Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 8 December 2015
Select Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Estimates for Public Services 2015
Vote 30 - Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Supplementary)
Before the Chairman invites the Minister to speak, could we get an explanation as to why we only got the briefing note yesterday evening? Was another note provided this morning? I did not check. I thought we had a big debate about this the last time we discussed Estimates and it was agreed that we would get everything five days in advance. Will the Chairman explain what went wrong?
I will allow the Minister to respond. I ask members to switch off their mobile phones. The item on the agenda today is the Supplementary Estimate, Vote 30 - Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The meeting has been convened to consider the Supplementary Estimate, which was referred to the committee on 19 November with an instruction to report back to the Dáil not later than 9 December 2015. On behalf of the committee, I welcome the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, and his accompanying officials.
A briefing document has been prepared. I am aware the Minister has an extensive opening statement which members have only just received. Perhaps the Minister could abbreviate it somewhat. Does he wish to respond to Deputy Ó Cuív's question?
My understanding is that we sent the document on Friday evening, which was the last time the Department effectively updated the position. The point of a Supplementary Estimate is that it is essentially an extra Estimate before the end of the year, as things change all the time. The idea that we can give a week's notice misses the point of a Supplementary Estimate. This is about trying to get as accurate and as current a picture of the financial affairs of the Department, as they have changed. It is a good news story, which I will outline in a moment, as to why there is a need for a significant Supplementary Estimate. I take the Deputy's point that it is very hard for the committee to engage in a detailed way in a discussion like this without having time to study the figures in the different areas.
However, there certainly was no effort on our part to hold back information. We sent information knowing that we had a committee meeting today. My understanding is that it was forwarded on Friday evening. That is as much notice as the Department was able to give on this occasion in order that it could be as accurate and current as possible on the figures.
We should deal with this point before we move on to the bigger issues. The Supplementary Estimate was published two weeks ago and, to my knowledge, it has not changed. The figures published by the Government in the Supplementary Estimate are the same figures we are discussing today. Somebody in the Department gave this committee the definitive figures in respect of the extra moneys, which the committee would consider and the Dáil would approve. Somebody in the Department was able to tell us definitively what the savings were, heading by heading and subhead by subhead. That matter has been put to bed for the past two weeks. In regard to the actual Supplementary Estimate, nothing has changed in the meantime. A new Supplementary Estimate would have to be referred to this committee by the Dáil and it would then have to go back to the Dáil tomorrow, if the figures we are considering here were to change. Therefore, the Minister's explanation does not stand up in terms of why or where he needs the extra sums and how the savings found occurred. That has not changed since the Supplementary Estimate was published. The figures cannot change because they have been fixed since the Government published them.
I am told the figures could have been given last Tuesday but it was not put together until Friday. If the Deputy knew all the figures two weeks ago, he would have had the information two weeks ago. I am here to give a detailed brief on, and an explanation of, all the figures. We will certainly take on board Deputy Ó Cuív's point on giving more notice when we can in order that colleagues have more time to prepare.
The Minister acknowledged that the figures were ready on Tuesday, so five working days would have been from Wednesday until today. Perhaps it would have been better to have circulated them to members by Wednesday. The general point has been made. Members feel a bit uneasy about getting short notice. Deputy Ó Cuív refers to some completed documents, which were only furnished to members yesterday.
I accept the point made by the Chairman. I was away all of last week, as were some senior officials from the Department. A huge amount of work is going on in the Department at the moment in finalising multiple schemes and payments. I take the point we were a couple of days late and we will certainly try to address that.
I am grateful for the opportunity to present this request for Supplementary Estimates for 2015 to increase the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine Vote net of expenditure. This Supplementary Estimate will provide funding to address the exclusion by the EU Commission of €67.6 million from EU funding of various agricultural schemes for the seven year period from 2008 to 2014. It will provide for a transfer of savings from certain areas of the Vote to fund expenditure under the fisheries harbour scheme, the areas of natural constraint scheme, the world food programme and a top-up to the EU market volatility payment. It will also provide an increase of €39 million in the Department's permitted net expenditure to deal with a Commission decision, applying to all member states, to delay payment of some of their expected 2015 rural development receipts.
In mid-November the EU Commission adopted a decision to exclude a total of €278 million from 18 member states. The net Irish disallowance amounted to €67.6 million from EU funding of various agricultural schemes for the seven year period 2008 to 2014, inclusive. This consists of two elements; a €64 million exclusion for the period 2008 to 2012 and a €3.6 million exclusion for 2013 and 2014. It represents 0.57% of the €12 billion in EU funding for these schemes in this seven year period. The exclusions relate mainly to Commission findings that some aspects of Irish control systems are insufficiently robust in excluding ineligible land from payments to farmers and EU funded schemes. Other significant exclusions in the EU Commission's decision include €53 million for the Netherlands, €51 million for Italy and €37.9 million for the UK.
This decision is the outcome of a prolonged process which began with a proposed exclusion of €181 million for Ireland for the five years 2008 to 2012, suggested by the Commission in May 2014. At the outset the Department opposed the application of the proposed flat rate correction and sought a hearing with the EU conciliation body. The conciliation body acknowledged the amount of work done by the Department in reviewing over 900,000 land parcels using the land parcel identification system to identify and exclude ineligible areas in order to calculate the risk to the fund. The report of the conciliation body in early 2015 concluded that the Commission and the Department should continue discussing the matter with a view to a settlement.
During the year the Department undertook considerable additional work at the request of the Commission to give assurances to the calculated risk and it was subject to further verification and audit by Commission officials in May 2015. The reduction of over 60% in the final correction clearly indicates the Commission's acceptance of the Irish approach. It is important that this disallowance be considered in its proper context and in the manner in which other member states have performed in this respect. Since 2004, statistics have been collated which place Ireland in the best performing quartile of EU member states in this regard. A figure of 0.9% of total EU expenditure has been subject to disallowance in Ireland since 2004, a significantly lower figure than the EU average of 1.96%. The Department already has approximately €3 million set aside in the Vote as a contribution to this disallowance and that, along with the additional €65 million sought here today, will be used to address the implementation of EU funding.
While my Department has collected some €4 million in respect of overpayments but not penalties, following the review of land parcels, my clear preference at this stage is that the cost of the disallowance be borne by the State. This would be in line with similar decisions taken by many other member states on disallowances applied to their EU funds. There are a number of technical and accounting issues that arise which are secondary to the need to clear the disallowance, which is now a mature liability, being discussed. I have asked my officials to examine the matters involved.
On additional payments relating to the areas of natural constraints, ANC, scheme, the World Food Programme and the EU market volatility top-up payment, I am also seeking the committee's approval to use savings in the Department's Vote to fund other desired expenditure, while not changing the total allocation for the Vote. The proposed transfers and expenditure involve relatively significant changes to the original 2015 Vote allocations and it is important to seek the committee's input and approval. Specifically, I am seeking to transfer funding into existing subheads for the World Food Programme, areas of natural constraints and fishery harbours. I also wish to establish a new subhead in the Vote for a top-up on the EU market volatility payment. The €35.74 million in current funds and €3.5 million in capital funds required would be transferred from various subheads where, owing to changed circumstances, savings have emerged, most notably in the beef data and genomics programme, the seafood development programme and across a food safety, animal health and welfare programme.
The beef data and genomics programme is part of Ireland's rural development programme. There are 27,000 farmers in the programme which aims, over a six year period, to develop through a rounded multi-trait breeding strategy a national beef herd characterised by higher genetic merit animals. The aim is that this would not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions per kilo of output but would also result in improved production efficiency. For 2015, the first year of the programme, the allocation was €52 million. However, payments are expected to total €35 million, yielding savings of €17 million. This is primarily because a significant percentage of the applicants will not have confirmed completion of their requirement to submit performance data for calves up to five months of age owing to the timing of calvings on their holdings. Hence, they cannot be paid in the final 2015 payment run to December. Payments, however, will issue early in 2016 to these applicants with late calvings as they confirm their compliance with the requirements for 2015 born calves. In other words, farmers are receiving these payments, but it is bridging from December into January and from one year into the next. It is not the case that farmers are losing anything. They will be getting it a few weeks later because their calves were born a few weeks later. I understand one of my colleagues will be present later to discuss the beef data scheme in some detail.
Some €9 million was allocated in 2015 to meet current expenditure on the EMMF seafood development programme. It is anticipated that savings will arise owing to delays in the adoption by the Commission of the operational programme which, in turn, has delayed the launch of the new schemes by the Department. I am delighted to announce that our comprehensive €241 million investment package for the seafood sector has been adopted in law by the Commission and that the programme can now be implemented in full. This has just happened within the past two days. My Department has been working for some time towards this with stakeholders and the State agencies that will deliver the programme. I expect schemes to be rolled out from the beginning of 2016 to assist seafood enterprises to substantially grow their production, add value to our seafood exports and create much needed employment in coastal communities. The seafood sector is worth in the region of €850 million annually to the economy. I am aiming to achieve €1 billion in sales by 2020. It is expected that expenditure of €1.9 million will be achieved in 2015, allowing for a saving of €7.1 million.
It is also anticipated that savings of just more than €6 million will be achieved in the animal health and welfare area owing to a reduced incidence of disease.
This is a very positive story. These savings are mostly in the TB and brucellosis eradication area, where progress at reducing the incidence of TB has been maintained and the positive brucellosis situation continues. Expenditure on the control of horses scheme is also lower this year and there is a small reduction in the fallen animal scheme costs. Again, this is connected to positive animal husbandry and a lower incidence of disease. Almost €4 million in savings is expected from Teagasc and Bord Bia. These relate to savings on the 2015 pension allocation for these organisations, possibly as a result of the extension of the grace period for public sector retirements. Other savings are in the early retirement scheme and rural development technical assistance. Overall these current expenditure savings amount to just in or about €35 million and these savings, with the committee's approval, will be transferred to fund a number of measures.
The World Food Programme, WFP, is a United Nations organisation responsible for the delivery of food assistance to the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world. It partners with other United Nations agencies, international organisations, non-governmental organisations, civil society and the private sector to enable people, communities and countries to meet their own food needs. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is the lead Department in Ireland's engagement with the WFP. In recent years, my Department has provided €9.96 million in core multilateral funding to WFP. This amount is included in the Department's voted allocation.
On 6 September, Ireland co-hosted with Italy an event at Expo15 in Milan to promote the work of the World Food Programme and encourage donors to optimise their support for WFP by providing unearmarked funds to allow the WFP maximise flexibility to provide rapid responses to crises such as the Syrian refugee crisis. At the event, I made a commitment on behalf of Ireland to double its core annual multilateral contribution to WFP from €10 million to €20 million for the next three years. This commitment is a key commitment of the Government's enhanced and increased response to the ongoing refugee crisis associated with the conflict in Syria and represents a significant part of Ireland's contribution to the European Union's response to the refugee crisis.
In response to a significant price deterioration for primary producers in the dairy and pig sectors this year, the European Commission proposed a package of support measures worth €500 million. The Commissioner did a great job in that regard. Dairy prices in Ireland have dropped by 21% in the past 12 months and dairy farm incomes are expected to be down by up to 50% in 2015 compared to last year. This package of support measures was agreed by the Council of Ministers at its September meeting. Some €420 million of the funding is to fund direct aid for primary producers in the dairy and pig sectors. This funding was divided among member states based on certain criteria and Ireland's allocation was €13.7 million.
To reflect the fact that the package is intended to only partly cover the losses suffered by primary producers, the regulation allows for member states to supplement the allocation by up to 100%, which is, in Ireland's case, an additional €13.7 million of national funding. I am proposing to fund this national element with the savings on the 2015 Vote. Given the severity of the income decline, this additional national allocation will help to alleviate the risk coming in the pivotal period immediately after a quota abolition. This decline would undermine the potential contribution of the dairy sector to sustainable growth in output and employment in rural areas.
Deputies will be aware of the importance of the scheme of support for those farming in areas of natural constraints, heretofore referred to as the disadvantaged areas scheme. I am seeking the committee's approval to increase the 2015 allocation to this scheme to cover payments to farmers which relate to previous years. Payments under the ANC scheme start in late September but payments to some participants inevitably spill over into the next calendar year for various reasons.
It will inevitably spill over into the next calendar year for various reasons. That happens with schemes and it is happening with the beef scheme now. Accordingly the accumulated spillover from the 2013 and 2014 schemes into the 2015 financial year results in €195 million provided in 2015 being inadequate to fund all of the liabilities. The introduction in 2015 of the new islands category within the ANC under the RDP must also be accommodated.
On the capital expenditure side of the Vote, some savings will arise from the farm safety scheme, the final scheme to be launched in TAMS 1. I introduced the scheme in response to a number of farm debts last year - far too many unfortunately. While the scheme proved popular with approximately 4,500 approvals, expenditure has lagged behind as not all farmers approved had submitted claims by the scheme closing date in September. I have provided again for the safety measures under the animal welfare, safety and nutrient storage scheme in the new TAMS 2, which was opened to applicants in recent months.
Some €11.5 million was originally allocated to fisheries harbour centres in 2015. However, additional funding of €6.8 million has been required to complete the necessary capital works, €5.1 million of which has been found within the fisheries subhead. The additional €3.5 million required will, with the committee's approval, come from the unspent TAMS fund. The extra funding requirement is due in part to expenditure this year on some projects connected to storm damage that occurred in 2014: a delayed €6.4 million expenditure on a major dredging project in Dunmore East, planned for 2014 but which must now be funded in 2015; the local authorities harbour development programme; and the local authorities storm damage programme.
As well as having economic and developmental benefits in remote coastal areas, much of the work undertaken on harbours has health and safety advantages for seafarers and others. The Department's budgeted total appropriations-in-aid for 2015 come to €469 million, the vast bulk of which represents claims in respect of rural development expenditure for 2014 and 2015. It is now forecast that €430 million will be accounted for as appropriations-in-aid, which would represent a shortfall of €39 million in current receipts. This shortfall is due to a decision by the European Commission in mid-November that due to a higher than expected expenditure on new programmes in all member states, there would be insufficient EU funds available to pay all rural development claims fully in 2015. Obviously, that posed a problem for us because we had anticipated that money would come in.
It was announced that for member states' 2014 to 2020 rural development programme claims made in November 2015 a payment of one third would now be made in 2015, with the remaining two thirds to follow early in 2016. The November claims receipt would have been received in December 2015 and is critical to allow the Department to balance its net expenditure in line with voted expenditure figures for the year. The Commission decision creates a shortfall which this Supplementary Estimate will now address.
The Commission has assured member states that these receipts, which are not being paid in 2015, are protected and will be paid in 2016 from the EU 2016 budget. Our 2016 Revised Estimates, which will be published this month, will show an increase in appropriations-in-aid, above that which was produced in the Estimates Volume, to reflect this. Hence the issue is one of timing rather than amount to be recouped.
The amount being sought from the Dáil is €104 million and is essential for my Department to deal with the issues I have just outlined. I earnestly recommend the committee to give its support. I will obviously try to provide clarification or answer any questions members might have. I am conscious that this is a much bigger Supplementary Estimate than the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine would normally have.
I thank the Minister. I will call spokespersons and other members who may make a general comment at the beginning. Thereafter I ask them to refer to the subhead about which they wish to make a point. I ask them to confine themselves to five minutes in the first round and I will indicate when the five minutes are up. If they only get to two or three subheads initially, I will come back to them. This is to give the Minister a flavour of the general view across the room.
Before I come to specific subheads, at the end of November the Department's gross expenditure was behind profile by €115 million, with current expenditure at a figure of €87 million and capital expenditure at €28 million. This leaves approximately 24% of the original Estimate, before any Supplementary Estimate is considered, to be spent between now and the end of the year, or over 19 working days because this is a short working month.
Before we vote the Supplementary Estimate through, it is very important for us in considering it to have information on the areas in which expenditure is behind profile after 11 months. We are behind by a considerable sum which represents a considerable part of the Vote. Some 24% of the original Vote, plus the Supplementary Estimate, is to be spent between now and the end of the month. I ask for an explanation of this.
I have before me the published Supplementary Estimate. The Minister has stated the amount being sought from the Dáil is €104 million. The published Supplementary Estimate states the sum now required is €65 million. I know that the difference is the €39 million for ANAs.
Why is that figure not part of the Supplementary Estimate? Normally if ANAs come up short, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform asks for them to be taken out of the Vote. However, the Minister seems to be getting money to make up the shortfall for the ANAs and I am a little surprised not to see it included in the published Supplementary Estimate. There was no note in it stating there would be another €39 million in net expenditure at the end of the year. That is a very relevant point.
May I address that point because it is very relevant? We were preparing a first Supplementary Estimate that did not involve the sum of €39 million because we did not know about it. However, there was a second Supplementary Estimate that incorporated the figure of €39 million that did have the sum of €104 million. I have it here.
I can understand the confusion because we had been working on the previous Supplementary Estimate which was to be big and then we had this secondary issue in respect of the figure of €39 million that was not going to be in our accounts before the end of the year. We, therefore, had to add it. That is what happened, but I can understand the confusion.
On the money to be paid to the European Union, the net Estimate does not put one dime into farmers' pockets. All it does in the best case scenario is ensure another €65 million will not be taken out of farmers' pockets. We do not need to spend all day on that issue. I am glad that the money is not coming out of farmers' pockets as there would have been a bit of a row about it.
On the beef data and genomics programme, how was the original Estimate figure of €52 million calculated? Presumably, the Department had a profile of calving patterns and knew how many cows would calve after 1 July.
The Minister has argued that the reason for the shortfall was late calving rather than farmers not inputting all the data. The Department knows from calving patterns that a certain number of cattle calve after 1 July. Based on its data, what is the ratio of calves born after 1 July compared to the number of calves born before 1 July? How many animals or hectares - the use of hectares in the scheme is a fiction used for the European Union - did the Department expect the scheme to cover? The figure of €17 million appears to be a gross miscalculation by it, particularly if it is still claiming that the scheme will be fully subscribed. My suspicion is that €52 million will not be spent under the scheme in any calendar year. Is the Minister sticking to the view that when the full year returns have been made, €52 million will have been spent under the scheme or does he accept that there will be an underspend in the long term, unless it is reopened? We need the truth on that issue.
I note that provision is made for increased expenditure on the areas of natural constraints scheme. Is the underspend on the scheme one of the reasons the Department is behind schedule in its payments to date? If it expects to exceed the provision for the scheme by such a large amount - approximately €20 million - how does it propose to shovel out so many payments to farmers in the remaining 19 days of the year, especially given its inability to make payments this year to farmers who have been roaring down the telephone every day looking for their money? What is the actual expenditure under the areas of natural constraints scheme?
As the Minister correctly noted, many farmers will not receive their areas of natural constraints payment for 2015 this year. Why is there such a discrepancy between the figures for previous years and the figure to be carried over into next year? Does the Minister understand the point I am trying to make? It does not appear logical that the Department needs a significant amount of additional money this year because one would expect the unspent amount at the end of any given year to be roughly equivalent to the additional amount spent in the early part of the year to meet payments not made in the previous year. As such, one should not need to provide a lot of additional money for the scheme.
What is the estimated additional cost for the islands? This does not refer to the whole island because the islands are entitled to a payment in any case.
I will try to be positive. I welcome all additional moneys that become available for the various agricultural and fisheries sectors. I am familiar with the position of dairy farmers arising from market volatility in prices. I welcome the measures in place to support dairy farmers as I am conscious that dairy incomes are expected to fall by 50% this year.
The Minister expects the Department to make savings of €6 million in the area of disease eradication. Tuberculosis and brucellosis have not been eradicated and small pockets of the diseases can be found in various locations. Does the Minister believe the Department will be able to continue to provide a facility to try to eradicate these diseases if the budget for disease eradication is being cut by €6 million? Will additional funding be required in certain areas to ensure the good work being done across the island will continue?
I welcome the increase of €10 million in the allocation for the World Food Programme which provides assistance for the poorest countries. Ireland's contribution to the programme has been minimal in recent years and the increase in funding for the poorest and most deprived people in the world is welcome. The Minister also referred to an allocation of €20 million for Syria in the next three years. Is this figure distinct from the allocation of €20 million for the World Food Programme?
I will be glad to hear that is the case.
The issue of the hen harrier is a source of major concern for more than 4,000 farmers. Has money been made available to address their concerns? I understand 4,600 farmers have, effectively, had their land sterilised for many years. Is anything being done in that regard?
I welcome any positive measure taken for farming communities, particularly in weaker and more deprived areas.
I hope a scheme will be found for ordinary shopkeepers who are losing money also. Many of these businesses provide jobs, but they do not get a look in. I hope that, whatever the hue of the next Government, it will adopt the same positive attitude.
This is an important issue because if taxpayers had not picked up the tab for this additional allocation, it would have been levied on farmers. That is the story and it comes as a major relief to farmers. Members were giving out hell about eyes in the sky and various other measurements officials were taking. There was a legitimate expectation that everything would be done right. I salute the Minister for taking action in this regard and I am pleased this has been achieved. Thankfully, the economy has recovered to the extent that he is able to provide this funding. Four or five years ago, he would not have been given one cent for this purpose. From that perspective, this funding is welcome and I congratulate the Minister on securing it.
The initial figure was much larger, but the Minister and his officials brought the Commission around to accepting the bona fides of their argument for a reduction. From that viewpoint, while I can be as critical as the next person, I like to speak up when a job has been done well. Irish farmers will benefit from this achievement and I congratulate everybody concerned.
Initially, there were negative vibes about the beef data and genomics scheme and attempts were made to throw it off course. I stood 100% behind the scheme because I believe strongly that upgrading our herds is the only way to win high value markets. I know this to be the case from a suckler cow herder in my area. I advocated and exhorted farmers not to be taken in by criticisms of the scheme. While there is an element of red tape involved, people will accept it if they see returns of €150 or €200. The number of farmers participating in the scheme is approximately 3,000 lower than I expected. Red tape may be part of the problem, although I know that age is also a factor, as are changes in applicable years and so forth. I urge the Minister to ensure the scheme will not be short-changed next year and that sufficient money will be provided for it.
My only criticism relates to the targeted agricultural measures scheme, TAMS. I am not criticising what the Minister is doing as I regard the TAMS as a very good scheme.
A notorious number of farmers have planning permission and have been ready to go but there is no sign of approvals. The Government is in its dying days. A lot of farmers would lose out up to 40% if they went ahead. I would say to the Minister as well that it is an attractive buy. I accept it is a matter of numbers, but I know of some dairy farmers who are trying to get work done but who did not get approvals, and they were extremely disappointed.
We are trying to constantly upgrade. It is important in the overall context of all of the debates, for example, in terms of what is going on in Paris at the world climate conference. We must try to ensure that we meet the dates in any schemes we bring forward, from the departmental end as much as from the applicant's end. The Department is in a position of strength. The applicant is always in the weaker position and has to try to comply with all eligibility conditions, which are onerous, as they should be, to ensure that money is well spent.
Like Deputy Martin Ferris, I welcome the funding for the World Food Programme. The Minister gave a commitment in that regard and he probably did not expect to be doubling it so quickly, but he did well here. I certainly would support that. We are entitled to make that contribution. Hopefully, it will help those who have been suffering a great deal in terms of being dislodged from their environment, being relocated and becoming refugees. I genuinely support that provision.
On the market volatility payment, the Chairman has been careful to bring in all the interested bodies, especially the dairy sector, to discussed this. We have had representatives from the banks before the committee and others and have exhorted them to be fair to the farmers. Of course, the banks gave great promises and we will watch them with interest to see that they adhere to the commitments they have given. The Minister has matched it 100%, up the maximum that he is allowed. The farmers should acknowledge that.
On areas of natural constraint, I note, like Deputy Martin Ferris, that those concerned about the hen harriers were in here and made a cogent and powerful case which we supported. I hope the Minister can find some way to facilitate within one of those budgetary heads their legitimate desire to farm their lands, which are circumscribed by the imposition that has been dealing with the hen harrier, including the SACs and SPAs.
All in all, I welcome the announcement here today. It is a significant one in terms of the future of the agricultural sector.
Like the previous speaker, I welcome this Supplementary Estimate. It is encouraging, when one sees the overall figure for disallowances around Europe, that we are way below the average. It is 0.49% in Ireland and the overall EU average is 1.96%. That is, I suppose, how we end up where we are today. No doubt it would have been a bad news story if we could not come up with this funding for the farmers. It is a huge relief that they will not be liable for it.
I will return to a point made by a previous speaker on the volatility in the market. Deputy Penrose previously mentioned the volatility in the dairy sector. It is welcome that there was a good package put in place by the Commission and now the Minister is matching that funding by 100%. When does he propose to it to the farmers?
The dairy sector is in a volatile situation. It could be the beef sector next year and the tillage sector or another sector the following year. We are in an era of continuous volatility. Are there plans in the Department to have a fund in place to cover such eventualities for the future? It might be something worth considering in the event that there is a downward spiral in the future.
Regarding, in particular, Teagasc, and Bord Bia, I note in the Minister's presentation that the spend in Teagasc is 2% less, which is put down to there being fewer retirements.
Considering that Teagasc is going through a growth spurt with three times the normal number of students coming into the colleges and the expectation is that it will continue that way, should there be an increase rather than a reduction in spending or is it solely down to the retirement of staff? I was of the opinion that there are extra staff required as well. Extra staff were taken on board in Teagasc, particularly from an education point of view. The Minister might clarify that point.
On beef data, it is encouraging that a significant number of farmers have signed up to the scheme after much initial confusion. There has been a certain degree of flexibility in the scheme. On the point Deputy Penrose made about the number of farmers who are still not in the scheme, will there be a review of the new scheme to cover any anomalies that may exist?
Finally, as regards the farm safety scheme that the Minister announced last year, he states that some farmers did not enter the original scheme and were waiting for the bigger scheme. It is the small matters in farm safety that catch farmers. It happens to every farm. Even though the big scheme covers a lot of matters, is there a plan to have a continuous knowledge-based farm safety scheme for the future? Knowledge is the key to farm safety.
Those, more or less, are my points. I again welcome the fact that Irish farmers will not be held liable for the extra liabilities. There is considerable relief about it. It is not too often that there is a reasonably good news story. From that point of view, I welcome it and compliment the Minister on ensuring that the farmers will not be liable for the extra liabilities.
There are two quick points I would like to make following on from points that were made by others. One is on beef data. If, as may be the case, it pans out that there is an ongoing underspend and the provision of €52 million turns out not to be met, would the Minister consider providing a similar scheme to improve quality based on the same principles in the sheep sector? Specifically, I am thinking of scrapie-free as being part and parcel of the conditions, and perhaps even EID tagging, although maybe not everyone would agree. It is possibly something that could be used as a mechanism to get farmers to buy into it.
I suppose the Minister will not be surprised when I say my second point is about disease control. The rates of tuberculosis, TB, are falling, but not where I come from. On this issue, I must raise a flag. There is a particular problem to do with the deer population, not specific to but very much to the fore in Wicklow's case, and it will spread. While we have had cross-departmental meetings, when I mentioned to an official that perhaps the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine would take a lead the official stated the Department did not have the resources. There is a saving of €6 million and the amount needed to put up a robust plan to deal with this problem in Wicklow is a mere fraction of that. Those are the two points I would like to raise.
I might take the questions in reverse order, if the Chairman wishes.
Everybody asked questions on beef genomics. We anticipate that in a full year we will spend €48 million on beef genomics. We had said at the start that we would look at spending €52 million and therefore there will be almost full spend. This is a fund we want to spend on the beef sector because it was committed it. I have said that we would look at it. First, there will be a mid-term review of the genomics scheme. Deputy Deering raised this point and we are going to review it. If aspects are not working then we will change them, but we will have to get permission from the Commission to do that because this is a co-funded scheme.
Most farmers are quite comfortable with the beef genomics scheme now that they understand what is being asked of them.
Once the payments start flowing I believe this will be a very strongly supported scheme. If anything, the requests I receive now are from people who want to join the scheme. They had previously decided not to join but now would like to do so. There is no easy way for them to join because the scheme involves a six-year commitment which means there are consequences if somebody joins late. We will look at solving issues, if they need to be solved. Potentially, there may be new entrants into beef production who may want to be part of this scheme. If we have money unspent then I would have an open mind to looking at that aspect.
There will not be a massive shortfall of spend on beef genomics. We anticipate that when this scheme is running properly it will spend about €48 million in a year. We have previously budgeted for €52 million, so the scheme is almost fully catered for. We will look at trying to allocate the extra €4 million.
Farming organisations have come in here to raise issues about sheep. In many ways, the sheep sector benefits the most from the new CAP scheme in terms of the redistribution of the single farm payment and so on. We sought to protect the former sheep grassland scheme and to incorporate it into people's individual payments. If we were to do a new sheep scheme and have it a little bit like the beef genomics scheme then we would have to go back to the Commission to amend the rural development programme, which would take some time. We would also have to find money to provide the scheme. Effectively, we would have to take money from some scheme that has already been approved. This is not an easy process but I am not saying that I am totally closed to the idea.
If the scheme becomes a big priority, and if we were to look at it, then there is a whole series of things that need to happen before we could proceed in terms of getting agreement on a formal amendment of the rural development programme and finding the money by taking it from another scheme which, again, is not a straightforward process, to put it mildly. I take the point and the issue has been raised. I am not closed to the idea, I am simply saying that there is a process involved and if we want to prioritise the issue then it will take some time.
Deputy Deering asked about a dairy fund for the future. Price volatility in dairy is going to be-----
Yes. There are things that farmers can do and we have used the tax system to improve things. We have changed three-year income averaging to five-year income averaging so that people can average out their profits over five years rather than three years. As a volatility management measure, we actively encourage dairy co-ops to look at medium-term fixed price models. Glanbia and Kerry are already doing so and Dairygold is on the verge of putting a product together for farmers. I am sure other organisations are looking at the issue.
Many farmers have tied themselves to two or three years of fixed prices for milk at 32 cent or 33 cent per litre base price. They now look like they are in a pretty good position versus everybody else. When they fixed their milk price many other farmers claimed they were mad because at the time the base price was 38 cent per litre. Price volatility is the reason we have the dairy and beef forums. We want to look at models whereby we can help to hedge against or ensure against the downside of price volatility. Nobody wants not to benefit from the upside of prices either. We want to take the highs and lows to ensure more consistent pricing.
There is no reason we cannot look at similar models for beef production. I have more confidence in a successfully introduced producer organisation model for beef. It means beef farmers have a professional negotiator who negotiates on behalf of multiple beef farmers using an economy of scale to negotiate with factories. I would like see that model rolled out and that is what we are trying to bring to the beef forum. At the moment, beef farmers are simply price takers when they turn up at a factory and that is not where they should be.
There are many things happening to deal with price volatility.
We could have looked at using rural development funds to put a crop insurance model in place. Such a model would get farmers to put lump sums of money into an insurance model which we would top up. The problem with such an initiative is that often some farmers will pay for other farmers who may have a price difficulty. That model has not been very successful across the European Union so not very many countries are going for it, as far as I can see. I am very interested in coming back here to have a debate on our response to price volatility across the sectors because it is an interesting policy area.
We are also looking at a proper and active futures market in Ireland for dairy product that co-ops can use. If a small co-op can buy product on a futures market then it can offer its farmers guaranteed prices, if members know what I am saying. Such an initiative is used in the US all of the time and we could do it much more effectively here. We are looking at bringing a model for a futures market in Ireland to the dairy forum the next time it meets.
Teagasc has reduced its number of staff retirements from 50 to 31 which produced a saving of €3.3 million in lump sums in 2015. It is important to say that it has been agreed to assign Teagasc an extra 37 temporary staff to ensure that every farmer is accommodated in the context of the green certificate qualification many young farmers seek at the moment. The initiative brings the overall allocation of temporary resources for the green certificate qualification to an extra 77 people in Teagasc. We are conscious that the issue needs help and there will be more support where that came from. Teagasc needs more staff not only in education but in terms of its consultancy work. The freeze on recruitment across the public sector is being loosened. Teagasc is an obvious example of an organisation that will benefit from that and spend a bit more.
In terms of Deputy Penrose, I expected - as did a lot of farmers - that they would have to pay for a significant portion of the disallowance that was being applied to Ireland. Irish farmers were never going to have to pay all of it but they expected to have to pay a decent chunk of it. We now have agreed with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform that we would clear it this year. That means the worry and burden that farmers have been concerned about in places like west Cork, Kerry and-----
The reality is that this was an issue that caused a lot of stress for people so there will be a huge amount of relief that the matter has now been cleared up and that farmers are not going to be asked to make the contribution.
In terms of beef genomics, I share the same position as one of the Deputies. It is always dangerous to say that people have been vindicated. However, the beef genomics scheme seems to be very popular and quite successful. If it needs to be amended then we will do so but I think the scheme is working.
A number of members asked about TAMS approvals. As many as 1,000 dairy farmers applied for TAMS II. We simply cannot give all of those approvals out before the end of the year as there are many things happening in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in terms of huge volumes of money being paid to farmers across multiple schemes ranging from basic payments, areas of natural constraint, ANCs, GLAS, AEOS, TAMS, beef genomics, island payments and so on. We simply do not have the number of staff required to go on to farms and grant approval to 1,000 applicants. We have got people to ring up the 1,000 farmers to find out which ones desperately need to get dairy facilities in place early. For example, there are young farmers who are breeding heifers for milking who do not have any milking facilities. They are new entrants so through TAMS they have to get their milking facilities in place quickly before calves are born and they will be prioritised.
We hope to be able to obtain approval for about 200 of the 1,000 before the end of the year and, obviously, the rest will be approved in January. When I say to farmers that we have to prioritise, most of them accept it. We will try to be as practical as we can in order to prioritise the cases that need to be prioritised the earliest.
We are doing a lot about the hen harrier. Essentially, we have designed an element of the GLAS plus scheme to facilitate hen harrier farming. The commitment made to farmers who have land designated by the previous Government which let everybody down was that they would be paid €370 per hectare. About €2 million or €3 million was set aside for about 4,000 farmers with designated lands. It was disastrous and farmers felt they had been treated terribly and in a dishonest way in an effort to have the designation of land agreed to. We have now responded to solve that problem which was not of the Department's making, whereby a significant proportion of the farmers with designated land for the hen harrier under the GLAS scheme will receive €370 per hectare up to 19 hectares. Next year we will introduce an area based targeted scheme that will allow for extra payments to be made to farmers who have more than 19 hectares of land up to a ceiling which we have not yet set. I do not want to put a figure on it, but the scheme will allow for a significant increase in payments to farmers with much restricted designated land. We anticipate that we might be spending about €23 million per year which is a lot of money to spend in the case of one bird.
We cannot make such payments because we were not in charge of the scheme until we designed the GLAS scheme to try to resolve the hen harrier issue. In the future those farmers with designated land will be able to avail of the GLAS and GLAS plus schemes in order that they will receive what they had been promised previously but which was not delivered. They seem to be happy about this. We are looking through the threat response plan to try to provide greater flexibility for them in terms of afforestation. That is a subject of discussion between us and the Departments of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. In terms of raw payments, we are going to go from spending about €2 million or €3 million to spending potentially €23 million to €25 million if all such farmers avail of the GLAS scheme and another top-up scheme. We have recognised that farmers with hen harrier designated land were poorly treated by the previous Government and we are trying to rectify the problem.
I wish to ask a technical question in order to seek clarification. If a farmer does not join the GLAS scheme, can he or she join the top-up scheme? There were a lot more commitments made under the GLAS scheme which does not apply only to hen harriers.
No. One can avail of the scheme, but it will be designed for farmers who have more than 19 hectares of land. It has yet to be approved by the Commission.
Will the Minister ensure that if a farmer is not in the GLAS scheme that he or she will be paid from zero? There is no question of a double payment. Will the Minister arrange it such that if a farmer does not want to join the GLAS scheme for various reasons, that under the hen harrier scheme, he or she will be paid from zero hectares as long as there is no double payment involved?
The GLAS scheme is not overly onerous for hen harrier farmers. I have met them at public meetings and they are very happy with the scheme. The numbers applying suggest they are happy with it. The reason some of the larger land owners did not apply was that they were worried that if they did, they would be excluded from a future scheme.
We have reassured them that they will not be. In fact, the future scheme will be a top-up scheme for farmers who have more than 19 hectares of designated land. It will probably also deal with some other related issues. We will have to obtain approval from the Commission for it next year. That is the intention.
To respond to the questions from Deputy Martin Ferris about the dairy payment, it is positive. It took a while to negotiate with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform which needed to understand the reason it was important, but we have a full top-up payment to which dairy farmers can look forward to receiving. It is not massive, but it will make a difference between now and the end of the year and I hope it will provide some insulation in dealing with the difficulties being faced on price. We are budgeting to pay out a sum of €24.8 million. The total amount is €27.4 million, minus €1.6 million for young farmers and €1 million for those involved in the pig sector. We will pay out a vast proportion of it this year and the rest will be paid early next year. Almost €25 million will be paid this year. There are not too many other countries in the European Union in which that amount will be delivered.
I feel very strongly about the World Food Programme to which in recent years we have been giving just under €10 million. We entered into a three-year commitment. The World Food Programme needs the money in order that it can plan. The Irish people are very anxious to make a practical commitment to try to alleviate the suffering of refugees. There are about 4 million Syrian refugees living in refugee camps which is almost the population of Ireland. The World Food Programme is the largest humanitarian organisation on the planet and is feeding most of these refugees. I thought it was a very good way to spend money. The money is not tied entirely to refugee camps, but we have given an indication that we would like it to be spent on refugees, where possible.
We will not itemise them. The World Food Programme receives funds from other countries specifically to feed certain people in certain camps. The reason it is so appreciative of what Ireland is doing is that we give it flexibility to choose to spend where there are gaps. We will not prescribe the camps it which it should spend the money, but I have made it very clear that I would like to see the majority of it being spent on Syrian refugees and, obviously, then to plug holes in other areas where it might have problems.
It is also worth saying to farmers, if they are listening, that this is money that is not being taken from their budgets. We simply would not have this money if we were not spending it on the World Food Programme. It is part of Ireland's overall development aid contribution. In case farmers think we are taking it from the moneys for areas of natural constraint, ANC, or the beef genomics scheme, we are not. The money for the World Food Programme is spent through the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine because we have a very good relationship with the organisation. I have just been to Ghana. It is the Department of food, as well as agriculture. It is part of the Government's broader commitment to provide development aid and humanitarian assistance and is being paid through the Department and has more than doubled. A sum of €60 million for the World Food Programme over the next three years represents a significant commitment and if people want to know what it means, one can feed two refugees in Syria for $1 dollar a day. Therefore, €60 million will go a long way in feeding people who have nothing in terms of possessions or finance.
We are making phenomenal progress in dealing with TB. It is a great story. We have saved a large amount of money, but, more importantly, we are moving towards trying to eradicate it. My personal ambition is to eradicate in Ireland by 2030, which is possible as a result of conversations we have had with veterinary officers and so on.
It is the first time ever that we are actively talking about eradicating TB entirely from Ireland. That is a statement that will probably be quoted back to me in the future but that is what we would like to do. We will keep the pressure on to try to eradicate TB. We clearly need to have a more focused effort on doing that in places like Wicklow. There has been a 40% reduction in the incidence of it since 2008 and a 7% reduction since 2014. That is 1,000 fewer animals, so that is a great saving.
On the brucellosis side, we are now brucellosis free on the island of Ireland. They have done great work in Northern Ireland in eradicating brucellosis. They were well behind us on that. Until they were brucellosis free in Northern Ireland we could not make a statement that Ireland as an island is brucellosis free because of the movement of cattle across the Border. My colleague in the North has done very well on that. It has been a joint effort and there has been a great outcome.
On Deputy Ó Cuív's question about the islands, my understanding is that we are budgeting for spending of €2.5 million for the islands this year. In terms of areas of natural constraint, ANCs, to be clear on this, the profile for ANCs that we set was for €189 million to be spent by the end of November and we have spent €189.5 million, so we are bang on with what we said we would do on ANCs. If we have more room to spend money, I am very anxious to get money out to disadvantaged areas, particularly given the weather we are facing at the moment. There is always stacking each year because payments carry over into January. Sometimes that is a useful tool for staying within budget and sometimes we can try to prioritise to get more spend in one year, which is what we are trying to do this year in that we are trying to get extra money out to farmers that are in ANC or disadvantaged areas.
Where is the €115 million behind in terms of the profile if the spending profile for those areas is €0.5 million over? The amount of €115 million in terms of the rest of budget is massive because it does not include single farm payments.
No. I will answer the question. Last year the spend from January to November was €942 million, this year from January to November it is €958 million. A huge amount of expenditure goes out from the Department in December and it is no different this year. That is what will make up the difference between what is currently spent and what needs to be spent by the end of the year to be consistent with the Estimate we are giving today.
I find this a little disconcerting. The Minister is dead right in that it is all in the profile published by Department of Finance at the end of November and he is correct that there is a much bigger Estimate this year. The Minister has €1.242 billion this year compared to having had €1.175 billion. Comparing this year's spend to last year's spend, we would expect the Department to be well ahead because it has much more money to spend over 12 months. I did not do up profile, the Minister did. He and his officials are the people who have declared at the end of November that they are behind their own target, not my target, by €115 million, which when taken out of €1 billion is more than 10% behind. I asked a reasonable question because we are voting money here today. What is behind given that his Department is €115 million behind in terms of €87 million on the current side and €28 million on the capital side. Can somebody, either here or this evening when the Minister goes back to the Department, print it out like they did for the mid-year in a useful little table? I would have thought we would have got a similar table today and that we would have got notes setting out that while we have fallen way behind the Department will be dishing out €300 million, plus the €65 million, in December.
It is easy to write the cheque for Europe; that is a one-minute job. I thought we would have got that information and we would have known, line by line, where we are behind with the profile. As I said, it is the Minister's profile. If he did not expect to spend €1 billion and only expected to spend €945,000, a serious question he should ask his finance people is, why the expenditure was not profiled for €945,000?
Let me try to answer that. It is not an unreasonable question. The profile, which is the best estimate of the timing of expenditure when drawn up in January, which is the start of the year, is difficult to forecast and actual expenditure, as we clearly see, may vary significantly during the year for various reasons, such as levels of payments under demand-led schemes, the pattern of drawdown of grants by State bodies, the level of disease incidences and payments of compensation. The delay relative to profiled capital expenditure is attributable to a number of expenditure subheads, including the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS, the fishery harbour centres and the remediation of Haulbowline Island. Significant expenditure is expected in each of these in December and where capital funding is not spent, provisions exist whereby a percentage of the allocation can be carried over to the following year but we are seeking to try to get it done this year, with the approval of the Department of Public Expenditure.
On current expenditure, significant payments under schemes, such as the beef data and genomics programme, BDGP, the rural environment protection scheme, REPS, the agri-environment options scheme, AEOS, and the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, and areas of natural constraint, ANC, are planned for December. We are slightly behind schedule but the Estimate we give in January varies during the year. If the Deputy asked us for an Estimate in September, we would probably have given a more accurate Estimate, I suspect, but the Department's focus now is to make the expenditure this month before the end of the year to make sure that we are consistent with the Estimate that we are giving.
Will the Minister ask his officials to provide me, as he did for the mid-year, with a detailed outturn and profile to the end of November so that I can understand where the €87 million on the current side and the €28 million on the capital side are? I thought that would have been the opening explanation given today. It all comes down to money and such an outline would let me see, subhead by subhead, where the Minister has failed.
We can save time going back and forth if the Department simply agreed to provide me with the profile, on a subhead basis, to the end of November, the outturn to the end of November and the variances. All I have is the one line indication the Department of Finance gave me but the Minister has a breakdown within Department of that subhead by subhead. When I get that I will know exactly what is going on and I will have a much better understanding of what the Minister has to make up in the final four weeks of the year.
Yes. Let me give some of the explanations I have here and we will send the Deputy the details for which he asked. On TAMS, the spending was €7.5 million less or just under that, on forestry, it was €6.8 million, and on eradicating TB brucellosis, it was €10 million less but that is a good news story. The main one is on the agri-environment option scheme, for which the figure is €57 million.
Mr. Heber McMahon:
The Estimate was based on our understanding of the way in which we moved REPS in previous years but the REPS spend this year is significantly down because we have reached the end of the programme, so we are now coping AEOS and we are also coping with the new GLAS scheme. We will be putting those payments out in December and we expect there to be a number of runs.
Mr. Heber McMahon:
My apologies, the text is small. I will set out the figures for agri-environmental schemes. In total, 52% of our estimated amount was spent by the end of November. This meant we were €57 million behind in payments. In the case of REPS, a total of 93% of payments were made and we were behind approximately 2%. In the case of the agri-environment options scheme, we were behind €38 million or 44%. In the case of GLAS, we have yet to spend €20 million. It is anticipated those payments will go out this year.
The graph that has been shown is useful and we have found it helpful. For future reference and for the purposes of better communication, I wish to point out that such a profile sheet would have been very useful to us last week in order that Members could prepare for the meeting this afternoon. Such a document with footnotes attached would have clarified many of the questions that are now crossing the floor. Everyone here is keen to work together. It would be helpful we could arrange that in future. I call on the officials to bear it in mind in future.
People should bear in mind that when we go with a payment run a great deal of money gets distributed in a short period. That is the nature of these schemes, be it the basic payment scheme or GLAS. We always said that under the new GLAS in the first year we had budgeted €20 million. Obviously, when GLAS is fully up and running it will spend approximately €240 million and 50,000 people will be in the scheme. In the first year, we were keen to get it up and running. We will have the payment run before the end of the year. We plan to spend €20 million. I take the point the Deputy made. Maybe we will send him the detail he has asked for.
No, we had hoped to start payments in GLAS in November and December. That was the plan. The story on GLAS in respect of getting it approved, getting people in, getting them approved and then getting payments out before the end of the year was always going to be challenging. The fact that we are going to meet our target by the end of the year points to a great success story. At the start of the year we had hoped that some of the money would be spent in November.
I am very pleased about the money going to Syria. My only concern is how many more people are going to be displaced in Syria because of the bombs dropped by the Minister's colleagues across Europe. That worries me, but it is another day's work.
We are here to talk about the response from the Department to a World Food Programme on foot of a crisis. The nature and causes of the crisis is not really for discussion in this meeting. That is all I am saying.
Does the Minister have plans to reduce disease levies on farmers now that the expenditure by the Department on disease eradication is dropping dramatically? This is a serious imposition on farmers. If the cost is going down, one would expect that farmers directly benefit from a reduction in disease levies.
I am not going to give any commitment one way or the other on that. We have a new farmers' charter now. We have a very good relationship with farming organisations. We will discuss these things as they arise. I am not going to be bounced into a decision.
It is something for future Estimates. We could make a submission if we wish to.
I am going to conclude the consideration of the Supplementary Estimate for the public services for 31 December 2015 - Vote 30. In accordance with Standing Order 87, a message to that effect will be sent to the Clerk of the Dáil. Since there is no further business we will adjourn until 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 9 December 2015. At that stage we will take Committee Stage of the Horse Racing Ireland Bill. The joint committee will meet for a three-item agenda now. The Minister can remain in his seat. Do you want to take a five-minute break?