I also welcome the introduction of the Bill. Setting up An Bord Bia brings us into line with other member states, many of which have a single agency dealing with export marketing. A single food promotion agency will, with proper co-ordination, be able to maximise the available resources and embrace all sectors of the food industry. We have some of the best primary producers in Europe of pigs and dairy products, poultry and meat. We have the product and it is up to us to sell it at the best possible price. It is comparatively easy to produce but the crunch comes in promotion and sales where, in the last few years, there have been great improvements, especially by individual firms and the co-operatives. Not alone have they invested heavily in product development, they have succeeded in selling their product in a very competitive export market. There has been a marked improvement in product presentation and we are now out in the market place meeting and competing with the best. CBF has been effective in the export market, it will now be brought under the umbrella of An Bord Bia and will make a substantial contribution to the new board, particularly in the initial stages.
The Bill also provides for setting up subsidiary boards for the product sectors with specific provision for a subsidiary board for meat and livestock. The cattle sector is the most highly subsidised but it does not give returns, either financially or by way of jobs, commensurate with the investment by both national government and the European Union. Other speakers referred to the live shipping of cattle which plays havoc with jobs at processing and slaughtering plants. A few years ago we hoped that all beef would be exported in a processed form. However, live shipping came back into its own with the variation in prices, and a competitive edge is required to ensure the best price for the primary producer. The principal of a large publicily quoted firm suggested that that firm may withdraw from beef processing. I hope that is not so because we need firms with the capacity, personnel and know-how to sell on the export markets.
I hope also that greater efforts will be made in the area of pig production. Until the 1960s pig production was the mainstay of small holdings in many counties, especially Cavan and Monaghan. At that time about half the farms were involved, one way or another, in pig breeding. In 1960 we had 111,000 nationally but this dropped dramatically to 2,000 in 1993. The average herd increased from eight in 1960 to 400 in 1993, but 80 per cent of pig production is confined to about 200 holdings.
The reduction in pig production was a body blow to the small family farm, but they had to move with the times. The National Pig Plan, set up to examine markets, came up with the idea of setting up eight efficient plants, with an investment of £90 million. As a result, the pig industry is internationally competitive, producing good quality breeding stock in highly modernised plants. However, problems remain, with feed costs up to £20 a tonne. Since feed costs represent 70 per cent of all production costs it is imperative that a great effort is made to reduce them. The Department should deliver on the 15 per cent reduction, as promised, in CAP reform. An Forbairt who succeeded the IDA, projected that pig production would increase to 4 million by the year 1997. This is well within our capacity considering that production increased from 2.1 million in 1989 to 3 million in 1993. If the figure of 4 million is reached it will represent exports of 125,000 tonnes which would ensure substantial additional jobs. Unlike the beef industry, there are no live exports of pigs.
Another area that has been targeted, and in which I hope An Bord Bia will become involved, is poultry production. World trade in poultry is rapidly growing. There was an increase in broiler production from about 3 million in 1960 to 45 million in 1992, and the figure continues to rise. However, there is a feed cost differential in this area which presents great difficulties. An Forbairt projected poultry exports of 50 million by 1998, maintaining 80 per cent of the home market. Problems arose in the area with substantial imports of poultry meat in recent years. However, the present demand is being met and I hope that continues.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, with availability of intervention, co-operatives and meat plants took the easy option and filled their cold stores on land and on ships at sea with products which should have been sold in the marketplace. Those massive stocks caused serious problems in recent years. On many occasions in this House I made the point that proper recognition was not given to processors who marketed their product. One of those who did market their product was a much maligned beef processor who sold the product abroad.
It is important that An Bord Bia concentrate on marketing. In County Monaghan there are 1,700 people employed in the food industry, including mushroom growing. This area was completely disregarded when placing industries over the years. If local people had not taken the initiative, it would be a barren wasteland industrially. Thankfully, that area, with 2 per cent of the land and 1.5 per cent of the population, now produces 5 to 6 per cent of food exports. This shows what can be done with initiative and enterprise.
I welcome the Culliton report, particularly the recommendations on a change of emphasis regarding our embassies. The report states that the staff should not be confined to career civil servants but that there would be people with professional knowledge in business and trade production. This is a welcome development which is in line with calls made in this House over the years to make use of our embassies other than for diplomatic purposes. They should be utilised to the greatest extent possible to ensure high sales of our produce.
The Minister stated that An Bord Glas would be involved with An Bord Bia. I hope An Bord Glas follows the line taken in other countries to promote potatoes and potato products. In countries such as America substantial funds are spent on promoting potatoes as a quality food. Prince Edward Island in Canada, to which many people emigrated at the time of the Famine, is one of the foremost potato exporters. I was involved in the potato trade for many years and I am satisfied that there is a potential for job creation in that area. The Minister should concentrate on increasing exports of potatoes.
The continued high imports of ware potatoes is a matter of concern. In the past much money was spent on the provision of storage, with the assistance of substantial grants. I believe that was money well spent. About 27 years ago, as a guest of the British Potato Marketing Board, I visited farms and packing centres in Scotland where large sums of money were spent on air controlled storage. Such storage facilities are now available here. I am not satisfied that we have an official record of ware potato imports. A substantial tonnage of potatoes is being legally imported into Northern Ireland and distributed throughout the country. There is probably a greater tonnage than has been recorded here. As an island country, we have never exploited our advantage as a seed potato producer and in projecting new varieties. This is labour-intensive industry and, with our continuing unemployment figures, it is an area which should be targeted.
A previous speaker referred to the Leader Programmes but I believe that the county enterprise boards, as they are constituted — and I am a member of one — should concentrate on the food area. Opportunities exist, even on a small scale, in the area of prepared foods. If one walks through any supermarket one can see the large amount of imported prepared foods on sale. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, in conjunction with the Minister for Enterprise and Employment, should impress upon the enterprise boards the need to target the food area. The same would apply to the Leader programmes because they, in conjunction with the enterprise boards and Forbairt, should examine every area in the industry where jobs can be created. If that is done many more jobs might be created.
Milk and milk products are among our primary exports and the co-operatives must be complimented on their move into the area of yoghurt production, etc. Many of the co-operatives are qualified to compete on the export market but a continual concern of people such as myself representing Connacht-Ulster is the siphoning off of quotas by the large co-operatives. Thankfully, the quotas will now remain in the region.
Prior to entering politics I was involved with the co-operatives and they were always dependent on increasing their output. Production has now levelled off and they are unable to get any additional quotas. The ordinary co-operatives have been of great benefit to many small farmers because they provided a lifeline for them through the use of credit given on an extended basis against their milk or produce. The co-operatives have greatly assisted those farmers and for that reason I would like to see them continue.
I wish to refer to the REPS, the rural environmental programme. In my area where there is much intensification we are experiencing many problems in regard to the disposal of farm waste. Farmers will be at a serious disadvantage in regard to availing of the funding, which I believe is approximately £100 million, to deal with these problems. In regard to pollution control, I hope the Minister will ensure that substantial grants will be made available to farmers for the provision of storage tanks because it has been provided this year that additional tanks are necessary. This will be a real problem in years to come and I hope the Department responsible for pollution control will provide the necessary funding to deal with the problems caused by pollution.