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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 225-244
 Header Item Areas of Natural Constraint Scheme
 Header Item Proposed Legislation
 Header Item Fishing Industry
 Header Item Forestry Sector
 Header Item Tuberculosis Eradication Programme
 Header Item Beef Industry
 Header Item Trade Agreements
 Header Item Ministerial Meetings
 Header Item Agrifood Sector
 Header Item Bioenergy Strategy
 Header Item Agrifood Sector
 Header Item Covid-19 Tests
 Header Item Beef Industry
 Header Item Proposed Legislation
 Header Item Agriculture Industry

Thursday, 17 September 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 997 No. 5
Unrevised

First Page Previous Page Page of 83 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 225-244

Areas of Natural Constraint Scheme

 225. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn Information on Pádraig Mac Lochlainn Zoom on Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue his plans to carry out a review of the anomalies that presented in the ANC eligibility process in County Donegal; and his further plans to financially assist those farmers that have been affected by the decisions. [24498/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue The review of eligibility under the ANC scheme was completed in time for payments under the 2019 Scheme.  The detail of the review process was agreed in advance with the EU Commission and it was implemented to address inconsistencies across Member States in the previous designation process.

An independent appeals process was put in place for farmers who were dissatisfied with the outcome of the review.  This process is now complete and it remains open to farmers to further appeal to the Ombudsman should they wish to do so. Separately those farmers whose land was deemed no longer eligible for ANC payment following the 2019 review were compensated by means of a degressive payment for two years after the implementation of the review.  

Proposed Legislation

 226. Deputy Robert Troy Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue if he will consider the comments (details supplied) with regard to the draft Agricultural Appeal (Amendment) Bill 2020  [24500/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue At its meeting of 27 July, Government approved a Memorandum seeking approval to draft an urgent amendment to the Agriculture Appeals Act, 2001 along the lines of the Heads of Bill presented. This will reform the forestry appeals process by bringing it into line with similar planning processes and is one of the commitments in the Programme for Government. I have subsequently published the draft Bill for public consultation on 30 July for a four-week period with a closing date on Friday 28th August. My officials are currently reviewing the close to 9,000 submissions on the draft Bill received. All contributions received will be taken into consideration for the final draft Bill which will be presented to the Houses of the Oireachtas as soon as possible.

Fishing Industry

 227. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn Information on Pádraig Mac Lochlainn Zoom on Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue if he has decided on the 2020 management arrangements for the Celtic Sea Herring scientific fishery; if so, if he is satisfied that these arrangements will not only meet the sampling requirement to provide data to the Marine Institute but also make the best use of the quota from a socioeconomic perspective; if he is satisfied that the quota is being allocated in line with Article 17 of the Common Fisheries Policy which allows quota to be allocated on grounds of socioeconomic and environmental impact along with allocation based on historical track record; and if he is confident that the arrangements will maximise the use of the quota to assist the beleaguered inshore fleet that have not been fortunate enough to benefit from the 40% increase in 2020 in the mackerel quota. [24501/20]

 228. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn Information on Pádraig Mac Lochlainn Zoom on Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue if he is satisfied that the advice of the Celtic Sea Herring Management Advisory Committee represents the best use of the quota in terms of meeting the sampling requirement to provide data to the Marine Institute but also make the best use of the quota from a socioeconomic perspective; and if he is satisfied that the advice of the committee reflects the views of all stakeholders in particular those in the inshore sector that make up over 80% of the Irish fleet and are responsible for over 50% of direct employment in the sector. [24502/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue I propose to take Questions Nos. 227 and 228 together.

The Celtic Sea Herring stock occurs to the south of Ireland. It is prosecuted by two fleets, the main fleet which operates across the Celtic Sea (primarily ICES division 7g) and the sentinel fleet comprising of vessels that are under 17 metres in length overall that operate in the Dunmore box (inshore waters in Dunmore East area).

In Ireland, fish quotas are a public resource owned by the State and are made available to fishing vessels based on an overall policy framework which has been developed over the past 30 years. The result of this long standing policy is that the Irish fishing fleet involves a balanced spread of sizes and types of fishing vessels who have retained a strong economic link with our coastal communities and have delivered economic activity including vital employment in these communities, where there are very limited alternative economic activities. 

The key commercial whitefish quotas (cod, haddock, monk, hake etc) are managed on a monthly basis with maximum catch limits set for vessels.  Pelagic stocks such as mackerel and herring are managed on an annual or seasonal basis with catch limits set based on allocation regimes developed over many years and primarily related to historical catch records.   The Irish fish quota management system is designed to ensure, having regard to fishing patterns and market conditions, a fair and rational allocation of quotas between fishing vessel operators and management to support fishing seasons and the availability of by-catch quotas during the year. The management arrangements have been set and developed over many years since the commencement of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and the introduction of quotas.   Any amendments or changes to the policy on management arrangements are determined by the Minister of the time following detailed analysis and full consultation with stakeholders.  

Within the policy, allocations and other arrangements are decided by the Minister on an ongoing basis having regard for the advice of the Quota Management Advisory Committee (QMAC) and, for the Celtic Sea herring fishery, the Celtic Sea Herring Management Advisory Committee (CSHMAC) which was set up in 2005 to provide advice to the Minister in relation to the management of the Celtic Sea Herring Stock and fishery within the policy framework set by the Minister.  The Committee is comprised of representatives from the four Fish Producer Organisations, the Fish Co-Ops and Processors and, since 2016, the National Inshore Fisheries Forum (NIFF).  The Committee meets at relevant intervals during the year to discuss issues of concern to the fishery such as scientific advice regarding the state of the stock and also proposals in relation to future management arrangements within the Minister's policy.

The Celtic Sea Herring stock is at one of its lowest stock levels since 1958 and the ICES advice for 2020 was for zero catch. In 2019, the European Commission submitted a special request to ICES to “provide advice on the minimum level of catches (tonnage) required in a sentinel fishery, which would provide sufficient data for ICES in order to continue providing scientific advice on the state of this stock”. The EU Council adopted a Total Allowable Catch for the stock in line with ICES advice which gives Ireland 750 tonnes quota for 2020 specifically to allow a fisheries-based data collection for this stock.

The management arrangements for the 2020 Celtic Sea Herring fishery have not yet been finalised. In setting down the management arrangements for this fishery, I have regard for the recommendations of the CSHMAC, subject to the proper management and rational exploitation of the fishery.

The Marine Institute has been consulted to provide scientific advice to ensure that the data requirements for ICES, in order to continue providing scientific advice on the state of this stock, will be satisfied. Prior to finalising the management arrangements for this fishery, the recommendation received by my Department from the CSHMAC will be reviewed by me in tandem with the scientific advice provided by the Marine Institute to ensure that the sampling requirements of the Marine Institute will be met. 

  Question No. 229 answered with Question No. 224.

Forestry Sector

 230. Deputy Joe Carey Information on Joe Carey Zoom on Joe Carey asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue the way in which he is improving the rate of forest licensing approvals; if forest licences will be processed within 120 days of the date of application; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24515/20]

 235. Deputy Brendan Smith Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue the measures he will implement to deal with delays in felling forestry which is causing serious problems for the timber industry and shortage of supplies for other sectors; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24594/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue I propose to take Questions Nos. 230 and 235 together.

I am acutely aware that current delays in issuing licences has led to difficulties for stakeholders. The Government is committed to reform of the planning and appeals processes as set out in the Programme for Government and we have presented draft legislation to this effect which I expect to be presenting to the House in due course.

My Department is intensively engaging with all relevant stakeholders on these issues. The current licensing difficulties are as a result of the changes made to internal Appropriate Assessment Procedures (AAP). These were introduced in response to important Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) decisions and their subsequent interpretation by the Forestry Appeals Committee (FAC) and others. These findings meant that in order to grant licences which fully meet environmental requirements, fundamental changes to the licensing system were unavoidable.

My Department has a detailed project plan in place for dealing with the current backlog and new applications, which includes significant investment in extra resources required to deliver the plan. These resources are a combination of additional ecologists, forestry inspectors and administrative staff where required.

A Project Management Board, with a dedicated Project Manager, is overseeing and monitoring delivery. There will be a continuous review of the process, in order to effect efficiencies. A communication plan to keep stakeholders fully and regularly informed of progress, with a dedicated central resource to deal with queries, is a key element of the project. This plan is already yielding progress with felling licences issued in August the highest in the previous 13 months in both volume and area.

In tandem with this plan a draft amendment to the Agriculture Appeals Act, 2001 is being introduced which aims to increase efficiencies in the appeals process. I very much welcome the almost 9,000 submissions on the Bill which we are now reviewing in advance of presenting the Bill to the House for consideration in the very near future.

While it is the objective of my Department to issue tree felling licences within four months from the date advertised, now most applications are not issued within this timeframe. Applications for forestry licences cannot be issued within the first 30 days to allow for public consultation. Furthermore, once a decision is issued, the licensee must wait 28 days before commencing any forestry operations to allow for appeals. It is the aim of my Department to return to issuing most tree felling licences, within given objectives, through the procedures set out in the project plan as set out above.

I know that the current situation is challenging, but it is a temporary disruption which, when resolved, will make for a better, more sustainable and fit-for-purpose forestry licensing system for many years to come.

Tuberculosis Eradication Programme

 231. Deputy Carol Nolan Information on Carol Nolan Zoom on Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue the number of farmers with C10 herds who have been advised to cull cattle; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24548/20]

 232. Deputy Carol Nolan Information on Carol Nolan Zoom on Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue the number of cattle farmers have been advised to cull from categories C1 to C10; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [24549/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue I propose to take Questions Nos. 231 and 232 together.

  The Bovine TB Forum Interim Report (published July 2019)  identified the need to provide more effective information to farmers to help them reduce the risk of TB in their herd and advocated for the development of herd risk categories that are “simple, clear, and convey sufficient information to enable farmers to make the decisions appropriate to their situation”.

  In line with, and in view of implementing those recommendations, the Department has developed individualised reports that provide a simplified TB herd risk category for farmers, with herd-specific advice on how to reduce risk of TB. The reports do not require farmers to do anything. It is advice which they can choose to take if they wish to reduce the risk of their herd to TB and to take account of in the decisions they take as part of their annual farm management when deciding what animals to cull.

  The published Bovine TB Forum Interim Report, a sample of the TB Herd History risk statement and report and frequently asked questions can be found at www.bovinetb.ie 

  The table below provides an overall summary of herd risk categorisation and number of clear inconclusives and animals alive during a previous breakdown.

TBHHR Category No. of Herds in each Category No. of these herds with clear inconclusive animals Total number of clear inconclusive animals No. of these herds with animals alive during a previous breakdown No. of animals alive during a previous breakdown
C0 5,758 344 662 3,958 288,127
C1 4,522 241 387 3,071 139,341
C2 3,982 218 393 2,651 91,257
C3 3,708 173 268 2,356 68,197
C4 3,791 164 248 2,282 50,579
C5 4,289 151 235 2,522 39,110
C6 3,535 172 261 2,176 27,831
C7 3,681 166 264 2,169 22,360
C8 3,798 158 212 2,208 16,908
C9 3,541 108 154 2,041 12,274
C10 67,537 1,859 2,607 22,944 89,290
D* 304 1 1 162 1,512
INF 2,504 117 177 1,969 117,614
Total 110,950 3,872 5,869 50,509 964,400


  * Dealer Herds

Beef Industry

 233. Deputy Johnny Mythen Information on Johnny Mythen Zoom on Johnny Mythen asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue if the 548 applications for the beef finisher payment recorded outside the reference period will be included in the scheme. [24550/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue The Beef Finisher Payment scheme was launched on the 10th August 2020 to provide income support for farmers with beef finishing enterprises who have been impacted by the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

There have been 28,095 applications submitted for the scheme with a further 548 applications submitted under appeal. While some of these are from farmers who slaughtered animals outside of the reference period they are not exclusively of that category. Each application under appeal will be assessed and their eligibility determined on a case by case basis.  The applicants will  be informed of the outcome and if they are still unhappy with the decision they have the right to appeal the matter to the Agriculture Appeals Office. 

Trade Agreements

 234. Deputy Johnny Mythen Information on Johnny Mythen Zoom on Johnny Mythen asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue if he will take guidance from university studies (details supplied) and the position of a union regarding reports that the Mercosur deal fails across the sustainable criteria and that the deal will have serious implications for Irish beef and food standards; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24551/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue I recognise that there is still real concern in Ireland about the potential impact of the EU Mercosur agreement, arising, in particular, from the inclusion of a 99,000-tonne tariff rate quota for beef. Throughout the period of negotiation, Ireland consistently sought to minimise the impact of any potential deal on the Irish and European beef sector, and we continue to voice our concerns in this respect.

The issue of standards was also, of course, a major concern throughout the negotiation process and continues to be. To that end, the agreement does ensure that there will be equivalent standards in relation to agricultural production in Mercosur. EU Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Standards in relation to animal and plant health will not be relaxed in any way - they remain non-negotiable - and the highest EU standards will be applied to all imported goods, especially food. 

The agreement also includes a detailed chapter on Sustainability and recognises the need to address the urgent threat of climate change and the role trade has in this regard. It also underscores the importance of both Parties implementing the provisions of the Paris Agreement and promotes the positive contribution of trade to a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions.  It is fundamental that these provisions are adhered to by the Mercosur countries for the agreement to progress any further.

The European Commission engaged the London School of Economics to carry out a “Sustainability Impact Assessment” on the agreement, the draft final report of which was published on 8th July 2020. This EU study is being augmented at national level by a whole-of-Government review announced by former Taoiseach Leo Varadkar T.D. The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, in collaboration with my Department, commissioned the Implement Consulting Group to carry out this Economic and Sustainability Impact Assessment (ESIA) for Ireland. This report is due presently.

The final outcome of both studies, among other factors, will inform Ireland’s approach to the discussions in the coming months, and to the ratification process.

  Question No. 235 answered with Question No. 230.

Ministerial Meetings

 236. Deputy Holly Cairns Information on Holly Cairns Zoom on Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue if he has met with representatives of organisations (details supplied); and if not, when he will do so.  [24653/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue I would like to inform he Deputy that I met with representatives of the Irish fishing industry, which included the Producer Organisations, yesterday (16th September).

Agrifood Sector

 237. Deputy Holly Cairns Information on Holly Cairns Zoom on Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue if his attention has been drawn to the identified action in the Teagasc Crops 2030 report to establish a cross-society grouping to assess the requirements including profitability to attract new entrants and to guarantee the continuation of domestic food production; and his plans to establish the grouping. [24655/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue The report on the Irish tillage sector, Crops 2030, compiled by the Teagasc Stakeholder Consultative Group, was launched recently by Minister of State Heydon. I welcome the work of the Stakeholder Group which consists of a broad range of members and reflects the diversity within the sector.

The tillage sector in Ireland is an important component of the Agri-food industry making a significant contribution of an estimated €500m (2019 farm gate prices) to overall agriculture output. The sector is a critical source of high quality grain to the animal feeding industry and straw for feeding and bedding and use in the mushroom industry.

Cereal growers also make a significant contribution to the food and drinks sector in the form of malting barley and oats for the breakfast cereals industry. This is a significant area of economic return, not just for the tillage sector itself but also for the wider rural economy. In addition there is also a small but important seed industry servicing the sector with potential for expansion in some crops.

Both I and my Department consult on an ongoing basis with tillage Stakeholders including on the content of this report. The report will also feed into the ongoing deliberations of both the CAP consultative process and the development of the Agri-Food Strategy to 2030. Working together, I am confident that the future viability of the tillage sector will be secured both in terms of economic and environmental sustainability.

Bioenergy Strategy

 238. Deputy Holly Cairns Information on Holly Cairns Zoom on Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue if his attention has been drawn to the identified action in the Teagasc Crops 2030 report on bioenergy and industrial crops to establish a single entity to coordinate bioenergy industry policy; and his plans to establish the grouping. [24656/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue Indigenous renewable energy plays a vital role in our domestic fuel mix and will become even more important in the context of reducing our reliance on imported fuels and in meeting our challenging renewable energy targets for 2020 and 2030 and decarbonising our energy systems by 2050. 

The Department for Communications, Climate Action and Environment (DCCAE) is the lead government Department on energy policy, including renewable energy policy.  

My Department continuously engages with DCCAE on all energy related matters from an agricultural perspective, as well as a wide range of industry and other stakeholder groupings including those stakeholders involved in this report. The sector has a key role to play in the supply of bioenergy feedstocks as a positive contribution to the decarbonisation of energy systems through the displacement of fossil fuels and energy intensive materials.

Agrifood Sector

 239. Deputy Holly Cairns Information on Holly Cairns Zoom on Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue if his attention has been drawn to the UNEP report, Enhancing Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for Food Systems; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24657/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue My Department is aware of the report referred to by the Deputy and will review its recomendations in due course. It should be noted that the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment is lead Department on issues related to climate action.

Covid-19 Tests

 240. Deputy Holly Cairns Information on Holly Cairns Zoom on Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue if his attention has been drawn to the suspension of Covid-19 testing at meat plants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24658/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue The Government decided in August that the HSE should implement a programme of serial testing of workers in food plants and other large businesses.  To date,  serial testing had taken place of just over 15,000 workers in meat plants, with 42 detected cases - a positivity rate of 0.28%. 

As the Deputy will be aware, the HSE made an operational decision to re-schedule further serial testing in meat plants from the end of last week into this week. Starting last Monday, the HSE began a  schedule of serial testing in meat plants which will involve between 3,000 and 5,000 tests each week.  My Department will provide any assistance requested by the HSE to facilitate this testing programme.  My view is that this testing programme is essential in order to give the assurance that the public needs and expects.

Beef Industry

 241. Deputy Bríd Smith Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue if it is policy not to pursue additional capacity within the beef sector as stated by the Immigration Investor Programme Evaluation Committee; the details of the members of the committee; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24675/20]

 242. Deputy Bríd Smith Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue his views on whether the policy to not to pursue additional capacity denies farmers access to markets and creates barriers to trade for consumers and farmers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24676/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue I propose to take Questions Nos. 241 and 242 together.

  My Department has a statutory responsibility to approve slaughter plants in accordance with the European Union (Food and Feed Hygiene) Regulations 2020. Such approval is neutral on whether or not additional slaughter capacity is required, rather it assesses premises in accordance with meeting the strict criteria laid down in the EU legislation referenced.

  With regard to any proposed additional processing facilities, I would urge those involved to engage with my Department veterinary officials at an early stage in order to understand and address the requirements for approval to be registered with DAFM and to operate as a meat establishment under EU and Irish law.

  I understand that the Immigration Investor Programme Evaluation Committee is a committee under the remit of the Department of Justice.

Proposed Legislation

 243. Deputy Bríd Smith Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue if consideration has been given to providing a money message for the Island Fisheries Heritage Licence Bill 2017 if it is reintroduced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24677/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue The Bill to which the Deputy refers lapsed with the dissolution of the last Dáil and Seanad.  The Bill had failed to meet the criteria to be provided with a money message.  

Agriculture Industry

 244. Deputy Bríd Smith Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue his plans to change the industrialised business-led model of agriculture here which has led to a biodiversity, climate and water quality crisis, in addition to a substantial decline of small family farms; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24678/20]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Charlie McConalogue): Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue The Central Statistics Office (CSO) carry out a census of agriculture every 10 years and a Farm Structure Survey (FSS) every 3 to 4 years. According to CSO data, the average farm size has remained relatively stable over the past decade or more with the average farm size of 32.7 hectares in 2010, 32.5 hectares in 2013 and 32.4 hectares in 2016. Over the same period, the number of farm holdings has also remained relatively stable with 139,860 farms recorded by the CSO in 2010, 139,600 in 2013 and 137,500 in 2016. In the 2016 FSS, the CSO indicated that of the 137,500 farms in Ireland, 137,100 (99.7%) were classified as family farms and that almost 43% of farms in Ireland were less than 20 hectares in size.

Water quality in Ireland is generally considered in good health. However, the latest Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Water Quality in Ireland Report has identified a further decline in some catchments. Ireland has a regulatory framework for the protection of water by nutrient losses through the Nitrates Directive and the Nitrates Action Programme. Ireland's current Nitrates Action Programme concludes in 2021 and the process of reviewing the Nitrates regulations and derogation will commence soon and will be subject to consultation with all stakeholders. There is a commitment, and most importantly, a plan in place to reduce losses of nutrients from agricultural sources.

I would accept that there is a significant climate challenge facing society globally, and agriculture must do its share to respond to this challenge. 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 Stakeholder Committee established to develop the new Strategy to 2030 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 Committee itself and I am satisfied that their work will make a very important contribution to ensuring the sustainability and viability of the agri-food sector.

The Programme for Government has committed to publishing the new 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.


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