Approximately 150,000 farmers have been affected by the crash in cattle, beef and milk prices. In 1994 cattle prices averaged £1.07 per pound whereas today they average 82p or less per pound. In 1994 milk prices averaged £1.10 to £1.25 per gallon, depending on the constituent of the milk, but today the price of milk has decreased to £1.00 per gallon. Dairy farmers have lost 25 per cent of their incomes.
We are locked out of essential third country markets. According to a recent reply from the Minister, in 1993 we exported 372,000 head of cattle and in 1994 we exported 400,000 head. However, a Bord Bia publication Market Monitor, dated 5 April 1997 states there was a 76.3 per cent reduction in exports of live cattle in the first quarter of this year. Exports have decreased from 53,787 to 12,741. That is the extent to which the farming industry has ground to a halt. We exported 100,000 head of cattle to Egypt last year but we no longer have access to that market. The Libyan and Iranian markets are also closed to beef exports. There is no competition between our factories. In the UK and other European countries farmers are getting a reasonable price for beef, but our farmers are losing money.
Will the Minister embark on an action programme to secure the future of family farms? In an editorial in this week's Irish Farmers Journal Matt Dempsey stated:
The collapse in beef prices that has followed last week's revaluation and cut in export refunds is the clearest indication yet that we have lost our way in the day to day dealing with Brussels and its critical management of the beef market.
He went on to talk about the fact that at least three-quarters of our steers go to third countries which contributes to our unique vulnerability to export refund changes and that beef is very expensive to produce at this time of year. He also stated:
Ultimately the blame for this debacle has to end up on the desk of Ivan Yates. It will take more than recycled compensation announcements to quell farmers' anger and sense of betrayal at this time.
Not only have we lost out to third country markets, we have also lost out this year to continental markets because of inadequate ferry services. Last month the Minister announced a weight limitation of 400 kilos on upper decks which was reversed within two days. I fail to understand how those artificial impediments can be put in the way of exports.
Will the Minister deliver on his commitment to the IFA to pay compensation, to farmers? A press release from the IFA headquarters dated 20 March 1997 states:
Mr. O'Malley said IFA would be holding Minister Yates to the very specific commitment he gave to livestock farmers to deliver National Exchequer funding to match EU monies on Revaluation Compensation. "Farmers are disappointed that the Minister had not succeeded in securing the exchequer funding he promised at the IFA Beef Forum on February 4th before he made this week's announcement."
I call on the Minister to do something for the farming community and not allow Democratic Left and The Labour Party to rule the roost in Government. We do not have to listen to the Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy De Rossa, stating that farmers are rolling in it. That is not true. They are very upset and want the Minister to do something about their problem.