Thursday, 12 May 2022
Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Security: Statements
Michael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
We are delighted to have this debate. Deputy Mattie McGrath has been fighting for the holding of such a debate in the Business Committee for ten weeks. It has taken ten weeks for us to have a debate on fishing. That says it all. The debate has been scheduled for a Thursday evening, when most rural Deputies have to get back to their constituencies. Anyhow, we will take what we can get, even if we have to wait for ten weeks.
Many farmers will be forced out of business if nothing changes soon for farmers who are facing an unprecedented input cost crisis. There are now growing fears that many farm businesses may go under as a result of soaring farm input costs. Even before the current input cost crisis, farmers were facing a unique set of acute and chronic stressors, including farm bureaucracy, climate conditions, animal and crop disease outbreaks, time pressures, workplace hazards, rural crime, finance, isolation, machinery breakdown and media criticism.
Farmers across all sectors are being hit by an array of spiralling input costs which are completely eroding margins that were already through the roof. The Rural Independent Group has been calling on the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Government to address this urgent crisis since last summer. However, so far the Minister has completely failed to address this crisis in any proper manner. Last week, the Minister announced some money for farmers cutting silage but like everything else this Government announces, the devil is in the detail. A farmer who has a milking cow will not get a cent. Most of the suckler farmers who will qualify will only get €200 or €300. That is the bottom line. That is what they are telling me in west Cork. Many farmers will not have the amount of land to qualify for the full amount.
The Minister may have issued a press release or two to suggest that a new pig scheme may come on stream but so far, that is all that has happened- a press release announcing a scheme that is grossly insufficient to meet the growing needs of even that sector.
We are here again today, having been calling for this debate for weeks, seeking immediate action from the Government and issuing the strongest possible warning that the farming sector is in deep despair over spiralling costs and many farmers are now saying to us they are unable to take ongoing losses. I wonder if this is exactly what the Minister wants to hear. Does he want farmers to go out of business? That would fit nicely into the green plan for this country.
Perhaps what is most disappointing is that the Minister and the Ministers of State have completely gone to ground during a crisis that has impacted every farm in the country. The Minister's response is, quite frankly, completely unacceptable. The ongoing silence while this crisis has deepened over the past six months demonstrates an arrogant disregard for the entire farming sector for which there is ministerial and State responsibility. Even data compiled by the State organisation Teagasc highlights that across the board, input prices rose by 30% in the past year with 200% increases in certain fertilisers. The cost of fuel has risen by 38.5%. The cost of feed has risen by 20%. The cost of electricity has increased by 22%. This situation is simply not sustainable at the current levels. The Minister and the Government know that but remain silent and take no action. They are as out of touch and arrogant as a British landlord during the Famine. The lack of action on the part of the Government to support farm families is bitterly unfair and cruel. Farmers cannot and certainly should not be treated in this manner.
I would like to talk about fishing but I do not have time because I am giving time to Deputy Mattie McGrath. We should have a debate on fishing. There are tie-up and decommissioning schemes. We were promised a scheme but the Minister did not announce it. People are looking for an announcement around the decommissioning scheme so they know what is happening in that regard. I know the Minister visited Keelbeg pier in Union Hall recently. The funding to secure that pier has not been forthcoming and parts of it have now been shut down by the council.