Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Friday, 2 Jul 1982

Vol. 337 No. 4

Estimates, 1982. - Vote 38: Agriculture (Resumed).

Debate resumed on the following motion:
That a sum not exceeding £265,235,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 1982, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Agriculture, including certain services administered by that Office, and for payment of certain subsidies and sundry grants-in-aid.
—(Minister for Agriculture.)

Before the debate was adjourned on the last occasion I had been asking the Minister to increase the amount of headage payment grants in the severely-handicapped areas. Substantially more money is required under this heading apart from the 50 per cent recoupment from the EEC. I appeal to the Minister that in the reclassification of areas so as to bring them into the severely handicapped category, he would include an area that is close to his heart as well as to mine. I refer to all of County Roscommon, an area which is severely handicapped. It suffers on one side from the major problem of flooding from the Rivers Shannon and Suck. There are many small farmers in the county and their incomes are low. This area together with part of east Galway is the only area north-west of the line from Dublin to Galway not included in the severely-handicapped category.

I would ask the Minister, too, to reexamine the situation regarding the classification of farmers, because once a farmer has been put into a specific category it is very difficult for him to be removed from that category and put into another. If, for instance, a farmer in the development category wished to be reclassified into the other high category, it would be almost impossible to make that change. In other words, classification is similar to a jail sentence in terms of being taken out of any one category. The rules should be more flexible in this area so as to allow farmers who wish to change for whatever reason to another category to be in a position to do so. A farmer put into the development category might find that through, perhaps, bad health or lack of finance, he was unable to carry out his programme and might wish to be reclassified as other high.

Another matter that I should like the Minister to give attention to is the calf premium scheme, a scheme that is not operating as I should like to see it operating. There are many complaints about this scheme. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the number of complaints in this regard is greater than has ever been the case in respect of any other scheme. I appeal to the Minister to request his officers to be sympathetic and flexible in the matter of issuing what are known now as birth certificates for this year's calves, those calves born after 20 May. Farmers have told me that their three-week old calves have been rejected for this scheme. That is not good enough.

Another point relates to headage payments and to the cow suckler scheme. We very often see circulars that have been sent to farmers from the Department informing them that they must establish legal documentation to the effect that they are the owners of the holdings on which the animals are. This is a ridiculous situation. Once a man can establish that the stock are his, that should be sufficient. Ownership of the land should not be the criteria used. Very often, particularly in the west, such a farm might be registered as owned by the occupier's grandparents. For differing reasons it may not have been transferred down the years, and this is causing problems. I hope the Minister will investigate this and ask his officials to ignore that clause. If they are satisfied that the occupant is the owner of the stock then that applicant should be paid the grant without further question.

Disease eradication has caused tremendous problems in the farming community, never more than now. Major outbreaks of disease occur in different parts of the country. The compensation being paid for this to the farming community is ludicrous, and I appeal to the Minister to examine that compensation with a view to having it increased. He should also increase the price being paid for reactors by £50 per head as this price has not been adjusted for years. I would like the Minister to increase the qualifying weight for the hardship fund from 100k to 200k and to reduce the qualifying limit. At present 20 per cent of a herd must be reactors before the owner can qualify for the hardship fund. This figure should be reduced to 15 per cent. I seek also the removal of the £2,500 limit which at present is the maximum amount one can get from the hardship fund. The man who qualifies for more has suffered the greatest degree of hardship. I know it is difficult for the Minister to find the necessary moneys, but we have seen moneys made available for different projects overnight. The Talbot car workers were able to get their share and Clondalkin Paper Mills got a good bite of the cherry, but compensation for reactors has not been reviewed for a number of years and at all times we hear the excuse that the money is not there.

With regard to the removal of animals from locked-up herds, I do not see any reason why permits cannot be given for the removal of those animals from the farm to the boat, just as permits can be issued for the removal of those animals from the farm to the factory. I appeal to the Minister to have this facility made available to farmers whose herds are locked-up. A farmer with store cattle may have one reactor and he cannot sell his cattle. Perhaps he has no finance to go out and take grass and has no feeding for his stock. Such farmers face financial ruin. I appeal to the Minister to introduce a system of permits for shipping.

I realise that not too much time is available to me and that there are other speakers. I do not wish to detain them, but I appeal to the Minister to see what he can do in regard to the farmers who were caught in the Tuohy affair. Very many of them face financial ruin because they sent in their year's supply of cattle and were not paid for them. I appeal to the Minister and his colleague the Minister for Finance to make money available interest free to those farmers so that they can restock their farms before they have to sell out. This is a very serious matter in which the Government must help.

Deputy Naughten, I remind the House that the order is that this debate must be concluded at 1 p.m. It is a matter for the House and for the Deputies, but I am making the announcement now so that there will be no sore heads coming up to 1 p.m.

I appeal to the Minister to ensure that the necessary moneys are made available for the agri-industry. It is vital for the economy, for the farmers, for the people employed in the agri-sector and for the young people also in order that they will find employment in the agri-industry. I ask the Minister to make available the funds that are necessary to stimulate production in the farming sector.

A Cheann Comhairle, in accordance with your wishes I will be brief because I know other speakers are to come after me. I am glad that this Estimate was not finished on Friday last because it struck me then that an Estimate of this magnitude should not be passed without some debate and on Friday last only a few speakers contributed.

In recent years when the people and the media speak about the resources of this country and how best the Government of the day could utilise them the mining industry at Navan, where I come from, is often referred to as an instance. We hear suggestions of how to derive the best return from mining, from our oil resources and so forth. The greatest national resource in this country is the industry of agriculture, and it is to that industry that we should look for the sake of the economy. When agriculture is going well it is a springboard for everything else to run well. The difficulties we have had in agriculture in recent years have been caused by a number of factors. County Meath is often depicted as a county of ranchers and big farmers. It might surprise the House to know that 63 per cent of the farms in Meath comprise between ten and 50 acres of land and about another 33 per cent are between 50 and 100 acres. That leaves the other 3 or 4 per cent in the bracket usually depicted as ranchers, well-off farmers.

The main difficulty with regard to agriculture and many aspects of industrial, commercial and social life also today is that money is too expensive. Banks and financial institutions have a cartel among themselves and they have caused many problems, particularly in the agricultural industry. It is no secret to any farmer or to any banker that when the sun was shining from the middle seventies until 1979-80 the banks gave the farmers an umbrella and, when the rain began to fall in the past couple of years, that umbrella was withdrawn. Because of that, many farmers find themselves in extremely difficult financial circumstances today. After we entered the EEC in the early seventies the next six years or so were the bonanza years. Since 1978 shrewd people realised that farmers would depend on production to survive. Earlier on the banks were prepared to give farmers any money they wanted. I do not blame the local bank agent or the local bank manager. I blame the gentlemen who sit in the board rooms in College Green and dictate bank policy to the agents and the regional managers. In those years the farmers of Ireland were given as much money as they wanted. As Deputies know, in the past few years if farmers worked 24 hours a day they could not get out of the rut because the money they got from the banks was too dear.

When T. J. Maher was president of the IFA he talked about starting a farmers' bank. We should also start a bank for small industries and other sectors of Irish life. You cannot run a farm or an industry today, and come out at the end of the year with your head above water, because of the interest rates being charged by the financial institutions. The gentlemen who sit in the board rooms in College Green should have a social commitment to the people of Ireland apart from their interest in their balance sheets. In the tangle of the past few years good, progressive, hard-working young farmers have been caught in the net because they borrowed money at high interest rates.

Some years ago in a budget debate I said that the price of land in Meath was running at £4,000 an acre. I blamed the banks because they were giving money to farmers, to their neighbours and the next neighbour up the road to bid for the same piece of land. That caused inflation in the price of land. Today that land is selling at £1,500 an acre or, if you are lucky, you may get £2,000 an acre. In the EEC our Ministers were suggesting that this country should be declared a wholly disadvantaged area. How could we sell that idea to the EEC when land on the eastern sea-board and in Munster was being sold at £4,000 an acre while in Yorkshire, in France and in other areas land was being sold at half that price? We could not make that case in the EEC because the financial institutions had created a situation in which farmers were bidding against other farmers at auctions with money provided by the financial institutions. As I said, the banks withdrew the umbrella when the rain began to fall.

I know many farmers who signed over parts of their farms to their sons over the past few years. Their sons were the type of farmers we need, educated young farmers who had gone to the agricultural colleges and had all the practical knowledge and experience of our most important industry. Those young farmers were welcomed in the banks and given all the money they wanted to develop their farms. Nobody realised at the time that the money being borrowed was far too expensive and the operations were not viable. Recently a farmer told me he went to his bank looking for money to buy cattle in the early spring. He drew up a plan with his agricultural adviser. The bank's agricultural adviser passed the plan showing how many store cattle he could feed over the summer months with a view to selling them in the autumn. Traditionally a beef farmer in Meath buys store cattle in the west, feeds them over the summer, and sells them at the back end of the year. He was told by the banks that he could have the money at 24 per cent. He had to refuse because at the moment you cannot buy cattle in the spring, feed them over the summer months, sell them at the back end of the year, and make a profit if you have borrowed money at 24 per cent. That is wholly unrealistic.

It is time that the farmers got together and did what the farmers in Holland and in other areas did, that is, start their own bank where they can get money at reasonable interest rates and enable this national industry to become viable. The real problem in agriculture today, as in industry, is that money is too expensive. Not only the farmers but the small industries should get together and start their own bank. Because of the cartels in the banking institutions we all have our backs to the wall. I understand that in a recent budget the Government were looking for £20 million from the banks. There is a hunt to get money today from everybody in the country such as was never seen before. The message should go to the financial institutions from this House, to the men in College Green, not the bank managers in the towns and villages, that they should have a social commitment to the people apart from their interest in their balance sheets at the end of the year. Apart from that I want to say ——

The Deputy may not have time to say it if we are to accommodate all the Deputies who are offering.

I appreciate that and I will be very brief. I have covered a lot of ground. I want to talk about that product which has fed our people for generations — the potato. Last week the Minister said the quality of the Irish potato needs to be improved, and we all agree. When Deputy MacSharry was Minister for Agriculture and the potato producers were in dire trouble he banned the importation of Cyprus potatoes under the 1938 Act and gave the Irish producers a chance. Recently there was a boatload of potatoes at Rathmullen, County Donegal which, if allowed in would have meant there was a potato glut, but the present Minister ensured that they were not unloaded, thus giving our producers another chance.

Potato production is an important part of agriculture. Sections of Meath, Louth and North County Dublin are potato growing country. In County Meath alone 7,500 acres are under potatoes and these producers should get all the help they want because they are trying to produce a better quality Irish potato. I ask the Minister to give them all the assistance he can because they could play a useful role in the future of agriculture.

I understand there is a domestic arrangement and Deputies will have eight minutes each. That is possible because the Minister has agreed to cede five minutes of his time. The Minister will reply at 12.45 p.m. It is for the four Deputies concerned to treat each other with consideration so that each will have eight minutes. The Chair will not intervene again.

Thank you very much, Sir, and I thank the Minister for giving the extra five minutes, but it is a shame that so important an Estimate as Agriculture should be limited. I understood the Estimate would be discussed for the full day. It is impossible to do justice to an Estimate of this size in eight minutes, and therefore I will just deal with a few of the most important points.

If we have a bad harvest that can have very serious consequences for our cereal growers. The Department have made an allocation of £100,000 for storage and drying. In County Louth alone there are approximately 38,000 acres under corn, with a possible output of 80,000 tons. In that county we have 50 per cent of the in-take points in receivership or about to go into receivership. This is very serious. In the last couple of days I tried to find out whether these in-take points will operate during the harvest of 1982 and I was unable to do so. I appeal to the Minister to ask his Department to look into this situation particularly in County Louth, although I hear there are in-take points across the country which have been closed since last year.

If there is a good harvest there is no problem, but in a bad year there is a high moisture content in the corn, generally ranging from 18 per cent to 24 per cent. The corn will deteriorate very rapidly and this will mean a tremendous loss for the farmers. The Minister should get his officials to look into this situation. I come from a constituency like Wexford where there is a great deal of corn produced. If the in-take points are closed in Louth, Carlow and Wicklow and if all the corn is sent to Wexford, there will be a complete block of the in-take points. This can be very serious, and steps must be taken to ensure that these in-take points are open at harvest time.

I want to talk about receivership. We have seen farmers sending their corn to the merchants. There is an interim period of about six weeks between the time the corn is put in and the time it is paid for. I hope the financial institutions do not get too smart and wait until the merchants have put in the corn and then pull the plug and do not pay the farmers. This happened in England. I made inquiries and found out that farmers who were caught in this situation last year still have not been paid. They have no insurance. If the financial institutions pull the plug thousands of farmers will be caught.

Last night the Minister was asked about the new order. I accept that what is in the Minister's report is alarming — that the instance of TB in 1981 was 2.12 per cent and the round test so far is about 2.76 per cent. This is a very serious situation. There is one very important factor which must be considered here, and that is the farmer. We must get the co-operation of the farmers if we are to successfully clear the herds of tuberculosis, but that co-operation has not been forthcoming. We asked the Minister a fair question last night but he did not give us a straight answer. We must know the situation about the restriction of calves from locked up herds. We must have that point clarified. Deputy Dukes asked the Minister to clarify the extent and nature of the evidence which led him to make this extension of the order, to outline the nature and extent of the evidence which persuaded him to take this measure, and what steps had been taken to resolve the serious economic problems as a result of this measure being taken. I warned the Department when the 30 day test was being introduced. Deputy J. Bruton and I told the Minister that we were educating the farmers to abuse regulations, and that is what happened. If the order prohibits the sale of calves in the lock-up herds in the 1983 season, then the Minister is walking 12,000 to 15,000 farmers into a very serious situation.

I appeal to the Minister to tell the House what he has in mind. In about 85 per cent of the herds they have no accommodation for the calves and they cannot be retained in the herds. I am prepared to accept that TB tests should be carried out on the calves, but to prohibit their sale completely will have disastrous consequences for those involved. I understand there are between 12,000 and 15,000 herds that are locked up. I ask the Minister to clarify the situation once and for all. We put the question to the Minister last night and I am sorry he did not clear up the matter then.

There are certain restrictions in the scheme that allow reduced interest rates for farmers in severe financial difficulties. This scheme is more or less the one that was drawn up by the previous Government. It was designed to take the farmers out of trouble, not the banks. According to the scheme the banks will be responsible for identifying the people in trouble but the Minister and the Department must act as go-between for the farmers and the banks. Under no circumstances should the banks be allowed to be completely in control of the scheme. The scheme is important for those who are in financial difficulties. If it is properly operated — I was in on all the negotiations — I know it will go a long way towards relieving the serious financial difficulties of farmers.

I am sorry that because of the time constraint I cannot develop the debate along those lines, because I think it would be of use to the Minister.

I should like to express my disappointment at the fact that this debate has been curtailed. We spent two Fridays discussing the Estimate for the Gaeltacht but we have only one and a half Fridays on the most important Estimate, namely, agriculture.

I wish to associate myself with Deputy D'Arcy in his comment regarding the situation in Louth where there are 38,000 acres of grain and where 50 per cent of the intake points are in receivership. I was there last night and I met a number of farmers who are very worried about what may happen if there is a bad harvest. I would appreciate if the Minister would investigate this matter. A company in that area went into receivership recently and perhaps their intake points could be used in harvest time.

On the question of wheat, the Department of Agriculture, the IFA and the millers should get together to discuss the matter. The amount of wheat required should be given out on contract, as happens with malt and barley. This would save an enormous amount of money on imports and justice would be done to the farming community if they could be assured of a minimum price for the amount of wheat required.

In the Minister's speech last week only a half page was devoted to sheep production. During the week I put a question to the Minister for Justice regarding the possibility of doing something about marauding dogs and the damage caused to sheep. This has badly affected out exports. At the moment we are losing half of our exports because of this problem. I ask the Minister to draw up a policy to do something about this matter.

I agree with the comments made by my constituent colleague regarding the potato crop and potato producers. As the Minister is aware, there has been a very considerable increase in imports in the past few years. Irish producers are incurring considerable costs and it is only fair that the Department should not allow the importation of potatoes until the Irish producers have sold their products at a reasonable — not an exorbitant — price to the housewives.

I ask the Minister to review the compensation price for TB reactors. In County Meath there is an increasing number of reactor herds and the compensation should be increased as soon as possible. The provision in the budget for VAT at the point of import is doing considerable damage to people in the agribusiness. I can speak from some experience on this matter. A few weeks ago a member of my family wanted some machinery parts but was told they were on the boat. It is unfair to expect farmers to have to wait until such time as the machinery parts are required before they are imported. I ask the Minister to exempt people engaged in agriculture from VAT in this instance.

The banks have helped to create the serious problem facing farmers. When farmers decided to participate in the Farm Modernisation Scheme and to develop their holdings they got loans at interest rates of 9,10 or 11 per cent. Now interest rates have spiralled and farmers are expected to pay from 22 per cent to 24 per cent. This is not possible. The banking institutions in the next 12 months must be realistic about the repayments farmers can pay. If they are not, about 200 farmers in my constituency will be sold out by this time next year and that is something I do not want to see happen. I am a member of the agricultural community in Meath and I hope that something realistic will be done to help farmers.

I was disappointed and shocked that the Government did not carry out a commitment given by them to allow for the continuation and the upgrading of educational facilities in my constituency. We have been talking about this in the past months and the Minister has received deputations on the matter. I am referring to the situation in St. Martha's Home Rural Economic College in Navan. A commitment was given in May-June 1981 by the then Minister for Agriculture, now the Minister for Finance, that the college would be taken over. I am very annoyed at what has happened. The farming community in the surrounding counties as well as in my area have been let down by the Government. This is one of the few viable propositions the Government have been asked to take over. There was a 200-acre dairy farm with the college, but the Government have reneged on their promise. Our land is more precious that oilfields, and I would ask the Minister to do all in his power to ensure that the people working on the land are treated properly.

I want to thank the Minister for giving us an extra five minutes. It is a pity that this important Estimate has to be so tightly confined. Agriculture is our basic industry, and an overall and comprehensive plan is essential which will take full and proper account of all aspects of production, processing and marketing. The Government, in co-operation with different agencies, such as lending institutions, the advisory services, the co-operative societies, marketing boards, semi-state bodies and the farming organisations, must evolve a meaningful policy for this vital industry at this critical time.

We are all aware that 20 per cent of our entire working population is directly involved in agriculture. A further 7 per cent are employed in the food and drink industry, processing agricultural produce, and 18 per cent in the service industries owing their employment directly to agriculture. That means that 45 per cent of our population depend on agriculture for a livelihood. In any plan that is to be drawn up, priority must go to improving the situation of farmers who have suffered very severely over the last couple of years. We must also improve the contribution that agriculture makes to related industries and employment in towns and cities. Farm incomes, in real terms, have dropped over the past three years. We are hopeful that they will improve this year due to very favourable weather conditions and that yields will increase.

High inflation rates have denuded our land over the last few years and farmers have had to sell their stock to meet current commitments. In 1981 the livestock value of the economy was £700 million. This takes into consideration the fact that the livestock herd decreased by 25 per cent to £1.55 million. This was tragic for the economy, and it will take years to repair the damage. Agriculture has been under-financed for years past and, at present, there are no funds available for development due mainly to the fact that money is costing 20 per cent. Anyone who wants to increase their herd numbers must find it very difficult to justify borrowing at 20 per cent to improve their holdings. I call on the Minister to bring in low cost foreign funds and to permit the Government to cover any exchange risks that may be involved in making these funds available. Borrowing foragriculture, due to the nature of the industry, must be long-term and at fixed rates so that people can plan ahead. I ask the Minister to make available immediately a minimum sum of £150 million under low cost foreign funds.

It is essential to have profits in farming. If we give people the means of making a profit they will produce more, because farmers have shown over the years that if there is a profit to be made, not alone will they produce but they will flood our factories with cattle and all the other related industries will also benefit.

It needs to be stressed that imposing VAT at the point of entry will have a detrimental effect on the services which are available to farmers. The service to agricultural contractors from farm machinery suppliers has disimproved. There are no spare machines available and, in many cases, there are not even spare parts available. The situation will become critical if farm machinery industries have to pay VAT at the point of entry.

Many questions must be asked about disease eradication, why so much has been spent on the scheme and why it has not been more successful. I ask the Minister to increase the compensation to farmers who are unfortunate enough to have diseased cattle. If he does this, farmers will co-operate and the problem could be eradicated in a very short time.

There should be an in depth examination of the whole operation of the Land Commission. I would like to go into detail but I have not got enough time. The Land Commission at present hold 48,500 acres of land. The Minister should step up the rate of distribution of this land. Excuses are given by the Land Commission for the delay in distributing land, that they are awaiting to acquire adjoining estates, that they have no title and so on. We should be working this land and, where title is not available, people should be put in as tenants who could work and improve the land. I also ask the Minister to consider making land available to people who do not own land but who make their living from it. Many farmers' sons take conacre in a big way. There are others who have large herds, who are completely involved in the agricultural industry and earning their livelihood from it. When the Minister is investigating the applicants for land division, he should let in some fresh air. All the people who are interested in acquiring land should meet the inspectors from the Department and there should be a public investigation so that there can be no disputes as to why one person got land and another did not. In that way the information coming to the Land Commission with regard to the division of land would be accurate and there would be no room for disputes.

The interest subsidy package is very inadequate and there is too much red tape attached to it. The Minister should look at this and make a realistic interest package available. Otherwise there will not be an increase in production from farmers in the future.

Training for the farming industry must be at a high level. We have advances in technology and in farm methods. Farming is run as a business and accounting methods are very important. Training should be made compulsory for anyone going into farming. They should be released for this training and relief workers supplied by the Department. This would also help our unemployment problem. We have a Youth Employment Agency who could look into this matter.

Agricultural colleges should be extended and improved so that young people will be able to embark on agricultural courses in the same way as industrial workers are being catered for by AnCO. The farm modernisation scheme practically has come to a halt because it is not linked with changes in money values. The Department still are costing schemes at the 1979 base, which means a disimprovement of between 30 per cent and 50 per cent in the value of the grants. I have spoken to farmers in my constituency, none of whom has to borrow money, who will not embark on schemes until realistic cost figures are introduced by the Department. This is a pity, because those engaged on the construction of farm buildings, some of whom have been employing up to 120 people, have to cut their workforce by more than two-thirds. Much of this could be eliminated if farmers could get finance at reasonable rates. I ask the Minister to look at that urgently. If he does so an extra 400 people, at least, could be re-employed in my constituency.

In the four minutes at my disposal I could not even begin to deal with farmers' problems. Because of the limitation in my time I shall deal mainly with the dairying farmers in the south-west, with whom I am most familiar. There is a grave and pressing crisis in that area of agriculture. I hope the Minister realises that the dairy farmers in the south-west are faced with the worst crisis in 15 years. Having listened to farmers who have come to me I am convinced that the situation is much worse than is generally realised, and I hope the Minister appreciates this. It is the inevitable result of a number of adverse factors in the past four years, the first being strangling inflation, and soaring interest rates are adding to it. The result is that thousands of farmers, among them the most progressive in the country, are in a stranglehold from which they cannot extricate themselves. I understand that the total financial indebtedness of farmers is in the region of £1,200 million, and even the total Estimate of the Department would not pay the interest on that sum not to begin to talk about improving the situation.

We have had academic arguments about rescue measures for agriculture. I want to impress on the Minister that the type of rescue package we should be talking about is completely different from the totally unrealistic agricultural planning programme suggested by him, which will only scratch the surface of farmers' problems. We have been told that there will be a new national development plan for agriculture, but any such plan at this stage which does not have as a basic part some new rescue mechanism will not succeed.

When I speak here on these matters I try to be constructive. On this occasion, I say with deep conviction that the only hope for extricating farmers from their financial difficulties is the establishment of a new national rescue agency for agriculture, involving the banks and other lending institutions, with whom agreement will have to be achieved on long-term repayment periods at low interest rates over a period of between 30 and 40 years. If this is not done the wretched plight of thousands of farmers, particularly at the dairying end, will become even worse. At the moment in my general area farmers have to sell cows and breeding stock to put bread on their tables.

Therefore, I appeal to the Minister to look much more seriously at the financial situation of our farmers and to formulate a new plan for agriculture which will include a mechanism for a national rescue agency for agriculture.

I thank Deputy Dukes and other Members for their constructive contributions. I will deal first with the last point made by Deputy O'Donnell. We have established a group to draw up recommendations. They have been meeting and they have a mandate to report to me before the end of October. I believe that report will have specific recommendations in regard to a rescue package. Deputy Dukes asked how many applications had been received from farmers in this respect and I assure him and other Members that there will be strict monitoring of the work of the rescue team. I assure Deputy D'Arcy that we are setting up a committee to monitor all applications. The committee will be chaired by a Departmental official and it will have representatives from the two major farming organisations and the banks.

In reply to Deputy Dukes, I should like to make it clear that the amount mentioned in the Estimate for the national agriculture plan will not limit it financially. The amount in the Estimate is purely a book-keeping figure because most of the money will be paid next year and it is then that the extra necessary funds will be included — the scheme is open-ended. We are committed to following through the effort being begun this year. I say that in case there is any worry in Deputies' minds that the plan will be restricted to the amount in this Estimate.

Deputy Naughten asked about the disadvantaged areas and was worried about a full scale rescue operation for them. I should like to tell him that the Shannon Valley area generally is being considered in a substantial way. I hope to have that review covered by the end of the year, although it will be very comprehensive and involve a lot of work.

Our concentration is on the basic objective of raising herd numbers. This is the fundamental problem today, particularly at a time when we have such excellent grass. We are not sufficiently stocked, and that is why we concentrated in the recent package in Brussels on measures to raise cattle production. We have secured approval for a national aid of £70 which would follow on the interest rate subsidy of £70 this year in respect of in-calf heifers over and above a certain level. This will continue over the next three years. The calf premium should also help and should lead to decisions to have more calves in production. The scheme has been operating since 20 May and should have a positive effect on calf numbers in the first quarter of next year.

Employment in our meat factories is very important. The export refund advantages we have secured as part of the Brussels package are very significant. On carcase beef the refund has been increased by 18 per cent and on live cattle refunds have been raised by 6 per cent. This means that for every animal there is now a £60 differential in respect of carcase beef, which now stands at a £60 advantage over beef cattle in regard to exports. Meat factories will be in a more viable position in paying farmers in respect of purchases. The refund will also be applied to the added value of bonedout beef. This is a reform we have been seeking for some time and it will lead to more employment.

Recent improvements in grants towards livestock are an example of the thrust of our agricultural policy. We cannot spread our limited funds across the board and we must seek to identify the important areas. Deputy Naughten mentioned an increase in headage grants but when the suckler cow scheme, the £70 subsidy and the calf premium scheme are linked to the headage grant scheme, it will be seen that farmers in disadvantaged areas can earn £148 a year for every additional calved heifer with calf. The whole trend of policy must be in that direction.

We have been seeking a calf premium scheme from the EEC for a number of years. We have now succeeded and it has been operating since 20 May. I recognise that there are difficulties in the implementation of this scheme but it was very important for us to get a scheme off the ground which would be acceptable to the Commission. Of course there are difficulties in the initial stages, particularly in establishing whether a calf was born before or after 20 May. Such problems exist in the initial stages of any scheme, and we will get over them.

A more important difficulty was raised by Deputy Dukes yesterday when he mentioned the locked-up herds in dairy counties and the restriction on the transfer of these calves until they are tagged. I will have very close consultations with the Animal Health Council, the veterinary profession and the Commission to devise a more suitable and practical scheme for Irish conditions which will overcome the difficulties which can arise. Because this time of the year is a period of low calf production, we will have time to work out the snags. The real difficulties will arise in the early months of next year. I have initiated discussions to ensure that we will eliminate the snags which have arisen in the early implementation of the scheme.

The scheme is very welcome, involving as it does a transfer of £37 million from the EEC to the Irish farmer. The sum of £22 for every calf born is paid directly to the farmer as a straight cash grant. I appreciate the problems which were mentioned last night by Deputy Dukes but I assure the House that the administrative snags will be worked out.

Deputy D'Arcy raised the inadequate number of corn intake points, particularly in County Louth. I am aware of that problem and we are having discussions with grain interests. I will bear in mind what Deputy D'Arcy has said. It is important to discuss the matter in advance with the grain trade and get agreement on outlets.

Deputy Dukes and a number of other Deputies mentioned disease eradication, the high success rate in regard to brucellosis and the difficulties in regard to bovine TB. The main problem is the compensation rate for reactors, and I am examining it closely at present. The compensation rate is now acting as a disincentive, and I appreciate the points made.

I hope to be in a position to introduce land reform legislation before the end of this year. The draft legislation is at a fairly advanced stage. We realise the inadequacies of the Land Commission in dealing with this problem compared to the excellent way in which they were able to operate in the past.

I will communicate with Deputies about matters to which I have not had time to refer. Basically, Irish agriculture is about raising herd numbers, having far heavier stocking on the land, providing facilities for farmers which will encourage them to produce more cattle and sheep, and providing grants and loans to enable them to stock to a heavier degree. The land and the grass are there. It is a question of raising the numbers of cattle and sheep, particularly in these two areas. These are the problems facing us in Irish agriculture in 1982.

Vote put and agreed to.