During a discussion in the Dail last April on the Future of the Tillage Sector I welcomed the publication of the report on the ‘Future of the Tillage Sector in Ireland’ prepared by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The overall objective of the report is closely aligned with the actions for the tillage sector contained in Foodwise 2025, which is the blueprint for the development of the agri-food sector overall. As part of that Dail discussion I outlined a range of ongoing measures and initiatives that my Department provides in support of the sector.
The crop evaluation and certification programmes run by my Department are designed specifically for Irish conditions to improve productivity and competitiveness in the sector. Average yields of control varieties in the cereal Recommended List trials have increased by 27% over the last 21 years. These programmes provide essential information for the brewing and distilling sector as well as assessments on milling and agronomic traits.
As a further support to tillage farmers the Tillage Capital Investment Scheme under TAMS II covers specific areas of investment including Minimum Disturbance Tillage Equipment, Sprayers, Fertiliser Spreaders and increasing Grain Storage and Drying capacity.
In addition to TAMS, the GLAS tiered entry system prioritised tillage farmers who chose the “minimum tillage” or “catch crop establishment” environmental actions. Furthermore in order to assist tillage farmers, and in particular specialist malting barley growers, my department decided to grant a special exemption from the Basic Payment Scheme “three crop rule” to farmers that entered GLAS and committed to establish a catch crop on all of their tillage area.
Like other EU member states Ireland is deficient in protein production and imports a significant portion of its requirements each year. In this context I was pleased to be able to announce earlier this year the extension to the Protein Aid Scheme for 2018 with the same level of funding as 2017.
I have long believed that the elimination of fertiliser tariffs and anti-dumping duties would help farmers, including tillage farmers, reduce their input costs and have actively pursued this at EU level. The EU Commission undertook to complete an interim review of anti-dumping measures in relation to fertilisers in 2018 and my officials are now examining the initial outcome of this review.
In 2017 to support wider access to low cost finance, I extended the Agriculture Cashflow Support Loan Scheme to specifically include the tillage and horticulture sectors through the provision of national funds. In further support Budget 2018 provided for a Future Growth Loan Scheme, which will be rolled out in early 2019. The scheme will provide up to €120 million in long term, unsecured investment finance for farmers and small scale companies in the food and seafood sectors.
Finally, a key issue that will impact on the development of the agri-food sector, including tillage, in the future will be the outcome of negotiations on the CAP post 2020. I am committed to ensuring that the policy is adequately financed and measures are supportive of Irish agriculture.