Seanad debates

Tuesday, 16 April 2024

1:00 pm

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister for coming to the House to discuss this all-important issue. We have all been in contact with farmers in our own localities with regard to the issues facing them over quite a while. Even on my way up to Dublin today, the rain was sporadic and was coming and going. It is certainly not helping the mental health of farmers and people working on their farms.

I want to raise a number of issues. The fact of potato shortages affects retailers, a point referred to by Senator O'Reilly. I was in a small retail shop across the road from my house the other day. They usually have a selection of five or six different types of potato but they were limited in what they had the other day because they just could not get them. They are afraid they are going to run out of potatoes. Small farmers often produce potatoes in places like Wexford and Dungarvan.The retailer goes and collects them in order that his customers can have an offering. There is a fear factor for the small business person going forward because we have had so much rainfall and people have not been able to sow either malting barley and wheat. On many farms, about 40% of grain is sowed on rented land. Farmers have the added pressure at the moment of paying rent at a time when they cannot use that land. This is playing on the mental health of farmers, as is the fact that slurry spreading has been delayed. The stress factor facing farmers, their employees and families is a major issue. If a farmer is down, everyone feels it, especially the family living at home with him.

I welcome the fact that the Minister brought back the national fodder and food security committee, which certainly worked very well during Covid. The Minister had people from different categories and backgrounds in the agriculture sector coming together to share ideas and support one another but also to highlight where they saw shortages and signal where people needed support. It is important to keep that committee going, particularly as we had very high rainfall last year. There has been continuous rain every since. There has been no let-up. While we had some dry weather in between and people were in good form, it is very important that the committee be kept going on a permanent basis. From speaking to individual members of the committee and organisation that were represented on it and had an input into it, I know they felt it was beneficial to be able to talk to one another and to have access to the Minister and his officials. The Minister of State and others fed into the process as well.

I also welcome the exemption relating to the 15% crude protein requirement. I am concerned about the paper trail. Farmers are trying to do what they can. If the Minister could cut back on the amount of red tape and paperwork involved, it would really be of benefit.

There is one final point I would like to raise. There was much talk six or eight months ago about veterinary colleges around Ireland. Collaboration took place between the Departments of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science. The University of Limerick was one of the places that was selected and considered for the establishment of a veterinary college. From speaking to farmers, I understand there is a shortage of vets. What is the status of that application, and what is going to happen? We need to progress this issue. We must keep vets at home and have them train in Ireland. There are many vets in small and larger practices. It is important to have them train in Ireland because there is collaboration between the education sector, farmers and farm organisations in order that vets get the training and work experience they need. I would like to see matter relating to veterinary colleges being progressed, particularly in view of what I have heard from farmers about the shortage of vets and being able to gain access to them.


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