Dáil debates

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Security: Statements

 

5:05 pm

Photo of Jackie CahillJackie Cahill (Tipperary, Fianna Fail)

It is a real pity that it took a war in Ukraine and the misery that has been inflicted on the citizens of Ukraine to bring food security back onto the agenda. Unfortunately, people who should have known better forgot about food security and thought that modern economies such as those in Europe had full energy security and food security. The realisation that food security and energy security are two of the top components of a country's security has been brought home to roost in recent months.

Unfortunately, food poverty will increase dramatically before 2022 expires. Many people in the poorer countries of the world will experience famine before this year is out. Thankfully this country has the ability to produce food sustainably. Under no circumstances can our ability to produce food be sacrificed for anyone's agenda. We are one of the most sustainable producers of food in the world. Our cattle are at grass for up to 300 days of the year. We have an environmental way of producing food which needs to be protected. Our production base needs to be protected at all times.

Is the Minister aware that in the past 48 hours one of the largest importers of fertiliser into the country published its results for the first quarter of the year? In 2021 it made a profit of €303 million. In the first quarter of 2022, it made €980 million. Not only has the cost of the fertiliser I spread on my farm trebled, but the profits of the fertiliser company have also trebled. We need an inquiry into how this happened. I cannot see what common-sense reason there can be for such an inflation in profits. The only conclusion I can come to is that it is at the expense of the primary producer. If the company had stock before the price increases came, surely that should have been passed on to wholesalers at the profit margin it was taking in 2021. I am extremely worried. This company is probably the major importer of fertiliser. That needs to be investigated urgently.

Tillage farmers feel left out of the supports that have been put in place. Farmers who are 100% dedicated to tillage feel there is not enough in the welcome measures the Minister has introduced in recent months. I again ask him to consider some incentives for tillage farmers to overcome the cost squeeze they are experiencing. AdBlue is an essential ingredient for modern engines on farms. Last year it cost 35 cent per litre and it is now €1.80. They are also under enormous cost pressure. While the Minister gave the incentive for extra tillage ground, many tillage farmers do not have any extra ground for tillage. As they would already be 100% tillage, that incentive would not work for them. I ask the Minister to look again at the tillage sector and see what can be done.

Many farmers have fixed-price milk contracts. They were pushed into these fixed-price contracts by the banks. The banks insisted that people who were buying land or doing extensive development would go into fixed-price milk contracts. Some people in my constituency have more than 50% of their milk in these fixed-price contracts at 32 cent a litre. Unfortunately, the cost of production is probably in excess of 40 cent a litre at the moment. In the month of April, most farmers received more than 50 cent a litre for their milk which will all be needed to offset the increased cost of production. However, this significant group of farmers are caught in this fixed-price contract. I urge the Minister to bring the stakeholders around the table to try to get this liability shared. The processors went into these contracts with the primary producers and then we have the end seller and the retailers. This cost cannot be borne by the primary producer alone and common sense needs to prevail. The viability of a significant number of farmers in a number of co-ops is under serious pressure and they risk going out of business.

I wish to talk about the supply of beef for the winter months. We have built up contracts around the world for beef on the basis of a 12-month supply. With the concentration on cereals this winter, farmers will be extremely reluctant to feed cattle in sheds and the supply of beef for those hard-won contracts around the world will be under pressure. I urge the Minister to talk to the meat processors to ensure that farmers can profitably feed cattle next winter.

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