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 Header Item Coillte Teoranta Lands (Continued)
 Header Item Agriculture Industry Age Profile

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Seamus Kirk: Information on Seamus Kirk Zoom on Seamus Kirk] I assume that the decision on selling it has not been taken and that the process of assessment is continuing. I ask the Minister to clarify that issue.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney The Government decision was straightforward. We are not selling the company or the land. The principal decision was to investigate and, if it makes sense to do so, proceed with the sale of harvesting rights for Coillte forests. This would involve selling crops early, just like farmers might sell 30% of their barley crops before they are mature. This is one option for realising the value of State assets, that is, the standing timber on State-owned land managed by Coillte, at a time when we need cashflow. In the context of that sale, a range of complex issues arise which need to be addressed if we are to proceed with our plans. The only decision that the Government has taken is that we will prepare for the sales process with a view to making a decision in the new year on whether it makes sense to continue the process in terms of realising value for the State without compromising strategic assets.

Deputy Seamus Kirk: Information on Seamus Kirk Zoom on Seamus Kirk The sale of immature timber will have profound implications for the saw milling sector, which employs a significant number despite the recession. I understand the downturn in the economy has had a minimal effect on the numbers employed in the sector thanks to the flexibility of both employers and employees. I ask the Minister for his assurance that the employment prospects and long-term viability of the saw milling sector will be borne in mind in any decision taken.

Deputy John Browne: Information on John Browne Zoom on John Browne I get the impression that the Minister is not jumping over the moon about selling Coillte. The timber industry is very important for the saw milling sector but I am sure he will accept that the 18 million people who visit Coillte forests every year are also important in terms of recreation and environmental matters. Does he agree that the proposal to sell the forest assets owned by Coillte presents a serious threat to the use of forests by the people? It is an issue about which we are all concerned and I have received a considerable number of e-mails from groups which use Coillte forests for recreation and environmental matters.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney As I noted earlier, if we proceed with the sales process, we intend to protect the State assets, in other words, the common good element of State-owned forests in terms of the land on which they sit. That includes public access. Most of the forests to which there is public access are not commercial crops. At least 25% of Coillte's estate comprises mature broadleaf forest primarily used for recreation. That will remain the case. These forests will remain in the ownership of the State and under the management of Coillte. The sale will involve standing commercial timber and we will proceed with caution and in a way that is consistent with the Government's decision.

Agriculture Industry Age Profile

 9. Deputy Dara Calleary Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney the steps he has taken to address the age profile imbalance in the farming industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55959/12]

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney Many people find it extraordinary that more farmers are over the age of 80 than under the age of 35. That is no basis for the kind of ambition we share for growth and innovation in the sector. This is not to imply there are no good farmers who are older than 80. Many of them are wise people who can teach the new generation.

Deputy Seamus Kirk: Information on Seamus Kirk Zoom on Seamus Kirk They have accumulated experience.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney Large numbers of young people are enrolled in agricultural colleges. Over the past six years, the number has increased from 600 to 1,450 per year. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of young men and women who want to get into farming and we need to offer them a future. That is why an Irish proposal was taken on by the Commission as part of the Common Agricultural Policy reform to ask countries to set aside 2% of pillar 1 single farm payment money over the next five years for top-up payments for young farmers under the age of 40. In other words, single farm payments for young farmers under the age of 40 will be topped up by 25%, up to a maximum of five years. It is like an installation aid scheme except that it is sponsored by European money. Ireland's proposal was supported by Hungary and the Commission has taken it on. Irrespective of whether it is mandatory or voluntary, it will be implemented if I am still Minister. We need to support young farmers in terms of giving them a financial advantage to allow them to invest in expanding their businesses. That will boost the realisation of the targets in Food Harvest 2020. Pillar 2 also provides opportunities to support young farmers through a series of programmes supported by rural development funds.

In terms of national policy, despite all the difficult decisions taken in the budget, we acted strategically to support young farmers by encouraging the consolidation of farms, and maintaining the preferential treatment they get in terms of stock relief, exemption from stamp duty and partnerships where sons and daughters work with their parents to manage the farm. A number of positive initiatives are being taken in the interests of young farmers to address the generational problem.

Deputy Seamus Kirk: Information on Seamus Kirk Zoom on Seamus Kirk Does the Minister agree that we need to develop a public policy position which would also involve Revenue and other Departments? The prospects for young farmers having access to land other than by leasing arrangements are limited and unless they win the lotto or inherit large sums of money, they are often unable to buy the sort of acreage that would rapidly create a viable holding. Does the Minister see a need for a co-ordinated approach to stock relief, leasing arrangements and special tax breaks for those who own the land to ensure young people who graduate from agricultural colleges can seamlessly enter the industry and provide the energy it clearly needs?

Deputy James Bannon: Information on James Bannon Zoom on James Bannon I listened with interest to the Minister's comments on educational facilities for young farmers. Quality education is key to developing Irish agriculture and giving it a competitive edge in Europe. The Minister may be aware, however, that at least six agricultural colleges closed across the midlands during my lifetime. There is a significant deficit in terms of educational facilities. I have raised this issue in the House in respect of the midlands and Deputy Kirk's area.

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