Adjournment Debate. - Compensation for Donegal Farmers.

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.

Deputies will be aware that the Minister for Finance has provided in the budget for expenditure of £1 million to assist potato growers in the Donegal region in overcoming the problems caused by the bad weather throughout the second half of 1992. I have previously informed the House that I was seeking to have this £1 million augmented by appropriate EC funding. The plight of these potato growers was conveyed to the EC Commission and their case has been pursued vigorously with the Commission since last December. The Commission's initial response was that:

There are only limited means available to the Commission in these circumstances and it was never the intention that Community funds be used to compensate for loss of income due to poor weather conditions.

Although it has taken some time, considerable progress has been made since then in contacts with the Commission. We are now at the stage where the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry has advertised a scheme of financial aid. Application forms have been distributed in the region and completed applications must reach the Department by 21 May. When applications are to hand they will be verified from local departmental records, in so far as this is possible, and each application will be assessed, having regard, in particular, to an EC Commission condition that assistance must relate to the restoration of agricultural production potential. In compliance with this condition, details of a scheme have been submitted to the Commission for approval and I would expect to have a response around the end of this month.

The proposed scheme would apply to potato producers who grew upwards of two acres, seed and ware, in 1992. It proposes to provide aid for the clearance of ground in respect of damaged 1992 crops; the cost of providing seed potatoes for the 1993 crops and interest on working capital for six months. In addition, where affected producers are not growing potatoes in 1993, it is proposed to provide financial assistance towards the clearance of damaged 1992 seed and ware crops. The purpose of this latter aid is to clear the land of unharvested crops which would otherwise be a source of infestation, and could be damaging to the normally high plant health standards in the region.

I hope that the EC-assisted scheme will be financed 75 per cent by the EC Commission, the remaining 25 per cent being funded by the national Exchequer from the £1 million budgetary allocation. As soon as clearance is received from the EC Commission details of the scheme will be announced. It is my intention to make separate arrangements to use any balance of the one million pounds State money not used up in the national contribution to the EC-assisted scheme for the benefit of growers, particularly the seed potato growers affected.

Growers of fibre flax and linseed have fully qualified for the EC aid in those sectors, with no penalty for reduced crop. In these circumstances the case made for special aid related only to the potato crop.

As I have already mentioned, assistance will be targeted towards commercial growers, that is those who planted at least two acres of potatoes in 1992. Smaller growers would not have been as dependent on their potato crop and would have had an opportunity to harvest at least some of it. Aid will be directed to those most severely affected. For this reason also, and having regard to the comparatively small losses in cereals, aid will not be available to cereal growers under the EC-approved scheme.

May I ask the Minister a question?

It is unusual for a Deputy to intervene again. The Minister's reply ends the debate at this time.

May I ask——

If it is a very brief question the Deputy may ask it, but I do not want to create a precedent.

In one part of the Minister's statement he mentioned upwards of two acres and subsequently he mentioned two acres. There is confusion there because upwards of two acres does not mean two acres. In addition, even for those who harvested——

I am sorry, this cannot go on.

——the crop did not keep and they have lost everything.

Those with less than two acres are being excluded.