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 Header Item Agriculture Industry Age Profile (Continued)
 Header Item Grassland Sheep Scheme Application Numbers

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 3

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Acting Chairman (Deputy Peter Mathews): Information on Peter Mathews Zoom on Peter Mathews The Deputy's point has been well made. Will he, please, allow the Minister to respond?

Deputy James Bannon: Information on James Bannon Zoom on James Bannon There is a huge deficit in the north of the country. Does the Minister have plans to provide a new agricultural facility in the midlands or further north?

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney I agree with the Deputy that agricultural colleges, universities and institutes of technology that offer strong food and agricultural courses are hugely important. We do not have plans to build new agricultural colleges. What happened was that there was a dramatic fall-off in the numbers of young men, in particular, going to agricultural colleges. As a result, some of the colleges closed and there was huge pressure to close others. I remember sitting in a committee room trying to persuade policymakers that we should not be shutting colleges such as Rockwell, Gurteen, Clonakilty and others. Fortunately, that did not happen and now these colleges are operating at full capacity. Buildings are not the problem. The problem is the availability of adequate staffing and expertise.

Deputy James Bannon: Information on James Bannon Zoom on James Bannon Multyfarnham and Warrenstown which were fine colleges were closed. As a result, there is no agricultural facility in the midlands and no place in which to educate its young farmers. I plead with the Minister to look at this issue.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Peter Mathews): Information on Peter Mathews Zoom on Peter Mathews That would be an excellent subject for a Topical Issue debate.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney All of the agricultural colleges have dorm facilities. Therefore, having to attend an agricultural college in another part of the country is not a disaster. I went to Gurteen agricultural college, which is a long way from where I live in Cork, and had a really good year there. I probably learned more in that year about farming than I did during my three year degree programme in agricultural science. It works well when people from different parts of the country move to other parts where they can meet different types of farmers with whom they can live and learn while in agricultural college.

Grassland Sheep Scheme Application Numbers

 10. Deputy Michael Moynihan Information on Michael Moynihan Zoom on Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney the number of farmers who successfully applied for the sheep grassland scheme in 2012, broken down by county; the total anticipated savings in the Budget 2013 changes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55970/12]

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney I mentioned this issue earlier in connection with a matter raised by Deputy Martin Ferris. I would like to explain the decisions taken in last week's budget on the sheep grassland scheme. We had a three year grassland scheme which was costing the country approximately €18 million a year, using unspent funds under Pillar 1. The aim of the scheme and the idea behind it was to increase the number of sheep being farmed in Ireland because for ten years in a row the flock decreased in size year after year. We had to try to reverse that trend. I am delighted to be able to say the scheme has contributed significantly to reversing it and for the first time in a decade, the flock is bigger this year. Therefore, the scheme has worked well.

I now want to try what I know has worked in other sectors, particularly in the dairy sector, in which we have seen the benefit of discussion groups. In the dairy sector dairy farmers meet on a monthly basis in what they might call "dairy discussion groups" to discuss how their business works and how their animals are performing and everything else. The issues discussed include fertility, grazing, feed conversion efficiency, stock management and so on. The evidence we have from the groups is that, on average, farmers who attend them have increased their profit margins by somewhere between 4% and 5%. I want to see the same benefits in the sheep sector. The sheep grassland scheme was due to end this year, but we have chosen to extend it into next year. We will spend €14 million on it next year and use €3 million from the budget to initiate a sheep discussion group model to encourage sheep farmers to enter the type of discussion group setting that has worked so well for the dairy and beef sectors in order that we can help sheep farmers to make more in the market place rather than rely on schemes for an income. This is a progressive measure. It is about using money in the most progressive way we can, given the problems we face.

Deputy Seamus Kirk: Information on Seamus Kirk Zoom on Seamus Kirk Despite the Minister's protestations, the reality is that the budgetary provision for the scheme is going downhill. Once he starts to reduce the funds available-----

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney It is not.

Deputy Seamus Kirk: Information on Seamus Kirk Zoom on Seamus Kirk The fund is being reduced from €18 million to €14 million.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney It is going from €18 million to €17 million, when we include the €3 million being transferred for the sheep discussion groups

Deputy Seamus Kirk: Information on Seamus Kirk Zoom on Seamus Kirk I take it there has been an assessment of expenditure under the scheme by the Department. What has been the result of that assessment? Has the expenditure been justified? Obviously, the Minister has decided to change direction. Should there be a continuation of the financial support provided under the original scheme?

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney The scheme has been a success on a number of levels. We had seen sheep numbers reduce year on year and were getting to a stage where the perception was developing that a farmer could not make money from sheep farming. We had to put a scheme in place to help farmers to make more money from responsible sheep production and that was the origin of the sheep grassland scheme which was a three year scheme. This was to be the last year of the scheme. We believe it makes sense to continue it but to divert some of the money towards a discussion group model that we know has worked well for other sectors in order that, as well as supporting the income of sheep farmers and the quality of production, we can help upskill them to ensure they are maximising the potential of their holdings and the returns they obtain. That is what discussion groups do.

Although farmers have seen this move as a cut to the sheep grassland scheme, they should instead look at it in the round and realise that while there is a slight reduction in financial support for the scheme, there is a new opportunity for them to sign up to participate in a sheep discussion group through which they will be paid €1,000 a year to attend meetings and participate in discussions that will help them to run a more effective lamb and sheep production business. That is a good use of the money.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace On the issue of schemes, I notice the suckler cow welfare scheme has been done away with.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney Is the Deputy trying to get in early?

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace I realise this is a slightly different issue, but small farmers have contacted me about it. Producing suckler cows has been a way of life for them and even if they do not make money one year, they stay in the business because it is their way of life. The ending of the scheme is a huge blow for many small farmers who have depended on this money. The allowance used to be €80 which was cut to €40 and now it is €20, payable on a maximum of 20 animals. There is significant work involved for the farmers concerned. Last week I spoke to a farmer who had gone through all his records for his animals, including date of birth, date of tagging of cow and calf, the rate of calving, the date of dehorning, the date of castration, date of meal introduction and so on. He needs three bags of meal for just one calf.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney None of that comes under the scheme we are discussing.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace The farmer also mentioned he had to feed a calf meal for six weeks before he could part with it. The scheme was a very good one for the industry and made sense. Sadly, its demise will hit small farmers more than big farmers. It is a pity it is going. I, therefore, suggest the Minister should reconsider the matter.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Peter Mathews): Information on Peter Mathews Zoom on Peter Mathews To use a golf analogy, the Deputy is out of bounds on this question. However, the Minister seems to be willing to respond.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace We need a flexible Acting Chairman.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney If the Acting Chairman allows, I will be happy to answer the question. There are only the four of us in the Chamber. The media have probably long since gone to bed.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Peter Mathews): Information on Peter Mathews Zoom on Peter Mathews I feel I am in Gurteen to gain an education.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney This is a serious issue. I hope I have answered the questions on sheep farming. I answered questions on the beef sector for Deputy Martin Ferris, but I will respond to Deputy Mick Wallace. I am not targeting the small guys. The new scheme we are putting in place - a €10 million scheme - will ensure farmers with 20 or fewer suckler cows will receive payments on all of them. We made this provision deliberately to ensure smaller farmers would receive their payments first. The bigger farmers, with more than 20 animals, may receive payment on more than 20 animals, if there is money left over as I suspect there will be at the end of the process.


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