Thursday, 12 May 2022
Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Security: Statements
Johnny Mythen (Wexford, Sinn Fein)
Farming in County Wexford and throughout the island is a much-valued industry that contributes millions to local economies in employment, commerce and sustainability of rural communities. The Common Agricultural Policy is the single most important tool we have for securing the future of family farms and food security, yet the CAP budget in the next period represents a substantial cut to farmers' incomes and threatens the viability and sustainability of the small farm. The Government refused to bring its draft CAP strategy plan before the House for debate, scrutiny and approval, as Sinn Féin reasonably called for. We make the same reasonable call to the Minister now and ask if he will bring any revised plan to the House as well as re-engaging with the farming organisations and other stakeholders on the plan. I would also like the Minister to clarify the definition of the so-called forgotten farmers and whether the cohort of these farmers will be supported under the next CAP. Where exactly will the funds come from? Will they have access to the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS, through the next CAP rounds?
I met recently with local Irish Farmers Association, IFA, members in County Wexford. We had a very healthy and robust discussion. One of the biggest issues they raised with me is their skyrocketing costs. They are deeply troubled by the cost of diesel and fertiliser, which is having a detrimental impact on their farms and businesses. As the Minister knows, fertiliser prices alone had increased by 160% to 228% year-on-year by January. The price of organic poultry feed has increased 77% as of April this year, while farmers are also facing spiralling energy costs and other costs of living specific to farming. It is, therefore, understandable that farming organisations described the initial reduction in the cost of agri-diesel by 2% per litre as an insult, especially since this already meagre reduction was cancelled out by the carbon increases at the beginning of this month.
I will also raise the issue of farming contractors, particularly those involved in silage. Simply put, if they do not receive some recompense, small farms and small contractors will go to the wall. For example, it cost €5,000 to fill a 10,000 l tank last year. Today, it costs €10,000 to fill that same tank. Contractors will have no choice but to pass this cost on to the family farm or go bust. Following pressure from Sinn Féin, the Minister for Finance recently introduced further reductions to offset the carbon tax increases, which was welcome. However, those increases should have been stalled instead of using this roundabout mechanism that caused a lot of distress and does not go far enough.
Furthermore, the crisis in the forestry licensing system is far from over and is causing continued bureaucratic stalling for a product that is vital to the environment and the construction industry in Wexford and beyond. This is despite the climate advantage afforestation brings to the reduction of our carbon emissions, in addition to being a much-needed domestic supply of timber, which has now become a very expensive imported commodity and will, as I said, be essential to the building of much-needed homes for our young people. What plans are in place to address this?
County Wexford also has a strong maritime tradition and a strong fishing community. I meet regularly with our fishers and have spoken several times in this House to stand up for them and to protect this industry. Their contribution to the local and national economy is as important as farming, as it is to the survival of our small fishing communities and villages. In fact, Irish fishers have borne the biggest financial brunt of the Brexit deal. The industry has been left behind yet again in European negotiations in order to soften the blow for other industries. Irish fishermen will take a 15% cut to their pre-Brexit quota, which will cost €43 million per year, as a result of the trade deal. Only approximately 20% of the fish caught in these waters are landed by Irish fishermen. This is deeply unfair and a by-product of the failure of every Government policy since the Common Fisheries Policy was put in place. From talking to fishers and those working in other small coastal businesses in my area of Wexford, they feel completely abandoned, unheard and, forgive the pun, thrown overboard by the Government. Sinn Féin wants to see a revisiting of the Common Fisheries Policy. The Government must start arguing and negotiating for a fair quota system that reverses the existing disproportionate quotas, sets a fair deal for our fishers and protects our natural resources.
I thank the Minister for listening, Deputy Carthy for his Trojan work as Sinn Féin agriculture spokesperson and Deputy Mac Lochlainn, our fishing spokesperson.