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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 159-178
 Header Item Brexit Preparations
 Header Item Agriculture Industry
 Header Item Dairy Sector
 Header Item Agriculture Industry
 Header Item Agriculture Industry
 Header Item Agriculture Industry
 Header Item Agriculture Industry
 Header Item Tuberculosis Eradication Programme
 Header Item Tuberculosis Incidence
 Header Item Agriculture Industry
 Header Item Agriculture Industry
 Header Item Farm Household Incomes
 Header Item Agriculture Industry
 Header Item Equine Industry
 Header Item Fishing Industry
 Header Item Agrifood Sector
 Header Item Brexit Issues
 Header Item Forestry Sector
 Header Item Agrifood Sector

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 997 No. 4
Unrevised

First Page Previous Page Page of 82 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 159-178

Brexit Preparations

 159. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue the extent to which he continues to make contingency plans to meet new exigencies arising from the ongoing situation of Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [24405/20]

 172. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue the measures contemplated to minimise the impact of Brexit on the agricultural sector here; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [24419/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue I propose to take Questions Nos. 159 and 172 together.

My Department's Brexit preparedness work has resulted in various supports being introduced over successive budgets to help the agri-food and fisheries sectors mitigate the impact of Brexit.

These include supports in the form of direct aid, as well as the provision of low-cost loans such as the €300 million Future Growth Loan Scheme. In addition, in 2019, my Department introduced the €100 million Beef Exceptional Aid Measure (BEAM) in recognition of a very difficult year for the beef sector and a prolonged period of price uncertainty caused by various factors, including Brexit. 

The impact of Brexit on the agricultural sector will be kept under ongoing review. In this regard the recently published Brexit Readiness Action Plan confirms that further measures to support affected sectors will be considered over the coming months. I also welcome the Multi-Annual Financial Framework agreement reached in July by Heads of State and Government, which includes a €5 Billion Brexit Adjustment Reserve for those Member States and sectors most affected by Brexit. We will work to ensure that the agri-food sector gets an adequate allocation from that funding. 

My officials and I are continuing with our Brexit readiness work, within a whole-of-Government effort, to ensure the best possible outcome for the agri-food and fisheries sectors. Over the coming months, this will include increased engagement and more focused communication with stakeholders around readiness for whatever outcome emerges from the ongoing future relationship negotiations. 

Whatever that outcome may be, things will change, and agri-food businesses need to be preparing accordingly.

Agriculture Industry

 160. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue the extent to which he receives opportunities for economic growth arising from further development of agri-business; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24406/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue The agri-food sector is Ireland’s most important indigenous exporting industry, playing a vital role in the economy. 137,000 farms produce over €8 billion in output; and we have over 770,000 hectares of forest and over 2,000 fishing vessels & aquaculture sites. The agri-food supply chain stretches from rural and coastal areas all across Ireland to the UK, Europe and further to markets in the Americas, Asia and Africa. In 2019 Ireland’s food and agri-foods products were exported to over 180 markets worldwide and valued at €14.5 billion, a 63% increase from €8.9 billion in 2010.

While the sector faces significant challenges such as COVID-19, Brexit, and trade uncertainty in general, environmental concerns, and future CAP and CFP reform; the sector also has many opportunities to develop further and prosper. We have a strong international reputation as a supplier of safe, nutritious and sustainably produced food. International consumers seek out our food and beverage products in what is a very competitive international market. We should be proud of this and work to build and enhance that reputation for the benefit of our farmers, fishers and all other stakeholders within the sector.

The agri-food sector has been well served over the last 20 years by having a series of ten-year strategies to guide its development and we have committed in the Programme for Government that this should continue with the preparation of a new strategy to 2030. A Committee of sector stakeholders has been working since late last year on this new strategy. Their terms of reference are to outline the vision and key objectives, with associated actions, required to ensure the economic, environmental and social sustainability of the agri-food sector in the decade ahead.

Last week, I met with the Chair of the Committee to discuss progress and spoke with the Committee members also, and I am satisfied that their work will  make a very important contribution to ensuring the future viability and development of the agri-food sector.  The Programme for Government has committed to publishing the strategy within six months of Government formation.

In the meantime, work continues under Food Wise 2025, the current strategy for the agri-food sector. Food Wise identifies the opportunities and challenges facing the sector and provides an enabling strategy that will allow the sector to grow and prosper.The implementation process for Food Wise is driven by a High Level Implementation Committee. I look forward to chairing my first meeting of that Committee this week, where the focus will  be on our ongoing response to COVID and Brexit.

In the meantime I will ensure that my Department continues to assist the Sector through the provision of significant financial support from the CAP, the CFP and National funding.  I will also ensure that its Agencies continue to provide support for research and innovation, for marketing and for investment where this is needed.

Dairy Sector

 161. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue the degree to which he expects further economic beneficial opportunities to arise from the further development of the dairy sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24408/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue Ireland’s dairy exports performed strongly in 2019 with CSO figures for the year indicating a +12.4% volume growth and +9.9% value growth compared to 2018. I am determined to ensure notwithstanding the challenges facing the agri-food sector, especially in the current context of the Covid 19 pandemic that opportunities for the dairy sector to build on this performance are maximised.

Ireland is a global leader in the dairy sector in terms of the safety, sustainability and traceability of our dairy production on family farms, of our processing in facilities that range from global household names to niche cottage industries, and on our justified and hard earned reputation for quality. The quality of Irish sourced milk is a key competitive advantage in our promotional effort and allows the Irish dairy sector to compete successfully in demanding international markets.

Looking at the future prospects for Irish dairying, opportunities for growth in butter, cheese and yogurt are positive and are largely being driven by innovation in new flavours, product varieties, portion sizes and pack formats to meet changing consumer demands. Increased focus on health issues will be a critical factor for the future, and Irish dairy products will be well placed to meet consumer demand for healthy and sustainable food.  

In terms of environmental performance, Ireland is rated as having the most carbon efficient dairy production per unit of output in the European Union, primarily attributable to our predominantly grass-based systems of production. Ireland’s sustainability credentials, verified through Origin Green, are a key point of differentiation from our competitors. However, there is no room for complacency in this regard, and I know that there is a shared ambition from stakeholders in the sector for further improvement.

The Irish dairy sector makes an important economic contribution to Ireland’s rural economy, supporting not just Ireland’s dairy family farms but also in employment through primary and secondary processing facilities as well as wider ancillary service providers. As Ireland’s dairy sector continues to evolve in the coming years, I am confident that the Irish dairy sector will continue to provide economic and employment opportunities across the rural economy.

Agriculture Industry

 162. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue the extent to which he expects to be in a position to maximise opportunities for the dairy and beef sectors while being mindful of the need to meet carbon reduction targets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24409/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue The Programme for Government, which sets a clear ambition around climate action, also explicitly references the special economic role of agriculture in rural Ireland.

Targeted supports for the beef and dairy sectors over recent years have focused on improving the economic performance of the sectors, while also improving environmental sustainability. The Beef Data Genomics Programme, for example, has made a siginficant contribution to improving the overall environmental and economic efficiency of the beef herd. The BEEP-S (2020)  programme records the weaning efficiency of individual suckler cows, and also supports best practice in welfare management.  The Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Schemes (TAMS) supports capital investment in measures such as low emissions slurry spreading equipment, an important part of the Teagasc Marginal Abatement Cost Curve.

Ireland is rated among the top performing countries in Europe in terms of carbon efficiency per unit of output, for dairy in particular. This is primarily attributable to our carbon-efficient grass-based systems of production. Ireland’s sustainability credentials, verified through Origin Green, are a key point of differentiation from our competitors in the marketplace.  However, there is no room for complacency in this regard, and I know that there is a shared ambition from stakeholders in the sector for further improvement.

Agriculture Industry

 163. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue the extent to which he foresees marketing to play an even more significant part in the sale of Irish lamb, beef, pig meat, dairy and poultry products at home and abroad having particular regard to challenges arising from world trade or Brexit development; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24410/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue The pursuit and development of new markets for Irish agri-food exports is an ongoing and central component of the strategic development of the agri-food sector as set out in Food Wise 2025, and is of particular relevance given the need to diversify our markets and to reduce our exposure to the UK market in the light of Brexit. 

Over the last number of Budgets increased funding has been provided to Bord Bia in order to strengthen its understanding of consumer priorities and preferences in Ireland and in distant markets, and to communicate those insights to Irish food companies for use in product promotion, development, branding and marketing. 

Trade missions also play a key role in market and trade advancement.  In recent years, successful visits have taken place to Turkey, China, Japan, South Korea, Algeria and Egypt, among others. Increased market access has been achieved with these visits, including through the abolition of the age restriction on beef exports to Japan, through additional beef plant approvals for export to China and through the progression of beef access in South Korea. My Department, supported by Bord Bia, intends to hold virtual trade missions later this year, with Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia being considered. Destinations are selected strategically and in keeping with the Bord Bia market prioritisation exercise of December 2017.

The Government's focus on, and commitment to, new market development has been illustrated by its appointment of my colleague, Martin Heydon T.D., as Minister of State with specific responsibility for this task. In addition, my Department's international trade activities are being reorganised and further developed, as we deal with the twin challenges of Brexit and the Covid 19 pandemic.  

More generally, my Department will continue to seek out and identify new markets, and I am of course ready to respond as appropriate to any opportunities that may arise.

Agriculture Industry

 164. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue the extent to which he remains satisfied of the ability of the agri-business sector to develop alongside the need to meet carbon reduction targets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24411/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue The Programme for Government commits to an average 7% per annum reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions from 2021 to 2030 (a 51% reduction over the decade) and to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. Every sector is expected to contribute to meeting this target by implementing policy changes, and the special economic and social role of agriculture and the distinct characteristics of biogenic methane, as described by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, will be fully recognised in plans to achieve these targets.

The agri-food sector has a strong foundation on which it can build to develop new practices, technologies and strategies to reduce its emissions. Many of these will also have co-benefits in terms of improving the productivity and efficiency of agri-food businesses, and indeed in terms of other environmental co-benefits. Taking a system-wide approach can thus improve their environmental, economic and social sustainability.

I am acutely aware of the enormity of this challenge for the sector and for this reason, I believe that the successor strategy to Food Wise 2025 can play an important role in providing a framework for helping to realise this ambition. The agri-food sector has been well served over the last 20 years by having a series of ten-year strategies to guide its development and we have committed in the Programme for Government that this should continue with the preparation of a new strategy to 2030.

The Stakeholder Committee established to develop the new Strategy are currently carrying out their deliberations. Their terms of reference are to outline the vision and key objectives, with associated actions, required to ensure the economic, environmental and social sustainability of the agri-food sector in the decade ahead. I have already met with the Chair of the Committee, Tom Arnold, and the Committee itself and I am satisfied that their work will undoubtedly make a very important contribution to ensuring the viability of the agri-food sector. The Programme for Government has committed to publishing the strategy within six months of Government formation. It also stated that the strategy should provide an ambitious blueprint for the industry for the years ahead, adding value sustainably in the agri-food sector into the future, and supporting family farms and employment in rural Ireland. There is also a commitment to ensure that, in addition to growing international markets and value-added export as a key priority, a strategic focus of the strategy will be on environmental protection, reversing biodiversity decline and developing additional market opportunities for primary producers, closer to home.

Agriculture Industry

 165. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue the extent to which he is engaging with agri-producers with a view to ameliorating concerns about viability and below-cost selling in the sector; the extent to which he is engaging with producers, processors and supermarkets with a view to achieving an equilibrium that is fair, positive and opportunity-creating for those in the sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24412/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue The Programme for Government includes a commitment to:

Ensure fairness, equity, and transparency in the food chain by establishing a new authority called the National Food Ombudsman (NFO) to enforce the Unfair Trading Practices Directive. This new authority will enforce EU-wide rules on prohibited unfair trading practices in the food supply chain and will have powers to enforce this Directive, penalising those who breach regulations. The NFO will have a specific role in analysing and reporting on price and market data in Ireland.

Directive (EU) No. 2019/633, the Unfair Trading Practices (UTP Directive), must be transposed into Irish law by 1 May 2021. This can be done by way of a Statutory Instrument, but any measures that extend beyond the minimum harmonisation requirements of the UTP Directive will require primary legislation.

Therefore, I propose to adopt a two-step approach to this commitment.  

Firstly, my officials are currently drafting a proposal for an Statutory Instrument to directly transpose the UTP Directive as it stands.  Secondly, the legal requirements for the establishment of a new Office of a Food Ombudsman are also being considered, including the requirement for primary legislation in order to give that Office additional powers going beyond those in the UTP Directive.

Tuberculosis Eradication Programme

 166. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue the extent to which the bovine TB eradication programme continues satisfactorily; whether the industry is getting closer to elimination of the disease; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24413/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue Following many successful years of reducing bovine TB levels to the benefit of Irish farmers, there has been a concerning incremental increase in the disease since 2016. This has continued in 2020 with further increases in herd incidence and reactor numbers observed. Herd incidence (on a 12-month rolling basis) has breached 4% for the first time since 2012 and reactor numbers have exceeded 20,000 – the highest number since 2009.  These trends highlight the need for urgent action by all stakeholders to manage the risk more effectively across all transmission routes. 

Whilst the immediate trends are disappointing and worrying, good progress has been made over the past decade. During 2009, 5,860 herds were subject to restriction whilst the number in 2019 was 4,060.  By working together, we have made progress before and we can do so again.  

I am eager to schedule a TB Forum meeting as soon as possible to further develop a shared understanding of how collectively we can reduce TB incidence.  My Department remains committed to reducing and ultimately eradicating TB in Ireland as demonstrated by the recent sanctioning of an additional 16 officers to assist the TB Programme. Attaining TB-free status remains critical from a farm family profitability and sustainability perspective and from a trade perspective at national and at international level. I am acutely conscious that every TB restriction represents a significant challenge to the farm family concerned.

It is a deep regret that today over 2,700 herds are currently restricted which represents a 21% increase on the same time last year. I want to work with all stakeholders in ensuring fewer herdowners experience the challenges associated with a TB restriction and that we work purposefully towards eradication of this disease, thus eliminating this on-going cost on farmers and the State.

Tuberculosis Incidence

 167. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue the extent to which various contributory factors have been identified in outbreaks of bovine TB nationwide; the extent to which the performance here compares with all other jurisdictions throughout Europe; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24414/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue Ireland has had many successful years of reducing bovine TB levels to the benefit of Irish farmers. However there has been a concerning incremental increase in the disease since 2016. This has continued in 2020 with further increases in herd incidence and reactor numbers observed. Herd incidence (on a 12-month rolling basis) has breached 4% for the first time since 2012 and reactor numbers have exceeded 20,000 – the highest number since 2009.  

  The reasons why this is happening are multifactorial and often relate to local factors. The expansion of the dairy herd since 2015 has played a role in this, since dairy herds, larger herds, and herds which introduce more cattle, are all more at risk of bTB breakdowns. 52% of all bTB reactors in 2019 were in dairy herds, while there were approximately 2.8 million farm-to-farm cattle movements last year.

  These trends highlight the need for urgent action by all stakeholders to manage the risk more effectively across all transmission routes.  Cattle can become infected with TB in a number of ways such as  

  - Close contact with other cattle which are infected, including residually infected cattle from previous breakdowns

  - Contact with infected wildlife, such as cattle accessing badger setts and latrines at pasture, or badgers accessing unsecured cattle feed stores within the farmyard

  - Moving infected animals into a previously clear herd;

  - Contact with other infected animals in neighbouring herds, such as across fences;

  - Sharing machinery or facilities between farms

  We know the risks that contribute to increased herd incidence from many years of scientific research. Risks must be addressed both by national policy changes and by actions at farm level.  As we enter into the decade towards 2030 this is a pivotal year for Ireland’s bTB Eradication programme and it is critical that, through working in partnership, all stakeholders take the necessary actions to reduce disease transmission, protect herds from new infections, and clear bTB from restricted herds.

  Farmers have the power to reduce the risk of bTB spreading to cattle and can take a number of steps to protect their herd from disease along with protecting themselves from the stress and financial difficulties of a bTB breakdown. See www.bovinetb.ie for information on ways in which risks may be reduced.

  Whilst the immediate trends are disappointing and worrying, great progress has been made over the past decade. During 2009, 5,860 herds were subject to restriction whilst the number in 2019 was 4,060.  By working together, we have made progress before and we can do so again.  

  Details of Bovine TB disease levels in other EU member states can be found at the following link:

  https://ec.europa.eu/food/funding/animal-health/national-veterinary-programmes_en#.

Agriculture Industry

 168. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue the extent to which he expects markets for agricultural exports to grow throughout the EU or elsewhere with particular reference to the need to replace ground lost arising from Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24415/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue Developing increased third country market access and furthering trade opportunities around the world are both integral parts of my Department’s response to the challenges posed by Brexit. 

These goals are aligned with the strategic market development theme of Food Wise 2025, which outlines the significant opportunities for growth of our agri-food exports to new and emerging markets, particularly in Asia, Africa, the Americas and the Gulf region. 

My Department has been, and continues to be, very active in securing access to new third country markets for Irish food companies. To that end, our food and drink exports have greatly increased in recent years. Total Irish agri-food exports came to €14.5 billion in 2019, an increase of 6% on 2018. Bord Bia has indicated that half of this growth has come from markets outside Europe. 

Trade missions play a key role in market and trade advancement.  In recent years, successful visits have taken place to Turkey, China, Japan, South Korea, Algeria and Egypt, among others. Increased market access has been achieved with these visits, including through the abolition of the age restriction on beef exports to Japan, through additional beef plant approvals for export to China and through the progression of beef access in South Korea. Destinations are selected strategically and in keeping with the Bord Bia market prioritisation exercise of December 2017.

The Government's focus on, and commitment to, new market development has been illustrated by its appointment of my colleague, Martin Heydon T.D., as Minister of State with specific responsibility for this task. In addition, my Department's international trade activities are being reorganised and further developed, as we deal with the twin challenges of Brexit and the Covid 19 pandemic. 

Agriculture Industry

 169. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue the degree to which continued emphasis is placed on animal health, husbandry and processing with a view to ensuring that the highest possible standards prevail and that Irish products retain pride of place on world markets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24416/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue The National Farmed Animal Health Strategy 2017-2022 was launched in 2017.  At the Strategy’s heart is the ambition to shift the focus from response to and management of animal disease, to the promotion of animal health as a driver of optimised production, improved margins for producers and providing the best quality food for consumers. The Strategy recommends some 70 strategic actions, which my Department is taking forward.

The Animal Health Surveillance strategy sits within the National Farmed Animal Health Strategy.  The aim of the strategy is to ensure Ireland maintains its international reputation as having a high animal health status whilst improving national on-farm productivity.  State resources and infrastructure are deployed to  enable effective and optimum monitoring and control of existing diseases and to minimise the potential impact for exotic diseases.

Food products placed on the marketplace are covered by a range of legislation designed to ensure that products supplied to consumers are of the highest safety standards.  My Department plays a part in the enforcement of this legislation along with other Government departments and State Agencies such as the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) and the Health Service Executive. The FSAI is the body responsible for enforcement of regulations governing traceability, labelling and provision of food information to customers.

Primary responsibility under EU law for the safety and traceability of food placed on the market lies with food business operators. The role of National Competent Authorities is to verify compliance with this requirement. This is done via a combination of inspecting establishments and auditing the food safety management systems which operators have in place. These controls are applied at different stages in the food supply chain. Regulation (EC) No. 178 of 2002 sets out the general principles and requirements of EU food law and stipulates that food business operators must, at all stages of production, processing and distribution within their business, ensure food law requirements are satisfied. In regard to traceability, the regulations require that food business operators have what is referred to as the ‘one step forward, one step backward’ traceability system. There are additional requirements for certain fishery and aquaculture products under the Control Regulation (Regulation 1224/2009 and Implementing Regulation 404/2011) from first sale to subsequent stages of production, processing and distribution up to retail. 

Farm Household Incomes

 170. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue the extent to which farm incomes have fluctuated over the past ten years; the way in which fluctuations have been manifested itself in terms of impact on farm family incomes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24417/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue Family Farm Income (FFI), the return from farming for family labour, land and capital, is the principal measure used in the Teagasc National Farm Survey.   The preliminary results for the 2019 National Farm survey issued in June 2020 shows that the average family farm income (FFI) for 2019 was €23,934, a 2% increase on 2018 figures. Following a decline in the average income level in 2018, largely due to extreme weather, there was a recovery in average FFI in 2019. However, this recovery was uneven, with the average FFI concealing differences across the various farm types.

Family farm income varies considerably by farm system. Dairy farms are consistently the most profitable farms. However, it should be noted that almost all dairy farms are classified as full-time farms, with farms requiring 0.75 of a standard labour input being defined as full-time and those requiring less as part-time. Most cattle farms and the majority of sheep farms are classified as part-time in terms of labour input requirements, even though in many cases the farmers may not have off-farm employment. Around two thirds of all farms are classified as part-time.

Direct farm payments are a very important part of FFI, with an average payment per farm of €18,452 in 2019, or 77% of the average FFI. There are noticeable differences between farm types; estimates for dairy farms show that the direct payments account for 31% of income, while cattle and sheep farms are very reliant on direct payments and many would be operating at an economic loss without them.

A significant change in the methodology in the 2012 Teagasc National Farm Survey saw farms below €8,000 of Standard Output (SO) no longer included in the survey sample. Up to 2011 the threshold for inclusion of farms in the survey field had been €4,000. As a result, a straightforward comparison between the 2012 results and those of preceding years could easily lead to an incorrect interpretation of intervening changes. A further small methodology change occurred in 2018 based on data from the 2016 CSO Farm Structure Surveys and results from 2016 and earlier years are not directly comparable.

However, looking at the results between 2012 and 2019, and bearing in mind the methodology change, FFI has fallen over this period with average FFI down 6%. Dairy farms have seen FFI increase by 35%, while cattle and sheep farms have seen FFI fall by about 20%. Tillage farms have fallen back close to the average of 6% across all farms.

The CSO’s publication, ‘Output Input and Income in Agriculture’ shows that aggregate farm income or operating surplus has risen over the past decade from €1.8 billion in 2010 to over €3 billion in 2019. Operating surplus is defined and calculated by the CSO by subtracting compensation of employees from farm income accruing from farm output.  The figure is comprised of the operating surplus earned by farmers and that earned by agricultural contractors. It is an estimate of income before deductions for interest payments on borrowed capital, land annuities and rent paid by farmers to landowners for the use of their land. It does not include income from non-farming sources and may not be equated to household income.

Agriculture Industry

 171. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue the degree to which he continues to explore ways and means to maximise the value of products from the agricultural sector with particular reference to achievement of the highest possible standards leading to market advantage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24418/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue The agri-food sector has been well served over the last 20 years by having a series of ten-year strategies to guide its development and we have committed in the Programme for Government that this should continue with the preparation of a new strategy to 2030. A Committee of sectoral stakeholders has been working since late last year on this new strategy. Their terms of reference are to outline the vision and key objectives, with associated actions, required to ensure the economic, environmental and social sustainability of the agri-food sector in the decade ahead.

Last week, I met with the Chair of the Committee to discuss progress and spoke with the Committee members also, and I am satisfied that their work will  make a very important contribution to ensuring the future viability and development of the agri-food sector.  The Programme for Government has committed to publishing the strategy within six months of Government formation.

The Origin Green programme, which provides proof points of environmental sustainability, from farm level to the processing industry,  can contribute to securing a premium position for Irish food and drink in the market place.  

In addition, at EU level, the EU Quality Policy aims at protecting the names of specific products to promote their unique characteristics, linked to their geographical origin. Protecting products with a Geographical Indication ensures fair competition for producers and provides consumers with reliable information on the place of production or specific characteristics of a product and can facilitate  increased market value.  My Department will be working to assess all opportunities for possible new Geographic Indication applications for Irish products.

  Question No. 172 answered with Question No. 159.

Equine Industry

 173. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue the extent to which the equine industry might be negatively impacted by Brexit; the measures in place or anticipated to address such issues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24420/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue The UK’s decision to leave the EU means that equine movement legislation that pertains to non-EU countries will apply, from 1st January 2021, to the movement of equines from Great Britain to the EU, including Ireland.  The Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland states that Northern Ireland will be treated as if it were an EU Member State for the purpose of equine movement. 

  As of 1st January 2021, the section of the Tripartite Agreement (TPA) that allows movement of equines between Ireland and Great Britain without health certification will no longer exist.  This is because the TPA is provided for in EU law in relation to movement of equines between EU Member States. Equines from Great Britain may only enter the EU if the UK is listed by the European Commission as a country that may export equines to the EU (the Commission listed the UK in this way in advance of the previous two Brexit deadlines of October 2019 and April 2019).  

  The possible implications of Brexit for the Irish equine industry are set out in a comprehensive information note available in the Brexit section of my Department’s website.  

  In addition, my Department engages regularly with the equine industry on Brexit and other matters, including through the Equine Liaison Group, which is chaired by the Chief Veterinary Officer.  My Department also engages with the European Commission to ensure that it is fully cognisant of the possible implications of Brexit for the Irish equine industry, given the close historic ties between that industry and its counterpart in Great Britain.

  Separately, my Department is streamlining the application process for equine health certification, which will result in greater efficiencies as we deal with the challenges presented by Brexit. 

Fishing Industry

 174. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue the degree to which he sees opportunities to develop the fishing industry in the various areas throughout the country that are primarily dependant on the industry in terms of employment opportunities; his plans for the future maximisation of opportunities for such communities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24422/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue My Department's €240 million European Maritime and Fisheries Fund Programme is the vehicle for fostering the sustainable development of our fisheries and wider seafood sectors.  The Programme is expected to close in 2021 when it is anticipated that it will have successfully exhausted its budget.  The Programme's strategy for developing the fishing sector over the course of its implementation since 2016 has been to focus on three priorities, namely (1) CFP Implementation, (2) Reducing the Impact of Fisheries on the Marine Environment and (3) Implementing the Small Scale Coastal Fisheries Action Plan.  Implementation of this strategy for development of fisheries was supported with a budget allocation of €55 million.  A key element of the strategy was to support measures that enhance the value of catch and that reduce input costs for fishermen.  This was implemented through the EMFF Sustainable Fisheries Scheme which provided grants to fishermen for investment on board fishing vessels in areas such as adding value to catch, energy efficiency and enhancing quality of catch. Separately for inshore fishing vessels a dedicated Inshore Fisheries Conservation Scheme was implemented with a budget of €6 million and offers grants for value adding investments onshore, advisory services, fisheries management, and for organisation of the sector through the establishment of the regional and national inshore fisheries forums.

The Programme for Government strongly commits to supporting the fisheries and wider seafood sector in achieving its potential, with a commitment to protecting the interests of our fishing sector in EU negotiations with the UK on a Free Trade Agreement.  It commits to supporting the inshore fishing sector with greater marketing and promotional capacity through facilitating the establishment of a fisheries producer organisation for the inshore sector.  Earlier this year, my Department published new Recognition Criteria and associated Guidelines for seafood producer organisations, which in particular specify new criteria designed to make it easier for inshore fishermen to meet the standards for producer organisations.  Two inshore fisheries groups have since submitted applications and these are under consideration at present.  Separately, the Programme for Government commits to continuing strategic investment in our fishery harbour infrastructure to attract increased foreign landings into Irish ports, driving the development of our processing sector, adding value to catch and creating jobs for our fishing communities.

A new Operational Programme for the period 2021-27 is presently under preparation within my Department and will be launched next year.  This new programme will set the framework for supporting the further development of our fisheries and wider seafood sectors.  Earlier this year, my Department conducted a public consultation to get stakeholder views on investment needs for the period 2021-27 and received a good response from a wide array of stakeholders.  My Department also met bilaterally with key stakeholders to hear their views and that engagement is ongoing.  The information gathered in that exercise, including on the opportunities available to sustainably grow the sector, is informing my Department's work on preparing the new Programme and will ultimately influence the design of support schemes for the sector, to be rolled out from 2021 onwards.

Agrifood Sector

 175. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue the extent to which the food sector in general and the artisan food sector in particular have been negatively impacted by Covid-19; the degree to which he expects to be in a position to identify such issues and assist in their resolution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24424/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue Like other sectors of the economy in 2020, the Irish agri-food sector has been managing the impact of COVID-19.  The entire agri-food sector was designated as an essential service from the start of the pandemic, and kept supply chains moving and supermarket shelves stocked with Irish food and drink,  not just in Ireland but across our European and world markets. The closure of food service during the lockdown had a severe impact on certain agri-food sectors.  I am satisfied that the wide range of supports provided across Government, and by my Department in particular, have helped to alleviate the worst economic impacts for farmers, fishers and the food and drinks industry.

With specific regard to artisan producers, my Department provides funding through the LEADER Food Initiative operated by the Department of Community and Rural Development for artisan, small and micro food businesses. Eligible funding includes the renovation and extension of production facilities, the purchasing of processing equipment, as well as support in areas such as market development, competitiveness, and innovation.

 In addition, Bord Bia has been very active in developing some specific supports for small Irish food and drink suppliers impacted by Covid19 to develop their businesses. Some examples include:

- a series of podcasts / Webinars for businesses

- in terms of engagement with Irish retailers, a new initiative in collaboration with one retailer, whereby Irish suppliers in challenged sectors (fulfilling certain conditions and screening), will be fast tracked for immediate national listing

- collaborating with retailers on specific promotions of Irish Quality assurance produce, for example,  farmhouse cheeses, horticulture produce

I want to acknowledge the important role that the artisan food sector has played in supplying locally sourced products during these difficult times and I encourage producers to engage directly with LEADER,  Bord Bia and their Local Enterprise Office for the supports that are available.

Brexit Issues

 176. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue the degree to which he continues to monitor and engage with the various bodies involved in the fishing industry with particular reference to challenges arising from Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24425/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue I would like to assure the Deputy that fisheries remains a high priority for Ireland.  Brexit poses enormous challenges for the Irish fisheries sector and our coastal communities which are so reliant upon this sector. 

This Government is seeking to protect the interests of the Irish fleet in terms of both access and the quota share it currently enjoys in UK waters. From the outset of the negotiations, Ireland and our EU partners have been clear on our level of ambition in this area and on the fact that progress on an overall trade deal is linked to progress on fisheries. It has been made clear to the Fisheries Commissioner, Virginijus Sinkevicius, that this  Government is placing our full reliance on Mr Barnier and the Commissioner to deliver on the agreed EU negotiation mandate that sets down clearly the EU objective to “uphold existing reciprocal access conditions, quota shares and traditional activity of the Union fleet."

I have convened a Consultative Committee for this afternoon (16th September) of all Departmental stakeholders to allow for a full exchange of information as negotiations proceed and to provide updates on the practical implications of the ending of the transition period.

I am also meeting with representatives of the Irish fishing industry today, which will afford the industry the opportunity to discuss the challenges it faces as the UK leaves the Common Fisheries Policy. I will be making it clear that I will continue to press for a fisheries agreement with the UK that upholds both existing quota shares and existing reciprocal access to UK waters. I will also continue to press for the maintenance of the linkage of fisheries to the overall economic partnership agreement as this will be central to a successful fisheries agreement. I will also assure the industry representatives of my commitment, and that of the Government, to work towards a fisheries agreement with the UK that protects the interests of the Irish fishing industry and ensures a long-term future for our coastal communities dependant on fisheries.

Our enterprise agencies are continuing to work with seafood companies to help them to be market ready  with the ending of the transition period.

Forestry Sector

 177. Deputy Brendan Griffin Information on Brendan Griffin Zoom on Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue his views on a matter regarding forestry applications (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24427/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue Having previously conducted a similar exercise in Scotland, Mr. Jim Mackinnon, CBE, former Chief Planner with the Scottish Government, reviewed the forestry approval process and related issues in Ireland.  The Review was published at the end of last year and presented to the Forestry Programme Implementation Group in January.  Its implementation is one of the commitments which this Government made for forestry in the Programme for Government.

The report was informed by, among other things, discussions with a range of stakeholders including the forestry sector, farming organisations, the environmental pillar, State Bodies, Teagasc and the Forestry Appeals Committee.  In addition, written submissions were received at the time.

The report includes 22 Ways Forward or recommendations across a range of issues.  I am pleased to say that many of these recommendations have already been taken on board by the Department and acted upon.  We are, for instance in line with Mackinnon, introducing an amendment to the Agriculture Appeals Act and have issued guidance on Natura Impact Statements. We have also introduced a single consent system for forestry road planning.

My Department has a history of continually developing and educating forestry professionals, which is an essential part of improving the quality of applications.  This is borne out by the advice and guidance issued in forestry circulars and supporting documentation.  Forestry professionals are also obliged to attend formal mandatory training sessions, usually held annually, however these are currently on hold during the Covid-19 pandemic.  The Department funds the Continuous Professional Development programme run by the Society of Irish Foresters and the Department keeps under continuous review the training needs of professional foresters.

I recognise, of course, that it is very important that the Mackinnon Review is fully implemented and that is why I am currently examining the appointment of an independent chair to oversee the process.  The intention is that this person will report on the feasibility of implementing the Mackinnon recommendations for us to consider further.  A review of the Forestry Programme Implementation Group is currently underway to enhance representation so that the membership of the Group is best selected to help advise the Minister and the Department on the implementation of the National Programme.

There is currently a huge amount of activity in forestry, especially on the reform of the planning and appeals processes and the introduction to the House shortly of a Bill to amend the Agriculture Appeals Act, 2001.  Nonetheless, I understand that implementation of the Mackinnon Review is also a priority and I expect to be making further announcements on this issue soon.

Agrifood Sector

 178. Deputy Sorca Clarke Information on Sorca Clarke Zoom on Sorca Clarke asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue if he has met with the banking sector or farmers organisations regarding the interest rates being charged by banks here on farm related finance and loans; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24331/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue My Department meets and liaises with the main banks on access to finance issues relating to the agri-food sector and is currently scheduling meetings for me with the CEOs of the main banks. There is also good cross-Departmental cooperation on banking matters with the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI) and the Department of Finance. In recent years there have been a number of initiatives undertaken, primarily through the publicly-owned Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI) to address gaps in the market. Currently, liquidity and working capital needs can be addressed through the COVID-19 Credit Guarantee Scheme and longer-term investment needs by the Future Growth Loan Scheme

  Last week, with my colleagues the Tánaiste and the Minister for Finance, I launched the €2 billion COVID-19 Credit Guarantee Scheme, the largest of its kind in the history of the state. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a severe disruption to economic activity.  Following discussions early in the pandemic, the banking sector announced a three-month period of flexibility for customers, including provision of payment holidays or emergency working capital facilities. This was subsequently extended to six months and will expire in October. As the recovery begins, many COVID-impacted businesses will require additional liquidity and working capital facilities. The COVID-19 Credit Guarantee Scheme is designed to incentivise finance providers to continue to support economic activity by providing liquidity and finance agreements to businesses.  The Scheme is targeted towards businesses which have experienced an adverse impact of minimum 15% in actual or projected turnover or profit due to the impact of COVID 19 and have difficulties in accessing credit.

  The CCGS will provide an 80% State-backed guarantee on bank lending to SMEs until the end of this year, for terms between 3 months and 6 years. The CRS will be administered for the State by the SBCI and SMEs will be able to go directly to the banks. The guarantee can be used for a wide range of lending products between €10,000 and €1 million, for terms between 3 months and 6 years. It will be available to all SME sectors, including primary producers, i.e. farmers and fishers.

  The Future Growth Loan Scheme supports strategic long-term capital investment by SMEs, farmers and fishers. The Scheme was developed by DAFM and DBEI, in partnership with the Department of Finance, the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI) and the European Investment Fund (EIF). It is being delivered through participating finance providers and made €300 million of investment loans available to eligible Irish businesses, including farmers and the agri-food & seafood sectors. The loans are competitively priced (an initial maximum loan interest rate of 4.5% for loans less than €250,000), are for terms of 8-10 years and support strategic long-term investment. A minimum loan amount of €100,000 applies up to a maximum of €3,000,000 per applicant. Considering the needs of Irish farmers, a specific minimum of €50,000 has been secured for them.

  This is a financial product that was previously unavailable in Ireland. The unique characteristic of the Scheme is that loans up to €500,000 are unsecured making it a viable source of finance for young and new entrant farmers, especially the cohort who do not have high levels of security. It will also serve smaller-scale farmers, who often do not have the leverage to negotiate for more favourable terms with their banking institution. Food companies, too, have identified long-term investment finance of up to ten years as a critical need which is currently unavailable in Ireland. The effects of his product will be felt all along the food production chain from primary producer to processor. The Future Growth Loan Scheme has been open for loan eligibility applications through the SBCI website since April 2019. The scheme has been a success with very strong demand for investment loans.  As part of the Government's Covid-19 response, a second tranche of €500 million, with up to 40% available to the agri-food sector including farmers, was launched on 30th   July 2020.

  Food business operators can also avail of the Brexit Loan Scheme and COVID19 Working Capital scheme. Further information on any of these loan schemes can be found on the SBCI website (www.sbci.ie).


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