Thursday, 31 March 2022
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
I thank the Deputy for raising this important issuing this morning. Unfortunately, this is an ongoing issue, as he and I both know. On behalf of the Government, I again condemn the illegal invasion of Ukraine and commend the response of people across the country who are showing solidarity with and support for Ukrainian citizens.
At a time when tractors are in the fields domestically, calves are being born and sheep are lambing, many of our brethren farmers in Ukraine are facing a war and taking up arms, in many instances, as opposed to doing what they want to do in terms of farming and tilling the soil. The Government remains very much resolute in our solidarity with them and with Ukraine.
As the Deputy outlined, significant implications are being seen across the economy and there are particular challenges at farm level. The crisis has already made a significant impact on the price of feed, fertiliser and fuel. I have established a rapid response team within the Department, chaired by the Secretary General, to actively monitor the impacts on the agrifood supply chain and contribute to the whole-of-government response to the crisis.
I also established the national food and fodder security committee with all key stakeholders to provide advisory leadership to plan for this year and for next winter and spring. As the Deputy knows, I also brought forward the €12 million tillage support, which has been very strongly responded to by farmers. I know many are considering planning to grow increased tillage this year and to avail of that support. Certainly, there is an absolute guarantee from me that €400 per hectare will be paid on that additional tillage to those who plant that extra grain this year .
At the start of the year, I also launched the tillage soils and nutrients campaign to provide advice around organicslurry. That is more precious and valuable than ever and how it is used is really important. That is a really important support to farmers as well.
Thousands of people depend on farming in Ireland, including the 6,000 farms in my own county of Clare. If this were a normal year, we would be expecting farm exports such as dairy and meat, etc., to be netting €14 billion for this country and feeding a worldwide population of 40 million. That is where we would be aiming to be at. We have had to look very much inward now because there will be many shortages ahead for Ireland, not just in fuel but probably on the supermarket shelves as well. It is the farmers who have always stepped up to that mark across each generation.
I really welcome the €12 million intervention and the tillage and multi-species swards initiative. It has been welcomed by much of the farming sector. When I leave the Dáil today, I will go back home to County Clare to our home farm environment. When I did my green certificate in Pallaskenry agricultural college, we were told about reseeding, discing, liming and testing. I do not know whether that will benefit people in County Clare who have the traditional grasses. We do not have much perennial rye or timothy grasses down there. I do not know whether this will this benefit the west of Ireland counties where the soils are a bit heavier and where we have traditional meadow grass. I do not know if that initiative will benefit all. Are discussions going on in Europe to have a European-wide response to this?
Yes, discussions are going on. I have had much engagement with the Commission and, indeed, fellow agriculture ministers on this. I acknowledge Deputy Crowe's advocacy on behalf of the farmers of County Clare with regard to the challenges they are facing at the moment. I visited his alma mater, Salesian Agricultural College in Pallaskenry, last week. I commend the great work it is doing and the service it is providing, of which the Deputy is a product in terms of the education he received there.
At European level, the Commission has now moved to provide a €500 million European-wide package, which will deliver support of €15.8 million of European money to Ireland. There is the capacity to build that to the tune of 200% in terms of co-funding as well. I am now assessing how we can use that money to provide supports to farmers over the next period. I very much acknowledge the increased cost pressure that is on them and also the importance of working together to ensure we meet those challenges, grow the grass and grain and produce the food.
Yesterday, a group of us met with the Association of Farm & Forestry Contractors of Ireland, FCI, in the audiovisual room in Leinster House 2000. One of the requests it is making to the Minister's Department and to the Government overall is for 200 million l of green diesel to be ring-fenced for its sector to ensure we get a silage crop. It is now time for grass growing during the period from St. Patrick's Day to around Hallowe'en. It is now that the growth is taking off. The earth is warming up. The FCI wants to know that it can have enough fuel at a reasonable price to take this silage from the ground, harvest and have it in the sheds. As I said, the sward initiative is fabulous and I think that is where every farmer wants to get to. It is not realistic this year, certainly where I am from, to start discing out land and reseeding but it is realistic to get a good silage crop, have it in the shed and then come November, be able to give fodder to the cattle. If the cost of fuel is spiralling, however, the cost per bale is going to go through the roof. Many farmers, particularly in the west of Ireland, are waiting to see what will happen with fuel and how that will affect the silage crop cost for summer 2022.
I thank Deputy Crowe for raising this issue. The Minister will accept that the €15.8 million that has been earmarked for Ireland out of the EU crisis reserve is a drop in the ocean in terms of the supports our farming families need. The first question to the Minister is, naturally, whether he will he ensure that is co-financed to the tune of 200%, as is within his gift.
The second question that must be asked relates to what interventions can and will he make with regard to input costs. Fertiliser costs have gone through the roof. Has the Minister asked the EU to abolish the tariffs on imported fertiliser in the short term? With regard to fuel and energy costs, will the Minister make a move in relation to excise and carbon taxes on those products to give farmers a small bit of support? The latest revelations that cattle prices at marts are beginning to begin to drop again is extremely worrying when we consider the rising input costs we have been discussing.
I thank the Deputies. I am fully assessing how we can spend that funding and the level of co-funding along with that. The first starting point is looking at the types of interventions we can do that will support farmers as much as possible.
As the Deputies will know, I have made interventions already with the tillage scheme, which we discussed, to encourage additional grass growth in relation to multi-species sward and clover swards. There is also the initial support package for the pig sector, which is under even more increased pressure since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine. I am working with the team in the Department and the rapid response team I established to do that. I will also be working very closely with the fodder and feed security sector.
My key message is that we must plan ahead. The key priority for farms this year is the importance of growing grass. We have to do that. I am looking at how I can support the sector. We are going to need to have that fodder in store for next autumn and winter. We must ensure the stocks are there and we have to plan for that now. We cannot plan on the basis of being able to import additional grain if we do not grow and store enough grass this year. I have set out what I have been doing and will continue to do to support the sector in terms of assessing the best way to use the flexibility that has been provided at European level.