Seanad debates

Tuesday, 16 April 2024

1:00 pm

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister for coming to the House to discuss this important matter. This is a debate I have been seeking for some time. I thank him for his level of engagement with us. Quite frankly, however, engagement is not enough. There is a sense of despair across the farming sector of a kind that I have not seen for a long time. The bad weather is the straw that broke the camel's back. That is notwithstanding the fact that prices in the marketplace have remained relatively strong for milk, beef and, to a lesser extent, grain.

Over a period, a cascade of issues have been undermining confidence in the principles and practices of farming. A perceived green agenda is upsetting farmers, particularly as some of it is poorly explained on occasion. Farmers feel that they are at the bottom of the ladder. They are working hard to stand still. Costs are increasing across all sectors, but some seem to suggest that because the market price for products in general has held relatively strong, farming is going well. In truth, it is not. That is because of rising costs.

I interacted with the Minister on the situation in County Clare. A considerable number of farmers in east Clare who signed up to the hen harrier scheme lost a significant amount of money when it was integrated into the ACRES programme.. Between €4,000 and €6,000 to a small farmer in such an area is a huge hit to take. It impacts on all aspects of the family and puts people under pressure to educate their kids, and get them to college in order to give them a better chance. It is the same with farmers in the Burren. I met with the Minister's officials on a number of occasions. They tried to explain it away and said it would be fine and that it would balance out. I would like those officials to sit down now with the farmers who were told that this would balance out for them. Another hit in the Burren area to the value of €5,000 or €6,000 per farmer is real money. It is a large percentage of a relatively small income. That is just two examples in the county. Of course there are issues that are outside the Department's control - nobody is going to blame the Minister or the Department for the weather - but there needs to be a greater level of engagement.

I know farmers who cannot get straw at the moment. The scheme the Minister brought in is very welcome because it helps to move fodder around. It provides a fairly decent degree of financial contribution to move fodder from one part of the country to the other, but what about those who are looking for straw who cannot get it? Straw will have to be imported. It is easy enough to say to a big dairy person that he should get straw from outside the country at his own cost, but for the smaller people it is an intolerable burden.

If we take it in the round, we need to have a much better level of engagement with the farming sector. In the past, the Minister did a very successful round of visits to meet farmers in regions. I would like him to consider doing that again because it helps. I know it is a big burden on his schedule, but it does help to show the farming community that the Government cares. I know the Government cares. I know the Minister cares. I know the farming background he comes from and I know he understands small, marginal farming, part-time farming and tillage. He also understands the bigger enterprises and the spectrum involved in farming. There is negativity out there from some in the cities who seek to put all the burden of responsibility for climate change on the backs of the farmers, and who believe that farmers have been doing extraordinarily well in recent years, which the Minister and I know is not the case because of the increasing costs.

Meeting farmers would show that the Minister, the Department and the Government cares. I appeal to the Minister to visit farmers. I would like him to start in County Clare, where he has an open invitation because of the schemes I talked about and the issues with grain, which affect the county to a lesser extent. We have a very strong suckler herd. The farmers in that sector are under enormous pressure. The dairy farmers we have are also under enormous pressure. The situation is replicated throughout the country. I appeal to the Minister to do as much as he can from a Government perspective and to put funding in place. I ask him to look again at the schemes relating to both the hen harrier and the Burren that were previously in place and to try and get some level of compensation back to those farmers, because the current scheme is not working for them. I also urge him to engage, insofar as he can on a face-to-face basis, with farmers through regional meetings. The Minister meets with the representative bodies every week. It would be very complementary to that if his level of engagement superseded that of previous Ministers. If possible, farmers would like to see him at some kind of regional forums.


No comments

Log in or join to post a public comment.