Dáil Éireann - Volume 492 - 17 June, 1998

Written Answers. - Alternative Farm Enterprises.

[1223] 79. Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food his views on whether an alternative farm enterprise helps to keep families on the land, particularly in the disadvantaged areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14637/98]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh): In my view, alternative farm enterprises can provide valuable extra income for farming families, and thus contribute to maintaining the maximum number of family farms. Under the Operational Programme for Agriculture, Rural Development and Forestry, grant aid has been provided for the following farm diversification measures, in several cases with high grant rates for less favoured areas:

Total Public Expenditure 1994-1997

£m

Farm Diversification

(a) Housing/handling facilities for alternative enterprises

8.714

(b) Development of the horse industry

1.570

(c) Development of the greyhound industry

0.155

(d) Horticulture and potatoes

2.940

(e) Development of organic farming

0.183

(f) Agri-tourism

2.545

(g) Services in rural areas

1.094

Total Farm Diversification

17.201

Farm Improvement Programme — Horticulture

1.502

The Government provides support for the maximum number of family farms through actions to maintain farm incomes. Direct payments to farmers under schemes funded by the EU and the national Exchequer now account for 47 per cent of farm income. Measures to encourage the early transfer of land to young trained farmers, such as the farm retirement scheme and generous tax incentives, also make an important contribution to improving farm viability.

Off-farm rural development is a vital factor in maintaining the rural population. The success of the Leader programme has shown the enthusiasm of rural communities for direct involvement in the development of their own areas. In recognition of the importance of rural development, the Government is in the process of preparing a White Paper on Rural Development. The intention is that the White Paper will address rural development as a broad multifunctional process involving the economic, social, cultural and environmental conditions which influence the quality of life of rural communities.