Agriculture Industry (Private Members) 8.10.14

Agriculture Industry: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members] (Continued)

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Tom Fleming: Information on Tom Fleming Zoom on Tom FlemingWill the Ministers of State convey a very strong message to the Minister, Deputy Coveney, to urge him to do his utmost to address the ridiculous beef crisis and accelerate his endeavours to access new sustainable markets? Huge opportunities exist in the growing markets in China and India due to changes in lifestyle and more people choosing beef products. The live cattle export trade situation is exacerbated by the Russian ban.

The global demand for food is constantly growing and we have quality products to supply the market. Last weekend I saw the potential for quality food products in this country demonstrated at a huge food festival in Dingle. It was a great success with micro-producers who had a huge variety of indigenous produce. I am very sorry the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, was not able to attend but perhaps he will do so next year. It is going from strength to strength. I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, on her elevation.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Liam Twomey): Information on Liam Twomey Zoom on Liam Twomey There are eight speakers in the next slot, namely, Deputies Andrew Doyle, Pat Deering, Tom Barry, Helen McEntee, Michelle Mulherin, Noel Harrington, Martin Heydon and the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan. I presume the Deputies know how much time they each have so the clock will show the 30 minutes of the full slot.

Deputy Andrew Doyle: Information on Andrew Doyle Zoom on Andrew Doyle I welcome this opportunity to speak on this Private Members’ motion. I wish to clarify that the Pillar 1 single farm payment in Ireland will be reduced by €42 million over a six year period.

It has been stated in the House that food and food production are fundamental necessities of living, which means primary producers must always exist. As Deputy Stanley stated yesterday evening, one third of all farms in the country are not viable. As such, something is wrong with our model. To purely subsidise an industry without taking cognisance of the impact of this is not an effective way to give an adequate income to farmers. Farming is a business and several key measures must be taken to make farming a viable and profitable business. These include putting it in the hands of young trained people, but there is no mention in the motion of land mobility or access to the land for young people who are properly trained and focused, with the best of knowledge and research available to them, and with the support of other sectors such as banking.

Farmers should be given the power to negotiate and given a proper powerful position in the food chain. People are now prepared to show goodwill towards organising and legalising producer groups. We have seen how it can be done in a very effective way in Scotland with regard to shellfish production.

The evidence suggests the difficulties with regard to prices are improving. Four or five years ago, when the dairy milk price was at its lowest, co-ops were reducing the price. In the main these are farmer owned, but it is hardly likely the prices were being reduced by a cartel of farmer-owned co-ops. We should bear in mind there must be a balance in all of this.

The beef industry in particular is being discussed. This is probably the country’s single biggest component of agricultural production and exports. Traditionally it has not been the most profitable, unless one goes back many years. There has been a difficulty because it has always seemed that for one player in the beef sector to do well it must be at the expense of another. I am involved in the industry, and there has been no proper trust, dialogue or respect between the various stakeholders in the beef sector. To this end everybody with a desire for a stable and secure beef production chain needs to engage positively with the forum.

Presentations have been made to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine by various farming organisations and other representative groups. It is noticeable that when organisations such as Macra na Feirme, the young farmers organisation, and the Irish Farm Managers Association, members of which are not generally landowners, come before the committee all they ask is for the gate to be opened so they can proceed. They do not ask for a leg-up over the gate; they want a taxation code and structure to allow them farm whereby they make a profit and receive income from production at the farm gate.

Deputy Pat Deering: Information on Patrick Deering Zoom on Patrick Deering I am pleased to have an opportunity to say a few words on this important issue for Ireland. I am also pleased to see that Fianna Fáil has begun to realise the importance of agriculture to the Irish economy. For many years this was not the case but I am glad to see it is now.

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley Where did Food Harvest 2020 come from?

Deputy Pat Deering: Information on Patrick Deering Zoom on Patrick Deering I come from a town in Carlow where the sugar industry was closed down by Fianna Fáil. The town has never recovered. I am pleased to see this evening that Fianna Fáil is beginning to remember the importance of this industry.

CAP reform has been one of the big issues in the past year and much has been made of it. Some people are critical of it and others are not. I am still waiting to see Fianna Fáil’s policy on CAP reform. Deputy Ó Cuív suggested a €400 maximum amount per hectare should be allowable. Would Deputies Kirk and Moynihan agree with this? I am not so sure. Is Fianna Fáil in favour of the flat rate system?

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív No, we are not.

Deputy Pat Deering: Information on Patrick Deering Zoom on Patrick Deering What is Fianna Fáil in favour of? It flip-flops continuously on the issue. The farmers of Ireland—–

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley Deputy Deering might talk to his colleagues on the west coast.

Deputy Pat Deering: Information on Patrick Deering Zoom on Patrick Deering —–need to know exactly where Fianna Fáil stands on this matter.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív Read the document.

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley I know we are asking a lot of you.

Deputy Pat Deering: Information on Patrick Deering Zoom on Patrick Deering Much was made during the year of the difficulties in the beef industry and nobody would disagree with this. As a result of the difficulties, round-table discussions were established and to a certain extent these have been successful and need to be built on. Having all the stakeholders involved around the table is essential. There needs to be transparency in the area and this will be very important. A recommendation from the round-table discussions was the establishment of producer groups, which Deputy Doyle mentioned. These will be essential to give farmers buying power, which is very important.

The Competition and Consumer Protection Bill is another aspect to the motion. This time last year the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine did much work in this regard and discovered a number of anomalies. It published a report which recommended a statutory code of conduct. At the time I favoured this, but a Bill was passed in the summer which means regulations will be introduced and these will have more teeth. I encourage the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, to introduce these regulations as soon as possible to ensure we have fairness in the system. I welcome the comments made last week in this regard by the European Commissioner-designate, Mr. Hogan. I congratulate him and wish him well. I have no doubt he will carry the Irish flag high throughout Europe and unlike Fianna Fáil in the past, which refused to take up a particular position—–

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley What?

Deputy Pat Deering: Information on Patrick Deering Zoom on Patrick Deering —–he will not be found wanting in this regard.

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley Who is briefing that fellow?

Deputy Tom Barry: Information on Tom Barry Zoom on Tom Barry I welcome the opportunity to speak on agriculture. I represent the active farmer, which is important because we have many inactive farmers. What I do not like about the motion is that it represents a compensation culture, which is not where we want to go. What are the results of a compensation culture? Our beet industry is gone because of compensation. I thank Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív for his support in trying to bring it back. I was a young farmer in 1983 when one could not expand dairy herds because of the quota. We do not want to go there.

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Tom Barry: Information on Tom Barry Zoom on Tom BarryYoung farmers at the time abandoned colleges because there was no future for them. Opposition Deputies should not complain that the funds are down. We did not have an agriculture Commissioner and they know well why we did not have one. When we got one, his views on land and farming were completely different from what we have in this country. He also partitioned with the Greens and one has only to look at the results – no winter ploughing and difficulties with phosphates. We are changing that but it has led to a great deal of hardship for farmers. It is a very narrow viewpoint of the world.

The motion does not refer to tax reform. We need to free up land and reduce the dependence on conacre which is hammering the active farmer.

We have a very well educated workforce. We have invested in this workforce and we want these educated people to achieve their potential.

We also need to look at this in the rural environment not just from a narrow farming point of view. We need to look at getting innovation into our rural industries and encouraging people to move into diversification. The Common Agricultural Policy legal framework proposal contained a very good initiative, which fell through eventually, to give €85,000 per household to those who went on to diversify. We need to look at this. In times when agriculture suffers, diversification will provide people with an income.

I do not agree that throwing money at farming provides a panacea. We need sensible policies to encourage the people who are farming. I do not like a cribbing culture. Farming is not about a cribbing culture but is about production, looking forward positively and helping people to help themselves.

Deputy Helen McEntee: Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Private Members’ motion on our largest indigenous industry, agriculture. We do not need a Private Members’ motion to tell us; the facts speak for themselves. We have secured €10.7 billion in CAP funding and have added an additional €1.9 billion ourselves. I do not think we could make it any clearer how important agriculture has been and continues to be not just for the country but for the recovery of our economy, and not just for the beef sector but for all sectors.

We are talking about the beef sector in this debate. No one could deny that sector has had a tough few months and a difficult year. Prices are down 10% on last year even though we had an all-time high in prices last year. Farmers who bought store cattle at very high prices last year are losing money. They are not even breaking even. While we have a problem there, we cannot fix the prices. Prices are determined by supply and demand, and by influence of production, length of production, life cycle, market conditions, consumer confidence and so on. We know that confidence and demand for beef has dropped this year, not just in Ireland but everywhere. We have a surplus of more than 40,000 animals. We need to bring confidence back into the industry. We need to invest in the industry and we need to invest in our young farmers.

We all acknowledge that the horsemeat scandal has not done us any good, but we certainly have an excellent reputation in Ireland, especially when it comes to our traceability. Our animals are clean which is why we can see markets opening up again in the US and, one hopes, in China. I believe we will see the surplus of 40,000 slowly disappear and the process start to regulate, but we should not sit by and do nothing.

There is mistrust between the farmers and the factories. The factories had much to do with what has happened recently, as the Minister, Deputy Coveney, has acknowledged. He has spoken to the factories, but that is not enough. I welcome the efforts being made to try to balance the power along the supply chain through the Competition and Consumer Protection Bill. A number of people spoke about the establishment of a producer organisation in the beef sector. I have seen how Monaghan Mushrooms works. It is an excellent establishment and an excellent way of working. It could work for this industry. Certain problems could come along with that. We need to look possible processor feed lots. We have to be very specific in referring to the herdowner and things like that, but I think that can all be addressed in time.

We should not throw money at the problem. We need to invest. We are investing more than €40 million through different schemes this year, and we can build on that through the rural development plan that was submitted to the European Commission. I hope that with our new Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, we will be able to get something out of that.

We have an issue with losing Teagasc advisers in County Meath. I have raised it with the Minister on numerous occasions and I know he is working on it with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin. I ask him to continue working on it.

Deputy Michael Creed: Information on Michael Creed Zoom on Michael Creed I welcome the opportunity to say a few words in the debate. In view of the level of interest in the topic among all parties, perhaps the Whips might consider arranging a day-long debate on agriculture. It is very difficult to make a meaningful contribution in three minutes.

There is undoubtedly a problem in the beef sector. Depending on whom one listens to, there are a myriad of reasons for it and a myriad of solutions. It is important to remember we export 90% of what we produce. There is a very significant contrast between the dairy industry and the beef industry. The dairy industry is much more integrated. There is a relationship between the primary producer and the processor. That is not exclusively but primarily because of the co-operative structure which owns a considerable amount of the processing facilities. With beef it seems to be a continual fractious relationship between the primary producer and the meat plants. In the long term that is not a recipe for a successful enterprise.

I welcome the Minister’s beef forum initiative. We need to move towards more contract-based production which would give certainty in the area of price. There is a tipping point in the debate and we need to be very conscious of the consequences of going beyond that in terms of the continual criticism of retail outlets and processors in the beef sector. That is not to say neither is beyond criticism. We could have very useful contributions in a wider debate on how few players are involved in the processing sector in Ireland. If we go too far, however, there is a significant danger we might alienate customers. If some very significant purchasers of Irish beef, such as McDonald’s and Tesco, are continually pilloried, there is a danger that they could strike back.

There is another opportunity farmers could consider taking up but should consider history. Kildare Chilling is rumoured to be for sale. Perhaps it is time for farmers to consider whether they wish to enter the processing industry. There is previous history in this regard when Cork Marts got involved in meat processing back in the 1970s. It had plants in Grand Canal Street in Dublin, Leixlip and Midleton. Interestingly, Kerry Co-Op ultimately took over the Midleton plant. Cork Marts could not get out fast enough.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Liam Twomey): Information on Liam Twomey Zoom on Liam Twomey The Deputy should conclude.

Deputy Michael Creed: Information on Michael Creed Zoom on Michael Creed I will conclude on this point. Denis Brosnan, in his heyday in Kerry Co-Op could not get out of Midleton Meats fast enough either. We need to be very careful. Perhaps farmers might consider entering the processing industry.

I wish to conclude on the issue of Teagasc and research.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Liam Twomey): Information on Liam Twomey Zoom on Liam Twomey Deputy, I have to stop you.

Deputy Michael Creed: Information on Michael Creed Zoom on Michael Creed We need a parallel model to the suckler beef model.

Deputy Michelle Mulherin: Information on Michelle Mulherin Zoom on Michelle Mulherin Many of us are speaking on this agriculture motion as many of us represent rural constituencies. Many more sought to speak on it, as agriculture is the backbone of our economy and will continue to be into the future, but there are constraints on time. We need to focus on the real problems and how we might tackle them.

Apart from being confusing, the motion just seems to take a few random digs at the Government, the Minister and the way business is being done. That is not an issue. For example, the Minister played a blinder in the Common Agricultural Policy negotiations in securing €8.5 billion under Pillar 1 and €2.2 billion under the rural development programme, to which the Government is adding €1.9 billion. That success can be contrasted with where we started where farmers could have lost considerably more. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, changed the rules of engagement and how we would negotiate CAP. There is an equalisation or redistribution, but the initial scenario being pitched to farmers was going to be considerably more detrimental.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív What did he do for Mayo?

Deputy Michelle Mulherin: Information on Michelle Mulherin Zoom on Michelle Mulherin I do not believe that anything Fianna Fáil Deputies argued was helpful. If one could even be clear about what their message was, one could at least have the impression that it would lead to a cut of up to 30% in the funding farmers would receive under the Common Agricultural Policy.

As Deputy Creed said, the problem is with the beef sector. Many steps have been taken to try to address the problem. Farmers have invested a considerable amount of money in livestock and are out of pocket.