The saga of the losses to farmers in Donegal last year came about as a result of a very late planting season and an extraordinary rainfall in the autumn when the crops, not just potatoes but cereal and flax, might have been harvested. Thanks to the advocacy of all our MEPs a motion was passed in the European Parliament last December and the Commissioner indicted that while there were no Community funds for such situations, it would be open to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry to discuss the matter with the Commissioner. A sum of money was provided in the budget and this gave farmers great hope of speedy compensation. We emphasised in December that those who had lost most would not be in a position to replant in the spring. Indeed, some have not and will not because they did not have the wherewithal to do so. Now, late though it may seem, an announcement has been made on the closing date for applications for aid for potato growers. There has been no mention of cereal or flax losses. Our farmers must know whether the small farmer is eligible for this aid because if he is left out we will have lost the game. The small farmers make up the backbone of the potato industry. Despite adversity down through the years they still make up the backbone. If it is true that farmers with under two acres in crop will not be recognised, I ask the Minister to vary the conditions, as he has the power to do. A farmer who has lost one acre or one and a half acres is relatively worse off than a bigger farmer who may have lost 50 or 100 acres. The smaller farmers is on his uppers, indeed, some have gone out of business because they could not get credit to buy either seed, fertilisers or anything else.
This is the crux we find ourselves in. I was assured before I came into the House that the story is that small farmers with under two acres will not be compensated. If that is the case I appeal again to the Minister to vary the terms and conditions, as he is empowered to do, and to ensure that all farmers who have lost crops will be treated equally relative to the amount of their loss.
Let me draw the Minister's attention to the conditions laid down for ware potatoes losses because they are such that there might as well not be compensation. Ware potatoes must have been grown under seed production conditions, which means rotational propriety and inspections before the seeds are planted. Why have ware if those conditions have to be applied? Those who planted ware potatoes and lost them are just as badly off as everyone else. The industry which has been on its knees will soon be out of existence. Those few changes need to be made, but they would need to be made immediately to salvage what is left of the industry in Donegal.