Committee on Finance. - Adjournment Debate: Pig Feed Prices.

(Cavan): Today I asked the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries if he is aware that recent increases in pig feeding rations without a compensatory increase in the price of pork have created a crisis in the pig industry; if he will initiate an immediate inquiry into the recent increases in pig feed prices; if he will examine the other increases in the cost of pig production and if he will take steps to ensure a reasonable profit in pig production so that the income of farmers engaged in pig production will keep in line with the income of other sections of the community. The Minister replied that the guaranteed price for pigs had been increased on two occasions since last autumn; that he did not consider any inquiry such as suggested to be warranted and that the continuing high level of deliveries to pig factories shows that pig prices generally are satisfactory and earned a reasonable profit for existing producers.

In other words, the Minister told me that everything was rosy in the pig industry, that pig producers had nothing to complain about and that they were making a reasonable profit. I cannot agree with the Minister on that assertion and, as this is a matter which concerns the country as a whole but which concerns in particular, my constituency and the adjoining constituencies, I deem it my duty to raise the matter on the Adjournment this evening and to give the Minister an opportunity of justifying the stand he took today.

I dealt today in particular with the period from September, 1969, to the present time but I would like to make passing reference to some time prior to that and to say that during the past four or five years the profit of the pig producer has been decreasing and that his position has been worsening. I assert that between 1st January, 1965, and May of this year, the position of pig producers has worsened to the extent of £1 per pig. On the 1st January, 1965, the price per cwt. of grade A specials was 260s. That was the guaranteed price. In May of this year, the price had increased to 298s per cwt.— the guaranteed minimum price. In the same period, that is between 1st January, 1965, and the present time, the increase in meal prices amounted to £9 per ton or, according to my information, 67s 6d per pig. The increase in the guaranteed price in the same period amounted to 38s per cwt. or 47s 6d per pig. Therefore, the position of the pig producer has worsened, as I have said, to the tune of £1 per pig.

During the period to which I referred specifically in my question— between September, 1969, and the present time—the cost of producing pork has increased dramatically without any significant increase in the price of pork. Between 22nd September, 1969, and the 21st April, 1970, the price of pig fattening nuts has increased by £4 per ton. There was an increase of 25s per ton on the 22nd September, 1969, an increase of 15s per ton on the 5th January, 1970, and an increase of 40s per ton on the 21st April, 1970, making a total increase of 80s per ton. There has been a corresponding increase in other types of pig rations. I understand from the Minister's reply to supplementary questions today that he concedes that this increase of 80s per ton has taken place during the period referred to. The Minister could not honestly contradict that assertion. Any of the reputable established suppliers in my area will bear this out.

Scientific research and the best information available shows that it takes about 7½ cwt. of feed to bring a pig from birth to pig weight if the feeding requirements of the sow are taken into account. Therefore, on feed costs alone, it costs 30s more to produce a pig now than it cost six months ago. In addition to the cost of feeding stuffs, we know that other charges such as transport, electricity, wages and the other costs involved in pig production have also gone up. Indeed, during the past four years feed prices in Cavan and Monaghan appear to have increased by £9 per ton or 27 per cent whereas in the same period the price of a pork pig has increased by only £2 10s or 10 per cent.

The Minister stated that the price of grade A specials had gone up from 282s per cwt. on the 20th October last to 298s per cwt. at the present time. In other words, an increase of 16s per cwt. I suggest that the Minister was simply taking selected figures and basing his case on them. The average price paid for Grade A Specials in the year 1969 as advertised was 293s per cwt. and the average price over the number of weeks that have elapsed in this year is 303s 6d per cwt. or an increase of 10s 6d. I want to put on the record of this House that what I am saying is correct.

In 1969 the highest prices advertised were as follows: One week to 4th January, 286s per cwt; 11 weeks to 22nd March, 290s per cwt; five weeks to 26th April, 286s per cwt; one week to 3rd May, 290s per cwt; two weeks to 17th May, 295s per cwt; four weeks to 14th June, 300s per cwt; two weeks to 28th June, 295s per cwt; one week to 5th July, 290s per cwt; three weeks to 26th July, 295s per cwt; six weeks to 6th September, 29s per cwt; five weeks to 11th October, 285s per cwt; one week to 18th October, 290s per cwt; three weeks to 10th November, 300s per cwt; seven weeks to 27th December, 305s per cwt. The Minister will find that is an average price over the year of 293s.

This year the highest prices advertised for Grade A Specials were: one week to 3rd January, 300s per cwt; six weeks to 14th February, 302s per cwt; ten weeks to 25th April, 300s per cwt; two weeks to 9th May, 305s per cwt; four weeks to 6th June, 315s per cwt, giving an average price of 303s 6d per cwt.

I would also like to tell the Minister that one reputable factory on 31st May, 1969, advertised 300s per cwt for A Specials and exactly 12 months later, 30th May, 1970, the same factory advertised for the same grade, 305s. Those prices I have quoted, admittedly, are exclusive of bonuses which vary from factory to factory, from time to time and even from customer to customer within the same factory. I would point out that the factory I have just referred to increased its bonus in the same period by 10s per pig. All that meant was that there was an increase of about 11s 6d in the period. The Minister should note that if this year is to follow the same pattern as last year we are now entering a period when the prices will fall because they appear to have fallen last year between the 14th June and October.

It is clear from those figures that the profit of pig producers has fallen dramatically within the period I have mentioned. The cost of producing a pig in that period has gone up by about £1 10s and the price has gone up by something marginally more than 10s or 11s. The position has worsened considerably.

The Minister also referred to two increases which took place in the last six months. He referred to one increase of 10s which took place in September, in the guaranteed price. I am told that that guaranteed price applies to only about 64 per cent of the pigs produced. It is also very significant in regard to the last guaranteed price increase of 10s, which the Minister referred to and which came into operation on 14th May, 1970, that no increased price has been paid by the Pigs and Bacon Commission to curers as a result of that increase. I am told that is contrary to previous practice.

Most of the figures I have given to the Minister are not news to him. They are certainly not news to his Department because they have already been furnished to his Department by some of my constituents who are interested in this industry. It is a very important industry in Cavan and I know this information has been given to the Minister. He cannot seriously contradict it. He came out with selective prices and talked about a bonus which may be paid to some and is not paid to others and which varies from factory to factory.

The Minister based a great deal of his argument today on the fact that the farmers must be fairly well satisfied with the prices they are getting because the level of deliveries at factories appears to be pretty high. He also made some vague reference to theFarmers' Journal. I am glad to see he as Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries has more respect for that journal than his predecessor had when he withdrew advertisements from it.

On this topic of deliveries of pigs to factories I should like to tell the Minister that two things at the present time are operating to keep up the level. First of all, there is considerable smuggling of pigs into this country as I am sure the Minister has been told by the Revenue Commissioners and officers charged with discouraging that activity. Secondly, the pig producers have not much option at the present time. Government policy over the past few years encouraged them to get into pig production in a fairly big way. They were encouraged by grants to build pig houses and they were encouraged to put their money into the industry. Most of them find themselves in an industry now which is either not profitable at all or barely profitable. They will certainly not get out of it overnight without calling on the assistance of their Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries to make the fight that should be made with the Government. Perhaps some of the £14 million, which the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Blaney, called for before the Budget for the farming industry, was meant to be channelled into an increased subsidy for pigs. We know that Deputy Blaney did not get the £14 million but got only £6 million. I conclude by appealing to the Minister to come to the assistance of the farmers who have put their money into this industry and to help them make it a profitable one.

Deputy Fitzpatrick has tried to make the case that there has been an effective drop in the profitability of pig production, certainly in his own area of Cavan, in the last nine months or so. To this purpose the Deputy has produced quite an extraordinary array of selected figures. The most remarkable and interesting of those figures is the £4 which the Deputy quotes as the increase per ton in the price of pig fattening meal. The Deputy suggests that this increase is a general one and that the price of all pig meal has increased by this amount.

I am sure the Deputy is aware that, like many other commodities, the price of this commodity varies from place to place and from firm to firm. It behoves a person engaged in the pig fattening business to go to where he can get the best possible value for his money. My information is contrary to what Deputy Fitzpatrick has been saying. My information is that the average increase in the period he was talking about was about 50s per ton and not £4. Another slightly distorted statistic given by the Deputy is that it requires 7½ cwts. of this very expensive pig meal of which he speaks to produce a finished pig. The Deputy should have another look at fattening pigs with this meal. This expensive pig meal should not be required in such quantities, if properly balanced and prepared, to produce a finished pig.

I put the increase at 50s per ton. I do not know whether this is of importance to Deputy Fitzpatrick or not but it is of importance to the farming community generally——

(Cavan): In a letter dated 25th May the Minister put the increase at £2 per ton.

The Minister has only ten minutes in which to reply.

——but this increase consists mainly of the increased price paid to barley producers for their products. I do not know whether the Deputy is calling for a reduction in the price of feeding barley or not, but it seems so. If the Deputy is not doing that he should have said so when speaking. The Deputy had twice as much time as I have at my disposal to say this.

In due course the Minister will get the same amount of time as Deputy Fitzpatrick. The Minister will be over here.

(Cavan): The Minister could be over here, if he is lucky.

The remainder of the increase of 50s per ton consists of increases paid to workers in the compounding industry. Deputy Fitzpatrick neglected to say whether he and his party are against this increase in wages to the workers in the provender industry. Possibly the Deputy forgot to say so, but he definitely did not say it.

The Deputy attempted to demonstrate that these extraordinary high costs have resulted in a drop in the profitability of pigs. If one starts off on the premise that he is going to buy extraordinary high-priced meal and that he is going to use an extraordinary amount of it to produce one pig the chances are that he will show a drop in his profits. I do not think this is the method adopted by farmers generally. I have examined the position carefully and I discovered that the admitted increase in feeding compounds caused by the better prices paid to farmers for their barley, and the better wages paid to workers for their work, have been more than compensated for by an increase in the minimum prices which have been paid in the intervening time as well as the real prices paid to producers. The real price, which is based on the minimum price guaranteed by the Government, varies from place to place. Again, it behoves the person selling his pigs to find the best possible market for them.

The Deputy referred to a reply which I gave to one of his supplementary questions today, where I quoted something from theIrish Farmers' Journal. I have another reference from the same paper on the 6th June. I wish to give a quotation from the leading article for Deputy Fitzpatrick's benefit. It reads as follows:

Considering the present high price for bonhams, this is extraordinary.

This refers to the hold-back in sows. The quotation continues:

Done reasonably well, there is a margin of up to £75 on a sow. On 20 sows, this is £1,500. Twenty sows too is about two hours of a man's working day.

Today, more and more people want to fatten; fattening piggeries are going up all round the country by the newtime. Again, considering the astronomically high prices for bonhams, this, too, is extraordinary.

This quotation is from a very recent issue of theIrish Farmers' Journal and does not portray the lack of confidence in the industry which Deputy Fitzpatrick seeks to represent. The contrary is the case. Deputy Fitzpatrick—inadvertently, I think—referred to the many forms of Government assistance which are given to the farmers by way of grants for piggeries and the maintenance of an acceptable price, as well as to the creation of stability in the industry. All this has added up, and this is acknowledged in the leading article in the Irish Farmers' Journal. It demonstrates better than any words of mine could what the position is. This journal circulates among the farming community and is fearlessly on the side of the farmers. It is unlikely to make such a statement if it were not true. For the past 20 minutes Deputy Fitzpatrick has been seeking by the use of the most extraordinary selected figures to demonstrate that the contrary is the case. That is just not true.

(Cavan): The figures were not selected figures.

Deputy Fitzpatrick's figures, whatever their source, were very highly selected. If one looks at them without considering any other figures one gets a very distorted and false picture of the position in the pig industry in the country today. The pig industry is in a very satisfactory condition, as any working farmer in this business knows well. It is the business of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and of the Government generally to see that this satisfactory condition continues. The Government have taken the requisite steps in the recent Budget to see that this continues, and it is continuing.

The Dáil adjourned at 11 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 18th June, 1970.