Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 12 Jul 2018

Vol. 971 No. 7

Priority Questions

Common Agricultural Policy Negotiations

Charlie McConalogue


1. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the actions he is taking at EU level to ensure the proposed budget cuts for the 2021-27 Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, programme are reversed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32065/18]

I wish to ask the Minister what actions he is taking at EU level to ensure the proposed budget cuts to the 2021-27 CAP programme are reversed and whether he will update the House about his efforts. As the Minister is aware, this is a source of grave concern to the farming sector both domestically and across Europe. The current budget proposals would see a reduction in Pillar 1 payments of 4% and in Pillar 2 payments of 21%. Every effort and political dedication is required to try to address that and to ensure it does not end up hitting farm income and farmers' pockets domestically. The onus is on the Minister to deliver that at European level. I look forward to hearing his update on that today.

By way of introduction I would point out that in discussing the funding of the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, we should bear in mind that this funding forms part of a broader EU budget which is negotiated by Finance Ministers and then agreed by the European Council and European Parliament.

The European Commission has proposed, as part of the multi-annual financial framework, MFF, 2021-2027, that funding for the CAP should be set at €365 billion. This would equate to a cut of approximately 5% in the next MFF period of 2021-27.

This MFF proposal must now be negotiated by Finance Ministers and agreed by the European Council and the European Parliament. The intention of the Commission is to reach overall agreement on the MFF before the European Parliament elections in 2019.

The MFF is a critical matter for all member states and its agreement requires unanimity at the EU Council. It is clear there are divergent views among member states on the appropriate level for the budget. While some are prepared to increase contributions, in particular if there are areas of added European value, there are others who equally feel strongly that the current proposals, such as they are, are too costly.

We also have to be aware that in the light of the departure of the UK from the EU, some €12 billion per annum in UK contributions will be removed from the budget. Against this background, agreeing the MFF will be very challenging.

Nonetheless, the proposal published by the European Commission is an initial position only. The final outcome will be determined by negotiations at EU level over the coming period. Achieving Ireland’s priorities in these negotiations will be a key issue for the Government. I believe that European agriculture policies have delivered for Irish farmers and consumers. I want to see support under these programmes continued and Ireland will approach these negotiations with this in mind.

The CAP proposals require more from farmers in terms of environmental standards. I believe that Irish farmers have already made a significant contribution to the environment and are prepared to do more. However, the high production and environmental standards required of EU producers must be properly supported by policies that are appropriately configured and properly funded.

Against this background, I have been working to build consensus among my agriculture colleagues in Europe with regard to maintaining the CAP budget. Recently in Madrid, I agreed a memorandum with five of my European colleagues seeking that CAP funding for 2021-27 would not be subject to cuts and would remain at the current level for the 27 EU member states. Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Finland all signed the memorandum. Support has grown for this proposal and I understand that up to 20 member states have expressed support for this position.

I have also sought to continue this work as part of ongoing bilateral meetings. Since May 2018, my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, and I have met with the EU Agriculture Ministers from Germany, France, Belgium, Denmark, Finland and Hungary, inter alia to support a strong CAP budget after 2020. I have also met Ministers from the Netherlands, Estonia, Belgium, Poland, Luxembourg, and Austria, and my officials engage regularly with counterparts in other member states on this issue.

Ireland needs to work closely with its EU colleagues to build a consensus around the need to reverse the proposed cuts in the CAP. I assure the Deputy that I will continue to do this and to fight for a strong CAP budget in the upcoming negotiations.

There is no doubt but that the decision by Britain to leave the EU poses challenges and is regularly given as a reason and rationale for the CAP budget being reduced. What is not highlighted or made clear is that despite the fact Britain is leaving, the overall MFF will be larger this time than the last time. The MFF proposals show the overall EU budget going from €1,087 billion to €1,279 billion. That is an increase of almost €200 million in the overall MFF. The problem within that is the priority that was given to the CAP programme within that proposed MFF structure, in which the overall CAP allocation has dropped from 38% of the overall budget last time around to 28.5% this time. That represents a political failure to prioritise agriculture as a crucial part of the European budget to ensure it was not reduced. It also represents a real failure at domestic level in respect of the impact it will have on farm incomes, as 75% of net farm incomes are based on CAP payments. It is crucial the Minister works with the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr. Phil Hogan, and the Minister's counterparts across other European countries to ensure we grab back our proportion of the overall European budget, and to ensure we do not continue down this slippery slope, which has been presided over in the last number of CAP programmes, where agriculture and its funding have continually been eroded.

I would like to reassure the Deputy and the House we share the same objective in the context of securing an adequate budget. That is challenging because, simply put, it requires unanimity across all member states.

It is not an option for the Commission to spend money it does not have. It cannot, under the legal terms under which the European Union is constituted, operate a deficit. It can only spend moneys that member states agree to contribute. It is very clear where Ireland stands in that context. The Taoiseach made that very clear in the context of his address to the European Parliament and it has been reiterated on numerous occasions since then by the Taoiseach, myself and, in particular, by the Minister for Finance.

In the context of that budget there are competing demands, and the Deputy is aware of those. They include security, migration, youth unemployment, etc. These are all legitimate issues, but what our position has been all along is that they should be funded, but not at the expense of the CAP budget. The only way to square that circle is for member states to increase their contributions, and we are willing to do so, but the requirement for unanimity makes that difficult. Even in the context of the CAP, some member states, responding to Commissioner Hogan's most recent proposals, have said that those cuts do not go far enough.

Our view is that there are increasing challenges in the CAP. Farmers need to be adequately compensated for that and we are working with member states, particularly in the context of the Madrid declaration, and are creating the political awareness for the need for an adequate budget for the CAP.

There are no doubt pressures on the budget. Myself, Deputy Cahill and a delegation from our party were in Brussels this week meeting with the various stakeholders in regard to agricultural issues and the CAP budget. There are undoubtedly pressures but let us not detract from or avoid the fact that the scenario, as of today, is a very dire one for Irish agriculture, given that we are going to see the overall CAP envelope for Ireland reduced by 10.5% from what it was the last time around in terms of the funding that will be coming into this country. That is going to impact to the tune of almost 4% in Pillar 1 and 21% in Pillar 2. That is a dire and very concerning vista for farm families across the country, considering how dependent they are on CAP payment income. As I indicated, it comprises 75% of farm incomes overall. If one takes the sheep sector and the beef sector, 100% of their net income is from CAP payments. This move has to be addressed and rebuffed. I understand that it is not easy but there is a significant onus on the Minister, working with Commissioner Hogan, to try to redress the imbalance and the sliding importance being allocated to CAP under the current proposals.

Despite the fact the overall budget has increased by €200 billion, we are seeing CAP being reduced and diminished in terms of its priority status. That, at a political level, has to be a priority and an absolute objective of the Minister, working with the Commissioner, to try to ensure the final deal that is delivered for farmers does not reflect the very concerning one that is on the table at the moment.

I am acutely aware of the magnitude of the task. I am also doing everything that is possible within the confines of the Council of Agriculture Ministers and availing of every opportunity to build alliances with like-minded member states but it is important to acknowledge that there are other member states which take a position that is entirely at variance with that. Given the requirement for unanimity, that is a significant challenge.

This is an issue that is substantially played out in the Council of Finance Ministers and at European Council level but I remain optimistic. Given what Commissioner Hogan said, these are opening proposals, unpalatable though they are and reflecting for us, in the context of Pillar 1 and Pillar 2, more than €90 million in cuts, which is a significant challenge. We continue to work to try to achieve the best possible outcome.

Common Agricultural Policy Negotiations

Martin Kenny


2. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the types of schemes that will be under Pillar 2 of the next CAP; the environmental measure that will be made mandatory or otherwise under Pillar 1 of the next CAP; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31632/18]

I support my colleague's calls for the Minister and everyone in the farming community to ensure the CAP budget is increased. We face a huge problem with this cut.

My question is on Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 and the environmental schemes. Under Pillar 1 and the environmental scheme that is proposed, what percentage of the payment the farmer will receive will be for that Pillar? What types of schemes does the Minister expect to be able to provide under it? How will they differ from what we have traditionally had under Pillar 2? What types of schemes will be there under Pillar 2? Will it be a continuation of GLAS or will it be something different? Will it focus more on biodiversity? Where are we going in regard to all of this? It is important, as we move towards negotiating the new CAP, that we have clarity around those issues for the farming community.

The new legislative proposals for the Common Agricultural Policy 2021-2027 were launched on Friday, 1 June 2018 by Commissioner Hogan. The Commission proposals, as drafted, involve significant changes, including in relation to governance, the distribution of direct payments among farmers and the environmental conditionality attaching to such payments.

They provide for additional discretion for member states in configuring the new measures available, within parameters laid down in the draft proposals. The new Commission proposals commit to a more significant environmental ambition than the current CAP schemes, including in Pillar 1, where an eco measure, which would be mandatory for member states, but voluntary for farmers, is provided for. It is too early to say how such a scheme might be configured.

The proposals also preserve the basic architecture of the current CAP. It is clear that they envisage measures that support farmers in areas of natural constraint, those who adopt environmental or climate friendly actions, collaborative actions such as farm partnerships, young farmers taking over holdings for the first time, on farm investments, risk management tools and knowledge exchange and information.

We are now at the beginning of what will be intensive and challenging negotiations on the final shape of these draft regulations. I intend to work with the Commission and other member states to shape these proposals into an effective new Common Agricultural Policy. My Department is still analysing the proposals and their potential implications for the Irish agrifood sector.

I have always sought to have a broad consultation on these proposals. Earlier in the year, my Department engaged in a national consultation involving six meetings with stakeholders across the country. In addition, on 4 July, I hosted a conference on the new CAP legislative proposals for interested stakeholders, including farm bodies, State agencies and the environmental pillar. The Deputy, along with other members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, were invited to participate in this conference, and I appreciate the fact the Deputy was there for the full day. This was a timely opportunity to bring all interested stakeholders together for a constructive discussion on the future CAP. The range of speakers came from the political sphere, from the European Commission and from my Department. The conference was a very useful opportunity to hear the views of the many stakeholders involved.

Over the coming months there will be detailed negotiations at all levels across the European Union as we work together to shape the final outcome. At the centre of all our considerations will be the need to ensure that CAP post-2020, properly funded, will continue to support farm families and the rural economy. The current draft proposals must be agreed at European Union Council level. Whenever the agreed final EU Council position on the CAP proposals is reached, the proposals will then be discussed at trilogues involving the EU Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of Agricultural Ministers.

These processes must all be worked through and concluded before a final text can be agreed. I will be working with my colleagues in Europe to ensure that the final CAP regulations can support farm families in the many challenges they face.

I thank the Minister. I acknowledge much work has been done and consultation has happened with the various groups and farm organisations. I would hope that would be a measure to build consensus rather than taking on board all the information and doing what the Department intends to do anyway, which is what people believe happened in the past.

The Minister stated that there will be more significant eco and environmental measures in the next CAP than there were in previous CAPs. That is something on which farmers would like to get more information. While I appreciate it is probably early days as regards the public consultation around this, I am quite sure, given the close relationship the Minister and his Department would have with Commissioner Hogan, that there is some sense of where we are going with this.

On Pillar 1, what percentage of the payment does the Minister expect will be related to the environmental measures under that pillar? If it is 20%, 25% or 30%, it will be optional for the farmer but mandatory for the Department to put out there. If it is going to mandatory for the Department to put out there, and some farmers opt in and some opt out, does that mean farmers will not get that 20%, 25% or 30% of the Pillar 1 payment if they opt out? Is that the situation? The danger many farmers around the country would see in that is that one would have the more intensive farmers opting out but the farmers who need the money opting in.

It would mean that we would have a situation where the environmental actions would all be happening on the lands of natural constraint or in the areas where a poorer income is in place for farmers. It must be the case that every farmer everywhere plays a role in respect of it.

The Deputy has raised a number of the key issues that need to be teased out. It will be mandatory under the current proposals in the context of Pillar 1 payments that the State will offer an environmental element. It will not be mandatory for farmers but it will be incumbent on the State to offer that option. That clearly implies that for those who avail of the option there will be a higher level of payment and, by implication, a lesser payment for those who do not.

The detail of the schemes themselves and how they might be constituted is something for a later date. That is why listening to all of the stakeholders is important. It is abundantly clear that the focus is on enhanced measures that deliver on the sustainability and climate change agenda, and having the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, as one of the toolboxes available to the State to meet our targets in that regard. That is understandable and in many respects helpful to us, but the devil will be in the detail in terms of how we work out that scheme. What is clearly being said is that there is not money for nothing in the context of the next CAP in Pillar 1. It will be a high level of conditionality with an environmental condition being a significant element of it.

I understand that. What I am trying to do is tease out what level of commitment the farmer will have to make in respect of it. I have often said the farmer is not the only one who produces greenhouse gases, but in effect, land use is one of the few ways we have of segregating those gases so there is an obligation and an opportunity there for the farmer in that respect. These measures are designed to help that agenda. I expect the battles the Minister will have in Europe will be around what money goes to the agricultural sector and why it needs to go there. It is to everyone's benefit that land is used to improve the environment for all.

Could the Minister give me an idea of what percentage of Pillar 1 will be related to environmental obligations? Will Pillar 2 be an extension of the green low-carbon, agri-environment scheme, GLAS, or will it be more onerous than GLAS has been in the past? Will it be open to more farmers? One of the issues currently is that many farmers have been unable to get into GLAS.

Reference was made in the climate change document to biodiversity, bees and the interdependence society has on what nature does to provide for us. How will that issue be incorporated in the CAP?

The regulation currently states that member states shall provide support for voluntary schemes for the climate and environment in Pillar 1. It is not prescriptive beyond that in terms of the detail. The battles on this will be at a macro level in terms of ensuring we have an adequate budget and then we will be in the trenches in terms of working out the detail of the schemes.

Is it likely to be 5% or 25%?

That is not clear at this stage.

That is not clear at all.

There will be an element of choice in respect of Pillar 1 in that while it will be obligatory for the State to offer that option, those who avail of the environmental option conditionality will secure a higher payment. Much of the detail has yet to be worked out. I appreciate that it must be made as user friendly as possible but, as I understand it, there will be a focus on tangible outcomes as well. That is clear also in the context of the broad thrust of the policy. Previously, it was about various initiatives that we have done under GLAS and the beef data and genomics programme, BDGP, but we will need to see tangible outcomes from the schemes we devise in the future.

Fodder Crisis

Jackie Cahill


3. Deputy Jackie Cahill asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the steps he is taking to ensure sufficient supports are put in place to assist farmers who risk another fodder shortage due to the extreme hot weather. [32066/18]

We have come out of one of the worst winters we have experienced in a long time and we are now in a drought, the worst since 1976. In a year when we wanted serious grass and crop growth the first crops are being used to supplement animals. The tillage sector has said spring barley will be an absolute disaster, with very low yields and the prospect of very little straw being available. We cannot sleepwalk into the crisis that will come in the winter of 2018 and the spring of 2019. We must put measures in place now to try to ensure that we have enough fodder in place both from an animal welfare point of view and an economic perspective to get through the six month winter that faces us.

Well before the current dry spell and its attendant problems for farmers and fodder, last winter and spring brought their own weather challenges. To learn from the lessons of last winter and to plan for the coming winter I convened a representative group chaired by Teagasc and including stakeholders such as co-ops, banks and farm bodies, among others, to co-ordinate advisory messages to farmers this summer around replenishing stocks that have been used up during the current extraordinarily dry weather. I have asked the group to provide advice and guidance to manage grazing and to ensure fodder is available to all farmers. This group will remain in place until I am satisfied that the issue of securing adequate fodder supplies for next winter has been fully addressed.

The group has met on two occasions and I joined the second meeting of this group by phone link to keep informed of its actions in support of livestock farmers affected by the dry conditions. The group is scheduled to meet again next week. On 26 June I launched a national fodder census, to be compiled by Teagasc, through its client network as well as clients of the other fodder group stakeholders, with another census planned for 1 September. The aim of the census is to monitor and measure the levels of fodder in the country and will inform further actions that may be necessary this autumn.

Detailed agronomic advice is being regularly co-ordinated and communicated to farmers by the bodies represented on the fodder group, including through our own social media account. In addition, a dedicated helpline to provide advice to farmers affected by the ongoing drought has been set up by Teagasc. This is being supplemented by a series of local meetings and clinics where farmers can obtain direct support from Teagasc advisers on the spot. The helpline will operate daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. It is important to emphasise that this helpline service and local clinics are open to all farmers, including non-Teagasc clients. Co-ops and feed compounders represented on the group have increased feed output to meet demand while banking institutions, also represented on the group, have announced a series of initiatives and are working closely with farmer customers on effective financial planning to see them through the current difficult spell.

While I welcome the role of Teagasc and its advice, the reality is that we are facing an unprecedented crisis and some practical measures must be taken in order to optimise grass growth and the availability of fodder for next winter. First, I suggest that the closing date for the spreading of chemical fertiliser be extended by two weeks. Rain will come at some stage and we must exploit the amount of grass that we can grow when the rain comes. Tillage farmers will be in a crisis. They have had a number of years of very low income. Given the late sowing this spring followed by the weather conditions we have experienced, tillage farmers, especially those with spring barley, will be in a very serious financial situation. Something must be done urgently to remedy that.

The other issue the Minister must address as a matter of urgency is the exploitation by meat factories of the situation by dropping prices substantially due to farmers trying to offload stock. Farmers are being exploited to an unbelievable extent. Factory prices have dropped significantly in recent weeks without any reason whatsoever. Confidence in targets for Food Wise 2025 and Food Harvest 2020 are being badly shaken. The way factories are treating farmers at the moment must be examined. We need practical action. Bringing forward payment dates for CAP payments, including for GLAS, would be welcome but we need practical solutions.

I remind Deputies and the Minister that the standing order governing supplementary questions specifies just a minute.

The ultimate solution to the problem is rainfall. Farmers would be well advised to engage with the Teagasc advisory service. In today's Irish Farmers' Journal there is a full page advertisement by Teagasc on the various sectors and the appropriate measures for them.

That headline advice, followed by tailored individual advice through the advisory service - provided by either Teagasc or private consultants who are part of the stakeholder group - is important. I welcome the fact that the financial institutions are indicating an awareness of the issues. They are part of the stakeholder group and are tailoring products to meet demand.

In the context of processors of primary produce, be it in the dairy or meat sectors, we need solidarity across the industry. Any evidence of a lack of that in the face of the current challenges would be disappointing. Many co-ops are meeting to discuss, for example, dairy prices and that should be reflected in the context of the solidarity that is required.

One of the issues I am particularly concerned about is that September is generally the month when water supplies and private wells are most adversely impacted upon as a result of a dry period. We are faced with a situation now where water levels are at an unprecedentedly low level. Groundwater levels are also low. Farmers need to be conscious of that and perhaps take the appropriate measures at this point because there is nothing more distressing on a farm, particularly a dairy farm, than a lack of water. Generally speaking, there is solidarity among people.

We will take a final supplementary from Deputy Cahill. There are Members who will not get the opportunity to contribute. I am operating in good faith here and I ask the Minister and Deputies to observe the clock. I do not want to be interfering all the time.

Solidarity is fine, but we have seen what meat factories have done in practical terms. They are exploiting the situation. That is a fact. The way prices have dropped in the past couple of weeks is completely unwarranted. We need practical solutions. I suggested moving the date for the spreading of chemical fertiliser and the Minister did not address that. We have to extend the grazing season and we have to build up a bank of grass when the rain comes. Stock will need to be kept out well into the autumn and early winter and we have to get that date extended. This is a practical step that the Minister can take. I expect that payment dates will be brought forward as in other years. However, we are going to head into a serious welfare situation on many farms. The Minister can talk about extra credit but the money involved has to be paid back. We are coming out of what was an extremely expensive spring for all farms. Farmers' finances are in a bad way. The banks will say to the Minister that they are available to talk but the reality is that they are putting farmers with overdrafts pressure and they are forcing them into situations that are untenable. The Minister needs to find practical solutions. Live exports and markets for stock will be hugely important in order that we might try to get the maximum number of cattle out of this country before winter arrives.

The Deputy will be aware that a substantial consignment of live beef exports is about to go to Libya shortly. The level of live exports is much increased, and that is important. At this stage, we are not ruling out any measures. I take the Deputy's point about the date for the application of chemical fertiliser but that is some way off yet. It is the middle of July. Our information on-----

We might not get the opportunity to put the point to the Minister for a while.

I am sure the Deputy will find ways and means to do so.

The picture in respect of spring barley is not as depressing as that which the Deputy paints. The information we have is that while some of the later planted spring barley crop is challenged, it is not by any means a uniform situation. We also understand that this is a regional issue and that the majority of the crop is not affected at this stage. All options are on the table. Matters relating to low-yielding cows, cows with high somatic cell counts, animals that are not in calf and disposing of stock - I appreciate that feeds into the point the Deputy makes about prices - are all individual farm management issues that need to be considered. Teagasc is disseminating advice on these matters at present. We will look at all of the issues around prompt, early payments, fertiliser application dates, etc. We face a significant challenge.

Weather Events

Mattie McGrath


4. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the cohesive steps he plans to put in place to address the crisis pertaining to agriculture and wider economy in the context of the ongoing heatwave and dry spell and the impact they are having on the entire agricultural sector and the impending shortages there will be until spring 2019 for farmers who need to protect their animals and crops and be able to function going forward. [32069/18]

I wish to ask the Minister about the cohesive steps he is planning to put in place to address the crisis pertaining to agriculture and the wider economy in the context of to the ongoing heatwave and dry spell and the impact they are having across the entire agricultural sector. I also want to ask about his plans to deal with the impending shortages there will be until spring. Farmers who need to protect their animals are in a difficult situation and the whole country is going to face a water shortage. What measures does the Minister intend to put in place to deal with these issues before the Houses rises later today?

This current dry spell is having a significant impact across many sectors, not only in the agricultural sphere but also throughout the wider community. I view the first priority for farmers as the need to protect their livestock and fodder crops, ensure access to fresh water for livestock and, once this dry spell concludes, ensure adequate fodder provision for the winter ahead.

To plan for the coming winter, I formed a representative group chaired by Teagasc and including, among others, stakeholders such as co-ops, banks, and farming bodies to co-ordinate advisory messages to farmers this summer in the context of replenishing stocks that have been used up and also managing grazing and fodder throughout this extended period of extraordinarily dry weather.

The group has met on two occasions. I joined the second meeting of the group by phone link in order to keep informed of its actions in support of livestock farmers affected by dry conditions. The group is scheduled to meet again next week and continue on until the issue of next winter’s fodder needs are fully addressed.

In support of this work, on 26 June, I launched a national fodder census to be compiled by Teagasc, through its client network as well as clients of other fodder stakeholders, with another census planned for 1 September. The aim of the census is to monitor and measure the levels of fodder in the country. The census will inform further actions that may be necessary in the autumn.

Detailed agronomic advice is being regularly co-ordinated and communicated to farmers by bodies represented on the fodder group, including through our own social media account.

In addition, Teagasc has established a dedicated helpline to provide advice to farmers affected by the ongoing drought. This is being supplemented by a series of local meetings and clinics at which farmers can obtain direct support from Teagasc advisers. The helpline will operate daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

This helpline service and local clinics are open to all farmers, including non-Teagasc clients.

Co-ops and feed compounders represented on the group have increased feed output to meet demand.

Banking institutions are working closely with farmer customers on effective financial planning to see them through the current difficult spell.

In order to support them in protecting the future of their crops and animals, it is essential that farmers should have access to measures that improve their resilience to these recent weather events. I have asked my officials to examine all available risk management tools to determine which may be the most appropriate to the farming sector.

I am very disappointed with the Minister's reply. We had this fodder crisis in the spring and I could quote to the Minister what was said then. He mentioned the idea of a census for food. There is no food because it has stopped growing. We all enjoy this hot weather but it is having a huge impact on grass, which is not growing. Second-cut silage has been cut to feed the animals and root crops such as corn, spring cereals, sugar beet, fodder beet and potatoes are in an awful crisis. The time for censuses and counting is over. That is only waffle. We can see that the fields are barren. They will hardly get much growth back now. We need real, cohesive action. Counting the amount of fodder in September is quite plainly an insult to farmers because they have opened the silage pits and are feeding their animals with what they had saved in the first cut. If the second cut grew, it is wilting. I saw them cutting it last week because it was melting away. They had to bring it in earlier than usual and more of them are cutting grass to feed the cows on a daily basis.

Counting is an insult to farmers; they need support. The Minister referred to the banks giving them support. The banks do not support farmers. The Minister also mentioned Teagasc. Teagasc is responsible and has to step up to the plate. It has advised many young farmers to be way overstocked in terms of their cows. The next question, which is from Deputy Eamon Ryan, is relevant in this regard. Teagasc advised farmers to overstock and the banks threw the money at them. However, the banks are not there now to support them in the way the Minister has outlined. It is action we need, not counting fodder. It is an insult for a farmer to count what he or she does not have. Such an obligation belittles farmers. They are good, decent people who are suffering stress and mental health problems because of what is happening. This is an unprecedented crisis. We need action, not counting as if the Minister was playing bingo.

I appreciate that this is an extremely stressful time, particularly as it follows on from a difficult winter. The Deputy has not offered a single suggestion as to what might be done.

Action. Not counting.

All generics, not a single-----

Show me the money.

-----substantial action. There is a saying that what is not measured does not matter, and that is why we are conducting a census to find out what level of provision has been made already-----

The Minister is out of touch.

-----and what will be made in September. I appreciate that the Deputy may not wish to listen.

I am anxious to work in a collaborative fashion with all those who have something positive to offer or contribute. I have convened a stakeholder group.

It represents farmers, the banking industry, the co-op movement and the advisory service. All of the appropriate stakeholders, including my Department, are in there. They are all working earnestly to try to find a solution to a difficult problem. The last thing we need in this difficult period is an unfocused scattergun approach to the issue. That is why it is important to be able to measure and respond accordingly.

There is nothing left to measure.

Taking a census now and another in September will give us the knowledge bank with which to make informed decisions.

I do not want to disparage or scaremonger, but there is nothing left to measure, there is nothing left to cut and there is nothing left to harvest. This is unprecedented. The Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, is beside the Minister. He is a cereal grower. He knows about the stunting in growth. We know that spring barley is being cut with a foot of straw or less. There will be a huge crisis. We know a large volume of cereal was not even sown last year because of the economic situation. It is not viable. The time for counting, studies and focus groups is over. The banks are not our friends. Some of the co-ops are great and some of them are not. As Deputy Cahill and others have said, the meat factories are exploiting this. It is time for action. The Minister should give over with the census and the counting because there is nothing to count. People are counting their anguish. It is traumatic for farmers to watch this. We are going to have huge issues maintaining water supplies for them come September because of the prolonged drought. When the Minister comes back here in September we will be in a real crisis. That is why I thought there would be some cohesive action. He did not act during the crisis in spring. I am thankful that we got through that but this is an unprecedented crisis that is recognised worldwide. It is insulting to use the language of counting and censuses because there is nothing to count apart from stock that are hungry. We see crops wilting away and melting. There will be no supplies at all for the winter following last spring, the failure to grow this summer and this real crisis in growth.

I note that in the context of the two opportunities the Deputy has had to contribute-----

We need action. Deputy Creed is the Minister; I am not.

-----he has talked a lot about action but he has not made one single constructive proposal.

I have called for cohesive action and finance.

At least the Deputy's county colleague had a number of constructive proposals to make. The Deputy has not made one but has just-----

The Minister can keep counting and doing censuses.

-----ranted about the issue. We can all make noise about the matter. This requires focused concentration on solutions.

We need action, not words.

Agriculture Industry

Eamon Ryan


5. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if his Department has carried out research on the optimal size of the national cattle and sheep herd in the context of fodder and emissions. [32067/18]

The solution I have is to start destocking. We are overstocked. We hear every farmer around the country saying that because the physical reality is that we cannot feed our cattle, not to mention the issue of emissions. We have a 50 million tonne overshoot which we have to deal with by 2030. The agriculture industry has to play its part in that. We also have to destock because of water pollution. It is becoming increasingly clear that we cannot feed our cattle and sheep. They have increased in numbers. We have added 1 million cattle and an extra 1.5 million sheep in the past five years and we cannot feed them. Has the Minister done research on the optimal number? What should our herd size be?

Agriculture, as our largest indigenous industry, plays a key role in the economy and it is important that we ensure the continued development of our agrifood sector.  Food Wise 2025 sets out a cohesive, strategic plan for the sustainable future growth and development of the sector, with sustainability as a core pillar of the strategy, which I advise the Deputy to read. The recently published Teagasc report, An Analysis of Abatement Potential of Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Irish Agriculture 2021-2030, highlights the potential for greenhouse gas abatement to limit the emissions from the agriculture, forest and land use sectors over the period 2021 to 2030 and outlines the types of abatement options available. My officials are actively engaged in reviewing these options.

A 2013 report by Teagasc concluded that there was an excess of grass to feed livestock under present numbers. Meeting the increasing demand for grass supply, responding to increases in livestock numbers, will require increased levels of soil fertility and grassland management coupled with increased levels of grass utilisation. One of the key early findings emerging from the analyses of data captured in PastureBase Ireland indicates that many farms have the potential to increase their grass growth. If soil fertility and grazing management can be improved, farms are capable of increasing grass production.

My Department and its agencies, Teagasc and Bord Bia, have a strong focus on improving grassland and nutrient management with measures such as Grass10; nutrient management planning, NMP, online; and the pasture profit index in place. My Department and its agencies also have a strong focus on improving the efficiency and sustainability of farming and have invested heavily in a number of schemes and measures such as the Origin Green initiative, the beef data and genomics programme and the green, low-carbon, agri-environment scheme, known as GLAS.  Our knowledge transfer programmes are key to bringing the latest innovative sustainability research and practices direct to farmers. We are also actively promoting the adoption of technologies, for example, the funding of low emission slurry spreading equipment under targeted agricultural modernisation schemes, TAMS, and research findings, for example, soil fertility and other mitigation actions to promote efficiency and sustainability.

During the fodder crisis in 2012-2013 a report was commissioned by Stop Climate Chaos which was carried out by Dr. Stephen Flood from the National University of Ireland Maynooth. He set out the research, which is clear. The research projected that there would be a 17% increase in winter rainfall and a 25% decrease in summer rainfall, particularly in the south east and on its coast, because of climate change. It suggested that would have a potential cost of €2 billion for the agriculture industry. That would dwarf the €1.5 billion gain expected from Harvest 2020, which led into Food Wise 2025. That is what is happening. It is not a surprise and it is not unexpected; it is exactly what the scientists said would occur. We have to react to it for climate emissions reasons, but also for the sake of farming. We have been whipping farmers towards every greater numbers, ever more intense practices and ever larger herds and then this summer we find, as various Deputies have said, that the livestock are eating the first crop of silage. Please God there will be a second crop but at the moment one would not bet on it. What are they going to do in the autumn and winter? They are the patsies. They are the guys and women who are at the sharp end in respect of this processing industry. The likes of Larry Goodman are not going to have a hard winter, but the guys on the front line who lean on this and who are paying for everything are the ones getting caught out in this squeeze. We should change plan and change strategy for the sake of Irish farmers.

Some of the Deputy's message is important, but some of his lack of knowledge or willful ignorance of the initiatives we are taking is offensive to the farming community generally. He should bear in mind that the Paris Accord says we should meet our climate change objectives without compromising food production. What is the point in dismantling a carbon-efficient system of food production only to replace it with production which is not as carbon-efficient in other countries? The Deputy needs to be aware of how efficient our production is per unit of output relative to our competitors. People will source protein one place or another and it is best that they source it from the people who are most efficient. Even the Paris Accord, to which we ascribe and whose targets we are legally obliged to achieve, recognises that.

In the context of fodder crises, it is important that we do not talk ourselves into a situation in which the current difficulties we face are used against us in the international marketplace. In the context of the crisis in spring, which we dealt with, we imported the equivalent of eight hours' feed for a bovine population of 7 million. We have difficulties but they are not issues of national crisis. We need to be careful not to talk ourselves into a situation in which we impose unnecessary damage on the sector. I beg the indulgence of the Chair to continue on this matter. We are spending huge amounts. I heard the Deputy talking about hedgerows in this Chamber a couple of nights ago. We are spending huge amounts - hundreds of millions of euro - under GLAS on planting thousands upon thousands of hectares of new hedgerows, thereby increasing biodiversity and improving water quality. We are improving the genetic merit of our beef herd by investing more than €250 million in ensuring herd fertility and that cattle are slaughtered earlier so they have a lower carbon footprint. That will yield a dividend over time. It is offensive to say that Origin Green is fake news, which I heard the Deputy say at our CAP consultation process. It was a missed opportunity for him to engage in a more detailed way on the issues when he attended the consultation. We have things that we can take from the Deputy's copybook. They are things we are obliged to do anyway.

We will engage in a detailed and respectful debate. We have to do this. It is important that we get the environmental and agricultural interests together. I believe we are allies, as I said at the conference the Minister held in Newbridge last week. However, there are certain things we stand by and I stand by John Sweeney when he says the 2.5 million additional animals have introduced to the country since Dr. Stephen Flood wrote his report are creating emissions that will be there for generations.

It is a question of the quantity released. Every country will face this issue. It is not as if we will face a challenge while Brazil, Mexico and so on will not. They will face a similar challenge. We must achieve net real reductions.

As to solutions, I believe in diversification. We only imported eight hours' worth of fodder in the most recent crisis but we are importing a large volume of soya and other meal. Our cattle are not completely grass fed. According to the statistics, we are significantly dependent on food imports to feed ourselves. One solution for Irish agriculture is to give people in that sector a much better price for meeting some of our food needs by diversifying our agricultural system as opposed to being overdependent on intensive cattle farming in particular, which is damaging our water supplies and is methane intensive. Nor can we feed our cattle. This triple whammy should form part of the argument.

A final response from the Minister, please.

To everyone who says there is no problem and we can feed our cattle-----

There has to be some order in the House. A final response, please.

My apologies. It is patent that we cannot feed our cattle.

It is important to base this debate on facts. Our bovine herd number has increased by approximately 300,000. The Deputy's figures are not correct.

I am using the figures from Dr. Flood's paper on-----

Deputy, I have told you to allow the Minister to respond.

Since the abolition of quotas, our herd number has increased by 300,000. I will revert to the Deputy with the specific details but I would suggest that our herd number has been larger previously than it is today. It is important that we base our debate on facts.

We have things we need to do. Teagasc's recent work has been important in terms of building a collaborative approach to a significant challenge. What is the purpose of dismantling or denigrating an industry that is among the most carbon efficient? We need to do more, and will do so, across all sectors, including marine, dairy and beef. However, to denigrate the industry's efforts and not to acknowledge what has been achieved in facing up to significant challenges is seen by the industry as hectoring and lecturing rather than an attempt to work with it.

May I make a quick response to that?

No, there is no-----

That was very personal.

I am sorry, but the Deputy has had two questions. I am here to implement the rules, and I will-----

We will not hector or lecture our farmers. We will support them.

I remind Members that we have only dealt with five questions. That is a bad record. Perhaps I am to blame, so I will ensure that Members only have their two and one-minute slots from now on, as the case may be.