Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 6 Nov 1974

Vol. 275 No. 7

Adjournment Debate: Beef Prices.

Never before has the traditional small farmer in Ireland who is used to breeding his own calves and rearing them up to five, six or seven cwt. had such a bad time, or have prices been so bad. The Minister realised this and got what I called last night conscience money from the factories of £750,000 to £1 million towards a fodder fund. When you analyse that, you see that all they are getting is £15 per small farmer. That is a pittance and the Government should realise that they need much more. If the slaughter premium or its equivalent and the intervention equivalent were passed on to the cattle they are selling that would be reasonable.

I know one small farmer who sold a 6½ cwt heifer last year for £120. This year a 6½ cwt. heifer out of the same cow and, if anything, perhaps, a fraction better than last year's animal, made £55. The factory price plus the £29.5 would bring it up to £104. If he got the intervention price for that live animal it would be £117 which would be very close to what he got last year. The Government should have seen that this was implemented.

The factories say they have been working to full capacity but they should have been put on shift work. They should have worked three shifts around the clock as any industry with an unlimited market would do. In this way all the surplus cattle would have been disposed of and the farmers with fat cattle would have got a good price. They would pass on the price when they were getting the replacements. Those people would buy in younger cattle and the price of cattle would have been practically normal.

Never before have store cattle made £s per cwt. less than fat cattle. Young cattle have always made a couple of £s per cwt. more than fat cattle. The Government have been bungling in regard to the cattle trade. I pointed out last May on an Adjournment debate that we were running into problems with beef coming on to the market in autumn. I pointed out that there would be a glut and a rapid fall in prices. The Minister said everything would be all right but now we see what has happened. The small farmers along the western seaboard, in the south, and in the midlands have felt the full impact. In many cases they will never be able to recover from the losses they have suffered this vear.

During the period from now until Christmas they will feel the pinch. They have a little money at the moment from what they have sold, but it will run out very quickly. The man I mentioned who sold the heifer last year for £120 and another for £55 this year is married and has four children going to school. His commitments are greater than they were last year and he is getting less than half the price. With inflation at over 20 per cent in the past year how will that man survive? He has a few more of those cattle and he was depending on selling them.

Another thing that could have helped——but like everything else it is too little and too late——was giving half the slaughter premium on cattle exported to the EEC countries outside Britain. It appears that the Government are broke. The only money they can give the farmers is what they can get from Brussels. They cannot put anything to it themselves. It is like the conscience money, the pittance from the meat factories. The Government have not added anything to it.

This is a time of national crisis in the cattle industry and for the small farmers. The Government should ensure that the price from the factories or the intervention price goes right down along the line. As this was Deputy Callanan's question I should like to give him an opportunity to contribute.

I did not have this matter raised on the Adjournment to make a political football of it or to make a crack at anybody. I do not want to rehash last night's debate because the question of the factories and the way they have been carrying on was dealt with effectively last night. The Parliamentary Secretary said that anything that could be done would be done.

I want to emphasise the plight of the man with the small cattle. He is not getting the slaughter premium and intervention. The whole thing stops at 7½ cwt. This is the sad point. Many wealthy people have deep freezes and they are buying in fat calves at £5 a cwt. They do not qualify for the slaughter premium. Why should it not be applicable to the fat beast across the board? As Deputy Crinion said, it was always the case that the smaller beast was dearer per cwt. than the beef beast. Even with the factories not passing it on it should be about £22 but the beef beast is going at £14 or £15 per cwt. A good calf is going £5 per cwt. and this is appalling.

I do not wish to put up a case for the sake of embarrassing anybody but I represent people who are hard hit and who will be put out of business if something is not done. People in my constituency who are not farmers come to me and tell me that we have put up the cost of living on them. They point out that the farmers have the slaughter premium, intervention premium and the green £. I have pointed out to these people that it would not matter if there were 50 or 60 green £s because the farmers have not seen any of them; the calf man has seen no green £, slaughter premium or intervention premium. Such farmers have to sell at a giveaway price.

In the Evening Press of this evening there is a heading, “Farmers Urged To Switch To Milk”. That story was to the effect that the Parliamentary Secretary had given his blessing to this. In fairness to the Minister, when the directive came from Europe to tell us to get out of it he said, as I did, that they should stay in it. The small farmer, however, was told some years ago to go away from milk production but now he is being told to switch back. How can a farmer switch back to milk? Every cow that has had suckling calves is a useless beast for milk; she is out completely. If that man is to go back to milk he has to build up a complete new herd. Therefore, no farmer can switch overnight. I hope the farmers who can will switch back to milk but it will be a difficult task.

However. I would be slow to instruct anybody to go in wholesale for any line of production owing to the sad history of supply and demand. Somebody at that meeting stuck his neck out——I believe it was Mr. O'Neill ——and told farmers to go ahead and do it. He was a brave man after all the prophesies we had down the years to go into various lines of production and then to have them knocked on the head. None of the premiums I have mentioned apply to the calf. The position is that the people who can afford to put a calf in the deep freeze are eating the best baby beef that is available but no slaughter premium is being paid on that animal. In my county at least 30 cattle are slaughtered in the big towns but nobody would have sufficient cattle——the required figure is five——to qualify for the slaughter premium. The abattoir in Galway, I believe, is the only place where the premium is collected. Inspectors are based in every town but the small butcher does not qualify for the premium with the result that he cannot pass it on to the farmer. I am not saying that the butchers are not making enough but when they go to the mart to buy a beast they are in competition with the man who is qualifying for the slaughter premium and the intervention premium.

The Parliamentary Secretary, in reply to a question of mine last week ——he included my question with a number of others——stated that a six-month loan was being made available to help farmers to keep animals.

We are only concerned with Question No. 71 now.

The Parliamentary Secretary included No. 71 in the answer to a number of other questions but he hardly made reference to my question.

That is why the Deputy is back tonight with that question.

No loan will be obtained for a calf that is saleable. Such beasts will be sold no matter what they go at and they are being sold every day at the mart. The man who cannot sell a calf because of that animal's condition will get the road and the most he can do for six months is keep that animal alive. That calf will not be saleable within six months to pay the loan and for that reason it is useless to give him a loan for six months.

The Government should subsidise feedingstuffs instead of giving the proposed loan. If people could purchase feedingstuffs at a price per ton they would be better off than obtaining any loan. Unless something is done a lot of these cattle will die. I am not saying that these animals are dying already, like others, because I do not believe they are dying but the Galway County Committee of Agriculture informed me that west of the Corrib in Galway 30 per cent of the required feedingstuff is all that is available while east of the Corrib there is between 55 and 60 per cent of the required amount to carry the stock there over the winter.

I did not raise this question in order to have a crack at anybody but to give some facts to the Parliamentary Secretary. I cannot understand why these slaughter premiums should only be available to people who kill five cattle. This is wrong and it means that unless one is in this in a big way one cannot get the premium at all. The calf slaughter premium for the export of live cattle I understand relates to animals of seven-and-a-half cwt.

I doubt if the Deputy is right about the number five.

I hope I am wrong but this has been told to a butcher. With regard to the slaughter premium on cattle going out of the country on foot I understand that it relates to beasts of seven-and-a-half cwt. I hope I am wrong in this regard also because if we get an export trade for calves they will not qualify for this premium. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will outline the position or does anybody care about the farmer rearing calves?

I accept without reserve the sincerity of Deputy Callanan in raising the subject matter of this question tonight. For the record the question raised last Thursday read:

Mr. Callanan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries the steps he is taking to ensure that the intervention price and slaughter subsidy is passed on to farmers; and if he will ensure that the factories will take the cattle from the farmers.

The discussion so far has been very wide of that.

That was because it was discussed so fully last night.

Deputy Crinion is not a newcomer so far as raising matters on the Adjournment is concerned. Of course he is entitled to do so. If I were in Opposition I would probably be raising questions too. We must examine the Deputy's qualifications to look into the future. I would put much more value on the suggestions and recommendations made by Deputy Callanan than those made by Deputy Crinion.

I remember that on 6th June last year, when young cattle were making exceptionally good prices, Deputy Crinion, when availing of his 20 minutes here, protested vigorously about what the Government were or were not doing to prevent young cattle leaving the country. He wanted us to stamp down on the export of young cattle, keep them here, so that next year the prices would soar. That was against the interests of the economy and Irish agriculturalists. He claimed that the Department were lackadaisical by not preventing the Irish farmer from selling his cattle when he wanted to.

The Deputy also asserted that it was not what the individual farmer thought should count but what he thought. Deputy Crinion, the expert, said: "Don't sell your cattle until I think it is right to do so." How wrong he was. No one disagreed with his views that night more than his colleague, Deputy Callanan. Because of such statements made by Deputy Crinion and other Fianna Fáil Deputies around that time, many people held on to their young stock in the belief that the Deputies were some kind of prophets. They believed cattle prices would soar and they would be well remunerated. They have been proved wrong. Events have proved that Deputy Crinion was very wide of the mark while Deputy Callanan, who held the opposite view, was on the ball.

Tonight's question deals with slaughter premiums and interventions. While Deputy Callanan may say that both questions were sufficiently covered in the course of the replies given in the Dáil yesterday and on the Adjournment debate last night, Deputy Crinion asserts that the Government are not putting anything into the payment of slaughter premiums. The premium is made up of £10.78 from FEOGA funds and £10.16 from the Irish taxpayers' pocket. Therefore there is an obligation on the Government and the Department to see that that money is paid only to the producer or seller of the stock. We were asked how we ascertained if the money was paid. Payments are made on certification from the meat factories, together with certificates from departmental offices. The Department also spot-checks occasionally to ensure that everything is in order. Spot-checks are an obligation imposed on us because of our receiving EEC funds and——if I may repeat myself—— because £10.16 comes from the Irish taxpayers. Therefore, it is not true to assert that we do not give financial assistance from national funds.

This year the number of slaughterings is far in excess of last year. Factories are working to capacity. According to the latest figures at my disposal, for the week ending 19th October total slaughterings were 30,582 compared with 17,463 for the corresponding period last year. For the previous week the figure was 29,700 compared with 16,000 for 1973. The week before that the figure was 28,287 against 15,263. As can be seen, slaughterings are increasing each week. Because of this increase, it is difficult for factories to accept all offers of cattle. Deputy Crinion suggested that they work around the clock. As it is, they are working very long days. There is only a limited number of men in each factory. They cannot employ extra men for a few weeks while the sales are high and dismiss them when the peak is past and sales phase out. As I said last night, I am satisfied that the peak period has been reached and in the next three of four weeks sales will decline. According to information supplied by the factories there may come a time when they will be able to take all the cattle offered.

The Parliamentary Secretary's time is almost up.

The figures for steers and bulls about which the Deputy inquired were 450 lbs. deadweight and heifers 390 lbs. That is the weight for qualification for the slaughter premiums.

The Government and the Minister are mindful of the position so far as the prices of small cattle are concerned. I am sure Deputy Callanan will accept that without reservation.

I know that.

I can assure the Deputy that every step which can be taken by the Minister to alleviate the situation will be taken. I regret I have not the time to go into the question of the availability of loans and other aids.

The debate must conclude.

I wish to assure the Deputies that the Government are aware of the present position. I repeat that everything that can be done is being done and will be done by the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, the Government and the Department to ensure that the Irish farmers will get over these difficulties. Let us hope that in the not too distant future our cattle trade will be brighter than it is today.

The Dáil adjourned at 11.00 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 7th November, 1974.