Thursday, 14 July 2022
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
This question relates to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the impacts on Irish agriculture. First and foremost, I utterly condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It is an appalling, barbaric act and has caused untold misery, death and destruction all over Ukraine. The impacts are also felt here in a very different way, however, and are causing great difficulty for people. How does the Minister of State plan to continue to respond to this?
I thank Deputy Griffin for raising a really important point. I completely agree that the humanitarian crisis will always take priority in terms of our view of this matter. As the Deputy outlined, there are also significant implications, which we are seeing across all sectors, including the agrifood sector, from Russia's illegal and awful war in Ukraine. We need to take the necessary steps to ensure food security is maintained for EU citizens, the Ukrainian people and in the wider global context.
Following a strong year for family farm incomes in 2021, where average incomes were up by 26% to more than €34,000, Teagasc has forecast that a decline in 2022 is now highly likely as output price increases will fail to offset the rise in production costs. I am acutely aware of the challenges facing our farm families as a result of these input price increases.
Significantly higher production costs will be a feature across all sectors in 2022, with higher fertiliser, feed and fuel prices leading to an increase in agriculture input costs. The current market outlook for output prices is uncertain, with significant upward pressure apparent, but this is unlikely to cover the additional input costs for many farmers.
The Minister and I meet stakeholders on an ongoing basis to discuss the impact of the Ukraine crisis on Irish agriculture and supply chains. At the start of the crisis, we established the national fodder and food security committee and tasked it with the preparation of a response to the emerging crisis in feed, fodder, fertiliser and other inputs and developing contingency plans and advice to assist farmers in managing their farm enterprises. We also established a rapid response team within the Department, chaired by the Secretary General, to monitor the impacts on agrifood supply chains actively and to contribute to the whole-of-government response.
Fertiliser merchants have indicated that there are adequate supplies of fertiliser in Ireland at present. However, there may be issues with availability of certain products at times and importers are active in securing alternative supply lines where necessary. Fertiliser affordability and availability is one of the biggest challenges facing our farmers at present.
I certainly would not like to be a Minister with responsibility for agriculture at present because this is something that is massively challenging for any Minister. In fairness to both the Minister and the Minister of State they have worked very hard and have done their best in what are very difficult circumstances. That effort needs to continue because the three Fs - fertiliser, feed and fuel - are killing farmers right now. The impacts pale into insignificance in the context of what is happening on the humanitarian front on the ground in Ukraine, but the impact on farmers here economically is massive. In the context of the budget negotiations, and further to the previous question, I ask that all those input costs be factored into the Minister's and Minister of State's rationale in terms of the package they are seeking. Perhaps stuff that is not directly within their remit has to be examined as well in the overall picture when they are going to the Department of Finance and seeking a package for farmers. The cost of produce and of doing business for farmers has absolutely exploded and gone through the roof. It is unsustainable.
It is important that the point raised by Deputy Griffin and its impact are discussed in the House. I should point out that there are sufficient supplies of animal feed at present and importers are actively competing on the global market to ensure that supply continues uninterrupted. Animal feed stocks and imports are being monitored on a regular basis by my Department. What Deputy Griffin outlines is a stress and strain on farmers due to the very high input costs. Even though across a number of sectors there are very high commodity prices in many instances, it was a big stress for tillage, dairy, beef or sheep farmers to purchase either the seed for the tillage farmers or the fertiliser and all the different elements because if the price was to change after they had made that significant investment they would be very much caught out. That is why the Minister and I intervened with a number of measures valued at €91 million, so far, to assist the agrifood sector. They include the €56 million fodder support scheme and the packages for the pig sector, tillage sector and horticulture sector. The point the Deputy made regarding the budget is valid as well.
The planning relating to this matter needs to be more medium-term and long-term too. Unfortunately, the Russians, and we know their form, appear to be dug in for a war of attrition. They do not care how long this goes on or how many people die. They do not care about the destruction and the death they cause. This could be a situation that we will have to deal with for quite some time, so that has to be part of the Minister's and Minister of State's thinking and rationale certainly with regard to the forthcoming budget, to allow for a very lengthy disruption of what was normal business prior to 24 February.
In addition, could the green diesel situation be examined further? What more can be done on that front? That is having a massive impact on farmers and it is being felt by them in the pocket throughout the country.
Regarding green diesel, the interventions the Government has made to date have seen all excise duty removed from green diesel, in line with changes to ordinary petrol and diesel excise where there have been record removals in those areas as well.
The targeted measures I mentioned will help Irish farmers at a time of escalating costs and build resilience against the expected impact of the situation in Ukraine. We continue to engage with stakeholders and continue to work across government, and with our European partners, in response to this. We are taking a very proactive approach to the crisis in Ukraine. We must protect our farm families and their businesses through this period of significant upheaval. As Minister of State with responsibility for farm safety and farmer mental health and well-being, I am very conscious of the stress this puts on farmers and farm families. We have stood with them to date with significant interventions worth over €91 million so far this year. I, the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, and our colleagues in the Department will continue to stand with them, and that will obviously be to the forefront of our minds in our preparations for the upcoming budget.