Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 27 March 2018
Select Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Estimates for Public Services 2018
Vote 30 - Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Revised)
The meeting has been convened to consider the Revised Estimate for Vote 30 - Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which was referred by the Dáil to the committee with the instruction to report back to the Dáil not later than 19 April 2018. I welcome the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Michael Creed, and his officials and thank them for attending and for briefing the committee beforehand. As they are aware, the agriculture, food and marine sectors are in very challenging times, with numerous issues arising from Brexit, climate change, trade and, as we discussed in some detail previously and will hopefully discuss at a later stage, the Common Agricultural Policy.
In responding to these challenges, the financing and resourcing of the responses in the year ahead is very important. The committee will get to explore this today with an emphasis on a number of key issues. The activities of the Department and its agencies include: supporting and protecting animal health; supporting the farming and forestry sectors; finding new markets for Irish products; mitigating the impact of Brexit; ensuring a robust and well resourced seafood sector.
We will deal with Vote 30 on a programme by programme basis. The Minister will make an opening statement. There are four programme areas so we will consider each programme separately with questions from members of the committee. I remind members and everybody present to ensure their mobile telephones are turned off completely. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against either a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. An advance briefing from the Department on the various programmes has been circulated to members and the committee secretariat.
I invite the Minister to make his opening statement. I remind the members that the Minister must leave for a Cabinet meeting at 4.45 p.m.
I am pleased to meet with the committee for this valuable opportunity to review our progress and how we are navigating through the current challenges and opportunities presented across the various sectors in agriculture, food development, marine and forestry.
The recently launched National Development Plan 2018-2027 re-affirmed the Government’s commitment to protecting and enhancing our rural economy. Investment in the agrifood sector is required to improve competitiveness, to ensure the maintenance of Ireland’s landscape, to improve biodiversity and water quality, to contribute to climate change goals and for the development of our fishery harbour centres. This capital funding is very important, of course, but the majority of our funding comes through the current part of the Vote. I am pleased to note that for 2018 our overall allocation increased by 4.5%. The Government’s commitment to the agrifood and marine sectors is further demonstrated through budget 2018 recognising the challenges faced by rural communities and the ongoing challenge of Brexit. In 2018, the Exchequer contribution to the Vote of my Department will amount to €1.557 billion. This is €1.285 billion in current expenditure and €271.8 million in capital expenditure when a €23.8 million capital carryover is taken into account. This represents an overall increase of almost €67 million over last year and recognises the role the agrifood sector continues to play in our economic recovery. In addition to the funding received through the Department's Vote, in 2018 Ireland will receive some €1.2 billion in direct funding from the EU for the basic payment scheme.
The agrifood sector has performed strongly in recent years. According to statistics from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, exports reached €13.6 billion in 2017. This represents a 74% increase in agrifood exports since 2009. Similar to last year, my key focus for 2018 is on maintaining farm payments and protecting vulnerable farm incomes, supporting sustainable farming and jobs in rural and coastal communities and reinforcing the sector to meet the challenges of Brexit.
Turning to rural development, the €4 billion rural development programme for 2014 to 2020 provides vitally important stimulus in the Irish rural economy. In 2018, a total of €626 million is to be invested in the rural economy, directly to farmers through rural development programme schemes. I have provided for an increase of €20 million for the capital investment scheme, the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS, bringing the total funding available in 2018 to €70 million. I expect this to be fully spent as payment claims are being submitted on an ongoing basis. The scheme is open for applications in rolling three month tranches. There are currently 17,520 applicants following the first nine tranches. Approvals are issuing on an ongoing basis after the closure of each tranche. Approvals have now issued to over 13,144 applicants.
The green, low-carbon, agri-environment scheme, GLAS, which is Ireland’s flagship agri-environment scheme, provides valuable support to farmers who deliver public goods and environmental benefits that enhance our sustainability credentials. At the end of December 2017, there were approximately 50,000 active participants in GLAS, of which more than 97% of eligible participants have now received advance payments valued at over €166 million. Further payments are issuing weekly where all the required validation checks have been successfully passed. My officials are in contact with farmers to forward outstanding information while also working through remaining more complex cases to facilitate speedy resolution and payment. A sum of €203 million is allocated for GLAS in 2018.
The sum of €49.5 million will be available for the beef data and genomics programme, BDGP, in 2018. Two tranches of BDGP have been opened and the number of participating applicants is now approximately 24,500. This scheme puts a focus on placing Ireland at the leading edge globally in the use of genomics in beef production and enhances our reputation as a world leader in sustainable food production.
I have delivered on the programme for a partnership Government commitment and increased the areas of natural constraint, ANC, allocation for 2018. The €25 million increase will bring the allocation to €227 for a scheme that provides invaluable direct financial support to farmers with land in the many naturally constrained parts of the country.
Turning to forestry, in response to a lower than anticipated take-up of the Department’s afforestation scheme in recent years and taking into consideration submissions received from stakeholders as part the mid-term review of the current forestry programme, I was pleased to introduce higher rates and premiums for new forestry planting, with grants increased by 2% to 7% depending on the species category and the premiums for certain categories increased by 5%. The enhanced measures are designed to promote greater species and habitat diversity with higher grant and premium rates to encourage more broadleaf and diverse conifer planting, while improved grant and premium rates for agro-forestry and forestry for fibre may incentivise farmers to plant forestry on their farm alongside other farming activities. Forestry may complement the other enterprises on the farm and provide a regular income stream to farmers in the form of the annual forestry premium.
Some €23 million will be also available for payment to some 19,000 participants in knowledge transfer groups in the beef, dairy, equine, sheep, poultry and tillage sectors. The implementation of the scheme builds on the knowledge and skills base of farmers in key areas and focuses on profitability and sustainability as well as important issues such as farm safety and farm succession planning.
In 2018, €20 million is allocated to the sheep welfare scheme which is targeted at making a meaningful contribution to sheep welfare with particular regard to the production system and the environment in which Irish sheep production takes place. The scheme was launched in December 2017 with almost 21,000 sheep farmers participating in the first year. Advance payments for the first year amounting to €16 million have issued to more than 20,600 farmers. Balancing payments in respect of the first year are due to issue in the second quarter of 2018. The second year of the scheme has now commenced, with more than 20,000 farmers, including new entrants, continuing to participate in it.
Despite comments to the contrary I am satisfied the full €4 billion committed to the rural development programmes will be fully drawn down and spent. I have also continued to provide support to forestry, horticulture, the various State agencies under my remit and the horse and greyhound racing fund.
In response to Brexit, the triggering of Article 50 in March 2017 and the ongoing negotiation on the withdrawal of the UK from the EU pose a massive challenge given the importance of the UK market to Ireland’s agrifood sector. The UK is by far our largest trading partner, to which we exported €5.2 billion worth of agrifood products in 2017. During 2017, with the assistance of additional funding it received, Bord Bia undertook a market prioritisation exercise at the Department’s request. The results of this will help us inform, identify and target suitable new international markets for Irish food and drink in a sector-specific fashion. This is part of a wider strategy linking the Department’s market access efforts to those of agencies such as Bord Bia and Enterprise Ireland, and using Ireland’s network of embassies as a hub, to develop the profile of Ireland’s food sector and to improve access to a wider range of markets worldwide.
Since the Brexit decision, my Department has placed great emphasis on enhancing its own capacity and that of Bord Bia in the area of market diversification and new market access. Following the extra €10 million that I allocated to Bord Bia since the Brexit vote, I secured a further €4.5 million in budget 2018 to assist the agency in its promotional and developmental work overseas. This funding is to support food and drink companies facing Brexit challenges with market diversification measures, including providing companies with access to local expertise in international markets. Through the market prioritisation exercise, recently published by Bord Bia and funded by my Department, we will together identify and target other suitable new international markets for Irish food and drink, in a sector-specific fashion, to which I will lead missions later in the year. This extra funding will also allow Bord Bia to employ additional staff, some of whom will be based abroad, in line with the Taoiseach’s global footprint initiative to double the Team Ireland footprint on the international stage by 2025.
Bord Bia has developed a four pillar strategy - managing volatility, obtaining consumer and marketing insight, deepening customer engagement and extending market reach - to provide companies with market research, advice and support. An additional €2 million allocated in 2017 - adding to the extra €1.6 million allocated in 2016 - enabled Bord Bia to undertake new activities, including an export marketing strategy programme to help companies to maintain and grow positions in the UK and-or diversity market reach; research to identify priority market opportunities; participation in three new trade fairs in Asia; and increased presence at key shows such as Gulf Food where the space doubled and Anuga in Germany. Bord Bia is also planning to almost double its draw down of EU promotion funds to €1.9 million, mainly for activities focused on China.
Following on from the market prioritisation exercise, I led a trade mission to Japan and the Republic of Korea in November 2017. This followed trade missions in 2017 to China, Singapore, north Africa, the Gulf States, the US and Mexico. In addition, the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, led a trade mission to Vietnam and the Republic of Korea earlier in the year. For 2018, a programme of ministerial trade missions has commenced with a trade mission to the US and Canada in February 2018. A further trade mission will take place in May to China and Hong Kong.
In 2018, the €241 million European maritime and fisheries fund operational programme is expected to be fully operational with a total of 19 schemes and a budget of approximately €55 million made available across my Department and its agencies. This investment will fund a range of programmes, including capital investment in seafood processing and our harbours, aquaculture and fishing sectors to foster growth in production, value and employment; enhance sustainability and competitiveness; and support training, skills development and stakeholder capacity development. I have also made €87 million in funding available for the food safety animal and plant health work performed by the Department. It is important to remain vigilant and defend our health status and keep our food standards at the very leading edge.
This is a brief overview of the range of measures that apply in the agrifood and marine sectors for 2018. I look forward to the discussion and questions from committee members.
We will now commence with questions on programme A. We will try to stick to each programme if at all possible. In posing questions, members should clearly state the subhead to which they are referring so that it is easier to deal with the matter and to limit their questions to one subhead at a time allowing us to get as much value as possible out of the time space we have. The first programme is food safety, animal and plant health and animal welfare.
I thank the Minister for his presentation. In respect of the context and impact indicators, it looks really positive in terms of the control we have over food safety and animal safety and welfare. I noticed that we are very lucky we had zero major food safety incidences. The figures are all going in the right direction. Is the Minister satisfied that this will continue to be the case in terms of our investment in it?
I do not know if it is the correct heading under which to raise this question. Today in the farming press, we saw a frightening headline about the number of farm animals that are entering knackeries. I suppose it has been the worst spring I can remember in my time farming. It has been the worst and longest winter and the worst spring. We have had flooding, snow and high winds. We should have been promoting a subsidy for concentrates instead of the subsidy for transport. At this stage, fodder is virtually non-existent even if the weather improved tomorrow morning. Unfortunately, the forecast for the next week to ten days is anything but pleasant. Are there any plans to introduce a concentrate subsidy that would address some of the animal welfare issues on the ground? It does not do our industry's image any good to see headlines like those we saw today in the paper. There are serious problems out there. Even on what we would call intensive farms, there is a serious shortage of feed at this stage. As I was driving up today, I do not think I saw one herd of cows out in the fields this morning so there is a serious problem. A subsidy for concentrate at this time could be a major help in alleviating the welfare problems.
On the general issue of food safety and animal health in programme one, it is probably not widely recognised that this constitutes the key activity of the Department in terms of resources and personnel. Because there is so much at stake in the context of our international reputation, we are constantly engaged in supervision and inspections to ensure that we continue to operate at the highest standards in terms of animal welfare and food safety. I am satisfied that we have adequate resources available. I commend all of the staff involved because the Department, the agrifood sector and farmers engaged in husbandry on a daily basis all have a vested interest in ensuring our international reputation is maintained at the highest possible level. As a food island that exports more than 90% of what we produce, we need to be able to stand over that. In respect of our commitment to excellence all along the food chain in terms of food safety and animal welfare, these are issues where the marketplace is increasingly demanding that we have a fully transparent system of the highest standards.
In response to Deputy Cahill, there is an increase in the allocation for fallen animals in 2018. I know the report in the newspapers to which the Deputy refers. The detail of that coverage made reference to Storm Emma and animals, particularly sheep, still being identified as casualties of that. I acknowledge there were issues around that which have given rise to increased numbers of fallen animals. It has been a difficult winter. There is no point in saying otherwise and it is certainly dragging on now. The Department is acutely aware of grass growth and is tracking it almost on a daily basis and looking at forecasts. As we head towards 1 April, I accept there are many farmers who are anxiously awaiting a growth spurt in grass. However, there is an issue around the individual responsibility of farmers and the level of stocking density, particularly in the dairy sector where we have very rapid expansion. Each farmer needs to take account of their own responsibilities in terms of making sure they have adequate fodder provision. What I suspect is the case is that whatever shoulder or head room that was there over the past winter in terms of carryover of fodder from previous years will have been virtually exhausted in this late spring. This puts a clear obligation on individual farmers to make sure in the coming months that they do not replenish just an adequate level of fodder. We are looking at variations of how extensive a winter can be but on average, we have four to five months of winter. We need to make sure there is adequate fodder and some head room to take account of exceptional weather events. The headlong rush to increase numbers, particularly in the dairy sector, probably has been at the expense of some of that capacity to provide additional fodder on farms. Individual farmers need to take stock of this.
It strikes me that while we all celebrate increased dairy output, we should not lose track of individual responsibility to ensure adequate fodder provision on farms. We have been through the debate on fodder schemes, transport subsidies and so forth and Deputies have their views on a ration subsidy. The ultimate responsibility rests with individual farmers. In exceptional circumstances, the State will make some efforts in this area, as it has done this year. Individual farmers need to be cognisant of the carrying capacity on their holding, taking account of the level of fodder they require. I am sure Deputy Jackie Cahill, as an active farmer, will acknowledge that in some instances the rapid expansion in numbers has been at the expense of the capacity to provide adequate fodder for exceptional weather events such as those we have been experiencing recently.
On tuberculosis, I understand the number of cases has started to plateau but I will revert to the Deputy with detailed figures. Subject to correction, it is my recollection that where there has been a decline in herd incidence as a result of the increasing average herd size. While there may have been an increase in the number of animals affected, the number of herds affected has not increased. I have just been provided with some information on the incidence of tuberculosis. In 2017, a total of 2,180 herds were affected.
The Minister's position on the fodder crisis, which Deputy Cahill raised, is that there is no crisis. Does he continue to maintain that position? I am interested in his assessment of the current position regarding fodder. I understand approximately nine applications have been made for the fodder transport subsidy. Does the Minister accept the scheme was a folly and the Department's approach was misplaced? On the one hand, the introduction of the scheme was a recognition that we have a problem while, on the other, the scheme was counter-productive in terms of achieving its objective of addressing the problem of supply of grass based fodder. Instead of stretching supply in the country, which was the overall objective of the scheme, the scheme would have increased demand for grass based fodder and resulted in fodder being transferred from one area to another. The scheme has clearly not worked.
Spring is late this year and given the cold weather forecast for Easter, it is possible it will be much later than usual, which places us in a tricky position. As I have repeatedly pointed out, agricultural advisers have been advising farmers to focus on concentrates, whereas the Department's approach has been to focus on grass based fodder. We have reached a pinch point in that there is no grass based fodder available and even areas where it was available are coming under pressure. As Deputies will have noted from reports from around the country, the price of concentrates is increasing owing to demand. Does the Minister accept there is a crisis? Does he also accept that the scheme he introduced had no head or tail?
I responded to Deputy Cahill on this issue. My net message is that it is a matter for individual farmers to ensure they have an adequate supply of fodder. There are two ways of interpreting the data in respect of the initiative the Department introduced. However, it is too early to draw conclusions. It may be the case that further applications will be submitted by farmers who are getting on with the business associated with spring time on their holdings. It is also possible that the number of applications will not increase. I acknowledge that this is an exceptionally difficult spring on holdings. The difficulties are not geographically confined to the north west and are now an issue on the entire island. We are monitoring the issue daily in terms of grass growth predictions, weather forecasts, etc., and we will take into account the advice from State agencies, including Teagasc, on what steps it may be appropriate to take. At this stage, we do not plan any initiatives of the type suggested by the Deputy in the context of the difficult weather we are experiencing.
Teagasc's involvement was to carry out an assessment of the level of need in the north west, engage with farmers and provide the Department with advice. It was not involved in a prescriptive manner in the initiative the Department subsequently formulated. As I stated, we continue to monitor the national position.
The Minister stated he will take the advice of Teagasc and other bodies from now on and indicated that Teagasc did not advise the Department to take the route of introducing a transport subsidy. It is a roll of the dice now as to how long the spring may be. The Minister must be much more proactive than simply monitoring the position daily. One step he could take would be to review the transport subsidy scheme as it is counter-productive. If it becomes necessary to help subsidise the transport of grass based fodder, it will be to subsidise the importation of additional fodder, rather than the transport of an already scarce resource around the country. As Deputy Cahill argued, a concentrates based scheme for those who are under significant pressure is the type of support required from the Department. That is the advice farmers should be following and many are certainly doing so at the farm gate. It is not the approach taken by the Department, however. Has the Department provided for a contingency fund in the Revised Estimate to support a fodder scheme if the position does not quickly improve?
As I stated, the Department continues to monitor the position and we do not have any initiative planned, either on transport or any other form of fodder delivery to farmers. I return to my original point that this is, in the first instance, a matter for farmers to resolve. We have introduced a transport subsidy which is available in certain circumstances. That was the appropriate response at the time and we continue to monitor the position closely. The shortage of fodder is much more acute across the country now than it was when this issue arose. However, as we head into the late spring, growth rates should, in the normal course of events, deliver the solution that is required. We continue to monitor the position. While we have not identified any funding in the 2018 Estimate to fund an initiative, if circumstances require them, resources will not be an issue.
I support my two colleagues, Deputies Cahill and McConalogue, who have raised the serious matter of the way farmers are fixed.
The other day I drove all the way from Drogheda to Kerry. There was not one blade of grass on either side of the road. The fact is cattle have been housed since last September. We need to be aware that is why the knackeries are full. The lorries are on the road now day and night to take dead animals from farmers. It has been said it is being monitored. The time for monitoring is gone because there is not a blade of grass growing anywhere. The Minister has to realise that. I saw a small bit of grass to the west of the town of Macroom, but nowhere else. There is none in Kerry or in Kildare and farmers backs are to the wall. Cattle will not know what the open air is like because they have been inside for so long now.
Dairymen are hit in particular because they cannot raise the protein content in the milk without grass. They will be down five or six cent per litre. That is a fact. Where I come from, suckler farmers provide the beef for the country. I refer to Kerry and all along the west coast. They will not survive if they do not get some subsidy, as the Deputies here said, or some form of assistance. Their backs are to the wall. They have nothing. They are broke, and mentally and physically worn out because it has been the longest time ever that the cattle have been inside. I never remember a winter as long. Look at the ground today. It would take two or three weeks for it to grow, if it started growing today. However, we have more snow forecast for next weekend. I am appealing to the Minister to listen to us because farmers were never in a worse place.
I hear Deputies Danny Healy Rae, McConalogue and Cahill and others who have raised the issue. We continue to monitor the situation. We are approaching 1 April and, normally, we would expect that grass growth would be ahead of where it is now and that would deliver a solution. I accept that the forecast for the weekend is for cold weather and that is worrying. However, we continue to monitor the situation on an ongoing basis with a view, if required, to taking appropriate action. However, at this stage, we do not have a plan for any initiative.
I refer to the farm payment schemes. The green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, is the one we have been talking about for the past 12 months. Quite a number of farmers are still waiting to get their payments. I am also looking at the sheep welfare scheme which was successful to an extent. Are there any plans to broaden that out and make any increase? The sheep sector has a lot of potential but it needs support. I am conscious that one of the only ways that it can get that at the moment, at least until some work is done on markets to try to increase prices, is to put some more money into that scheme. I know that may include additional actions on behalf of the farmer and that is something that has been talked about for some time. Are there any plans to increase that scheme and make something more of it?
There has also been a lot of talk for some time in respect of the whole issue around suckler cows, where that is going and the beef data genomics scheme and trying to broaden that out to include some kind of suckler welfare scheme into it. Everyone talks about the €200 cow target. I would like some assurance that there is at least some consideration in respect of that. While the beef data genomics scheme has been successful to some extent, many farmers still find it very complex and difficult to manage. While it has had some successes, there are still issues. The big one that farmers are looking for is some kind of support around husbandry in respect of the suckler cow and getting something in place which would increase those payments.
I have a question on organic farming. There is an ambitious programme to increase the number of farmers operating the organics farming scheme. Is the Minister happy that we are on target to get to the figures we are hoping for or is there potential to increase that? Linked to that, in respect of protein plants, I note the European Parliament recently adopted a protein and leguminous plant strategy. I wonder is there potential in this country for us to increase the number of protein plants our farmers are growing? It strikes me that they would be useful for human and animal consumption.
I also have a question in respect of the areas of natural constraint, ANCs. When the review will be complete and will there be an increase in the budget there? It seems that there is not. The Minister might update me on that. Forestry is crucial for us in respect of mitigating our carbon levels. Are we satisfied with the amount of plantings that we have or is there potential to improve on that? I refer in particular to broad leaves in particular.
I wish to raise three different sectors. One is the beef sector. We had a Private Members' Bill a couple of weeks ago on the suckler cow and the need for a payment. However, as has been said a few times, we are approaching 1 April and the beef price now is probably fractionally below where it was in November and December. How are beef finishers going to survive and stay in business with the price return that they are getting? Our whole beef sector, which is a huge contributor to the overall economy, is under serious pressure from the man with the suckler cow to the man finishing the cattle. Some serious money is needed. On top of that, we have the challenge of Brexit and Mercosur is again raising its head. The concessions being made on the Mercosur deal are going to make a bad situation even worse. However, traditionally beef prices always went on a steady graph from Christmas to 1 June. If anything now, the graph is going downwards at the moment. How is this sector going to survive? I appreciate there is some funding being given to Bord Bia in the context of Brexit but all the challenges facing that sector are absolutely immense.
On designated land, and in particular I refer to the hen harrier areas, a launch of a scheme was announced in late 2017. However, the view among farmers with designated land is that this scheme is wholly inadequate to restore the value of their land. At the stroke of a pen, Brussels took away the value of the land of these farmers. If a scheme is to be meaningful in these areas of natural constraint, it has to be able to restore that land to its rightful value. The scheme announced in 2017 is seriously underachieving in that respect and we have representations here from various groups. There definitely needs to be more resources put into that scheme. A properly funded scheme has to be put in place for these farmers who have been severely discriminated against with their land being designated. It does not seem to be in the 2018 Estimates.
The hill ewes have been referred to again as a sector that faces land abandonment in certain areas. However, the Estimates for 2017, in the animal welfare scheme for sheep, has an increase of €3 million for 2018. I would like an explanation of where that extra €3 million is going to be spent. My understanding is that the scheme is not open to new entrants at the moment. I refer to the discrepancy in the figures between one year and another.
Especially with hill ewes, we have to try to get extra funding for them in order to avoid land abandonment. I could go into other sectors. The challenges facing the beef sector, which are immense, designated land and hill ewes are the three sectors on which I would like to focus.
To follow on from Deputy Cahill's final point where he raised the issue of why there is €20 million assigned for the sheep welfare scheme this year and €17 million next year, I note that the number of herd owners participating in the animal welfare scheme for sheep was 33,000 last year but only 23,000 this year. Deputy Cahill asked why it did not add up. There is a €3 million increase in the budget for a scheme that is not paying a different rate this year compared to last year. The metrics show that 10,000 fewer are expected to participate in it this year, which is baffling. There is a drop in the sheep number as well, from 2.5 million to 2 million.
With regard to the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, when that was announced by the Minister's predecessor, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, he committed to €1.45 billion going towards GLAS over its duration. It was very specifically for GLAS. He also indicated that it would be within the current rural development programme period. The figure of those within GLAS and the average spend would indicate that the spend will be €1 billion. Where is the Minister with the €1.45 billion that was committed with GLAS? How close does the Minister expect to get to it? I cannot see the Minister getting anymore than €1 billion. The maths do not add up. I would like the Minister to address that in detail. If he is not spending that €450 million extra on GLAS, he might indicate what else he has spent it on in the meantime. I certainly do not see it.
I endorse the point made by Deputy Cahill on the plight of the suckler sector and the need for additional contributions to try to make sure that there is a margin for beef and suckler farmers. It is simply not there and it is not sustainable. With regard to the current beef data and genomics programme, we have to find a way to provide additional funds towards that to try to keep an increased payment within this current Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, programme. We now have the wider task to which the Dáil has agreed, namely, to seek to achieve something along the lines of €200 in the next CAP. I have one final point on the beef data and genomics programme. Would the Minister consider reopening that? Initially, it was indicated that up to 35,000 farmers could apply for it. We currently have 25,000, 10,000 fewer than was indicated could be accommodated. Will the Minister address that, please?
I have questions on the suckler cow. These farmers are now described as "hobby farmers". I know what they have to go through because we do it ourselves. Between calving cows in the middle of the night, losing calves and all that goes with it, breeding them and trying to have the right bulls, these suckler cow farmers are not even breaking even now. That is the gospel truth. They come to marts in Macroom, Kenmare, Cahirciveen, Milltown and Castleisland. They do such a good job. They rear the cattle and feed them to the highest standards. They go home with their tails between their legs because when they do up their figures, they are not balancing the books. I appeal to the Minister to do something to ensure that these fellows can keep their operations because if they get out of them, they will not go back to them. The Minister should remember that. If they get out of cows and reduce their numbers, they will not go back. They are sending the beef, as we know, up the country, where they are fattened and moved into the factories. The supply comes from all along the west coast, although maybe some people up here might not understand or realise it. The fact is the suckler cow can be found all along to the west coast but the sector is under immense pressure. We are not telling lies; it is the truth. It was written the other day that these are "hobby farmers" and that will not continue.
We have spoken about the hen harrier before. If the Minister cannot pay for a proper compensation scheme and cannot compensate these farmers, just forget about it and disband it. As I said before, it is like wanting to rob people's houses or beat up old people. It is very bad. It is daylight robbery to reduce the value of a person's farm, whether a man or a woman. I appeal to the Minister to forget about it if he cannot pay them. He should pay as he goes and if he does not pay, do not go.
There is another section of farmers which I think the Minister knows about. They are farmers who are being deprived of their payments this year because commonages were burned. I know the people who are involved in, and who own, the commonages. They fought hard to stop the fires and called the fire brigade but lo and behold, all their payments are held up and that is not fair. In one case, the fire did not start on their land and they do not know how it started. In other cases, they had nothing to do with it. I appeal to the Minister to look at this issue because two things will happen. Farmers will become very annoyed if they have people walking through their land and they are not sure whether a fire will start. What will they do? They will make sure by locking the gate and keeping them out. Kerry is a tourist county. It will have very serious repercussions for the tourism industry if farmers, such as these, are denied their payments. I ask the Minister to look at this issue. What has happened is wrong but it can be put right. It is like arresting a fellow for robbing the pub in the village but the fellow was not in the village at all that night. It imposes 100% penalties on these people and takes their payments. Some of these people had nothing for Christmas. They were expecting a few bob for Christmas but they got nothing. That is God's gospel truth.
There is another anomaly that has affected a good few people with the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS, payments, where one is entitled to get a certain amount. I will give an example of a person who purchased a vacuum slurry tank. Since he borrowed the money from a finance company, a hire purchase and leasing company, he will not get his grant. Some €26,000 or €27,000 out of the €40,000 has gone on this. He will get no grant. He was entitled to €10,500. He did not understand it and the leasing company should have told him. It is very wrong when this happens to a family like this. These are bad times on many farms. They were depending on this money to keep them going. They borrowed from a leasing company rather than a bank and the tanker is in the leasing company's name. They did not understand that and were not made aware of it by the leasing company. There are several such cases.
They are paying for the tanker every month, but they will not get their grant because of this simple but unfortunate anomaly. I ask the Minister to do something to ensure that this does not happen again and that awareness is raised among the farming fraternity that they are not to do that. However, some leeway or assistance should be given to the people who find themselves in this unfortunate position.
Before I come back to the Minister, I would like to ask him about the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS. Does he have a breakdown of the number of farmers who have been paid out of the different tranches? What is the position today on the different tranches? We are almost at the end of March. The Minister might then address the topics members have highlighted.
I will endeavour to get as much information as I can on TAMS but, off the top of my head, we are paying out in excess of €1 million a week. I think we paid out €1.6 million either last week or the week before that. We have provided €70 million in the budget for-----
No. They are being paid as they are being cleared for payment. There is no undue delay. As in Deputy Danny Healy-Rae's case, if the Chairman knows of any individual case we will certainly investigate it.
I will answer questions in no particular order. On the issue of the sheep scheme, which Deputy McConalogue and others raised, in the context of the difference between the 2017 and 2018 provisions, as I understand it, we paid the advance in 2017. That balancing payment for the 2017 scheme will be paid in 2018, as well as providing for whatever level of liability we will have in 2018 on the current applications. The provision is ramping up over 2017 because we did not pay a full scheme in 2017; we paid an advance of the scheme.
Deputy Martin Kenny raised the prospect of doing more in that regard. These schemes are designed and approved by the European Commission on the basis of costs incurred or income forgone so if we were minded, and we must bear in mind that in the rural development programme, RDP, there is not any head room in terms of additional expenditure, to so do in terms of making additional funding available under the sheep welfare scheme, it would have to be for actions carried out by the individual farmer.
I accept the point Deputy makes. This is a sector that stood in line for quite a while. This scheme has been welcomed in respect of its simplicity for farmers to be compliant with and, generally speaking, it is money that is overdue. We will be paying the balancing payment of that 2017 advance in the second quarter of this year and, as he is aware, we opened the scheme for this year to new entrants also, and I believe we are budgeting for in the region of 20,000 applicants for 2018. We originally provided €25 million. That was on the basis of 2.5 million ewes at €10 a ewe. We did not get all the applicants, even when we reopened the scheme in 2018.
Would that not suggest there is space to at least front-load a higher payment to, say, the first 50 ewes? I know the Minister has to put some additional actions in place to do that but if there is space to do that, could that not be examined?
There was not originally in terms of the €25 million. That opportunity has passed. In truth, our problem with the RDP, and I can deal with this in greater detail, is that our Estimate is that we will overspend on it by approximately €106 million over the lifetime of the programme. If we take areas of natural constraint, ANC, liabilities into account, it could be more. Cumulatively, it could amount to an overspend of up to €300 million.
What is not widely recognised, and I did not want to get into this response now, is that when the 2014 to 2020 RDP was being launched, we had a liability of almost €600 million carried forward from the previous RDP. Given that there is much debate now on how the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, will be funded, and the level of funding that will be available to member states post-2020, it would be imprudent to load additional liabilities onto the next CAP when we do not know the level of funding that will be available for that. Currently, our projections are for an overspend of substantial amounts, so we do not have the head room to consider additional expenditure.
I want to deal with the other points raised-----
The original commitment was that we would meet the liability if everybody applied, which was 2.5 million ewes at €10 per ewe. Not all of them applied, so the liability ended up at approximately €20 million. In 2017, we paid an advance on that. The balancing liability will be paid in the second quarter of 2018.
On Deputy Corcoran Kennedy's point about organics, we have approximately 1,740 farmers in the organic scheme. That is a higher level of beneficiaries than we ever had previously and it was as a result of an open call for people to apply, and we took in everybody who applied at that stage. Originally, in the rural development programme going back to 2015, we under-provisioned on the liability but we took in everybody who applied, and we have had to increase the provision for it. We envisaged a budget in the region of €56 million for the organic scheme and I believe we are now providing in the region of €66 million because we took in everybody who applied.
It is one of those sectors where there is an insatiable demand at a consumer level for organic products, both domestically and internationally. The Deputy would be familiar with one of the leading dairy organic companies in her neck of the woods-----
-----Glenisk, which has a fantastic profile for its range of products. There is almost an insatiable demand for organic products on the dairy side and on the tillage side as well, but that is our commitment in terms of organics.
The Deputy also raised a point about protein crops. Under the Common Agricultural Policy, we currently provide approximately €3 million for protein crops. I believe we grow approximately 14,000 ha mostly beans. The Deputy might have seen Commissioner Hogan make some comments recently about Europe's dependency on imported protein crops. A substantial volume of that is genetically modified, GM, protein crops. Of the protein crops we import, and off the top of my head I believe we import about 2 million tonnes of protein for animal feed, most of it is GM. There is a substantial opportunity for import substitution, both here and in the European Union. The Commission is looking at publishing a paper on plant proteins by the end of 2018 and I hope that will lead to a new initiative from the Commission, perhaps via the CAP, and reduce our exposure to both imported and GM proteins, which would be a significant step in the right direction.
On the issue of GLAS payments, there are marginally less than 50,000 applicants, and 97% or 98% of those have been paid. There are 2,900 cases remaining and, of those, 1,600 are a matter for the participant to resolve. They relate to issues ranging from rare breed forms, low emissions slurry spreading forms, basic payment scheme, BPS, errors needing clarification, nutrient management plans and a range of other issues that are within the scope of the applicant to resolve before the Department can process them. The others are issues the Department is working through.
We are dealing with the final core of the scheme. One should bear in mind that 97% to 98% of applicants have already been paid. The last ones involve difficult circumstances such as dual claims and other such issues. The majority of the outstanding cases are ones which the applicant must resolve. It is highly likely as well that we will see a number of applications where the applicant is no longer actively involved in the scheme and has walked away from it without notifying the Department. We are dealing with that core now and trying to bring it to a conclusion. We are paying applicants as they are cleared. There is no undue delay.
No. I have had a lot of engagement with officials in my Department on the issue. Each individual case throws up a range of different issues. One might be mapping issues. Another might be actions on individual plots that the applicant is seeking to opt out of. All those cases require individual attention. They are not routine in their presentation and they require either the applicant to provide further information or the Department to work through all the issues with them as a consequence of the applicant feeding back information to the Department. There is no undue delay on the Department's side in paying people.
Other issues that were raised include areas of natural constraint, ANC. As Deputy Corcoran Kennedy is aware, we benefitted from a decision at EU level to extend the time period for a review of the disadvantaged areas scheme on a range of criteria set down by the Commission on bio-physical criteria. The new deadline is that we must have that completed by the time farmers make their applications for the basic payment scheme in 2019. That breathing space has given us more time and the work is under way. We have given a commitment that in due course there will be an engagement with stakeholders and landowners involved in the process.
In terms of afforestation levels, we have just completed a mid-term review of the forestry programme and that has seen an upwards revision of the afforestation payments and premiums. We would like to see a higher level of afforestation, in particular a higher level of hardwood afforestation. The changes are with a view to trying to drive it further. That is critical from the point of view of our climate change obligations. In total, we are spending in the region of €103 million or €104 million on the forestry programme for 2018, which is a very substantial commitment from the Exchequer. It is not an EU-funded scheme but we are very anxious to increase our afforestation levels.
The first thing to be said on the hen harrier scheme is that there is significant farmer interest in the revised scheme. Already, more than 1,000 applicants have submitted applications. One should bear in mind that those with designated hen harrier lands are entitled to GLAS and GLAS Plus. I always say to those who make the point Deputy Cahill made - I did so even when I was on the opposite side of the table - that the solution to the range of issues those landowners have, and I have considerable sympathy for them, is not a single silver bullet in terms of a hen harrier scheme. It was always meant to be a combination of GLAS, GLAS Plus, the hen harrier scheme and the third piece of the jigsaw was the threat response plan on the current blanket restriction on afforestation. I hope that third part will go the extra bit to restore income opportunities for those landowners. That is something that is on the way. There is a €25 million commitment in the rural development programme for the hen harrier scheme and a combination of those schemes will deliver a solution.
In terms of the suckler cow scheme, I appreciate the point made in the recent Dáil debate. However, what was not clearly articulated in the motion is whether people are talking about a €200 payment per suckler cow on every suckler cow and how it would be funded at a time when all our policy initiatives have been on increasing the genetic merit of the herd. Are we not in danger of standing accused of a lack of joined-up thinking if on the other hand we have a campaign that is merely about driving numbers in the herd at a time when we face challenges around methane emissions in terms of climate change obligations? I take my responsibility seriously in terms of trying to deliver the maximum possible income opportunities to the beef sector. One of the most innovative things to happen in that endeavour, which may have been at a time when a colleague of Deputy McConalogue's was Minister, was that we decoupled and said we would make the payment without the obligation to have the numbers. We said we would make the payment on the basis of a farmer having the minimum stocking density for ANC payments. That would allow farmers to make economic decisions. If we chose the option of making a coupled payment we would be then reverting back to obliging farmers to keep any old stripper or suckler cow for the purposes of the payment, regardless of the quality. I do not think anybody could argue such a move would be to go in the right direction, regardless of the resources we can secure. We are clearly challenged in the context of the rural development programme but in the context of whatever additional resources we can secure in the next CAP I think it should be delivered to farmers with the aim of continuing the journey of improving the genetic merit of the herd and liberating farmers from the obligation to stack numbers and delivering the best opportunity to them in that context. That is something to which I am committed.
Deputy McConalogue raised the issue of GLAS and the reference to €1.4 billion at the time of the announcement of the GLAS scheme. I alluded to some of the rationale behind this earlier when I was talking about the incurred liability of €600 million the current rural development programme inherited from the previous rural development programme. Part of that was around the issue of liabilities under AEOS and the REP scheme, both of which had substantial numbers of farmers working through their contract at that time. It would have been nice if they had all jumped ship on day one and said they would go to the new GLAS scheme but they did not and they had an entitlement to work out their existing contract and then to switch over to GLAS. We inherited a liability. What was envisaged was that of the €1.4 billion, GLAS would incur a liability of €990 million and REPS-AEOS transitional payments from the previous rural development programme would be in excess of €300 million. Cumulatively, it came to approximately €1.38 billion, almost €1.4 billion. That has been clarified for the Deputy in response to numerous parliamentary questions in terms of GLAS, AEOS and REPS. They are all agri-environmental schemes. There is no pot of gold there, regrettably, in terms of underspend that can be redeployed elsewhere. There was a liability. I am sure the Deputy is not suggesting that we should have cut the farmers adrift and said we would not pay them. There was a liability for AEOS and REPS. There was a liability on GLAS and the target was 50,000 applicants and we got the 50,000 applicants. I think the commitment is around €250 million a year at the moment in that space. I appreciate the point Deputy McConalogue made. He hankers back understandably to that press statement on €1.4 billion. It is €1.4 billion but that is a combination of GLAS and inherited liabilities from the previous rural development programme.
That is not what the previous Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, or the Government of the time committed to. It is crystal clear and it is in black and white in the Government's own commitments. When the GLAS scheme was announced it was clearly committed by the then Minister, Deputy Coveney, on behalf of the Government that it would be €1.45 billion on GLAS over the course of the rural development programme. That was crystal clear. That is what he promised in his press conference, but following on from that, all the farming media put up in big headlines that it was what the Government would deliver, understandably so, because that is what the Government promised. The Minister cannot come in here four or five years later and say the Government did not really mean that, and that the money was earmarked for historical commitments rather than the GLAS scheme. That is unacceptable. That is just having people on. That is taking money out of people's hands - out of farmers' hands. That is what the Minister has done here.
I would like the Minister to address that. That is what was promised at the time, and that is €450 million short of the Government's progress today.
The point I am making is that the €1.4 billion was always understood to be a commitment for spending on agri-environmental schemes under the rural development programme. There was a GLAS element to it and there was an inherited liability which could have switched to GLAS. They could have switched to GLAS but those concerned decided to exercise their entitlement to work out their existing contracts. Either way we would have been obliged to pay. Our commitment under GLAS is nearly €1 billion, and the balance is accounted for by those individuals working out their entitlements under their previous AEOS or REPS contracts. If they had exercised the opportunity to switch over to GLAS, we would not be arguing this. This is an exercise in optics. We have met the target of 50,000 participants, and we have honoured all of our obligations under GLAS, AEOS and REPS.
How can anyone take seriously anything the Government says if that is the way it is going to do business? Spending of €1.45 billion was promised, absolutely crystal clearly. The Government made no bones about it. It was promised very clearly by the then Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney. It was not qualified in any way. In fact, there was no room for qualification in what he said. When he met the farming organisations and talked to the press, he doubled down and was very clear in that.
There is an important question here. People did not join GLAS just in the first year. They have joined GLAS 2 and GLAS 3. I am the current incumbent. Deputy McConalogue may well be the person who is facing these questions in due course. I note that Deputy Jackie Cahill also has ambitions to that position. Deputy McConalogue is surely not saying that he or Deputy Cahill would not honour the GLAS 3 applicants, who had a legitimate expectation of a five-year contract when they joined the scheme? When people joined AEOS or REPS, they had a legitimate expectation that their full contracts would be honoured. We did honour them, to the tune of more than €600 million across the entire rural development programme, RDP. That was the right thing to do. It was a liability that we inherited from the rural development programme that Deputy McConalogue's party negotiated. It is right that those GLAS applicants who joined most recently have their contracts honoured. At the core of what Deputy McConalogue is suggesting is the idea that we should not have honoured them. The parties to those schemes could have switched to GLAS on day one and become GLAS participants, but they chose not to. That was their entitlement. The commitment was €1.4 billion, and in fact we will marginally exceed that. We will spend €1.44 billion under agri-environmental schemes. Call them GLAS, REPS, AEOS or whatever one will. They are contracts the Department is bound to honour.
I will make what I am saying clear, rather than have the Minister put it in other words for me. The Government should be honest with farmers at all times. I am also saying that it was absolutely dishonest in this instance. On the GLAS scheme, the Minister refers to commitments running up to 2022, the point when everyone who is currently in GLAS will be out of it. By the time everybody is out of GLAS in 2022, just under €1 billion will have been spent on the scheme. If Deputy Cahill or I were to launch a scheme afterwards, anyone would expect us to be up-front with farmers. They would expect us to indicate what is the remaining commitment from previous schemes, and what will be the commitment for new schemes. Deputy Coveney indicated with great fanfare what the Government's commitment for a new scheme was going to be - €1.45 billion. Deputy Creed expects to sally in here three or four years later and say the Government did not really mean that. We can just wash away the €450 million shortfall, because even though the then Minister told everybody that, he did not mean it. He was thinking something else.
I accept that Deputy McConalogue and I are never going to see eye-to-eye on this. We met the objective of enrolling 50,000 applicants in GLAS. We paid every contingent liability we faced under AEOS and REPS. Those were inherited liabilities, as there will be inherited liabilities from this rural development programme, as provided for in the regulation post-2020. We met the target of 50,000 applicants and we will exceed the figure of €1.4 billion given by Deputy Coveney at the time.
We will move on to the next area, policy and strategy. We will try to get through Members' questions as quickly as possible. Are there any questions on this particular area? Does the Minister have any comments?
I see that the Bord Bia grant was €41 million in 2017 and €41 million in 2018. I know a specific one-off payment has been made to Bord Bia for the development of new markets. However, given the massive challenge arising from Brexit and the extra demand that places on the development of new markets, I would have thought there should be additional funding to Bord Bia, specifically to get boots on the ground. Does the Minister not agree?
The Deputy will be aware that a supplementary estimate at the back end of last year allocated an additional €5 million to Bord Bia. That agency is currently undertaking a recruitment campaign to take on 29 additional staff. It is an issue we keep under active consideration, but our engagement with Bord Bia leaves us satisfied that it is adequately provisioned at present.
To be clear, that was a €5 million one-off grant for a specific project. It is not a recurring grant. The funding for staff numbers and boots on the ground remains the same. The point I was making-----
They will be based both internationally and in headquarters here in Dublin. If the committee were to invite the CEO to appear, I think they would acknowledge that Bord Bia is adequately remunerated for the challenges they face.
We have provided the resources Bord Bia requires. We are acutely conscious of the challenges it faces. We are meeting the targets outlined in Food Wise 2025, and we are consciously evaluating the resource requirements across a range of fronts, including in my own Department, to meet the challenges we face.
The Minister did not make reference to low-interest loans in his opening statement. I know it was a fairly general opening statement. What is the strategy or plan for low-interest loans? We have now reached 1 April.
We will launch the SME loan scheme tomorrow. That is a €300 million loan scheme. A minimum of 40% of it is available to agri-food SMEs that can prove an exposure to Brexit to the satisfaction of the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, SBCI. There will be a further tranche of loans which will include farmers, fishermen and primary producers. It will be the second half of 2018 before that is available.
It is quite late in the year for those loans to become available. From memory, I think the scheme was launched around this time last year, in March, April or earlier. Generally speaking, as the Minister knows, farmers plan their year with regard to fertilisers or whatever they might require that would meet those criteria. It could be argued that the second half of the year is too late.
The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority's ability to properly monitor large fishing vessels, commonly known as super-trawlers, is a bone of contention with many in the small fishing industry in coastal areas. The authority's personnel are not able to board those vessels. It is a serious issue as the smaller vessels seem to get all the attention while the bigger ships, which can do multiples of the level of damage to our seafood stocks, are almost ignored. It is difficult as I am not sure if we have the ability to board, search and properly monitor those ships. Is there anything we can do to try to make a better effort, at least?
I will get the figures for the Deputy as they run quite contrary to the public perception. There is quite a significant combined effort between the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA, and the Naval Service in monitoring all compliance with fishing legislation by both Irish and other EU member state boats in our territorial waters. The figures for boarding and checking of compliance would surprise people, not just with respect to Irish boats but international boats as well. We have a different profile of our industry here and we have more medium boats. As many other countries have privatised the quotas asset, there are fewer and bigger factory ships. These attract adverse comment but we board them regardless of that to ensure compliance. The SFPA is very active in this regard and I can get the Deputy figures for boarding.
There are many moving parts going in the right direction for the industry. We need a new legislative framework to tackle a number of issues out there in terms of welfare and integrity. Much work has been done on the financial position of the industry. This is a critical piece of the infrastructure and I hope it can launch the industry on a new trajectory. I appreciate the Deputy's interest.
I have two points on the seafood sector. There is the strategic plan for sustainable aquaculture development and the implementation of it. We had a session here a couple of months ago on that and there was no clear indication from officials at that stage that an implementation plan would be put in place with associated deadlines. Will the Minister give an update on when we will see that as it is crucial that this moves on?
I appreciate the Deputy's interest in this. It is of interest to those in peripheral and coastal communities, where there is a tradition of fishing. The stated intention arising from the report is that we would clear the backlog in licence applications within two years. There are approximately 600 licences so it is quite a challenge but it can be done. I do not know if people from that division were in but there is an implementation process on the report under way. The ambition is to clear the backlog within two years.
That is critical. When licences are approved or renewal applications are cleared, we open the way for new entrants and increasing output, including associated employment. The critical issue is to deal with the backlog in licence applications.
There is a specific line in the capital budget for investment in the six local fishery harbour centres. There are other harbours outside of those which are really starved of any investment funding. Small allocations are given on an annual basis to local authorities to contribute to them but there is no significant funding being directed to them. I can give one example in my locality. The Minister will not be surprised to hear me mention Greencastle and he is well aware of it. Previously, the Department had provided capital funding for the location but it is not one of the fishery harbour centres. It is the next busiest port outside of those. There is a €10 million-----
-----breakwater that is tied up. It needs additional funding for completion. There is no capital line for this in any Department budget. The appropriate place for it is in this Department as this was the previous parent Department. This has been pushed from pillar to post and I have no doubt it is the same for other harbours. There is money in local authorities for small jobs, which is useful, but there must also be a capital line for much larger infrastructure projects, similar to the capital line that was previously in Departments. I am interested in the Minister's comments and whether we can get a commitment that the Department will be the lead the Department. Will it set up that budget line? Could we have a timescale?
I am aware of the facility that the Deputy refers to. There is work that needs to be done in completing the breakwater. He is correct that my Department has ownership responsibility in respect of the six harbour centres. They are Killybegs, Ros an Mhíl, Castletownbere, Howth, Dingle and Dunmore East. All the other harbour centres are the property of local authorities, including the one referred to by the Deputy. There is an endeavour to find a solution to this.
I will comment on the same point. I am very conscious that particularly around the west coast there are many small piers and harbours that need much work. They depend on getting bits of grants. Every year there are applications and many of them cannot get anything in the queue. In fairness, some extra resources are needed.
If the Deputy has an interest in a pier, he must ensure the local authority responsible for it will put it at the top of its list. If it is at the top, it gets funded. If there are 20 on the list, we cannot fund 20 in a year. We take the top priorities. If the Deputy has a particular interest in a pier, he should ensure the local authority shares the high level of interest. We will endeavour to work on that basis.
I understand there is a reduction relating to inspection for live exports. The Minister reduced the levies per calf being exported. That is welcome and makes our exports more competitive. There is a reduction of 8% in the veterinary fund.
The reason for the reduction in the claimable amount is because the European Union has cut funding for tuberculosis programmes across the Union by 10.85%. Payment of the 2017 co-funding will be made in August 2018. I can give the Deputy more detail but I will have to interpret that myself.
However, I take the Deputy's point about the reduction in levies on the calf exports, in particular, and the volumes that are moving now, which are quite welcome. I will try to get the Deputy more detail.
I am looking at the administration side, which is dealt with on the first page, and at the percentage increases and decreases. The headings with the highest percentage increases tend to be under administration. For example, there was a 9% increase in salaries, wages and allowances in 2018 from 2017. In No. VI, for offices, premises and expenses, the increase is 12% between 2017 and 2018. In No. VII, for consultancy services and value-for-money and policy reviews, there is an increase of 11% from 2017 to 2018. Can the Minister comment on that? Some of it is probably due to pay agreements and so forth, but the increase stands out as high given the percentage increases in some of the other areas. We are seeing the highest percentage increases on the administration side.
The Deputy will recall that we had a Supplementary Estimate at the end of last year on the basis that there was a reallocation of €12 million for salaries and wages. It started at €174 million and became €162 million. This is the Revised Estimates. On the consultancy allocation increasing by 10%, it goes from a base of €176,000 to €208,000 which is not an excessive amount. We have had a staffing issue. We are running flat out to almost stand still. Our efforts to recruit have not been as fast as we would like and what we are losing at the other side means that the numbers are not increasing by a significant amount. We hope to increase the numbers in 2018 because we are at a stage where new employees in critical areas are necessary and important.