I propose to take Questions Nos. 457 and 461 together.
Food Harvest 2020 is the result of a collaborative approach to policy making and provides a vision for the beef sector developed and agreed by stakeholders, including farm bodies and processors.
In relation to the beef sector, the period since the publication in 2010 of Food Harvest 2020 has generally been characterised by increases in beef export values and cattle prices. As an indication of Government support for the sector, actions identified in Food Harvest and the subsequent Beef Activation Group Report as necessary for the development of the beef sector have been implemented. Indeed in 2014, I announced operational details of an investment package worth up to €40m to beef farmers in 2014. Among the measures in this investment package are €23m for a Beef Genomics Scheme, €10m for the Beef Data Programme, €5m for the Beef Technology Adoption Programme and €2m in residual payments under the Suckler Cow Welfare Scheme. The Government’s investment is a strong vote of confidence in the beef sector.
It would be unrealistic to think that the vision laid down in Food Harvest would never be challenged by market or other conditions. However, to view the significant progress made in the beef sector in recent years as a result of the commitment of Government, farmers and other stakeholders, through the prism of the current market difficulties alone, would, in my view, do a disservice to all of the stakeholders in this critically important sector. The principles laid down in Food Harvest constitute a vision for the sector which I am confident remains valid, despite the current price and specification difficulties. I am committed to ensuring that the measures announced this year, and the new Rural Development Programme, provide the tools to enable beef farmers to reduce costs and improve profitability and to make their enterprises more sustainable.
In relation to the current difficulties between farmers and processors, the Deputy will appreciate that ultimately questions of price and market specification are matters to be determined between the purchasers and the sellers of cattle and it is neither appropriate nor possible for me to intervene directly on these issues. Nonetheless I recently met farmer representatives and processors to discuss the current situation. Following that interaction, I am hopeful that the factories, in collaboration with the farming bodies, will be able to resolve the various issues that have lately caused difficulties for some producers. At my request, Meat Industry Ireland (MII) member companies have kept their livestock offices open to deal with farmers with any particular queries or concerns on the marketing of their stock. MII member companies have made available contact details for each of their main plants to enable farmers to phone them directly.
The relationship between processors and farmers is an interdependent one. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of both sides working together to manage the type and volume of cattle being brought to market so that the supply chain does not undermine the viability of beef production systems for either winter finishers or suckler farmers. The current situation clearly underlines the need for industry operators to improve communication on market trends and signals throughout the supply chain and to address supply chain issues in such a context. An industry-led solution to the current uncertainty is essential to restoring confidence in the sector and I would encourage the various stakeholders to continue their efforts to reach a mutually acceptable outcome.