Thursday, 14 July 2022
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
1. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his targets for land use associated with the growing of crops for 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025; and his proposed measures to reach those targets. [37920/22]
I am a huge proponent of the tillage sector, which plays a critical role in Irish agriculture. It is a sector I have backed with new and innovative schemes and that I will continue to back into the future given its value. It provides feed for our livestock sector and materials for our food and beverage sectors.
While no specific targets are set by my Department for land use associated with the growing of crops for 2022 to 2025, I support the tillage sector through targeted policy interventions and supports.
The protein aid scheme has been implemented since 2015 with a budget of €3 million and a target payment of €250 per hectare. In Ireland’s 2023-27 CAP strategic plan, the budget has been increased to €7 million with an increased target payment of €350 per hectare. In 2021, I introduced the straw incorporation measure, which aims to improve our tillage soils. In 2022, this measure will deliver an estimated €12 million in support for the tillage crops sector. I have committed this hugely important measure as part of our next CAP strategic plan.
In response to the illegal invasion of Ukraine by Russia, I introduced the tillage incentive scheme with a €400 per hectare payment on additional crop area. I bolstered the existing protein scheme by guaranteeing a €300 per hectare payment on beans, peas and lupins and I also introduced a protein cereal mixed crop scheme.
These measures have been acknowledged as contributing to the estimated 6% increase in tillage area or additional 20,000 ha, in 2022. Just yesterday, at a meeting of the national fodder and food security committee, I tasked the committee with scoping out how much more grain we can grow domestically next year to build on the strong return this year.
Tillage farmers have always been leaders in their willingness to adopt new technology at farm level. The tillage capital investment scheme provides support to farmers to invest in modern equipment and infrastructure. To date, tillage farmers have received €31 million in financial support under the scheme.
I assure the Deputy that I will continue to work with this important sector and provide the targeted Government support it deserves given the importance of the sector within the wider agricultural industry.
I thank the Minister for that response. The context of this conversation has changed dramatically because the Russian invasion of Ukraine has exposed fault lines in global, EU and domestic policy on food security. Of course, Sinn Féin recognises that the Government is limited in its ability to respond to geopolitical events and global commodity markets and, therefore, any response, while needing the immediacy the Minister has mentioned for this year and next year, also needs to be long term. One area in which the Government can play a role is in incentivising increased tillage production. That requires targets. We have approximately 324,000 ha. The land under production has fallen by 42% since 1980 ,and 15% in recent years. Will the Minister examine setting targets for the sector?
I definitely want to see the area under production increase. The trend in recent years and decades where the area under tillage has shrunk is not good for Irish agriculture. We have tremendous potential to grow grain successfully and productively in this country and I want to put a big emphasis on improving that in the time ahead. Looking at the range of schemes that we have in place this year and that are plugged into the next CAP strategic plan, it is evident that support for the tillage sector is strong. It is hard to know how much we can push it. My focus is on the push and pull factors that we can put in place and to stretching the capacity to deliver as much as possible. We could set targets but it is not the target that will deliver the outcome but the schemes, the pushes and pulls that we can put in place. We have a lot of measures in place now to try to make progress. Farmers have stepped up to the mark this year and tillage farmers, in particular, have delivered that 6% increase, which is something we hope to build on.
I acknowledge that tillage production did increase by 6.1% so far this year, which I think was 78% of the objective. Approximately 13,000 ha of that related to cereal, which was just an increase of 4.5%. This is a crucially important area as I am sure the Minister recognises, including for other sectors that need feed. It makes sense if we can produce it in Ireland. It also makes sense from the perspective of reaching our climate action obligations. This is win-win if it is a win for the farmers. Many farmers moved from tillage into other sectors because tillage production was unprofitable and, therefore, the challenge is to make it profitable. There have been positive examples in my constituency. The farmers involved in Irish Organic Mill have created an industry they were told was impossible in a county like Monaghan. However, to expand and to support farmers in that endeavour we need a holistic strategy.
I have met the farmers in the Deputy's constituency who have taken that initiative. It is encouraging and shows the potential that is there. Any measure that we can take to push and maximise the potential to reverse the trend of recent years and to grow tillage again is something I will consider and promote. The straw incorporation scheme, for example, which I launched as a pilot measure for the first time last year, delivers up to €10,000 for a tillage farmer with 100 acres. That is something that I have plugged into this CAP strategic plan and, therefore, it has moved from a pilot scheme to a permanent scheme under the next CAP programme that will run up to 2027. There was a meeting of the national fodder and food security committee yesterday under the chairmanship of Mike Magan, under the advisory leadership of Dr. Frank O'Mara and all of the key agriculture stakeholders. I asked them to reflect on the progress we have made this year and to come back to me with their advice on how we can build on that next year and in the years ahead. I look forward to receiving their advice.