Forestry Sector

Ceisteanna (61)

Paul Murphy

Ceist:

61. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on the recommendation made by the Youth Assembly to guarantee that 10% of agricultural land is reserved for forestry to increase the overall forest cover here, which is below the EU average. [49011/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

I would like first of all to congratulate the participants in the youth assembly forum and to commend their interest in expanding Ireland's overall forest cover. There has been a significant expansion in the forest estate from 1% at the turn of the 20th century to 770,000 hectares or 11% today, but this is indeed well short of the EU average. It is our clear intention, as outlined in the Climate Action Plan, to increase this percentage by facilitating the planting of 8,000 hectares per year.

Support for afforestation is delivered through the generous grants and premiums available, across 12 different planting categories which offer real options to suit every landowner. Under this afforestation scheme, my Department covers 100% of the cost of establishing new forests and also provides annual premium payments which are paid for 15 years. It is notable that during the course of the Forestry Programme so far, this approach has resulted in 2,500 farmers planting a total of 16,000 hectares of forestry on their land.

In relation to setting aside 10% of agricultural land for forestry, I believe that farmers must make choices that suit their individual farming enterprises. I would rather present forestry as a viable option for farmers to supplement their farming enterprise, rather than having a compulsory set aside area.

However, we will be introducing a new forestry programme in due course, and that will provide an opportunity to review the current schemes and configure them to maximise the incentive to plant forestry.

Fish Quotas

Ceisteanna (62)

Thomas Pringle

Ceist:

62. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the way in which north west scientific quota for herring impacts on the Lough Foyle herring fishery; his view on whether it should be managed separately; if vessels and skippers have to show tract record specifically on that fishery in order to have received a quota allocation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49081/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

The boundary line between the herring stock in 5b,6b and 6aN (6aN) and the herring stock in 6aSouth, 7b and 7c (6aS 7bc) is along the 7degree west line which cuts through the Foyle. Although they are considered to be separate stocks, herring in the southern part of 6a and 7bc is combined with that from the northern part of 6a by ICES for the purposes of assessment. This is because the survey and catch data that informs the assessment includes mixed aggregations of herring. Currently, work is underway to determine markers (genetic and physical) which may be used to separate the stocks in the survey and in any potential mixed catches.

As herring in both stock areas are in a depleted state, ICES has advised zero catches since 2016 for each. However, ICES also advises that a low level of catch could be taken to facilitate sampling of the stock in support of the stock assessment and the ongoing genetic work on stock identity.

The EU set a TAC of 5,800 t each year from 2016-2019 with 4,170 t allocated to 6aN and 1,630 t allocated to 6aS 7bc. The proposal for 2020 is 17% decrease for both areas to bring the TACs into line with ICES advice. The herring caught in the Foyle cannot be considered a separate herring stock and there is no case that it should be subject to a separate TAC and quota regime. The 7W meridian which divides the two stock areas cuts through the Foyle, much of Lough Foyle is west of 7W and thus can be considered as part of the 6aS 7bc TAC area.

The 2012 herring management policy has been set aside because this is a scientific data collection fishery which is being made available to support sampling to provide a more accurate picture of the state of the stock. The arrangements in place for 2019 have been discussed and proposed by industry following a meeting of industry stakeholders held on 26 July 2019. The arrangements provide opportunities for 19 under 12m vessels which did not have a track record under the 2012 herring policy. Other category of vessels in the fishery were required to have the track record as set down in the 2012 policy. Vessels were invited to book into the fishery and were selected by lottery. The fishery opened on 28 October.

Forestry Sector

Ceisteanna (63)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

63. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to make forestry a more attractive option for farmers. [49107/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

I recognise that farmer engagement is vital to the success of the national afforestation programme and that their active participation over the years has increased Ireland's forest cover significantly. The supports currently offered under the forestry programme cover 100% of the cost of establishing new forests and also provides annual premium payments which are paid each year for 15 years. For native woodlands, these annual premiums can be as high as €680 per hectare. We will continue to offer these supports, which can and have been used by farmers as income which supplements their farming enterprise.

It is my firm belief that the concept of "farm forestry" should remain at the heart of our promotion of forestry to farmers. This is to say that forestry becomes part of the farm enterprise alongside other production and not necessarily the sole enterprise. This is key to diversifying the farmer's income.

We also provide generous supports for farmers and other landowners after they have planted. These support measures include funding for the construction of forests roads, thinning of broadleaves and knowledge transfer groups. During the current year, my Department introduced a number of new schemes to further promote forestry. These included a second grant for thinning broadleaves, supports for transitioning to a continuous cover forestry management model and a new Woodland Environmental Fund.

I accept that, in recent times, fewer farmers have opted for forestry. This can be attributed to a variety of reasons, some of which relate to competing sources of income and other considerations such as a negative perception of forestry, an attachment to conventional farming and a perception that there are significant administrative and technical barriers to approval.

As regards other barriers to farmers planting, we are currently reviewing the COFORD Forestry Land Availability Implementation Report recommendations in this regard. We will also have an opportunity under the next CAP to integrate forestry more fully across our agricultural schemes and to promote the inclusion of farm forestry as part of a successful farming enterprise.

Finally, I am committed to promoting the many multifunctional benefits of forestry. We are funding 15 promotional projects throughout the country as well as Teagasc initiatives which provide advice directly to farmers on how to incorporate forestry into their holdings and how to manage their forest asset.

Genetically Modified Organisms

Ceisteanna (64)

Brian Stanley

Ceist:

64. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to prohibit the cultivation of genetically modified organisms here, including the importation of GMO grain. [48951/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

As the Deputy will be aware, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment (supported by the Environmental Protection Agency) is responsible for the authorisation of GM crops for cultivation, while my Department regulates its use, once authorised. Additionally, my Department has responsibility for the regulation of EU authorised GMO's used in animal feed.

In respect of cultivation, in 2018, the Government approved the transposition of Directive 2015/412 which will enable, though not compel, Ireland to opt out of cultivation of GMO crops approved for cultivation elsewhere in the EU. There are no approved GM crops cultivated in Ireland currently.

Notwithstanding the transposition of this Directive, the Government keeps Ireland's GMO cultivation policy under ongoing review, particularly in light of scientific developments in this rapidly evolving sector.

All applications for authorisation by the EU to place feed products consisting of, or containing, genetically modified ingredients on the markets of Member States are considered individually. Irish Government policy is positive but precautionary on biotechnology and a common voting position is adopted by Ireland for food and feed on the basis of a favourable opinion from European Food Safety Authority and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.

Common Agricultural Policy Negotiations

Ceisteanna (65)

Michael Moynihan

Ceist:

65. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if the 5% cut in the CAP budget was discussed at the October 2019 agri-fish Council meeting; and if he made a contribution to the debate to outline his position. [43554/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

At the October 2019 Agri-Fish Council, the Finnish Presidency presented a ‘state-of-play’ paper on the CAP post-2020 reform package, where my Ministerial colleagues and I exchanged views on the key issues that are deemed to require further consideration.

While funding for the CAP is outside the remit of Agriculture Ministers, I have been working with my European counterparts to raise awareness and build consensus around maintaining a strong CAP budget post 2020. In May 2018, I co-signed a Joint Memorandum in Madrid, calling for the CAP budget to be retained at current levels for the EU 27 post-2020. This memorandum was widely supported by 20 other EU Agriculture Ministers. At the October 2019 Agri-Fish Council, I joined with 16 EU Agriculture Ministers to reiterate the call for the CAP budget to be maintained post-2020, to meet the new challenges faced by European agriculture and forestry.

I have always stated that the proposed cut is unacceptable for Ireland. I have used every opportunity in the course of discussions at EU Agriculture Council meetings to call for the CAP budget to be maintained.

Negotiations on the MFF proposals are running in parallel to the CAP post-2020 negotiations, and agreement requires unanimity at the EU Council. There are diverging views amongst Member States on the appropriate level for the budget, and further discussion is required before agreement can be achieved. The impact of Brexit further compounds the budgetary issue, with some €12 billion per annum in UK net contributions being removed from the EU budget post-2020.

I will continue to work with my European counterparts with a view to maintaining the CAP budget as the negotiations for the CAP post-2020 and its budgetary allocations progress.

Agrifood Sector

Ceisteanna (66)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

66. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the extent to which he remains satisfied that the agrifood sector will continue in line with expectations while at the same time meeting carbon reduction targets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49102/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

Food Wise 2025 is the current ten-year strategy for the agri-food sector and it underlines the sector’s unique and special position within the Irish economy and illustrates the potential which exists for the sector to develop further. Food Wise contains a vision of thriving primary producers and agri-food businesses at the heart of vibrant communities across the country and was built upon five cross-cutting themes – environmental sustainability, market development, competitiveness, innovation and human capital.

The Food Wise 2025 strategy aims to grow the Irish agri-food sector in an economic, environmental and socially sustainable manner, building on our strengths in the production of safe, healthy and nutritious food. In terms of carbon footprint per unit of output, Ireland is already one of the EU’s most efficient producers of milk and beef. Under Food Wise we are implementing measures to drive down the carbon intensity of our food production even further, resulting in both economic returns and environmental sustainability.

Preparations are now underway for the next ten-year strategy for the agri-food sector to 2030. A public consultation was launched in July to ascertain the views of all stakeholders on the direction of the sector to 2030 and a national stakeholder consultation event was held on 16 October in the Aviva Stadium.

I will shortly convene a Committee made up of representatives from across the sector. The Committee will be tasked with preparing a strategy for the development of the agri-food sector for the period to 2030. The strategy will outline the vision and key objectives, with associated actions, required to ensure the economic, environmental and social sustainability of the agri-food sector in the decade ahead. A Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) will also be conducted in parallel with the work of the Committee. This is to ensure that environmental considerations are fully integrated into the preparation of the strategy and is a legal requirement. It is anticipated that the overall process will be complete, and the new strategy launched in mid-2020.

The All-of-Government Plan to tackle climate breakdown identifies a series of actions for the agriculture, forestry and land-use sector that ensure a fair contribution from agriculture and land use to our transition to a low carbon economy and society. This reflects our policy approach to achieving carbon neutrality without comprising sustainable food production and sets a target to reduce emissions from agriculture by between 10 - 15% by 2030, which is extremely ambitious.

The Teagasc Marginal Abatement Cost Curve (MACC) provides a suite of actions that provide opportunities for emissions reductions including both efficiency measures, such as the Dairy EBI programme, and technical measures such as changes in fertiliser type or low emissions slurry spreading. This is in addition to a series of forestry and bioeceonomy measures.

Reducing emissions between now and 2030 will require us to manage the emissions profile from the sector between now and then through mobilisation of as many of these actions as possible, as early as possible, with high rates of adoption across our 139,000 farms.

Common Agricultural Policy Negotiations

Ceisteanna (67)

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

67. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of discussions at the most recent Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting regarding CAP proposals post-2020 including transitionary provisions; if existing schemes will be rolled over in pillars 1 and 2; his views on the new green architecture proposed and targets for environmental measures set out by the Finnish Presidency for the next CAP. [49061/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

At the Agri-Fish Council on 18 November 2019, the Commission presented two proposals for CAP transitional rules. Such transitional measures are normal practice between consecutive programming periods, to provide legal and financial certainty where a gap arises due to any delays in finalising a new EU Budget and CAP regulations.

The recent Council accepted the need for such proposals and broadly welcomed them. However, discussions are ongoing, with a number of key issues yet to be agreed.

The Commission proposals provide he option to extend the current Rural Development Programme, in certain circumstances. It aims at providing certainty on the process around granting of support for the year 2021. Agreement on this regulation is not expected to be achieved until Summer 2020, subject to agreement on the EU budget. Discussions on this latter regulation will continue over the coming months.

The transitional regulations are complex and a number of issues need to be considered in more detail, in relation to the Rural Development Programme and how the transitional regulation will work in practice. I am continuing to work with the Commission and my European Ministerial colleagues to reach agreement on these important legislative proposals and provide certainty to Irish farmers at the earliest possible date.

I expect that the transitional regulations will, at a minimum, provide for the extension of the existing RDP into 2021 and there should be no interruption in direct payments. It may also be possible to provide for new Agri Environment, climate, organic farming or animal welfare schemes, for a maximum of three years. The precise arrangements will be clarified when agreement is reached on the regulations.

In the meantime the N+3 rule will continue to apply, so that scheme commitments entered into by farmers prior to the end of 2020 will continue to be honoured after that date.

Also at Council, my European Ministerial colleagues and I also had the opportunity to discuss the Finnish Presidency's proposal to set a single common percentage, or fixed amount, for environmental and climate purposes across the whole CAP Strategic Plan, as opposed to defined percentages for particular pillars.

I am a strong proponent of the higher level of environmental ambition in the next CAP and I am ready to explore all possible options. However, I believe the details of the Finnish Presidency's proposal will have to be developed further before we reach any definitive conclusions. It is essential that the proposed new environmental conditionality is implemented effectively, with common standards that are relevant and effective.

I took the opportunity to again reiterate that it is vitally important that the overall level of the budget acknowledges the public goods being delivered by farmers. Negotiations for the CAP post 2020 are still ongoing and I will continue to seek to secure the best possible outcome for the Irish agri-food sector.

Beef Industry

Ceisteanna (68)

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

68. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine when the beef market task force will meet; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49064/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

As the Deputy will be aware, the inaugural Beef Taskforce meeting scheduled for 14th October was prevented from proceeding. However, since then the independent chair and my Department continue to engage proactively with Taskforce members with a view to both progressing the implementation of the provisions of the agreement.

My Department and its agencies continue to progress the commitments which they signed up to under the Agreement. The full text of the Agreement between beef sector stakeholders, along with an update on the progress made on the action points to date, is available on my Department's website: https://www.agriculture.gov.ie/farmingsectors/beef/beeftaskforce/

An immediate increase in a range of bonuses was announced as part of the 15 September Agreement. It has been confirmed to my Department that this bonus system is now in place.

Initiatives in the Agreement aimed at improving information along the supply chain included the commissioning of the following reports: an independent review of market and customer requirements; an independent examination of the price composition of the total value of the animal along the supply chain; and a summary of competition law issues as relevant to the Irish beef sector. My Department has issued the Request for Tender for these reports, with a deadline for receipt of Tender Responses of 12 noon on Thursday 5th December. This will enable award of the tender before the end of 2019.

In relation to market transparency initiatives, my Department:

- has published an expert report on mechanical carcase classification review;

- has introduced an appeals system for manual grading; and

- has initiated a consultation process on the transposition of the Unfair Trading Practices (UTP) Directive, with a deadline for submission of 13 December.

Bord Bia has developed a beef market price index model based on 3 components: cattle price index, beef market price index (retail and wholesale) and an offal price indicator. This is now available on the Bord Bia website: https://www.bordbia.ie/farmers-growers/farmers/prices-markets/beef-market-tracking/

Teagasc is significantly advanced in the first stage of the scientific review of the Quality Payment Grid(QPS).

My Department is also proactively engaging with several potential beef Producer Organisations, which have to potential to strengthen the bargaining power of beef farmers in the supply chain. Two beef producer organisations have been formally recognised by my Department in recent months.

I established the Beef Market Taskforce to provide the leadership to develop a sustainable pathway for the future of the beef sector in terms of economic, environmental and social sustainability. As I have previously stated, it is in the interests of everyone involved in the beef sector that the work of the Taskforce goes ahead. I hope that all parties will agree to come together around the table as soon as possible in order to progress this important work.

Afforestation Programme

Ceisteanna (69)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

69. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to expand the national afforestation programme. [49106/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

My Department is fully committed to supporting the expansion of the national forest estate and will continue to fund new plantng through generous grant and premiums under the forestry programme, which has a very substantial allocation of €103m for 2020. This reflects our commitment towards working to the planting target of 8,000 hectares contained in the Climate Action Plan. I am more than aware that this level of planting will be challenging and that it will require shared action from the private sector, public bodies and the community at large, including business.

We are doing all that we can to expedite planning appeals. A report which we commissioned from an external consultant, reviewing our approval process, is due this week and will, I expect, contain recommendations which will make the system more efficient and effective. We will also be looking at other issues which affect landowner participation in the scheme and are currently reviewing the COFORD Forestry Land Availability Implementation Report in this regard.

It is likely that planting private land alone will not be sufficient to deliver 8,000 hectares, which is why Coillte's proposed planting of 1,500 hectares of former Bord na Mona land over the next three years is very welcome. I am hopeful that other public bodies will follow suit and will be looking for support from my colleagues in government, local authorities and others to help us achieve our national target.

Businesses too can play their part. A new woodland Environmental Fund provides an opportunity for businesses to contribute to the planting of native woodland. I am pleased to say that An Post has already partnered with us under the Fund and other businesses are about to do so.

We are also funding forestry promotional initiatives in the amount of nearly €1 millon and Teagasc is also actively promoting forestry through a substantial programme of education and forestry events.

I am confident that this suite of actions will lead to the desired increase in planting levels necessary to meet our target.

EU Investigations

Ceisteanna (70)

Pat the Cope Gallagher

Ceist:

70. Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of the investigation by the European Commission into the lack of control in certain areas carried out by the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority; the background to the investigation; the terms of reference for same; the timeline for the completion of the investigation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49070/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

Further to a 2018 audit carried out by the Commission in Killybegs in 2018 which identified “severe and significant weaknesses in the Irish control system”, Ireland received a formal decision of the Commissions intention to conduct an administrative inquiry to evaluate Ireland’s capacity to apply the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Principally, the Commission identified shortcomings related to the effective control of pelagic fisheries, issues related to underreporting of catches of these species, the inadequate and ineffective sanctioning system for offences committed by operators and the lack of control and enforcement of bluefin tuna catches by recreational vessels.

The formal administrative inquiry requires Ireland to provide information on these specific findings to enable the Commission to further evaluate Ireland’s capacity to apply the rules of the CFP and to assess the potential consequences of any failure to do so. The Commission will analyse the information provided by Ireland and identify any further steps or actions necessary. The Commission has set the 6th December as the deadline for the submission of the requested information.

As Minister, I have no role in the operational control matters which formed the Audit findings. The monitoring and control of fishing vessels within Ireland’s Exclusive Fisheries Zone are matters for the Irish control authorities. Under the Sea Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act, 2006, all operational issues of this nature concerning sea fisheries control are, as a matter of law, exclusively for the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority and the Naval Service. The issues arising in the administrative inquiry are operational matters for SFPA and, as Minister, I am precluded from getting involved in these matters.

In addition to this, Article 4 of Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 May 2001 regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents clearly prevents the release of documents relating to the administrative inquiry being made public.

Agriculture Scheme Data

Ceisteanna (71)

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

71. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of approved applicants to each 2019 area-based scheme in pillars 1 and 2; the number of applicants who were selected for an inspection; the number who have had their inspection and are awaiting their advance payment; the number who have had their inspection and received their advance payment; the number who have not had their inspection to date and are awaiting payment by county in tabular form. [49057/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

EU regulations governing the administration of the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), the Areas of Natural Constraints Scheme (ANC) and other area-based schemes require that full and comprehensive administrative checks, including Ground or Remote Sensing (Satellite) inspections where applicable, are fully completed to ensure eligibility with the various schemes requirements before any payments issue. There are certain minimum numbers of inspections that must take place annually under the various schemes. The regulations further prescribe that the inspection process must be fully completed before any payments can issue.

It is important to note that, in many cases, the existence of an inspection will not necessarily be delaying payment. In relation to the ANC Scheme, this scheme is subject to a range of eligibility and compliance criteria such as the requirement to meet a minimum stocking density in addition to maintaining minimum livestock units calculated over the twelve months of the scheme year. At this stage, a number of farmers are not eligible to receive payment as they have not met scheme-specific criteria. When an applicant meets these criteria, they will become eligible for payment, which will be processed promptly. Factors that may impact on payment issuing under BPS include, for example, applications to transfer entitlements, request for change in ownership etc., and officials in my Department are actively processing such cases.

Some 8,000 applicants have been selected for a Land Eligibility inspection in respect of the various 2019 area-based schemes. Where an application is selected for inspection under any of the area-based schemes, the outcome of that inspection applies to all schemes for which the applicant has applied.

The following table details the position on Ground and Remote Sensing inspections, as of 25 November, in relation to the BPS/Greening Payment and the ANC/Islands Schemes. I am providing this data at national level as the annual inspection programmes, including the risk analysis selection process, operates on a national basis. Therefore, any comparison on a county basis is meaningless.

Scheme

Number of Eligible Applicants

Number of Eligible Applicants Subject to Inspection

Number of Inspection Cases Fully Complete and Advanced to Payment Stage

Number of Inspection Cases Fully Complete and Paid

Number of Inspection Cases Fully Complete and Not Yet Paid

Number of Inspection cases to be Finalised

BPS/Greening

121,978

7,747

6,656

6,476

180

1,091

ANC/Islands

103,822

6,859

5,950

5,074

876

909

In situations where the inspection is finalised and an applicant is not yet paid, these relate mainly to cases where the scheme eligibility criteria have not yet been met, as I outlined earlier, or they have been finalised since the last run of scheme payments and will be included in the scheme payments commencing next week.

Regarding cases yet to be finalised, these fall into a number of categories, namely, applicants have been notified of the inspection outcome where an area over-declaration has been identified and a response is awaited; applicants have chosen to submit comments on notified inspection outcomes - these are currently being examined and are subject to final processing. The inspection results for the balance of cases are currently being finalised and will then be advanced through the final stages of processing promptly.

I can assure the Deputy that my Department continues to finalise cases including, Ground and Remote Sensing cases on a daily basis to ensure that BPS payments are issued as quickly as possible.

Payments under the Protein Aid Scheme, Young Farmers Scheme and the Beef Data and Genomics Programmes are due to commence in early December, therefore detailed data in relation to these schemes is not yet available.

Advance payments under the Organic Farming Scheme are due to commence this week in respect of cases where all administration checks and validations have been completed. Detailed data is not yet available for these payments.

There are a total of 328 approved applicants in the Burren Programme. 20 applicants have been selected for inspection, of which 13 have received their advance payment. The remaining 7 cases are subject to final processing and the advance payment will issue as soon as possible on completion of this process.

Fish Quotas

Ceisteanna (72)

Thomas Pringle

Ceist:

72. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the way in which he plans to integrate the protection of island fisheries in quota allocation under the Common Fisheries Policy as recognised by the EU Commission as a distinct sector but not here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49082/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

I wish to reassure the House that I recognise the value and importance of maintaining vibrant coastal and island communities. My Department and I have been creating and supporting policies to support inshore fishers all around the coast including islands. The majority of the fishing vessels based on islands are smaller vessels. Inshore fishing boats currently make up more than 80% of the fishing fleet and support an estimated 2,500 to 3,000 jobs. This economic activity is vitally important to the coastal communities around Ireland, including the island communities from which these boats operate. The national and regional forums are supporting initiatives that seek to protect the collective interests of the inshore sector in Ireland including on our islands. The NIFF has been effective in its participation on the Quota Management Advisory Committee, advocating on behalf of all small-scale fishers to influence how Ireland's uptake of quota is achieved.

In relation to quotas for fish stocks, these are available to small scale coastal fishermen who are licensed to fish for quota stocks including whitefish and pelagic stocks. Catch limits are set for whitefish stocks primarily based on the length of a fishing vessel. On this basis, all vessels under 55 feet in length receive the same catch limit. The important pelagic stocks of mackerel and herring already have allocations made available that supports inshore vessels.

In Ireland, quota is a public resource and this policy ensures that quotas do not become a saleable commodity that is bought up by large companies to the detriment of small scales operators, as has happened in other Member States. The result of this long-standing policy is that the Irish fishing fleet involves a balanced spread of sizes and types of fishing vessels which have retained a strong economic link with our coastal communities. This in turn delivers economic activity, including vital employment, in these communities where there are limited alternative economic activities.

On 21 December 2018, following a full public consultation process, I announced that vessels over 18m length overall will be excluded from trawling in inshore waters inside the six nautical mile zone and the baselines from 1 January 2020, with a phased reduction of the sprat fishery until 2022. I am mindful of the opportunity these measures will provide for further sustainable development of the small scale inshore sector to fish within this area and with lower environmental impacts.

The proportion of landings being foregone by larger vessels will provide opportunities to smaller inshore and island fishermen which would represent a potential increase of 62% in the value of their landings. Additionally, the increase in availability of sprat and herring (when stocks recover) to smaller vessels will represent a diversification opportunity as these species are found in bays and coastal areas during the winter.

I am very conscious of the exclusive reliance of small scale and island fishermen on inshore waters and the benefits this change will bring for those fishermen. I firmly believe that this will, in the medium term, provide ecosystem and nursery stock benefits for all fishermen.

Beef Industry

Ceisteanna (73)

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

73. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the measures he has implemented following the Irish beef sector agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49065/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

As the Deputy will be aware, the inaugural Beef Taskforce meeting scheduled for 14th October was prevented from proceeding. However, since then the independent chair and my Department continue to engage proactively with Taskforce members with a view to both progressing the implementation of the provisions of the agreement.

My Department and its agencies continue to progress the commitments which they signed up to under the Agreement. The full text of the Agreement between beef sector stakeholders, along with an update on the progress made on the action points to date, is available on my Department's website: https://www.agriculture.gov.ie/farmingsectors/beef/beeftaskforce/

An immediate increase in a range of bonuses was announced as part of the 15 September Agreement. It has been confirmed to my Department that this bonus system is now in place.

Initiatives in the Agreement aimed at improving information along the supply chain included the commissioning of the following reports: an independent review of market and customer requirements; an independent examination of the price composition of the total value of the animal along the supply chain; and a summary of competition law issues as relevant to the Irish beef sector. My Department has issued the Request for Tender for these reports, with a deadline for receipt of Tender Responses of 12 noon on Thursday 5th December. This will enable award of the tender before the end of 2019.

In relation to market transparency initiatives, my Department:

- has published an expert report on mechanical carcase classification review;

- has introduced an appeals system for manual grading; and

- has initiated a consultation process on the transposition of the Unfair Trading Practices (UTP) Directive, with a deadline for submission of 13 December.

Bord Bia has developed a beef market price index model based on 3 components: cattle price index, beef market price index (retail and wholesale) and an offal price indicator. This is now available on the Bord Bia website: https://www.bordbia.ie/farmers-growers/farmers/prices-markets/beef-market-tracking/

Teagasc is significantly advanced in the first stage of the scientific review of the Quality Payment Grid(QPS).

My Department is also proactively engaging with several potential beef Producer Organisations, which have to potential to strengthen the bargaining power of beef farmers in the supply chain. Two beef producer organisations have been formally recognised by my Department in recent months.

I established the Beef Market Taskforce to provide the leadership to develop a sustainable pathway for the future of the beef sector in terms of economic, environmental and social sustainability. As I have previously stated, it is in the interests of everyone involved in the beef sector that the work of the Taskforce goes ahead. I hope that all parties will agree to come together around the table as soon as possible in order to progress this important work.

Beef Industry

Ceisteanna (74)

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

74. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine when the first meeting of the beef market task force will take place; the agreed timeline for action; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49059/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

As the Deputy will be aware, the inaugural Beef Taskforce meeting scheduled for 14th October was prevented from proceeding. However, since then the independent chair and my Department continue to engage proactively with Taskforce members with a view to both progressing the implementation of the provisions of the agreement.

My Department and its agencies continue to progress the commitments which they signed up to under the Agreement. The full text of the Agreement between beef sector stakeholders, along with an update on the progress made on the action points to date, is available on my Department's website: https://www.agriculture.gov.ie/farmingsectors/beef/beeftaskforce/

An immediate increase in a range of bonuses was announced as part of the 15 September Agreement. It has been confirmed to my Department that this bonus system is now in place.

Initiatives in the Agreement aimed at improving information along the supply chain included the commissioning of the following reports: an independent review of market and customer requirements; an independent examination of the price composition of the total value of the animal along the supply chain; and a summary of competition law issues as relevant to the Irish beef sector. My Department has issued the Request for Tender for these reports, with a deadline for receipt of Tender Responses of 12 noon on Thursday 5th December. This will enable award of the tender before the end of 2019.

In relation to market transparency initiatives, my Department:

- has published an expert report on mechanical carcase classification review;

- has introduced an appeals system for manual grading; and

- has initiated a consultation process on the transposition of the Unfair Trading Practices (UTP) Directive, with a deadline for submission of 13 December.

Bord Bia has developed a beef market price index model based on 3 components: cattle price index, beef market price index (retail and wholesale) and an offal price indicator. This is now available on the Bord Bia website: https://www.bordbia.ie/farmers-growers/farmers/prices-markets/beef-market-tracking/

Teagasc is significantly advanced in the first stage of the scientific review of the Quality Payment Grid(QPS).

My Department is also proactively engaging with several potential beef Producer Organisations, which have to potential to strengthen the bargaining power of beef farmers in the supply chain. Two beef producer organisations have been formally recognised by my Department in recent months.

I established the Beef Market Taskforce to provide the leadership to develop a sustainable pathway for the future of the beef sector in terms of economic, environmental and social sustainability. As I have previously stated, it is in the interests of everyone involved in the beef sector that the work of the Taskforce goes ahead. I hope that all parties will agree to come together around the table as soon as possible in order to progress this important work.

Beef Exports

Ceisteanna (75)

Jackie Cahill

Ceist:

75. Deputy Jackie Cahill asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the expected tonnage of beef exports to China in the next 12 months in view of the swine influenza epidemic there; the measures Bord Bia is taking to maximise the volume of beef exports to China in view of the circumstances; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49127/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

Ireland gained access to the Chinese beef market in April 2018 when three beef plants were approved to export to China. Eighteen months later, 21 beef plants are now approved. The latest CSO trade data for the first nine months of 2019 shows that Ireland exported over 5,000 tonnes of beef to China, some four times the entire volume exported in 2018. This represents a very encouraging start to our beef trade.

The impact of African Swine Fever (ASF) has created a significant protein deficit in China, which has increased demand and prices for all meats in that market in the short term.

However, my main focus for Irish beef in China is on securing a high-value position for Irish beef that can be maintained in the longer term. Bord Bia's strategy is to differentiate Irish beef by growing recognition of, and preference for, grass-based, Quality Assured Irish beef in China. These brand building efforts are supported by online and offline promotions targeting trade, chefs and consumers. Equally important is a focus on building durable relationships and developing opportunities for a diverse range of beef cuts in foodservice, retail and e-commerce channels at regional level in China.

The enthusiasm and interest of Chinese consumers, food companies, leading chefs and food ‘key opinion leaders’ in the taste and quality of Irish beef was very evident during my recent trade visit to Shanghai and Beijing.

My Department's role is to open, enhance and maintain meat markets for industry. It is up to industry - with the support of my Department and Bord Bia - to exploit the opportunities created. The actual level of exports to any particular market in any period will depend on a range of factors, such as global supply and demand dynamics, currency fluctuations, consumer purchasing power and tastes.

Beef Industry

Ceisteanna (76)

Robert Troy

Ceist:

76. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the progress made to date with regard to the beef market task force. [49007/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

As the Deputy will be aware, the inaugural Beef Taskforce meeting scheduled for 14th October was prevented from proceeding. However, since then the independent chair and my Department continue to engage proactively with Taskforce members with a view to both progressing the implementation of the provisions of the agreement.

My Department and its agencies continue to progress the commitments which they signed up to under the Agreement. The full text of the Agreement between beef sector stakeholders, along with an update on the progress made on the action points to date, is available on my Department's website: https://www.agriculture.gov.ie/farmingsectors/beef/beeftaskforce/

An immediate increase in a range of bonuses was announced as part of the 15 September Agreement. It has been confirmed to my Department that this bonus system is now in place.

Initiatives in the Agreement aimed at improving information along the supply chain included the commissioning of the following reports: an independent review of market and customer requirements; an independent examination of the price composition of the total value of the animal along the supply chain; and a summary of competition law issues as relevant to the Irish beef sector. My Department has issued the Request for Tender for these reports, with a deadline for receipt of Tender Responses of 12 noon on Thursday 5th December. This will enable award of the tender before the end of 2019.

In relation to market transparency initiatives, my Department:

- has published an expert report on mechanical carcase classification review;

- has introduced an appeals system for manual grading; and

- has initiated a consultation process on the transposition of the Unfair Trading Practices (UTP) Directive, with a deadline for submission of 13 December.

Bord Bia has developed a beef market price index model based on 3 components: cattle price index, beef market price index (retail and wholesale) and an offal price indicator. This is now available on the Bord Bia website: https://www.bordbia.ie/farmers-growers/farmers/prices-markets/beef-market-tracking/

Teagasc is significantly advanced in the first stage of the scientific review of the Quality Payment Grid(QPS).

My Department is also proactively engaging with several potential beef Producer Organisations, which have to potential to strengthen the bargaining power of beef farmers in the supply chain. Two beef producer organisations have been formally recognised by my Department in recent months.

I established the Beef Market Taskforce to provide the leadership to develop a sustainable pathway for the future of the beef sector in terms of economic, environmental and social sustainability. As I have previously stated, it is in the interests of everyone involved in the beef sector that the work of the Taskforce goes ahead. I hope that all parties will agree to come together around the table as soon as possible in order to progress this important work.

Fodder Crisis

Ceisteanna (77)

Fiona O'Loughlin

Ceist:

77. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on whether there is sufficient fodder available for winter 2019-20 in the event of a cold snap; if an analysis has been carried out on fodder stocks for same; if he will be making changes based on the 2018-19 fodder crisis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49009/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

In 2018, a late spring and prolonged period of dry weather during the summer resulted in a difficult grass growing season in that year with subsequent reduction in fodder conservation. For 2019, Teagasc data, using its grass growth monitoring service, 'PastureBase Ireland', has shown that grass growth throughout 2019 generally returned to normal levels. These favourable growing conditions allowed for ample quantities of fodder to be conserved. This is supported by the fact that fodder prices throughout 2019 were significantly depressed on 2018 prices, indicating adequate supplies.

Whilst it is not possible to predict the duration or severity of the coming winter and its resultant impact on fodder availability, I am satisfied that there are currently sufficent stocks of fodder available. I can assure the Deputy that I, together with my officials, will continue to engage with stakeholders and closely monitor the situation over the course of the next few months.

Alternative Farm Enterprises

Ceisteanna (78)

Paul Murphy

Ceist:

78. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on the recommendation made by the Youth Assembly to invest in hemp farming and assist farmers in the transition towards more sustainable agricultural practices; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49010/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

I congratulate the participants who were involved in the recent Youth Assembly in the Dail and welcome their efforts in highlighting issues relating to Climate Change. One of their ten recommendations was the development of industrial hemp processing facilities in an effort to provide viable, sustainable and alternative land use for farmers as well as employment in rural Ireland.

As the Deputy may be aware, current legislation does not allow for the growing of hemp unless a specific licence has been granted by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) which operates under the auspices of the Department of Health. In addition, the cultivation of hemp (Cannabis genus) is restricted to varieties having less than 0.2% content of the narcotic compound Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Cannabis (which includes hemp) is listed in schedule 1 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2017, as amended which means it is subject to the strictest level of control.

Earlier this year, my Department concluded a broad consultation, which included relevant bodies/agencies, in an examination of growing hemp commercially. The consultation included the Departments of Health, Justice and Law Reform, the Health Products Regulatory Authority, Teagasc and the two representative bodies for Hemp.

A clear view arising from respondents in the consultation involved in regulation is that the domestic hemp industry should continue to be controlled and regulated by the Department of Health and that the current stringent controls in relation to growing hemp should continue. This strict regulation is in line with the situation in many other countries.

It is also clear from the consultation, and from meetings officials of my Department have had with industry representatives, that further in-depth research and financial analysis is required to be undertaken by the industry in order to determine if the establishment of processing facilities in Ireland is commercially viable. Currently, there are no processing facilities in Ireland. While my Department remains available to assist the industry, the Deputy should bear in mind that any developments in this area must be industry-led.

Alternative Farm Enterprises

Ceisteanna (79)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

79. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the steps he is taking to establish a biomass supply chain for the support scheme for renewable heat; the implications of the recent decision by An Bord Pleanála in west County Offaly for the establishment of a domestic biomass supply chain here; the status of Bord na Móna bioenergy plans; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49067/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

Through the All-of-Government Climate Action Plan, my Department is working closely with other government Departments to ensure Ireland's transition to a low carbon economy and society. While agriculture contributes to the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases, the sector also has the means to be part of the alleviation process and has a key role to play in transitioning to a competitive, low carbon, climate resilient and environmentally sustainable economy by 2050.

Ireland's long-term policy vision for the agriculture and land use sector is 'an approach to carbon neutrality which does not compromise the capacity for sustainable food production'.

While carbon neutrality is yet to be fully defined, our policy approach is based on three principles:

- Reducing agriculture emissions;

- Increasing carbon sequestration; and

- The displacement and substitution of fossil fuel and energy intensive materials.

Indigenous renewable energy plays a vital role in our domestic fuel mix and will become even more important in the context of reducing our reliance on imported fuels and in meeting our challenging renewable energy targets for 2020 and 2030 and decarbonising our energy systems by 2050.

Ireland has a 16% target for renewable energy by 2020 and the production of indigenous biomass has a crucial role to play in helping us meet this renewable energy target and my Department has a key role to play in the supply of biomass materials in this regard.

Through the forestry programme, my Department is committed to increasing the supply of biomass from Ireland’s forests. In 2018, 40% of the wood fibre used in Ireland was used for energy generation, mainly within the forest products sector, up from 34% a couple of years ago. This represents over 1.5 million cubic metres of wood fibre and includes, roundwood, sawmill and residues such as bark, sawdust and woodchip. The new Support Scheme for Renewable Heat is creating additional demand for biomass particular since the second phase was launched during the summer which will provide operational support for biomass boilers.

According to the All Ireland Roundwood Forecast 2016 – 2035, output from Irish forests is expected to double over the coming decades to around 8 million cubic metres. Most of this increased production will come from private forest owners. In fact, during 2018 total timber production from private forest owners exceeded 1 million cubic metres for the first time. In order to address the barriers that exist in mobilising this resource, my Department supports a number of targeted measures including the construction of forest roads to provide access to the timber, knowledge transfer groups to assist forest owners in managing their forests and grants for second thinning of broadleaves which provides an important source of local firewood.

The Department did previously operate a bioenergy scheme to facilitate the establishment of energy crops (including willow and miscanthus) for use in renewable energy production. However, due to a low uptake, the scheme was suspended from 2016 and there are currently no plans to re-introduce support. On-going support for the production of biomass will continue to be provided under the Forestry Programme 2014-2020 which funds private afforestation and includes a specific “forestry for fibre” scheme.

My Department continues to consider all opportunities for further developments in the area of biomass in the context of the next Forestry Programme and the next CAP Strategic programme, which is currently being developed.

The Deputy will appreciate that Bord na Móna is a commercial State company operating under the Turf Development Acts, 1946 to 1998, and, as such, operational matters are the responsibility of the Board and management of the Company. Therefore, neither I nor my colleague the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment does not have any statutory function in relation the operation of, or the sourcing of fuel for, electricity generation plants.

I understand from the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment that the decision of the ESB to withdraw the co-firing planning application for Lough Ree Power and to not submit a new co-firing planning application for West Offaly Power is unlikely to alter supply demand estimates for biomass with regard to wood energy to any great extent.