Thursday, 31 March 2022
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
126. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the engagement his Department has had with food producers in Ireland whose supply chains have been seriously affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16821/22]
There are major challenges for food producers in Ireland. What level of engagement has the Department been involved in to deal with the serious difficulties that have now arisen as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine? Will he make a statement on the matter?
I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. As we know, the war in Ukraine has had a number of impacts on our agrifood sector. It is the number one priority for me, the Ministers of State, Deputies Hackett and Heydon, and the Department. I am working with key agrifood and marine sector stakeholders on an ongoing basis to discuss the impact of the crisis on agrifood supply chains, particularly on the viability of farmers and fishers as primary producers.
At farm level, the crisis is likely to have serious impacts on the price of animal feed, fertiliser and fuel, which are all vital farm inputs. We have seen farmers are experiencing that. The food industry very much relies on natural gas for its energy supply and costs will escalate as a result. These factors, and others, are likely to result in price increases for consumer staples at wholesale and retail level. The effect of these impacts is being felt most intensively and acutely at present in the intensive pig and poultry sectors, where feed costs are such a big part of their inputs. It is something I have been very much liaising and engaging with the sector on.
The Department is also in contact with the main banks on an ongoing basis, which it will be important to continue, in addition to the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland. On support to the pig sector in particular, the Deputies will be aware that I introduced a scheme three or four weeks ago to deliver up to €20,000 per pig farm. Pig farmers are under even more pressure since then and I am engaging with them at present.
I have established the fodder and food security committee to bring all stakeholders together and to plan for the year ahead. A big effort will be required to work together to ensure that we continue to produce food and meet the additional challenges. The tillage scheme is one of the measures I have introduced, which was referred to. I confirm to the Deputy that the scheme has gone live and is open from today for applications. There has been a very strong response to that. I commend farm families and farmers throughout the country on how they have responded to that.
The big issue for farmers and contractors throughout the country at present is supply of fertiliser and supply of fuel. For instance, I talked to one contractor who needs 10, 000 l of fuel to get crops in over the next ten days but has only been given 1,500 l. Is there any mechanism, or is the Department involved in any way, to make sure there is an adequate fuel supply for those contractors and for those who have a large acreage of cereals to put in place?
Likewise, fertiliser was approximately €270 or €300 per tonne last year and is now more than €1,000 per tonne, which is a major challenge, as is the level of supply. Is the Minister satisfied that enough is being done to make sure we can get supply into this country for the dairy sector and, in particular, the tillage sector, especially over the next two weeks?
I am satisfied that everything is being done to get supply into the country. That does not mean supply is easy to get or there are not challenges. My Department and I have been liaising closely with feed importers and fertiliser importers. We are in constant contact in that regard. There will be challenges over the next period. It is steady at present, particularly as regards feed over the next period. There are challenges relating to fertiliser in that it is not as available as it was, but I am hopeful that will reach a balance and a level. All the wholesalers and retailers are working closely with their customers and individual farmers to ensure supply. I will certainly continue to work with all in the sector to support them in the time ahead.
I referred to the European scheme. Capacity has been available in the past week through exceptional aid. Some €15 million has been made available from European central finances, which we can co-fund to provide support. I am looking to see how we can use that to best support various sectors as we work through this year.
Has there been engagement outside Europe with, for instance, the US regarding feed or fertiliser supply? For example, I heard recently of a boat being loaded in Ukraine to bring 35,000 tonnes of grain into Ireland. The loading of that boat stopped, which has created a significant vacuum. Have alternative places been considered from where we can get grain and fertiliser?
All importers have been working very hard to try to secure supplies. They have been assessing all potential markets to source their supplies. They draw supplies from around the world at different times. Supply chains have obviously been disrupted by what has happened but suppliers are working very hard to see where that security of supply will come from in the months ahead. That is the case across feed and, in particular, fertiliser.
Energy is also being closely monitored by the relevant Minister. Certainly, agriculture is always prioritised. I am confident supply is there for the time ahead but, again, it is something the Government is closely monitoring.