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Minister Creed's statement at Dail Debate on Future of the Tillage Sector, 26 April 2018

Statement By Mr Michael Creed T.D. Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine on the Future of the Tillage Sector Dáil Éireann on Thursday 26 April 2018

In closing here this evening I would like to endorse the earlier words of my colleague Minister Doyle when he welcomed this timely report. I acknowledge the valuable contributions from all deputies on the future of what is an important sector of Irish agriculture. I think it is extremely important to emphasise the comments of the Minister in stating that the overall objective of the report is aligned with the tillage actions outlined in Foodwise 2025. The tillage sector is an important and integral component of the Agri-food industry, making a significant contribution to overall agricultural output. I feel it is important to acknowledge that crop production as a whole, and including a significant output from the horticultural sector, contributes in the region of €700 million annually to agricultural output at farm gate prices.  

Fertiliser Tariffs

Fertiliser represents a critical cost factor for tillage farmers. The Central Statistics Office identifies fertiliser expenditure at €513 million in 2017, an increase of 0.8% on 2016. I have long believed that the elimination of fertiliser tariffs and anti-dumping duties is something that could help farmers reduce their input costs and this is something that we have actively pursued at Agri Fish Council in 2016 and 2017, both with the Commission and in consultation with my Council colleagues. At the Agri Fish Council in June 2017 we asked the Commission to address the significant overpricing of fertilisers in the EU brought about by the imposition of anti-dumping duties on imports.

In that context, in August 2017 the Commission gave notice of its intention to conduct a partial interim review of the anti dumping measures and it is expected that this review will be completed in late 2018. However I understand that there may be an interim decision from the Commission on the review of the anti dumping levy shortly. If that is the case, I look forward to that decision and my officials will review it accordingly.

Crop Diversification “3 Crop Rule”

In view of the difficult spring, I have requested a derogation from the European Commission in relation to the Crop Diversification (“3 crop rule”) requirement as part of Greening for 2018. I am confident of a favourable response. As a consequence of alternative crop options no longer being available to farmers, growers can make crop choices that best suit their current situation.

EU Protein Plan

To follow up on Minister Doyle’s earlier support for the domestic protein production sector, it is important to be aware that the EU is in deficit in relation to plant protein for animal feed and currently imports 75% of its plant derived protein requirements. From Ireland’s perspective I support the ambition to increase production of protein crops in Europe because protein feeds are essential to the well being of our dairy and livestock industries. The EU is to prepare a European Protein Plan to be published by the end of 2018, with a view to increasing yields and producing crops better suited to EU conditions.

Potato Industry

The potato industry must also be recognised for its contribution to the tillage sector and is worth €80 million to the Irish Economy. The area sown to potatoes has stabilised over the last 4 years at about 9,000 ha. Measures under Foodwise 2025 have driven successful initiatives such as the Fresh Chipping Initiative and the Salad Potato Initiative led by Teagasc, Bord Bia and the IFA. Ireland's salad potatoes accounted for 5,000 tonnes in 2014 and increased to 7,500 tonnes in 2017 thereby giving potato growers an opportunity to access an expanding high value niche market. The Potato Promotion campaign, co-funded by my Department, the EU and Ireland’s potato industry has been successful and consumption levels have increased since 2013 and are now back at 2008 levels.

I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Irish Potato Federation who with the support of my own Department, An Bord Bia, Teagasc and Failte Ireland won its bid against stiff opposition to host the World Potato Congress in 2021 in Dublin. Not content with that, the Federation has also secured the simultaneous hosting of the Europat Congress – the annual congress of the European Association of the potato trade.

Arable Forages

I welcome the industry led publication of “The Maize Guide” from last year. Those involved should be commended for their efforts and this initiative shows that some of the challenges facing the tillage sector can be overcome by those within the sector working together. The inclusion of a template growing contract between a maize/tillage grower and a livestock farmer is something that deserves serious discussion. This development is particularly timely given the demand for forage that now exists on many livestock farms. I understand that provisions for a similar contract are being drafted for Fodder Beet. I also welcome the recent engagement of a number of Co-operatives in further promoting this initiative. These arrangements could generate many benefits; including improving our sustainability credentials and offer additional options to tillage farmers seeking to diversify their enterprises and also expand break crop options.

Conclusion

In conclusion, in support of the comments of my colleague Minister Doyle, I am glad to see that many of the key recommendations of the report are in line with those the industry has prioritised in Food Wise 2025. The technical efficiency of tillage and horticultural producers in Ireland is well known but we must not rest on our laurels, rather we need focus on what additional actions are available to us to further improve upon these efficiencies. In the context of Brexit, developing new markets is of paramount importance, particularly for the horticultural and high-value niche sectors. We can only secure these markets by maintaining and improving the high standards for which Irish producers are known. Finally, the range of measures and other supports that both Minister Doyle and myself have outlined here this evening are clear evidence of our full commitment  to supporting the tillage and horticultural sectors to fulfill their potential.