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Ceisteanna — Questions Oral Answers. - Livestock Prices.

Thursday, 29 September 1966

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 224 No. 3

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5.

Mr. L'Estrange: Information on Gerald L'Estrange Zoom on Gerald L'Estrange asked the Minister [394] for Agriculture and Fisheries if he is aware of the depressed state of agricultural prices at the present time; and what action he intends to take to ensure that the producers get sale at just prices for their cattle, sheep and pigs.

6.

Mr. L'Estrange: Information on Gerald L'Estrange Zoom on Gerald L'Estrange asked the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries what plans the Government have at the present time to ensure that farmers get fair prices, and to end the depression that exists in the cattle industry.

Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries (Mr. Haughey): Information on Charles J. Haughey Zoom on Charles J. Haughey I propose with your permission, a Cheann Comhairle, to take Questions Nos. 5 and 6 together.

In order to put general agricultural price trends in perspective, I would like to remind the Deputy that while over the period of ten years to 1963 the Agricultural Price Index Number rose by no more than 2.2 points, it went up 11 points in 1964 and a further 5 points in 1965 with beneficial effects on farm income. The present indications are that for this year the Index may decline by a few points but the level will still be markedly better than in the years prior to 1964.

I have dealt with cattle and sheep in my replies to Questions Nos. 29, 30 and 35 by Deputies Corish, T. O'Donnell and O'Hara, on 28th September.

So far as pigs, milk, wheat, barley and sugar beet are concerned, there are good guaranteed prices to producers. These prices were increased this year for milk, wheat and sugar beet. The guaranteed minimum pig prices were increased in October 1965 and the prices being offered by bacon factories for pigs this year have been well above the minimum prices and substantially above the prices prevailing in 1965. In addition, the recently introduced sow subsidy scheme will be of considerable benefit to pig producers and particularly to the small farmer. Since the scheme commenced on 15th September the number of applications received under it has been over 4,500.

[395] The total cost of supporting agricultural prices in the present financial year is estimated at over £17 million compared with about £2½ million ten years ago.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon Zoom on James Matthew Dillon Does the Minister advert to the critical situation that is being created in those areas of the country where farmers primarily depend on young cattle, that is to say, 12 months to 20 months of age? If he has any information of a concrete character suggesting a market exists in Spain, Italy, Egypt or other Mediterranean countries for cattle in this category, would he consider it expedient, in order to restore confidence, which is evaporating and becoming almost panic in the congested areas, to give the public such information as he has to encourage these people to hold their cattle in the hope that a reasonable price will be forthcoming for them? Is he aware that if he is able to locate markets for this category of cattle in these Mediterranean countries, he is assured of all the support we can give him to get those markets?

Mr. Haughey: Information on Charles J. Haughey Zoom on Charles J. Haughey I should say I am aware that this particular aspect of the cattle trade is probably the most difficult at present—the market for young cattle. I have been endeavouring to the very best of my ability to explore every possible outlet for these young cattle. The Deputy has in fact adverted to the areas which we have been investigating. We have authorised the shipment of young cattle to Egypt and Liberia. We are investigating very actively the possibilities of the Italian market, of which we have some hope. We are also exploring some markets in Spain. I will consider the Deputy's suggestion of making a comprehensive statement on this subject shortly.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon Zoom on James Matthew Dillon I do not want to press the Minister for specifics lest that might embarrass what I know from my own experience to be very difficult negotiations. But I would like to ask him whether he has it clearly in mind that in so far as we can help him in [396] any way to develop markets of this kind, we would be glad and happy to do so to relieve what is at present a truly critical situation for the small farmers.

Mr. Haughey: Information on Charles J. Haughey Zoom on Charles J. Haughey I am glad of that assurance from the Deputy.

Mr. L'Estrange: Information on Gerald L'Estrange Zoom on Gerald L'Estrange Would the Minister tell the House what has gone wrong with the Free Trade Agreement? Instead of getting from £5 to £7 more in the past year, the farmers are getting £20 less for their cattle. Is the Minister further aware that the NFA have issued a statement today pointing out that the farmers are not in a position to hold their cattle? How does the Minister expect small farmers with their grass gone, faced with rates and other debts, to hold their cattle? Is he prepared to get in touch with the Agricultural Credit Corporation and ask them to make money available to the small farmers to enable them to hold on to their cattle? They cannot live on Haughey's promises any longer.

Mr. Haughey: Information on Charles J. Haughey Zoom on Charles J. Haughey The question of credit is not a very simple one. The Agricultural Credit Corporation is at present operating a number of schemes which could be availed of by farmers, particularly small farmers, who might be in difficulty with regard to holding on to their cattle stocks. I would mention immediately the £500 unsecured loan scheme. As some Deputies know, this year, at my request, the Agricultural Credit Corporation introduced a new type of hire purchase scheme for the purchase of cattle by farmers. This scheme is intended primarily to enable farmers to purchase dairy cows for their herds. I am certain that if there is a substantial demand from farmers who are in difficulties, this scheme is sufficiently flexible to be availed of.

Mr. L'Estrange: Information on Gerald L'Estrange Zoom on Gerald L'Estrange It is impossible to sell small cattle at any fair in Ireland at the moment.

Mr. Haughey: Information on Charles J. Haughey Zoom on Charles J. Haughey I suggest in all seriousness that, in this difficult situation we are now encountering through no fault of our own, there is nothing [397] to be gained by exaggerating the difficulties——

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon Zoom on James Matthew Dillon Nor by minimising them.

Mr. Haughey: Information on Charles J. Haughey Zoom on Charles J. Haughey ——nor by minimising them.

Mr. O'Leary: Yesterday, the Minister advised that farmers should hold their cattle for a period.

Mr. Haughey: Information on Charles J. Haughey Zoom on Charles J. Haughey This is very important: I did not by any means issue anything like a blanket advice to farmers——

Mr. L'Estrange: Information on Gerald L'Estrange Zoom on Gerald L'Estrange It has gone throughout the country.

Mr. Haughey: Information on Charles J. Haughey Zoom on Charles J. Haughey I said that, in my opinion, any farmer who could do so would be advised to hold them.

Mr. O'Leary: I accept that it was not general advice. Would the Minister consider it helpful to meet the farming organisations to discuss how this or any future proposals can be implemented?

Mr. Haughey: Information on Charles J. Haughey Zoom on Charles J. Haughey I am meeting farmers' organisations all the time. I am prepared to receive from any farmers' organisations any proposal they can put forward.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon Zoom on James Matthew Dillon The best help the Minister could give would be, at the earliest appropriate moment, to give information in public of possible markets which may come to fruition for cattle in the next 12 to 20 months in the Mediterranean areas. That would be the greatest reassurance the Minister could give.

Mr. Haughey: Information on Charles J. Haughey Zoom on Charles J. Haughey In that connection, I have conveyed fully to the traders concerned the existing position.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon Zoom on James Matthew Dillon That is the trader. Tell the farmers: Strengthen them.

Mr. Haughey: Information on Charles J. Haughey Zoom on Charles J. Haughey The people on whom we shall have to rely to explore these markets fully on a commercial basis will be the trade. I have seen every section of the trade over the past two or three weeks. I have explained fully [398] what we are doing and are trying to do and I have enlisted their full co-operation.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick (Cavan): Surely the producer is entitled to know the position? Surely it is more important that the producer should know——

Mr. Haughey: Information on Charles J. Haughey Zoom on Charles J. Haughey There is nothing secret about it. I explained it when I came back from Italy.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick (Cavan): The Minister said he made the position clear to the trade. Would the Minister not make the position clear to the producers, the people carrying the baby?

Mr. Haughey: Information on Charles J. Haughey Zoom on Charles J. Haughey A moment ago, I outlined the avenues we are exploring. When I said I had made the position clear to the trade, I meant that I had gone over, with them, all the difficulties inherent in developing business in these directions. There are veterinary problems and transport and commercial problems. These are technical details which I have been going over and discussing with the trade.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick (Cavan): Surely the Minister should meet the National Farmers' Association and make the position clear to that Association, which represents the producers?

Mr. Lindsay: Information on Patrick James Lindsay Zoom on Patrick James Lindsay Arising out of the Minister's reply in relation in particular to the availability of help from the Agricultural Credit Corporation, does he not realise that this form of recommended help is what the small farmer fears most of all, namely, further debt?

Mr. Haughey: Information on Charles J. Haughey Zoom on Charles J. Haughey I suggest the Deputy cannot have it both ways. If farmers are anxious to hold cattle which they would not wish to dispose of at present prices, then the making available of credit by the Agricultural Credit Corporation would be of some assistance.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick (Cavan): Would the Minister say whether or not he is prepared to meet the National Farmers' Association?


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