods have disappeared. As Deputy Michael Pat Murphy said the day of the old pigsty is gone. One does not find now a farmer producing two, three or four pigs every three months, with the possible exception of a small cottier who does this as a sideline. It cannot be suggested that there is any hope for the individual who is producing small numbers of pigs. This is the day of the big unit and the fattening station. There is a pig station located at Balla, County Mayo, which expects to be going into production at a fairly early date. I should like to think that the venture will be successful. I wish it well and have given it every possible support. I have encouraged farmers to invest in it. It is of paramount importance that that venture should be successful.
In that region there are bacon factories at Castlebar, Claremorris, Ballaghaderreen and in Sligo. The pig station is approximately half-way between Castlebar and Claremorris. Apart from the benefits to the farming community in the area, there is valuable employment created in the meat processing business in both of these towns which is availed of by people in the town and the rural areas. There is a good deal of male labour employed in the meat processing industry. We in Mayo claim to be first in the field in that type of industry. For about 20 or 25 years the bacon factories and meat processing factories have been engaged in canning and have exported their products to England, Europe and the USA. Telephone calls are made from these towns to Amsterdam and various European countries and to the USA in regard to business deals involving large quantities of their products. This is a very important industry.
I sincerely hope that the pig fattening station at Balla will have the effect of increasing production of pigs and the supply of raw materials essential for the processing factories in Mayo. It would be too bad if, after all the money that has been spent in developing these factories, the workers had to be laid off. That is one of the worst things that could happen. Not alone have the factories engaged in the processing of pig meats but poor quality reject cows and bulls and animals suitable for canning have found their way to the factory and have attracted a price twice the price that they would fetch if sold for any other purpose.
For a long number of years there have been unstable prices for agricultural produce. I suppose that situation will continue despite the best efforts of the Minister and his staff which, I may say in passing, I regard as a competent staff. They are very competent not only in the offices in Dublin but in their work throughout the country. I know this because I had dealings with them particularly in times gone by as an exporter and I know the value of their work. It is easy to be critical but I value the services of the men and women working for the Department. If it is at all possible they should be better remunerated for the great service they give.
I know that unstable prices are a problem and I am sure the Minister is doing his best to find markets in other countries. The bulk of our surplus produce must go to England for whatever the ruling prices are. While through the different trade agreements, such as the Deputy Dillon trade agreement of 1948 and later agreements, we have succeeded in getting more stability, it is still true that due to the uncertain position in Europe and the uncertain position regarding our application for membership of the EEC we must continue to export most of our produce to England, which, of course, is an industrial country. In my opinion Irish agriculture is pretty well at the crossroads and this must be a cause of anxiety to the Minister and to all of us. We have seen the warning signs and we should take note of them. The British Minister for Agriculture has told the English farmers that he is prepared to subsidise them more heavily so that they can produce more for the home market. This is a challenge to us and we should read the writing on the wall. It behoves all of us, particularly the Minister, to be on the alert.
People criticised the Taoiseach when he went to England recently and came back, as they said, with nothing, but I felt it was his place to go and I am still convinced that it was his duty to have gone and it is his duty, as well as the duty of the Minister, to go there when our position is threatened in any way. I hope that the clouds which I see on the horizon will clear away. As Deputy Murphy said, it is important for all of us that agriculture should be prosperous, but these challenges do exist. The British farmers have a market for their produce on the spot and their Government can afford to subsidise the farmers heavily because, after all, it is all internal spending, money spent at home. They can argue that this will help to correct their trade balance. They have plenty of problems at the moment and, indeed, the £ is again in the doldrums and at a "new low". All this added up means that we as one of their principal suppliers of agricultural produce must keep on the ball and, above all else, try to keep down our production costs and improve our marketing methods. The day has gone when you could put something into a sack, bring it to the dockside and have it shipped to England. Now it must go in a package with brand names on it and so on. The old standards were all right for the days when the British were starving, when foodstuffs were rationed and when they could not get enough to eat. Those days have gone. Now they are having cheese and butter dumped on them from various parts of the world and we must wake up and get down to the task of improving our marketing systems, to give them the best we possibly can with a greater use of brand names—such as Kerry Gold butter— and try to get right through to the consumer, the houswife in particular, in regard to providing good quality articles. No matter what impositions or duties the British may put on we will regain some of the ground we have lost if we do this. The Department should try to impress on the people the need for improving our marketing methods, our packaging and our greater reliance on brand names.
In regard to the west of Ireland, it is a cause of concern to many to see the finest of our people leaving the land. I know that small, uneconomic holdings of £5 or £10 valuation are pretty well out in the matter of competing with the bigger units. There are, too, people with more favoured locations, people who are nearer the docks, people in Meath or County Westmeath, or people near Cork harbour, who can unload their produce there and have it transported to the British market quickly. Whatever the solution may be for saving these people they are going from the land and will continue to go. In the main last year was a good year for farmers generally but people in the west of Ireland and in many mountainous regions gained very little from the improved returns because they had so little in the way of crops, cattle or sheep. There must be a reappraisal of the whole situation. The position could be treated as an emergency by the Government and the Department before more of our people leave the land. The Minister and some of his staff should visit the west of Ireland to examine the position and, if possible, try to find some remedy, some special treatment to get these people off the ground. If these people go to a bank or to the Agricultural Credit Corporation for money and state that they are farmers with a £7, £8 or £10 valuation, or for that matter a £20 valuation, the bank or the corporation is not prepared to advance money to them because they feel that the risk is too great and that they might not recover the money lent. A lot of our people have become accustomed to using motor cars and in rural areas the motor car is essential. The day of the push bicycle has pretty well gone and if our young people cannot have a motor car or an autocycle or some rapid means of transport they will go somewhere else, they will go to England. We cannot afford to lose any more of our people. A figure of 10,000 a year has been quoted in respect of those leaving the land, and the majority of those are from the west of Ireland. I would ask the Minister to regard this as an emergency. An emergency such as this needs emergency treatment, and that is what I am asking the Minister to apply.