Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 2 March 2022

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Challenges in the Pig, Poultry and Horticulture Sectors: Irish Farmers Association

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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One of the things about going last or waiting so long is that most of the questions have been asked. It gives me the opportunity not to repeat the questions already posed but to have a conversation with the witnesses. I want to start by welcoming the IFA. I was in the mart in Kilcullen last Tuesday and, over a cup of coffee, a number of people asked what the IFA was doing for them. We are talking about prosperous country that comprises Timolin, Moone and Ballitore, down into County Carlow, and Athy and Fontstown - great agricultural lands and communities. I was glad to say that the IFA is doing a hell of a lot. That is really important. I said it is in and out of these Houses at night working for and representing them. I want to acknowledge that.

As someone who has sat on this committee for two years, I see the work of the IFA. I see media coverage in the Irish Farmers Journal, agriland.ieand all other publications and provincial papers. We have them all upstairs in the library. They all come in here on a Thursday and I take the time to look, read and see the measure of the publicity.

I am not going to be critical but I will give the IFA a little bit of advice. The ask has to be very succinct. I sit and hear people around this table talking about being disappointed. The reality is that we have a national Government made up of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party. The reality is that we have three Ministers in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, namely, the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, and the Ministers of State, Senator Hackett and Deputy Heydon, who is from County Kildare. I unable to square up why we are having these difficulties in agriculture when we have three Ministers. It has been ably demonstrated today when we have a situation whereby we cannot get the three Ministers to appear before this committee. Here we are; it is not the IFA's problem but our problem in these Houses. Yet they come in every week, eloquently read the IFA's statements and ask us to tell them what we think. There is a bit of a disconnect there. We need to sharpen up our messages. I sit on the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage and see how representatives from the construction industry come in. They do not make any secret of what they want. They spell it out crystal clear and make hard, sharp asks. I say that in a helpful way not to be too provocative. That is an important thing to say, however.

I acknowledge the enormous work done by the IFA. I think back on the great politics of agriculture and the witnesses' predecessors, who managed and leveraged that political power on politicians. We need to do something on that. I want to share that with the witnesses. I thank the IFA for its ongoing briefings. I read its statement today and there are two issues I wish to take up.

I acknowledge the importance of the horticultural sector being the fourth largest after beef, dairy and pigs. I am really saddened and disappointed by what Ms Brennan said but she has given us a dose of reality today in terms of the horticultural sector and our growers dropping. I like to divide horticulture into ornamentals and crops, and then, of course, the mushroom sector on its own. What a wonderful industry we have had up until now. I think we are somehow failing to communicate the real challenges. Somehow, we cannot crack it. We had debates in the Dáil and Seanad on this issue and yet we have a national Government and three Ministers in the Department who are all based in rural constituencies representing rural communities. I do not understand that.

I would like Ms Brennan to provide some more detail to the committee although not necessarily today. I would like more detail with regard to the mushroom sector and the real prices. We need to be equipped with the knowledge the IFA has as professionals representing those sectors, be it poultry, pigs or horticulture, to continue to advance an argument. No one has taken this seriously to date. That is really disappointing. As I said, I think that is important. I understand that horticulture is not a big sector in terms of IFA representation. Yes, it has the horticultural sector and forestry and all the other bits but it is an area in which we have great opportunities. There is a demand for horticulture, food and so forth.

I also want to pick up what on someone said. If we look at all the multiples and advertising in all the papers, they have suddenly glamourised farming. Farmers now have designer boots, coats and jackets, and lovely orange carrots that are varnished. They are using this to sell produce. I will not name any of them. I will not give them that publicity. I bump into people and ask myself whether it is a real person or not. They are all dressed up in Hunter boots, cut-off jackets and designer hairdos with their family - Johnny and the designer sheepdog - telling us to buy Irish and wear Irish producers. It is a very nice image and I am impressed by it but we cannot be fooled by it. That is another concern. I see the concerns in terms of the multiples and the challenges the IFA has.

On page 4 of the IFA's submission, there is a reference to UTPs. Clearly, such practices are hugely challenging for the IFA. The Minister is undertaking a survey, which is to be completed by 15 March. Has any of the IFA's members engaged in that. Has the IFA encouraged them to engage in that? What is its view of the survey? It strikes me as yet another survey. Surely, the Minister and his officials know what the problems are. They do not need another survey of farmers. I do not know the uptake in respect of all of that. The IFA might share with us its knowledge of the survey, how it is going and what it thinks of it. Dare I ask if the IFA thinks it is even necessary. I do not necessarily think so but I would be interested to see the results of the survey.

The national food ombudsman's office is in the programme for Government, therefore, I presume this Government is going to implement this. Ultimately, the national food ombudsman will eventually take over the powers of the unfair trading practices enforcement authority. I would be interested in the witnesses' views on that.

As I said, I acknowledge the important work the IFA does on behalf of farmers across the country. They do not see it here tonight. It is not necessarily reported in all the media. The IFA provides a great service to agriculture and to the rural communities in this country. It is important to say that.