Seanad Éireann - Volume 116 - 03 June, 1987
Agriculture (An Chomhairle Oiliúna Talmhaíochta) Bill, 1986: Second Stage.
 Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. Kirk) Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. Kirk)
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. Kirk): The purpose of this Bill is to enable ACOT to charge for agricultural advisory services. The position is that the current annual costs of providing and maintaining the agricultural training and advisory services are of the order of £28 million, of which £23 million is funded by the Exchequer and local authority contributions. At present ACOT provide agricultural advice to approximately 70,000 farmers, 29,000 of whom receive an intensive service. This service which includes up to 170,000 farm visits annually is provided by professional staff and is necessarily an expensive one, costing in the region of £7 million.
Mr. Ferris Mr. Ferris
Mr. Ferris: Is there a copy of the Minister's speech available? I am sorry for interrupting him. It is the normal procedure that we should have one.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: Would the Minister like to sit down for a moment? I do not usually tell Ministers to sit down. Normally Members have copies of the Minister's speech as he speaks. That is what they are asking for.
Mr. Kirk Mr. Kirk
Mr. Kirk: I think it is reasonable, therefore, that those who receive substantial benefit from the service should make an appropriate contribution towards this cost. The existing legislation does not empower ACOT to charge fees for advisory services and consequently this Bill has been introduced to make the necessary amendments to the relevant Acts. The intention in the Bill is to enable ACOT to require reasonable contributions from those receiving these services.
While this legislation will enable ACOT to charge for advisory services, it also provides that any such charges and the criteria on which they are based will  be subject to the prior approval of the Minister. I would add that should the Minister consider, in the light of changing circumstances, that any fees or charges should be varied or, indeed, terminated, the legislation will enable him to direct ACOT to vary or terminate them.
While there may be a body of opinion that the introduction of charges will act as a disincentive to some farmers to seek advice from ACOT, I believe there is now a much greater awareness in the farming community of the need and value of skilled, technical and management advice. Proper professional advice in the planning and development of farms can make a crucial contribution to maximising potential benefits. Such advice, therefore, should be viewed as an important input. It hardly needs to be emphasised that all inputs should be cost effective and I am confident that the technical and management advice of the farm advisory services will continue to be so, thereby giving good value and enhanced returns to the user.
During the course of the Dáil debates on this Bill a good deal of concern was expressed about farmers who might not be in a position to pay for these services and might, therefore, be excluded from them. I appreciate that concern. The position is that the charges made will be reasonable and applied in an effective and constructive manner. There will be full consultation between the Department and ACOT prior to the introduction of any charges on the level of these charges and the criteria to be used in their formulation. As the Minister's approval is ultimately necessary for the making of charges, the Bill provides adequate safeguards that the overall interests of the agricultural sector will be fully taken into account when the fees which ACOT may charge are being determined.
As my ministerial colleague has already stated in the Dáil, we would be opposed to laying down any advance prescriptions which would pre-empt ACOT's freedom to devise proposals which they consider appropriate. Nevertheless I can give an assurance that, when  proposals are being considered, due account will be taken of the position of farmers on low incomes or in financial difficulties.
I am satisfied, therefore, that there are adequate safeguards in the Bill to ensure that the charging of fees for advisory services will not inhibit ACOT's key role in the promotion of the efficiency of Irish farming and assisting its development to full potential. I commend this Bill to the House.
Mr. Connor Mr. Connor
Mr. Connor: Since this is my first occasion to speak as Opposition spokesperson on Agriculture in this House, may I take the opportunity to congratulate the Minister on his appointment and to wish him very well? When he was in Opposition and we were supporting the Government in the lifetime of the last Dáil, I got to know Deputy Kirk very well and I have no doubt that he will bring his undoubted talents to bear on the onerous task he has been given.
The first thing I have to say about this Bill is that I remain worried about the lack of assurance about who will pay for these services and what category of farmer will have to pay for these services. The Minister of State may have gone a little farther here today than his colleague, the Minister, in the Dáil. Nevertheless there remains a very large grey area and the statement made remains very vague.
We all know this Bill was originally introduced by the former Government on 10 April 1986 in the Dáil. The then Minister of State moving the Second Stage in the Dáil said at column 479, volume 365 of the Official Report:
Farmers who can afford to pay for an advisory service which is tailored to their individual needs will be required to make an appropriate payment for the service.
I find nothing in what the Minister of State said today or in what the Minister Deputy O'Kennedy said in the Dáil six weeks ago which is as unequivocal as that.
 My party agree with the need to charge the small minority of commercial farmers for the services of ACOT. Only a small minority fall into that category. Farmers who can pay, should pay, particularly those lucky enough to be highly developed and commercially profitable enough to do so. These farmers very often get from ACOT a very highly specialised advice. That demands a lot of the time or the advisers in terms of research and imparting advice and knowledge. It is only right and proper that farmers who fall into that category, because of their profitability and because of the kind of information they demand and get from ACOT, should be asked to pay in part or in whole for these services, depending on how commercial they are. Away from that magic relatively small circle of farmers there is the vast corpus of Irish farmers who do not fall into that category.
Looking at the other side and we see a section that has an accumulated borrowing of £1.7 billion. Many who not so long ago were prosperous farmers with well developed enterprises and good land are now bankrupt because of falling commodity prices and very high interest rates. The high interest rates are the result of madness imported into public policy in the late seventies and in the eighties. There are also the disadvantaged area farmers, particularly in the 12 western counties where 70 per cent of the farms are not viable and where only 30 per cent are viable.
I have to ask on behalf of my party: will the advisory service concentrate more on servicing those farmers who are paying simply because that will be generating revenue and income for ACOT? Will this be at the expense of the other developing farmers whose survival is linked to good advice from ACOT and who at the same time cannot afford to pay for it? Related to this also is the fact that there is a relatively high number of advisers in the disadvantaged areas. Will they be moved to the more highly developed areas where they will be placed to advise farmers who will pay for the service?
We have often heard the criticism that,  if you take 200 farmers living east of the River Shannon, it will be found that a very high percentage of them are commercial farmers, or have the potential to be commercial, or have better land. The point is made that a far greater percentage of them are in touch with and taking advice from their ACOT adviser. On the other side of the coin, on the western side of the Shannon, if you took any 200 farmers as an example, a very low percentage of them would be deemed to be viable, a very low percentage of them would be deemed to have the potential to be viable and, of course, a low percentage of them would be in touch with their ACOT adviser.
There is the temptation to use these crude comparisons to justify the withdrawal of services in disadvantaged areas and to move them into the more relatively advantaged areas, if I may call them that. The real advantage the Minister and his Department might see in it would be the financial returns that would accrue by concentrating the service where there is major potential for selling the service to commercial farmers. I would like the Minister to amend this Bill to read — or to include in the wording of this Bill — that all farmers living in the disadvantaged areas would be excluded from the terms of these proposed charges. I ask for that to be done because of the special remedial attention these areas need to get if they are to be brought to any semblance of economic viability. That goes for the 70 per cent majority we were talking about earlier of marginalised farmers who live in these areas. It is quite unfair to have to say to them: “We are trying to pull you up by your boot straps by giving you advice by which you might improve your enterprise and now we are saying to you that you will have to pay for that advice.”
Before we finish the Bill in this House, I want an assurance from the Minister that there will be no reduction in the size of the advisory service in the disadvantaged areas. Bear in mind that the only major farm grant development service operates now in these areas — I  am talking about the so-called western package. In recent years there has been a huge drive for silage slabs and winter housing of livestock in the 12 western counties, some of it, I admit, prompted by the bad weather of the two appalling summers we had. The ACOT advisory service took full advantage of the lessons learned and the changed attitudes brought about by the appalling summers and they led a large move towards silage rather than hay, which is absolutely appropriate in these areas, and to better housing systems. The advisers have been deeply involved in this very beneficial move and they have devoted an enormous amount of their time to helping farmers to decide on new systems and in the preparation of the necessary plans, the paper work and bureaucracy that go along with all of these things. This drive is only getting into top gear now and to remove it or to reduce it, or to reduce the number of people who are responsible for its working and providing the dynamic by which it operates — I am talking about the advisers — or to stymie their efforts with the threat of charges would be irresponsible and it would be almost bordering on the criminal.
I have another major area of worry, that is, the effect these measures could have on the farm education service operated by ACOT. Again, we can have the temptation to move more of the advisory service towards the paying area and this could have disastrous effects on the farm educational programme. The whole farm education programme is conducted largely by the ACOT advisory service. Nowadays there are, if I have correct figures from ACOT, approximately between 5,000 and 6,000 young farmers in various ACOT centres and in agricultural colleges throughout the country. In fact, this is the only effective training and education we have for our young farmers outside the third level institutions and universities, etc., but only a minority will find their way into those institutions. We have to admit that this is a totally inadequate education service in a country where agriculture is still the greatest  single factor in the economy, where 17 per cent of the workforce are still directly on the land and where 30 per cent of all employment in the economy is agriculture related.
If this measure in any way interferes with the share of ACOT resources that goes into young farmer education and training in terms of manpower, in terms of administration, in terms of duration of classes, etc., we will oppose it vigorously. I want the Minister to inform this House unequivocally, one way or the other, about the intentions in this area in order that we will know what we must do, as a famous member of the American Senate said in the last century. It is bad enough that the Government have removed the establishment aid scheme for young farmers; it is indeed bad enough that the Government have abolished the stamp duty waiver scheme for trained, competent young farmers taking over the family holding; but it would be bad in the extreme, indeed the breaking point, if this legislation were used in a roundabout way to cut back on farm education, to save money by doing that and by making money by devoting the released resources to the fare paying area, that is, the farmers who are supposed to be able to pay.
My party are not opposed to this measure in principle. We said in Government and we said out of Government that there is no such thing as a free Government service; somebody has to pay for it. We believed in Government and we believe now out of Government that people or institutions who get a Government service — and if that service is used to generate a profit and allowing that the people or the institutions getting the advice of the service can afford to pay for it — should be asked to pay for it. We fully accept that principle. My abiding worry is this — and I am not being political because it is a fact — that the once profligate and poacher Fianna Fáil Party, profligate and poacher both in Government and in Opposition, are now back in Government. They have now turned to almost fanatical gamekeeping, and they are looking in every direction to cut back  and to make savings. The Taoiseach said in his famous leaked letter to his Ministers that no area is sacrosanct from a cutback. The real danger is that hidden in this Bill is more of that diktat to use the service to generate additional revenue from those who can pay; and those who, according to the Minister are supposed to be able to pay, maybe multitudes more, in terms of their income and in terms of their level of development, than we ever dreamt were there or that any of the farming organisations ever dreamt were there.
These are our real fears. I do not think the Minister has done anything to allay our fears by what he had to say to us today. We counsel the greatest caution in choosing people who will have to pay for this service. The point was made in the other House that in one country where a service charge of this kind was introduced — and I think the example given was Finland — 22 per cent of the people who were participating in the service prior to the introduction of the service charge no longer applied for it or looked for it. With the agricultural economy in this country in such a fragile state, and with the meaningful side of the agricultural advisory service being geared towards young, resourceful farmers with a dynamism about building up this most important industry, it would be utterly disastrous if the greatest care and the greatest sensitivity were not adopted in the application of these charges.
Mr. Hussey Mr. Hussey
Mr. Hussey: First of all, like Senator Connor, I would like to congratulate the Minister of State on his appointment and hope he will have many happy and rewarding years in his office. It is not a very pleasant duty for any Minister or Minister of State to have to come to either House of the Oireachtas asking for an increase in levies or charges. But, unfortunately, in the time we are living in everybody accepts, as Senator Connor said, that those services must be paid for. There is no such thing any longer as a free service; somebody has to pay for it, whether it is the individual farmer or the general body of taxpayers.
 Agriculture, as we all know, is our main industry. All of us who have an interest in agriculture want to see this industry develop and expand because we know that, if we have a thriving agricultural sector, then all other areas of the economy follow suit. That is why it is important that every facet of agriculture would be allowed to develop to its full potential. I submit that is not happening at present. There is room for improvement in every area of agriculture. There are markets which we can explore and develop. I submit that we have not developed these markets to their full potential. I know we have strong opposition from other European countries, from people who are competing with us in the marketplace. I believe that the climate is right here, that we have a lot going for us. We have many advantages other European countries do not have. We should make full use of those advantages, try to capitalise on them and achieve further expansion in the marketplace. I am satisfied we can do that. I hope the Government, the Department of Agriculture and all the other agencies involved in promoting Irish agriculture will be at all times vigilant and will secure every opportunity to advance Irish agriculture.
There is always an outcry when fees or charges such as those which this Bill imposes are levied. Nobody likes those charges; but, unfortunately, I suppose it has to be. ACOT at present are being asked to collect £1 million in charges for services in 1987, but we have only six months of 1987 left. I can see this creating a problem. Charging for services will mean that the better-off farmers will get advice and those not able to pay will not get the same level of service. ACOT must propose to the Government the method by which they will collect these charges, and from whom. It is then up to the Government to decide what method they will accept. Up to now collection was by commodity deduction, that is. An Foras Taluntais research levy or BTE scheme levies. I wonder if the same system could not apply for ACOT. Could not some of the headage grants paid on ewes or  suckler cows be retained by the Department and paid over to ACOT, rather than imposing individual charges for services rendered?
If I could give an example — and here I will have to localise it to my own county because they are the figures I have — a £1 million collection for ACOT nationally would mean approximately £70,000 for County Galway. If deductions were made from headage grants, County Galway has approximately 40,000 suckler cows and at 50p per head that would take in £20,000. We have 350,000 ewes and at a deduction of lOp per head that would bring in £35,000. Twenty million gallons of milk are sold to the creameries and a deduction of 0.1 per cent of a penny would bring in £20,000, making a total of £75,000. There you have the full amount collected without any of the fuss of going out and charging farmers, with the better-off farmers availing of the service and the smaller and more backward farmers not availing of it simply because they cannot afford to pay for it. They are the types of farmers I would like to see helped. The prosperous farmer, the farmer who is anxious to get on, will always attend the conferences and always attend the lectures. Unfortunately, the man you would like to help and would like to drag up by the bootlaces will sit at home by the fire and will not go out to the lectures; neither will he avail of the services offered if there is a charge. That is my reading of the matter.
The main advisory effort is to increase suckler cow numbers and increase the use of continental bulls. All herd owners with five or more cows are being visited before 30 June 1987. Where farmers are liable for income tax they can claim levy payments as expenses and similarly for VAT refunds. I submit that small farmers and those not liable for either income tax or VAT refunds cannot claim. Exemption from charges should apply to all who are not liable for income tax. In the case of suckler cows, in order to maintain calf numbers it is necessary to increase cow numbers because of the decline in milk cows. Here again ACOT must give  advice and encouragement to farmers to do this. Because of the withdrawal of implants continental breeds are necessary to meet export requirements of cattle, and again this requires advice and encouragement.
With regard to sheep, an expansion in ewe numbers can take place because of the market requirements in Europe, but lambs must be of a very particular quality and be produced and marketed at the correct time. Of course, the technical information must be provided by ACOT advisers.
With regard to the farm improvement scheme, at present the Department collect £20 for each farm visit made by ACOT and Department of Agriculture staff. Of course, ACOT do not get the £20 stopped from grants by the Department; that is retained by the Department. If I can localise this to my own county, up to 24 May 1987 there were 2,000 applicants under the farm improvement scheme in County Galway. At £20 each that contributed £40,000 to the Department of Agriculture. The two years 1985 and 1986 placed a big strain on winter feed in wetland areas and on fragmented farms. ACOT are pressing for an increase in new silage makers and they require advice. They require advice because it has been proved, and over those two years in particular, that silage making is really the only thing which will guarantee that farmers will have a satisfactory supply of fodder for stock during the winter and they are being asked and encouraged to go away from the traditional system of saving hay. Again, of course, that requires the advice and help of the agricultural adviser. Due to late springs and poor yields of fodder in 1985 and 1986 considerable destocking, particularly in suckler cows and cattle, took place which, together with high purchases of feeds such as hay and meals, led to a considerable number of farmers getting into financial difficulties. ACOT have just designed a farm business service to help these people manage their farms and home finances in these difficult times. These are the very people who cannot afford to pay for services.
 There is a very disturbing increase in the number of farmers who are in financial difficulties, even in my own county. I submit that farmers in disadvantaged areas should not be charged for this service. Possibly the 12 western counties should be exempt from the fees now proposed in this Bill. If, however, charges must be made across the board, it is quite clear that districts in the west and north west should not be asked to collect as much as districts in the rest of the country, because we all know that the farmers in the eastern part of the country have many more advantages than we have in the west. They have better farms, they are not as fragmented and they are near centres of population, which in itself can be an advantage.
As regards education — this is very important — the certificate in farming is taught by ACOT advisers. We know that educated young farmers are essential for the future. If Irish agriculture is to develop we need such people to promote agriculture and to develop it to its full potential. Charging for services would mean charging young people for education. Indeed, in recent times widespread concern has been expressed about the funding of agricultural educational training. In December last year the IFA rural development committee set up an agricultural forum to which representatives of the IFA, Macra na Feirme, ICOS, the farm relief service, ACOT, ICA, the Agricultural Science Association, the Farm Apprenticeship Board, the Association of Private Agricultural Colleges and the General Council of Committees of Agriculture were invited.
The report issued by their forum highlights the very serious problem in the field of educational training. We all accept that there is an absolute need for agricultural education and training, but the situation is deteriorating all the time. The prospects for employment of people who have undertaken agricultural education are excellent. It makes sound economic sense to provide adequate agricultural education. It is necessary also to ensure equality of treatment of young people  seeking vocational educational training for any sector of the economy. At present that equality of treatment simply is not there, because there is a big discrepancy between the financial support available to a young person going to a residential course at an agricultural college, on the one hand, and that available to a person attending a regional technical college or a course with AnCO or CERT or, indeed, on work experience with the National Manpower Services, on the other hand.
A person attending an agricultural college is required to pay a fee of between £690 and £1,250 for the one year course, whereas a person attending a regional technical college or a training course with AnCO pays no fee and receives a weekly training allowance of up to £40. The position of agricultural college students has deteriorated drastically since 1980. If we look at some of the figures available we can see that in 1980-81 the number of scholarships, both agricultural and horticultural, was 748. In 1986-87, it was 682. The average value of the scholarships in 1980-81 was £432. In 1986-87, it was £488. The average value of scholarships at 1986 prices in 1980-81 was £798; in 1986-87, £488. The average fee payable by scholarship holders in 1980-81 amounted to £193 and in 1986-87 to £762. Since 1980-81 the number of scholarships has declined by 9 per cent. The average scholarship value has declined by 39 per cent and the average fee payable by scholarship holders has increased by 130 per cent. That is the comparison between the fees charged in an agricultural college, and the fees charged are not charged at the other centres that I have outlined.
This situation in which young people seeking training in agriculture have to pay high fees is unjust to those who wish to work in the industry whether they are farmers' children or urban young people. A further inequality arises because of the failure to grant ACOT any derogation from the public service staff embargo to enable them to maintain staff-student ratios. Staff-student ratios have been maintained only by redeploying staff from advisory work into education,  thereby eroding some of the advisory service to farmers. It is estimated that an additional grant of £1.65 million to ACOT would provide equality of opportunity for trainees in agriculture. Indeed, I would consider this investment in our young farmers money well spent.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: Senator, I do not like to interrupt you, but you may be going a little bit outside the scope of the Bill, and if I allow it for one Senator it may happen throughout the whole afternoon.
Mr. Hussey Mr. Hussey
Mr. Hussey: I certainly accept your ruling, but we are dealing here with services and charges and I was just relating the type of charges that apply in colleges and also in the other areas where young people seek opportunities in other industries. I do not think that discrepancy should apply but, however, I bow to your ruling on the matter.
I have already stated that there are excellent opportunities available to young people who are interested in taking up agriculture as a career. The Farm Apprenticeship Board could readily expand the number of training places available to meet the demand that exists in agriculture for skilled people, including the requirements of the farm release service. A study carried out by An Foras Talúntais in 1985 indicated that over a three to five year period the equivalent of 1,000 full time jobs could be created in farm release services provided operators are properly trained and have the facilities for such training. ACOT need more finance to meet the requirement to provide in agriculture a highly trained and effective workforce for a changing agricultural environment.
I hope that the tariffs being levied under this Bill will not create serious problems for farmers. I have suggested a few ways in which the levy might be collected rather than imposing the charge on farmers who require the services of an agricultural adviser. If that is the way the levy is to be collected the poorer farmers, the backward farmers and those who are  not as progressive as their counterparts, will not avail of the services of the adviser. That would be unfortunate because we want to see agriculture developed.
Unfortunately the Bill does not allow us to go into other areas of farming. If it did we could be talking for a long time about areas such as the eradication of bovine TB and animal diseases. I hope that in the years ahead our main industry will develop and prosper. The potential is there and it only needs leadership and commonsense in the marketplace to provide the market requirements. We look to people like Deputy Kirk and the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy O'Kennedy, to guide us through the difficult years ahead. They have the capabilities to do that.
Mr. Ferris Mr. Ferris
Mr. Ferris: I thank Senator Murphy for allowing me to speak before him on this Bill. I want to join with other speakers in welcoming back to the Seanad the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food, Deputy Kirk. He was with us once before. Unfortunately he always seems to bring bad news when he arrives here but, in this day and age, it is difficult to avoid that.
I will be constructive in my remarks on the Bill. Far be it from me to suggest that there should be anything free for any sector, in particular a sector which is always subjected to criticism from various uninformed sources who do not know the full implications of the difficulties involved in farming. When the Bill was mooted by the previous Government I made a submission to the then Minister. I had meetings with the board of ACOT who represent the General Council of the County Committees of Agriculture. They made a submission on the possibility of imposing charges and the implications for the farming sector and ACOT in charging for a service which heretofore had been free.
The Minister confirmed in his speech that agricultural training and the advisory service cost £28 million. The cost of providing the advisory service at farm level  is £7 million so I take it that the balance of the cost is in the area of farming education at colleges which Senator Hussey was not allowed to debate. When one draws a parallel between young people in other sectors and young people in agriculture, there is a disadvantage for young people who want to be further educated in the area of agriculture. I suggest to the Minister that agricultural colleges should change their structure into one of training rather than educational. Funds could be made available through the European Community if the emphasis was placed on training because education at that level for young farmers is generally considered to be in the area of retraining.
The Bill deals with the concept of charging farmers for a service which was originally free. About ten or 12 years ago the General Council of the County Committees of Agriculture, who were responsible for the provision of the service before ACOT took over, researched their enterprises: what they were doing; what staff they had available to them; who appointed the staff; and how the staff could get to the people they were intended to get to. The general council discovered that the number of people they wanted to get to was about 50 per cent in real terms. They offered their services free. They advocated their services at every co-op, creamery, and parish pump. At meetings ACOT advisers sold themselves to farmers as being available to advise them on projects, plans, buildings and stock maintenance. In spite of that only about 50 per cent of the farmers availed of the free service.
The Minister should exempt some categories of farmers from these charges to ensure that they will receive proper advice in determining their ability to continue in family farm enterprises. Those of us who are interested in farming want to see it prosper to the benefit of the community. The Minister is running a risk that if a charge is imposed on people they may sit at home and not go out to group meetings, farm walks or any other areas from which they can benefit.
I have reservations about imposing the  charges on a headage basis, a product tax basis or otherwise, because he will be charging everyone in an area from which only some will benefit. That is the disadvantage of the system suggested by Senator Hussey. He represents a western county, most of which is disadvantaged. Therefore, I cannot blame him for making that suggestion. It is one way of collecting fees from farmers in difficult areas. If we are to live up to the constitutional right to be treated equally, I suggest that the charge should be determined on one's ability to pay. At local authority level I defended charges for people who availed of a service which up to then had been free. We realise that it has to be paid for by the PAYE worker who pays for most of the services for everybody, farmers and business people alike. Most beneficiaries in this country benefit from tax paid by the PAYE sector. The statistics available to the Minister for Finance confirm that the vast majority of the wealth of the country is created by workers who contribute to it out of their pay packet. If we are advocating free services, we are advocating that taxation should be increased.
I have no objection in principle to the concept that farmers who have the ability to pay should make a contribution towards the service which will be of benefit to them. It is for the Minister, when he gets a proposal from ACOT, to say how it should be carried out. It is a matter for the Minister and his Department to decide whether the charge is fair and collectable or whether it is unfair and uncollectable. Now that some elite farmers have decided that their rateable valuation process is illegal — to their detriment in the final analysis — the Ministers can no longer use that norm when deciding who has the ability to pay the charge.
Following the Government's decision to abolish land tax it will now be obligatory on everybody with any rateable valuation to keep accounts. If the Minister makes a charge based on accounts, it may be an incentive for people to keep accounts. I am all in favour of the concept of people keeping accounts for their own  benefit so that they can be aware of whether or not a project is uneconomical. For that reason the concept of accounts does not do anything for my philosphy but it creates problems for farmers who are not geared to keeping accounts and who generally have a horror of the tax man, the health board levy collector and all other collectors. What worries me is that they will not have a horror of ACOT advisers.
When the general council carried out their research they reached out to the people whom they hoped would avail of the service. Those people were not prepared to be told or advised by anybody on why or when they should change a product or process of production in case they were found to have been incorrect in the past. The Bill deals with one of the most conservative groups of economically developed people in the country — those in the farming sector. They are extremely slow to change and they resent being advised, this is why ACOT had such difficulties in the past in trying to reach out to those people.
ACOT have had tremendous dilemmas with regard to the allocations given to them by Governments. The previous Government and this Government have done nothing to allay the fears of the ACOT board concerning their ability to provide a service in the area of agricultural advice and education. This created some pressure on the Minister and his party in Government who a couple of months ago were against this concept and who are now faced with having to look to every area in order to collect money.
I would hate this charge to be used as a way of penalising a section of the community who are accused by many people of not paying their way. I would rather see people genuinely needing advice asking for advice and being prepared to make a contribution for it. Those who are unable to pay for it should certainly be accommodated by any legitimate State advisory service. I do not think people's inability to pay should be used as a deciding factor in having an agricultural adviser call to them or refusing to call to them.
 The Minister should be extremely careful about how this legislation is applied on the ground because for the first time he will be changing the role of the agricultural adviser who up to now had the confidence of his clients. He could help them with their taxation problems and the problem of handing down their property to their successors. This was done in the knowledge that the information was confidential between the adviser and the farmer and would not be disclosed to any third party such as the tax office, the Department of the Environment or anybody else. If the Minister interferes with the relationship farmers and advisers have built up over the years, he will do a disservice to the agricultural sector.
Farmers need assistance and advice. About 29,000 of them have availed of that intensive service. I wish many more had availed of it. If they had, agriculture would now be the better of it. With hindsight people can criticise decisions taken by agricultural advisers on the acquisition of land and the possibility for increasing production within the European Community. How could advisers have been privy to what might happen afterwards at Councils of Ministers, at the Commission, or at any other level in Europe, or to the changes that have taken place including the review of the Common Agricultural Policy? How could any adviser have been privy to that kind of information during the seventies which is the time they were accused of giving very liberal advice to farmers. If the advice that was given generally had been given to more people, we might have had a healthier agricultural economy than we have at present.
The ACOT-AFT review was carried out at the request of a previous Government. I will not go into the personnel who served on this review; I have some reservations about them but that is outside the scope of the Bill. In that review a question was raised about the possibility of charging for services. ACOT who will be responsible for the implementation of the law on the ground said in the review:
 If ACOT is obliged to earn a significant proportion of its income by charging, this will result in a major change of direction which would adversely affect many farmers, especially in the prevailing situation in agriculture. In accordance with the previous Government's policy (Building on Reality) ACOT's advisers are concentrating on the middle segment of farmers with the resources and motivation to develop. As a high proportion of these could not or would not pay for services, ACOT would be forced to move away from this sector. This would prove detrimental to dry-stock farming in particular, the main engine of growth in the immediate years ahead. Instead, ACOT would be forced to concentrate its resources in providing the more commercial/ developed farmers with a high quality service capable of commanding fees. It is important that the Board would get clarification from Government as to whether the development of the middle segment of farmers or income generation should receive priority. These objectives are not mutually compatible.
That is the problem as I see it. That middle segment of farmers is the area the previous Government had pinpointed as being possible to motivate into improving their position. If they are now to be subjected to charges, they may not be able to or may refuse to pay. Then we will have a commercial advisory service requested and paid for by those who can afford it. Once they have paid for it they will demand the service, possibly at the expense of all the other people we are concerned about who were pinpointed by the previous Government as being capable of motivation.
We will have a fundamental problem with this if we apply it on the ground and the people charged under previous Acts with the responsibility of carrying it out said this in the review. As legislators we have an obligation — as has the Minister and the Minister of State — to take on board the problems that will arise for  the agencies involved in the collection of these charges. Members of the staff of ACOT throughout the country have made submissions to many of us who they were aware had an interest in this regard. They were of the opinion that these proposed charges would result in a fundamental change in the organisation and direction of the advisory services which were provided, and that this would be to the detriment of farmers and the whole community. The Minister said there was a body of opinion that the charges would be a disincentive to some farmers. The body of opinion I quoted from are the people involved in the service — the ACOT people and the agricultural advisers.
The proposed commercial service will be in direct competition with consultancy services which are now available from private firms. The Minister will remember that in the past many county committees were involved with people who assisted co-operatives to give specialised advisory services in particular categories and areas. County committees helped to fund 50 per cent of the salaries of some of these specialised advisers. This was done with the recognition by the county committee that there were certain areas which needed specialised advice. So there was nothing wrong with the concept of a co-operative giving specialised advice. Groups of people set up afterwards as private consultants. They were employed by farmers to give professional advice. They were prepared to pay private consultancy firms. I suggest that if any farmer wishes to do that today, he can do so. I have no doubt that advice given in the past by the staff of ACOT was given for the benefit of the farmer and not for the benefit of a co-op, a brand commodity or anything else. It was given impartially for the benefit of farmers. That is what I liked about the ACOT advisory service. They were beholden to nobody except the county committees, the board of ACOT and the Minister for Agriculture. They had the overall good of the farmer and country at heart and not specialised commodities, co-operatives or anything else. That service is still available and is  still being paid for by elite groups of farmers who can afford it. Good luck to them if they want to do that and can afford to pay for it.
I am extremely concerned about the middle group of farmers who may be unable to pay for a service all of us know they need to survive in the changing face of Irish agriculture. I do not have to remind the Minister of the difficulties in the present round of talks in the Community on the changing face of agriculture and the new challenges which will be put in front of our Minister, whoever he is. That is the reality. We know it and it will be extremely difficult in the future. It is difficult enough as it is now but it will become more difficult. We are beginning to have fewer and fewer friends in Europe when we talk about agriculture. Agriculture is the mainstay of our economy and none of us should apologise for it.
The concept of making charges means that ACOT will have to match the range, direction and level of expertise now provided by these private firms, many of whose efforts are directed towards tax avoidance by big farmers. Our agricultural advisers never got into the area of advising farmers on how to avoid their rightful contributions to tax. Because fee paying farmers are demanding — and are likely in the future to be allowed — to choose their own adviser or group of advisers, it seems inevitable that the best advisers will be forced into consultancy groups catering for big farmers. The service could be at risk if the charge is made. In the future our best advisers who have given a lifetime of service to all of us, to the county committee system and the ACOT system, could see a better role for themselves in private firms. We could lose some of the best brains in agriculture to these consultancy firms. Small and medium farmers who have the biggest capacity for improvements in productivity will receive a much poorer service than is the case at present. This will result in increased hardship for these people and in a diminished rate of expansion in national agricultural output.
 When similar charges were proposed in the UK, a firm of independent consultants concluded that if the agricultural advisory service were to charge for advice currently provided free, this would result in an inequitable system of information being provided to the detriment of the less well off farmer. There could be a reduced financial return to the Irish economy as a whole arising from the introduction of charges, despite the fact that revenue obtained from fees in the area would go into the overall Exchequer. We have to look at the consequences of that for the overall national economy and not just for the board of ACOT or the Department of Agriculture.
It is estimated that, primarily as a result of the advisory work of ACOT, the increased return to the Irish economy over the past decade or so in real terms was about 10 per cent or 12 per cent. Very little of that increase went directly to farmers. Most of us agree that it was creamed off by all sorts of people before it arrived at the farm gate. The benefits were seen only by those of us who were looking at the overall export figures, in increased activities in industries that provided services for agriculture and in reduced rates of increases in the price of foods.
Directing the ACOT effort into a commercial service will result in failure to exploit the potential of the expanding agricultural sector to provide the impetus for growth in many sectors which may appear removed from what is happening on Irish farms today. A highly concentrated ACOT effort directed at that will be non-fee paying farmers. That is essential if agriculture is to continue to fuel the widespread growth available outside of agriculture. The primary motivation behind the proposed changes is an anxiety to collect revenue from farmers in fees, arising from the reluctance of large farmers to pay tax. I would hate the charge to be used for that reason. If they are avoiding tax, there are other methods of ensuring that they pay their contribution. The small farmers who are always the first to pay any charges should not be penalised. They are always the  first to pay while the bigger farmer try to avoid paying for as long as possible.
There is no doubt that the people in ACOT to whom I had access argue that farmers would receive a poorer advisory service because of those proposals and in any case they are paying their fair share at present. This assertion is well supported by various estimates of these farmers' current incomes and tax liabilities. I hope the Minister will realise that it is not as easy as it seems to impose this charge in a short Bill. When the people on the ground, the staff and the board, see difficulties involved, the Minister should look again at the people he proposes to exempt. I would hate any legislation we produce or are assoicated with producing in this House to be a disincentive to the kind of farmers we all want to aim our sights at: those who are capable of improving their position, keeping on family farms, and avoid having to dispose of property and move into areas of high unemployment thus creating housing problems and demands on local authorities who are not geared to meet them. This would denude the countryside of family farms which have always been there, have been part of the country scene and have made a major contribution to the economic development of the area, the maintenance of country schools, churches, shops, pubs, villages and everything that goes with family farms in Ireland.
That whole concept could change if we suddenly decided for economic reasons to charge farmers for advice we have been giving to them free in the past. It is difficult to make people pay for something that is obligatory, for example, refuse collection or a water service which is delivered and which people cannot do without. It is easy enough to bring in legislation to make people pay for it. In the past I defended that being done in a reasonable way. But at that time there was always provision for a waiver scheme which excluded some categories of people from paying charges which they were unable to pay.
That will happen to small farmers.  People who want to get advice will be unable to pay for it and will be excluded from it unless the Minister uses his power to ensure that they are not penalised in the future. I sincerely hope that the Minister's reference to this in his opening speech means that he will take into account people on low incomes, or in financial difficulties. Now that the Government have decided that everybody will keep accounts, the Minister concentrates his efforts in the area of account keeping and decides on who should pay for services arising from accounts. People who genuinely make an effort to keep accounts, who pay their tax, will be paying for services which they require and to which they will be entitled. I hope this will not be done at the expense of poorer people who need advice and who may be unable to afford it. It is a change in our attitude to agricultural advice from the State to people engaged in agriculture into an area of a further tax collector at the farm gate.
This form of tax collection was welcome in the past because it assisted farmers to improve themselves. However, in the future it will be looked on as a disincentive. Our efforts to get advice to these people may be spurned because people will feel they are paying enough already. Farmers believe that the Minister has suddenly changed from a concept of free advice for the benefit of the community to one which will now be charged for and will be demanded by those who can afford to pay.
Mr. Byrne Mr. Byrne
Mr. Byrne: I congratulate Senator McDonald on his appointment as Leas-Chathaoirleach and also Deputy Kirk on his appointment as Minister of State.
As a farmer I spoke on this Bill previously in the other House and I was critical of it. I am not too happy with the Bill at present even though there has been a change of roles. The Bill to introduce charges on farmers for the agricultural advisory service will have a major long term effect on farming. Its effect will not be noticeable in the short term but in the long term it will have major repercussions  on the agricultural industry. Like Senator Ferris I believe it will damage confidence between farmer and adviser. That will be sad because a great bond of trust has been built up over the past 30 years between farmer and adviser. The Minister should tread very warily in case we damage that great trust, friendship, co-operation and teamwork between the advisory service and the farmer. I am referring to the average farmer, not the large farmer who can afford to pay for advice from other quarters.
In line with other organisations in the semi-State sector ACOT will have to raise some of their finances from the clientele with whom they deal. Farming today is at a crossroads, with production no longer attainable due to the imposition of the super-levy and the low returns from cattle and cereal enterprises. The very bad weather conditions of the past two years put many farmers in serious difficulties. Few farmers today are in a position to wave their hats at their local bank manager. Because of the unemployment problem we need to be careful that we do not rock the boat too hard as far as farmers are concerned, because tourism and agriculture are two of our most important industries.
Farmers are divided into several categories regarding their ability to pay for an advisory service. Those in dairying with a high milk quota will be able to pay for a service but the vast majority of farmers will not be able to pay. Farmers with low milk quotas, low acreage, farmers with cattle and cereal enterprises will not be in a position to pay for the service due to financial problems.
The Minister will need to be careful about the legislation now being enacted because its results will take years to measure. We all know that any levies or fees introduced over the past 25 years under successive Governments have been increased. I appreciate the difficulty in which the Government now find themselves. In recent months many speakers both in the Dáil and Seanad have accused the Government of U-turns. There is an  old saying: “Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard” but when this Government took office there was hardly a cupboard. A U-turn in their policies was necessary in order to keep the State afloat. Because of the national debt, unemployment and lack of confidence everywhere, the Government had to look to every quarter to try to balance the books and at the same time reduce the national debt and reduce borrowing.
There is no great mystery about what Fianna Fáil are trying to do. I am sure most people on the Opposition benches are aware that, no matter what cuts are made by the Government, they are necessary and they will create hardship across the board. There were four years in which the previous Government could have put our affairs into a better shape but they failed miserably. I am sure they will be patient with the Government in their efforts to help everybody across the board, whether self-employed, unemployed, over-taxed. There are so many major problems confronting the Government that I am sure most people in the Opposition will not be too critical.
I am well aware that the reason for the introduction of this Bill is to cut down on public expenditure. This, in itself, is good but I am not happy that that justifies the present structures within ACOT which are top-heavy at administrative level. That is also a problem in many of our semi-State and State bodies. Over 1,100 people are employed in ACOT. Out of that 1,100 there are 450 advisers. Can any cheeseparing be carried out in that area? More money could then be spent on the ground rather than at administrative level. The headquarters is in Dublin and there are five regional offices around the country to run their affairs. We have a tendency here when setting up an organisation to have layers of bureaucracy and in the end the tail is wagging the dog. The Minister of State and his colleague Deputy O'Kennedy, the Minister, ought to look at this very seriously in the weeks and months ahead.
On top of that we have a system whereby each county is divided into districts. The amount of duplication taking place  is very high. The advisers who provide the service to the farmers, are involved in excessive paperwork. I would prefer to see advisers in the field advising farmers there rather than filling forms and sending them off to head office. This is the crazy merry-go-round this country has got into in the last 20 years. We have many people telling others what to do but very few helping them to do it, which involves enormous expense to the taxpayer. The finger cannot be pointed at any political party because this system has grown up under successive Governments.
As a small country it is something we will have to examine seriously. Senator Ferris referred to the ordinary taxpayer and we all have sympathy for them because they are overtaxed, but we would like to see the money taken from a farmer in a fees for a service spent wisely. These advisers are kept in their offices and are prevented from going out to the farmer because of a limited mileage allowance per month. Therefore, the farmers must go to the advisers.
Anyone who knows anything about farming is aware that one cannot conduct a proper advisory service in that way. One must be on the spot, whether it involves dairying, beet or grain. It needs an on-the-spot discussion and inspection of the problems. These advisers have provided an excellent service to farmers down through the years. There is a great bond of trust between adviser and farmer. I hope this Bill will not be the cause of a division or any bitterness between them. The nation as a whole would suffer because the vast amount of exports which the fanning community creates and the jobs created off the farm, as well as on the factory floor in our meat industry, would be affected. There are thousands of jobs at stake.
The system that operated, prior to the formation of ACOT, where the service was under the county committees of agriculture, was a far better system. The committees had the running of the system in their hands and they could take the pulse very easily. The same happened in other areas over the last 15 or 20 years where  the remote control system was introduced. Some areas experienced trouble recently. There is much to be said for a service provided in a county and monitored by the public representatives and the officials concerned in that county. There would be less wastage. Under that system every farmer got a fair service whether he was big, small or medium. This change, following the formation of ACOT, has switched advisers away from dealing with the small to medium sized farmers and that is an unfortunate development. We always had a few “tulips” in each county to point to as being top league farmers in the country if not in Europe; they were happy with that and it did not matter about the others. ACOT have a duty to provide a service to every farmer whether he is big or small. The basic objective of the advisory service should be to maintain as many small farmers on the land as possible, particularly because of the long dole queues.
I am sure the Minister will note that ACOT should be concerned about the number of families that are helped to stay on the land. It costs the Government an enormous amount to provide jobs in industry and some industries have to be rescued by State funds to keep them going, yet we have the finest land in the world for growing grass, or for producing top class beef and we are not utilising it properly. Since the people of Ireland voted for the Single European Act we were told that our markets would open up more than in the past. ACOT will help people to develop other lines of production. We should have some kind of levy whereby farmers may “switch off” in dealing with the advice that has been so freely available to them down through the years.
Since its foundation the policy of ACOT was geared towards bigger farmers; I have nothing against bigger farmers, they are entitled to proper advice. The bulk of farmers are medium to small and they have never received the same incentive or advisory service as the larger farmers. That was wrong of ACOT from the beginning. If this trend continues over  the next ten years I shudder to think what rural Ireland will be like. Many people will not be able to rear their families on the land. We will have the position where the bigger farmers will be able to pay for the service. I am sure the Minister will pay attention to that when he is deciding on the type of levies to be paid by farmers. The very efficient dairy farmer who has reached his peak in milk production does not need an advisory service any more because he may not produce more milk, due to the quota system. The small farmer down the road with a small milk quota will need the advice and he will have to pay for it. The weaker farmers will be caught in this net. I listened to the Minister very carefully when he introduced this Bill. Being a practical man from the land I am sure he will be careful as to who will have to pay and what he will have to pay.
The Minister should encourage ACOT to seek funds from organisations with a vested interest in farming to make a contribution towards the running of the service. I will not name them. There are so many people making millions out of farming today that they, too, should be asked to carry the can. The first objective should be to ensure that the structures within ACOT, which are top heavy, are examined and that any waste or overlapping should be eliminated. In these times, whether we like it or not, we all could do with better housekeeping within our own business, whether we be farmers or fishermen. If there are to be cuts and if there are to be levies they should be applied across the board whether in a health board, in ACOT, or elsewhere; everybody should carry the can and should be seen to carry the can. It is not just the small farmer with 20 acres who cannot afford it who will just switch off. Maybe a young son might come along after he had inherited a farm and might be in a bad state having to pay out a lot of money to have an adviser call.
I hope the senior people in the Department of Agriculture, of whom I have been critical in the past and of whom I am critical today as well, will come down  from the clouds and put themselves in the west or south of Ireland. They will then see that it is not possible to provide a service by pressing a button and that one call will not solve all the problems for a farmer. Continuous communication between adviser and farmer is necessary, particularly if the farmer inherits a farm with no milk quota. That young man needs much assistance today. I do not want to see him bled by the farmer up the road with 100 cows who reached his peak in production and who got every kind of assistance and advice at the taxpayers' expense. That farmer will not need further advice because he cannot increase his production. The smaller farmer who is caught in between with a low quota, or with no quota, is the man who needs assistance.
I appeal to the Minister to be careful because there are more small farmers than big farmers. If it meant keeping one or two more people on the land on each farm it would be a job well done and money well spent. I would prefer that to the IDA paying £20,000 to create a job for one of them in a factory that might close down in four or five years. We got our act all wrong in the past 25 years. We have not enough confidence in agriculture. Successive Ministers should have had more confidence in agriculture. They will have to have it in the future. I have every confidence in the Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy O'Kennedy, who spent many years in Brussels and who knows the scene. I am sure he will fight his corner not alone for the farmers but for the nation. Instead of spending billions of pounds to provide jobs that will only last for a few years, we should look to agriculture to create more employment for our people both in town and in country.
The number of jobs created by a prosperous agricultural industry is often underestimated. There is an old saying: “When the farmers are down the nation is down”. I could go on. I appeal to the Minister to be very careful and to have a hard look at the overlapping and over-manning at administrative level in the service. There would be no complaints if  justice was done across the board. We are at a crossroads in farming, in industry, and so on. We must all pull together to get the country out of the mess it is in and to give hope to future generations. We have the youngest population in Europe most of whom are well educated. With our help these young people can be prevented from crossing the pond or flying to the States. It is our duty in Dáil Éireann and in Seanad Éireann to do what we can for them.
I appreciate the predicament in which the Minister for Agriculture and Food and his Minister of State find themselves. It does not take any great commonsense to understand that they would have acted differently if the books were different when they took office. These are the hard facts. Some Senators referred this morning to media attention to this House. I am sure it would not be difficult for them to understand the very drastic action taken in the last two months by the Government, not alone in agriculture but in other areas also. We cannot go on fooling ourselves any more because if we do — it has gone on for far too long — we are doing a disservice to the coming generation, the unemployed and the over taxed. The buck has to stop someplace and if it does not stop in Dáil Éireann or Seanad Éireann, how can the people have confidence in us? No matter what our walk of life, the buck must stop someplace and economies must be made. I hope the searchlight will go right across the board. We have massive waste for a country of this size. It is a non-productive area for which the taxpayer is paying dearly. I would prefer to see the money which is being poured into this unnecessary bureaucracy being spent in an area which would create genuine jobs.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Senator Hogan.
Mr. B. Ryan Mr. B. Ryan
Mr. B. Ryan: I want to register my disapproval and disappointment. I would have thought it was Independent Members' time.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I do not have  to remind an old hand like Senator Ryan that the Chair is the sole arbiter of order here. The list the Cathaoirleach left me when I took the Chair clearly indicates that I have called the next speaker.
Mr. Hogan Mr. Hogan
Mr. Hogan: Nobody is under any illusion that the Government must seek finances from whatever source they can in order to pay for the services they provide. It comes as no surprise to this side of the House that the Minister is introducing a Bill to gather in finances to pay for the services of ACOT. The previous Minister of State, Deputy Hegarty, introduced a Bill in the Dáil before the previous Government fell and he indicated that a particular segment of farmers are in a position to pay for services and should be making a contribution to the quality of service being provided. I am glad Senator Byrne referred to the fact that there was no mystery today about the introduction of a Bill of this kind. I am glad that the mystified have now been brought to heel.
ACOT were set up in 1979, established under the agricultural Acts of 1977 and 1979, and got under way in 1980. They were charged with the responsibility of development in agriculture through the provision of agricultural education, training and advice. ACOT integrate and further develop and expand the work previously carried out by the county committees of agriculture, the agricultural advisory information and education sections of the Department of Agriculture, including the State-aided private agricultural colleges and the colleges of rural home economics. To realise the broader objectives concerned with production, processing and marketing of farm produce, they were given power under the Acts to expand in these areas with the overall aim of improving the economic and social conditions of those engaged in the agricultural industry as a whole. To achieve greater production, processing and marketing, ACOT were equipped with the resources of knowledge and research to develop and adjust to the changing ways in the agricultural and rural environment that were coming  to bear on our community following our entry into the EC.
The general function of ACOT has been to provide and cause to be provided education, training and advisory services in agriculture and to make available scientific and practical knowledge which is essential to improve agricultural output and improve and make our farms viable. ACOT continue to operate within the role provided for them in those Acts. They continue to give advice to farmers, albeit on a client-adviser basis. They continue to provide training and education for many thousands of young farmers each year. In 1986, up to 4,000 farmers received practical education and training through ACOT schemes of various kinds. This figure is increasing yearly. In that context there is a great incentive for the provision of those courses. The popularity of those ACOT courses was enhanced by the ability of the State to provide stamp duty exemption for the early inheritance of farms by sons from fathers or by nephews from uncles. An educational qualification was required under the law to provide that service. I regret that the Government have not seen fit to continue that stamp duty exemption in the Finance Bill, 1987. The fall off in applications for the courses over the next 12 months will reflect that course of action taken by the Minister for Finance.
Another area which was providing a great incentive for young farmers to gain additional hours of education and training experience was the young farmers installation aid. This was in operation for a very short time, brought in under a structures directive by the European Community. I regret that the Minister for Finance has seen fit to terminate this scheme in the budget. For the past few years we have heard various Fianna Fáil spokesmen saying that any money that one could get from Europe, from whatever department, was very valuable to the country in that half of that source of finance was recoupable from the EC. I find it very strange that people who were speaking in those terms have terminated  a very important scheme for many of our young farmers who may not have benefited in large numbers so far, but were looking forward to the day when, for the first time, they would be put on an equal footing with many of their young counterparts in industry who were receiving grant-aid from the European Social Fund, the IDA or the Youth Employment Agency to establish a small industry or to set up in an enterprise.
It is another example of how farming is treated differently from other walks of life. This was referred to extensively by Senator Hussey and other speakers who outlined the discrepancy in funding that is available to people doing AnCO courses and CERT courses and people who are being funded to set up small industries by the Industrial Development Authority. It is appropriate, at this stage, to appeal to the Minister for Agriculture and to the Minister for Finance to consider the agricultural industry as the dominant industry, the industry which can provide the greatest value-added in terms of food processing, the greatest possible number of jobs in the food processing industry and has the ability to keep young farmers on the land as long as possible and prevent them from swelling urban areas with further unemployment.
Senator Byrne was perfectly correct when he stated that any scheme that would keep young farmers on the land is a welcome scheme. The installation aid was a great vehicle, in principle, which was established under the structures directives of the EC to ensure that young people who were interested in farming and interested in a career in agriculture were kept at home and kept on the land and that the particular farm could support two families rather than one.
I welcome the recent development by ACOT in providing very valuable advice in terms of the socio-economic service. This is a very important service which provides on-the-spot advice, lectures and courses for farmers who are thinking of passing on their farms to their heirs. We have had many social history and social geography studies carried out over the years which indicate that we have a very  old farming population, particularly in the west. Any socio-economic service like this, which increases the possibility of handing on land to the younger generation at an earlier age is certainly bound to assist in creating greater agricultural output and greater possibilities for employment in food processing.
A welcome development in recent times in the ACOT service has been the provision of more courses nearer the place of residence of young farmers. This has been particularly so in the introduction of the certificate in farming, a three year course, which is provided through the local ACOT offices in the various counties. The number attending those courses is certainly a justifiable indication of how important it is to have courses and educational facilities as near as possible to the target people ACOT are proposing to meet.
In County Kilkenny the level of uptake of young farmers in the area, either through certificate and farming courses, or through agricultural colleges, means that 95 per cent of young people who are entering farming are now getting some education. This has been a major step forward in ensuring that the challenges being faced by young farmers and the challenges being faced by farming in general are being met — and on-the-spot important educational requirements locally as well as regionally — in the agricultural colleges. In this respect I should like to pay tribute to the agricultural colleges at Kildalton and Rockwell which have been over the years providing a tremendous educational facility for many young farmers in my area of Kilkenny.
We are living in an age where we have to become more conscious of the alternative enterprises in agriculture over the coming years. An effective lid has been put on many of the expanionist enterprises we became used to over the years. The milk quota has put a stop to further expansion in dairying, the uncertainty about beef prices and intervention has put pressure on the beef farmers, the dear price of the store bullock and the uncertain future of the outlet for the finished market product of the beef farmer  mean that farmers have to be increasingly aware of the market trends and increasingly aware of the market opportunities for their produce.
The Minister for Agriculture and Food is engaged in farm price negotiations at the moment and he is under tremendous pressure to hold the line for the cereal farmer, a farmer who has come under tremendous pressure over the past two wet years in terms of the output he has achieved over those same years. There is a general thrust in Europe to further depress cereal prices. This is regrettable. I urge the Minister to take every opportunity to ensure that these hard pressed cereal farmers get the necessary Green Pound devaluations to ensure that their livelihood is not depressed.
ACOT have a tremendous role to play in ensuring that, where the lid is on these enterprises, the alternatives for these young farmers of the future will be highlighted and the doorway will be opened to future opportunities to them. A better trained young farmer is a prerequisite to having better quality produce, better productivity, better farm production and a better farm viability at home. We have to become more competitive. We have to be able to market our product more astutely and, above all, the farmer has to become a better business manager.
In that regard, I welcome the recent ACOT innovation of the farm business service. This service will provide for the farmer an opportunity to discuss the financial position of his farm and identify if he is on the slippery slope down the hill towards financial difficulty. One of the problems over the years has been that the farmer did not realise he was heading in the wrong direction financially. ACOT are providing a very valuable service by identifying through their farm business service those farmers who need to take corrective action much earlier and prevent the type of situation in which up to 2,000 farmers were in financial difficulties up to 28 February 1986. This certainly brings home to people the level of farming indebtedness of £1,500 million, which is causing tremendous problems for many  of those farmers and indicates the necessity of having up-to-date farming advice and up-to-date farming trends on the market possibilities for them.
This brings me to the Bill before us and to the context in which the ACOT charges are being introduced. The Minister for Agriculture has decided that he needs £1 million in 1987 to be collected from farmers through the ACOT charges. Is the Minister aware that most of the year is gone and that the Bill has not gone through the Oireachtas? The earliest possible opportunity he will have to levy any charge on a farmer will be in September this year.
I would like to know how much money the Minister expects to get from a farmer for the agricultural advisory service between September and the end of the year. I suggest that £1 million is a very ambitious target. What are the administrative costs for ACOT personnel in making known to these farmers the level of charge they will have to pay, at what level of the service they will have to pay these charges, what services are to be exempt of charge? What financial outlay will be necessary to promote the service? What packages has the Minister in mind or discussed with ACOT to ensure that the lower echelons of the farming community, who are least in a position to pay, will not be penalised by an excessive charge?
Various reference have been made by previous speakers to the smaller farmer — Senator Byrne referred to the smaller farmer with no milk quota — vis-a-vis the farmer up the road who has a 100,000 gallon quota and is well developed? Those are the categories that have to be taken into account. I hope that whatever contract of service emanates at the end of the day between ACOT and the Department of Agriculture and Food it will take into account the financial situation of the farmer and his level of operation. Unfortunately we are going to create a situation where we will have tiers of farmers. There is no escaping that under the Bill we are to treat people fairly under a waiver scheme, or whatever scheme is necessary to ensure that no financial  hardship is encountered and, above all, to ensure that the advice still gets to the farmer who needs it.
The ACOT budget was cut by £1 million in the Fine Gael budget of January 1987. In addition to that there was a deficit of £1 million to 31 March 1987. Along with that there was a further £1 million cut in the revised budget of March 1987. This has meant that ACOT will be £3 million worse off than they were in 1986. This will place a great burden on the ACOT staff to give the level of service they gave in 1986 and in the years before. It cannot be done with that level of financial allocation for ACOT. If the ACOT people are to remain within their financial allocation we are facing a redundancy situation in ACOT. We are creating an elitist service for some farmers who are better able to pay than others and we are moving, unfortunately, into a situation where, because of the desperate financial position of ACOT, that the end of ACOT could be in sight. This would be a tremendous blow to the farming community.
I hope I am wrong in making these assumptions but when we consider the gradual reduction in the level of finance made available to ACOT and the huge amounts of money being given to people to make a lot of money out of courses in AnCO it is a symptom of how the Department of Agriculture and Food and the Department of Finance see the role of ACOT in the future.
I want to refer to the farm improvement scheme operated by ACOT at the moment. I want the Minister for Agriculture and Food to confirm or deny that the farm improvement programme will come under threat when the axe falls in the next round of financial cutbacks. The farm improvement scheme is essential for many farming developments. When any incentive was given in the past to a farmer to develop he was able to meet that on a 50-50 basis, and even more in recent times, to carry out that development and thus increase his viability and increase agricultural output. It is rumoured that the scheme is threatened. I want the Minister to confirm or deny its termination in the near future.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
 An Cathaoirleach: I do not think that is relevant to the Bill before the House.
Mr. Hogan Mr. Hogan
Mr. Hogan: The farm improvement scheme is a service provided by ACOT staff and I am sure it is relevant in the context of the charges that will be made on the farmers who are benefiting under that scheme. I will not refer to it again. I want the Minister for Agriculture and Food to confirm or deny whether that scheme is going to continue under the direction of——
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: I read here that the agricultural training and advisory services are of the order of £28 million. I am reading the Minister's speech at the commencement of Second Stage. I am trying to keep control because if I do not the next Senator will be asking me when do we fly to the moon, or something like that. I must try to keep control.
Mr. Hogan Mr. Hogan
Mr. Hogan: I want to refer to the role of county committees of agriculture under ACOT. I regret that the Department of Agriculture and Food, under the financial allocation given to them have seen fit to squeeze out, financially, county committees of agriculture who up to 1979 had a primary role in providing agricultural advice and training for farmers. County committees of agriculture are made up of elected representatives and representatives of all the rural organisations in that county. Under statutory authority they provide a vital county forum, a unique mechanism of filtering agricultural policy from the Department of Agriculture and Food to farmers. ACOT have said continuously that they recognise the importance of having the mechanism for a contribution to be made by this forum for the development of their policies and the implementation of their schemes, to farmers and to the people who derive benefit from those schemes. I am thinking in particular of the fodder schemes for which ACOT had to pay out of their own finances and did not get any recompense from the Department of Agriculture and Food for the last two years. The county committees of agriculture and ACOT together were in  a position to draw up a fire brigade programme to help many farmers who were badly caught by fodder shortages in 1985 and 1986. Will ACOT continue to have that particular funding for that type of fire brigade action next year and the year after?
Financial savings can be made in many areas in agriculture but I would not like to see a financial cutback taking place where advice is so necessary in the changing challenges in agriculture we have today. We are living in a time when changes are taking place rapidly. The breeds of animals, varieties of corn and alternative enterprises are the order of the day and are on the agenda of every farmer's calculations each day he rises. A farmer fending for himself cannot be expected to know the answers to all these developments. He needs the services of ACOT; he needs their advice and expertise. I am not objecting to a farmer paying for that level of service but I hope the viability of some farmers will not be called into question due to the fact that they have to pay a certain amount for that service.
There is a cliché that agriculture is our main industry. It is a tired and worn statement at this stage when one considers the barriers to development in relation to agricultural advice and training and when we see the imbalance in agricultural training vis-a-vis other training schemes. I hope the charges brought in under this Bill will not militate against farming development but will provide even more finance to improve the agricultural service which has been very good to the farming community over the years.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: Senator Martin O'Toole.
Senators B. Ryan and M. O'Toole rose.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: When I did my previous hour in the Chair Senator John A. Murphy gave way to Senator Ferris. I understand there was some confusion. After Senator Martin J. O'Toole I will call Senator B. Ryan.
Mr. M. O'Toole Mr. M. O'Toole
Mr. M. O'Toole: As a result of Senator Murphy giving way I lost my place in  the queue also. I will have to leave very shortly.
This can be regarded as transitional legislation which was initiated by the previous Government and is being brought forward here because it was in the pipeline. I am very sceptical about any legislation which is agreed on by both sides of the House. You can always term it as bureaucratic legislation from ACOT or wherever. If you go back to the days of the Congested Districts Boards, they recognised the western areas, as did the EC, when they introduced the disadvantaged areas of the west and the severely handicapped areas. They recognised the west in introducing the western drainage package. Various schemes have been formulated for the benefit of the disadvantaged areas.
This Bill will militate against the small farmer. The way it will be worked, on a district basis, will, as Senator Byrne said, set up more districts. I understand that a programme will have to be sold in the future by our ACOT advisers. A small farmer in the west who has a traditional programme which he cannot change will have to pay the same fee to ask the adviser a simple question which might take about ten or 15 minutes or, at most, half an hour to an hour. On the larger farms a programme will be sold to the bigger farmer, an appointment will be made over the phone, an agricultural adviser will arrive at the appointed time in the morning and spend the whole day discussing that programme with the farmer. He may have to come back another day to complete the programme. That is not operative in the west. For that reason this introduction of charges is not realistic.
In Munster and Leinster and the bigger farming regions, the commercial bodies such as Avonmore, Kerry Co-Op, Waterford Co-Op and the various milking coops send out their advisers without any charge to the bigger farmers and if there are any charges they are painlessly deducted from their milk cheques. In the same way if you go to seed merchants such as Dardis and Dunnes, Powers and  various other commercial firms, they will give a free service. So will the people who sell you a spray, as will the grain merchants. This does not apply in the west; nor does it apply to the small farmer. The large farmer may be in a position to pay. He can have the adviser for the whole day who will formulate a programme and he will be prepared to pay for that.
With regard to the farm development service, if you build a sheep dipping bath you will get a grant of £120. The ACOT adviser will come out and charge you £20 for his advice. A man will come from the farm development service and lay out the plans for the dipping unit and later on he will come back to see that it is finally completed. You get a grant of £120 and £60 is deducted from that for the small farmer, but in the bigger farming area where you are building a slatted house or a major modern cow byre, a £50,000 to £100,000 unit, you can have that advice in the package I am speaking of for the same fee. The small farmer is being penalised and I feel the Government should bring in an amendment to the Bill to exempt the disadvantaged area farmers.
How do you collect this money? It will be collected from the farmer by the ACOT adviser. It will be up to the districts I spoke about earlier to collect this money. Most farmers will not have the cash flow. Most farmers in my part of the country have not got cheque books and have to have money available. The legal collector will have to collect the fee. I do not think that is practical. It is discrimination against the small farmer and I am not too happy with it. I have said this time and time again and I have no reason to change my stance on it.
It is discrimination against the small farmer. I do not believe he will avail of the service. The good farmer will be looked after. Having been competent in the past he will not need the advice. It is the farmer we are trying to help in these changing times who will require the advisory service. It is unworkable from the point of view of collection. I do not think the amount of money recouped as a result  of the introduction of this service in the severely handicapped areas will justify its implementation.
I appeal to the Minister to have another look at the disadvantaged and severely handicapped areas where I feel it may not be practical to introduce such charges. They are not working too well under the farm development services and I do not think they can work too well under this Bill. I appeal to the Minister to have another look at it and see what can be done to bring in some amendment to exempt that section of the farming community from this legislation.
Mr. B. Ryan Mr. B. Ryan
Mr. B. Ryan: Whenever I hear my colleagues in the major political parties talking about agriculture and farming I begin to wonder do they and I live in the same world, because they seem to envisage an agriculture of perpetual growth, perpetual increased production, perpetual increased prices, increased employment, increased wealth based on no real fundamental change in the traditional production patterns of agriculture. I heard it ad nauseam over the past four weeks during the determined campaign by the major political parties to give up what was left of this country's sovereignty and in which they, unfortunately, succeeded. I heard it at great length and with great monotony and without any rational base.
The representatives of farming are much given to presenting themselves as the brave advocates of free enterprise, free markets. They are much given to giving lectures to people whom they see as not being prepared to work, in particular the organised trade union movement whom they are much intent on lecturing about excessive wage demands, etc. I remember the hysteria, the almost fascistic hysteria, of certain members of the Irish Farmers Organisation during the ESB strike because the ESB workers dared to look for a 5 per cent wage increase or, indeed, dared to look for a wage increase that kept them in line with inflation. The ESB workers show substantial  productivity improvements from year to year. They produce the product for which there is a demand, which can sell on the open marketplace in competition with a considerable number of other forms of energy. They are lectured about their arrogance——
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: Senator Ryan, you are getting away from the Bill.
Mr. B. Ryan Mr. B. Ryan
Mr. B. Ryan: I am returning to it.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: Return to it quickly, please.
Mr. B. Ryan Mr. B. Ryan
Mr. B. Ryan: I would not dream of arguing with your ruling, a Chathaoirligh, as you well know.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: Senator Brendan Ryan to continue.
Mr. B. Ryan Mr. B. Ryan
Mr. B. Ryan: It is a very dangerous thing to get involved in arguing about averages. A minuscule charge being imposed by An Chomhairle Oiliúna Talmhaíochta for advice has to be looked at in the context of the business to which the advice is being given. What I was leading to was the apparent incessant demand by agriculture for increased prices for their production. Nobody else is entitled to such an unquestioning commitment to increased prices, irrespective of market demand, irrespective of productivity, irrespective of the state of the market. Farming, apparently, is entitled to seek indefinite limitless increases in prices, guaranteed markets for products produced at those increased prices and no real attempt to interfere with it. That is, of course, entirely unreal. It is unreal even to a committed socialist like myself. It ought to be entirely unreal to those who claim to live in the brave world of competition, free enterprise and market economics. Yet, listening to the advocates of market economics here, the one area in which they all abandon their market economic's hat and wear the hat of planned economy, guaranteed prices  and State intervention is in their own pet area of agriculture.
It is not as if the dawning realities were not well forecast to us. I was reading here, as I waited my chance, the report of the Conference of the Irish Management Institute in Killarney this year. I am quoting from Management, volume 34 No. 6, June 1987, from the comments of Alistair McGuckian, chairman of Masstock, who is probably better known to the agriculturalists here than he is to me. Mr. McGuckian said in Killarney that around 1974-75 it became apparent that the European beef and milk markets were nearing saturation. That was 12 or 13 years ago and yet we have had the entire agricultural lobby trying to convince us, indefinitely, ad nauseam and with unanimity, that the future of agriculture since 1974 rested with producing more beef and more milk. They did it, and they did it in great quantities and with great determination. Suddenly, about two years ago, it all stopped. They were absolutely flabbergasted that it could not continue. I wonder where these people have been living. An efficient, effective businessman noticed it 13 years ago. The agricultural industry finally noticed it when they were presented with no alternative but to accept the fact that the old ways could no longer continue.
That was the first unreality — the unreality of presuming that the market could go on for ever. The second unreality was the assumption that farming, as currently structured in this country, was capable of responding to all the innovations that were needed. We have still failed to address the fact that 45 per cent of our potentially arable land is under the effective control of male bachelors over 55 years of age with no enthusiasm for new ideas, no need for new ideas and no desire to innovate. If we are to have a vibrant industry, that fundamental structural change is the first requisite for innovation. We are also faced with the mythology that there is something mystical about farming that only those who come from a farming background can handle.  The most successful agricultural economy in the world is New Zealand and they have by far the highest proportion of people from non-farming backgrounds working in farming, far higher than any country in Europe. They have done it because they have got rid of this mystique and recognised that farming, like all other areas, is a business to be run by people with a sense of business and a capacity for scientific business. The idea that there is some sort of mysterious art form involved, close to magic, which only those from a farming background can come to terms with is arrant nonsense and it is time we faced up to it. We should run farming as a business.
It is in that context that one looks at something like the role of ACOT and the advice they are giving to farmers. I do not know what innovative production methods, or new products, or new markets they have identified, because I have not heard of them. What I hear from everybody is about the need to protect the principles of the Common Agricultural Policy, about the need to preserve farm incomes, about the need to allow agriculture to grow. Of course, it would be fine to allow agriculture to grow if there was somewhere for it to grow into. I would like to hear somebody, who could describe themselves or be recognised as part of the farm lobby, tell me where they are going to sell all this production they would have if they were only let.
It seems quite clear to me that the old ways are over, that the idea of a Common Agricultural Policy carrying on merrily paying us more and more to produce more and more of things that nobody wants is over. It is self-deception on a grand scale, almost on a national scale, to pretend otherwise; and to have a State agency involved in advising people how to do more and more of that — whether they pay for it themselves or whether the State pays for it is a minor matter, in my view — the idea that this is what people are being encouraged to do seems to me to be a self-deception, indeed self-hypnosis, on a scale that we in this country used not to be thought to have. We had  a capacity to face reality before. It appears to me that, perhaps in the face of the problems we now have, we are less inclined to face that reality. Just in case all of those in this House, and in the other House indeed, who defend artificial prices, unreal production, unmarket-related production in agriculture, think I am in a minority of left wing aniaysts, may I quote from the communique issued by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development which met in Geneva on 12 and 13 May and at which our own Ministers for Finance and Agriculture and Food were present? It recognises the realities and it is a foretaste of the future; and it is a future which is far different from the future being advocated by everybody, with the passing exception of something Senator Hogan said — I would have been interested to hear him elaborate on it but he did not elaborate on it.
The section of the report I am referring to deals with agriculture. It refers to the joint report of the Trade and Agricultural Committees. What the communique says is this:
This important work clearly highlights the serious imbalances that prevail in the markets for the main agricultural products, boosted by policies which have prevented an adequate transmission of market signals to farmers. Supply substantially exceeds effective demand. The cost of agricultural policy is considerable for Government budgets, for consumers and for the economy as a whole. Moreover, excessive support policies entail an increasing distortion of competition in world markets, run counter to the principle of comparative advantage, which is at the root of international trade, and severely damage the situation of many developing countries. .
It goes on and refers to what they call reform but which I think, given the perception that people have about the future of agriculture, could only be described as disaster in this country. It continues:
 The long term objective is to allow market signals to influence by way of progressive and concerted reduction of agricultural support as well as by all other appropriate means the orientation of agricultural production.
So, that is it. That is what the OECD has accepted and determined: that for the future agriculture will be based on what the market can accept, what the market will accept and what the market will sustain. To have people with their ostrich heads in the sand going on about whether the Minister should tolerate a 4 per cent, 3 per cent or a 2 per cent increase in prices at the annual price fixing exercise in Brussels in the light of that clear cut policy intent of every major industrial country in the world, and some that are not so industrial, is an exercise in self-deception that even exceeds the Fianna Fáil election manifesto in its extraordinary unwillingness to face basic realities.
Agriculture as it used to be in this country is on its way out. It will be on its way out unless the Minister here present manages to persuade people that they should start producing things that they can sell in the marketplace. If they cannot do it, there will be no prices, no markets and no sales, and there will be wholesale bankruptcy in Irish farming. The presumption that people will go on selling production at guaranteed prices to guaranteed markets is the most foolhardy self-deception and self-deceiving presumption that this country has seen in the last 20 years. It was the presumption that was wrong when we joined the EEC, which was a wrong basis for a whole series of economic decisions and which still underlines all of the arguments, all of the campaigns of the farming organisations. There is a lot more in the OECD report.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: Back again to the Bill, Senator.
Mr. B. Ryan Mr. B. Ryan
Mr. B. Ryan: I am coming again to the Bill. The Bill has to do with training people in what is described as a productive sector of the economy to produce goods which, presumably, they are going  to sell. As a person with an interest in the productive sector of the economy — wearing my engineer's hat, again — I teach my first year students that the basic requirements are that you must produce something economically at a profit to sell in a market that wants what you have to sell at the price you can afford to sell it at. That is what I would like people to start telling the whole agricultural industry. You can only produce something in the long term if the market wants to buy it and if the market will buy it at the price which the market will accept and which makes it worthwhile for you to produce it. That is what market economics is all about.
I am not an advocate of market economics, but I have to face the fact that we are now part of a 320 million people market which is based on market economics and that market economics are going to dictate irrespective of whether our Ministers postpone it for three months, six months or five years. That is the reality that Irish agriculture has not even begun to face up to. That is what the agricultural training board — An Comhairle Oiliúna Talmhaíochta — ought to be doing. They ought to be moving us in the direction of products that can sell on free markets without guaranteed prices. In that context it is, of course, severely under-funded; it is severely under-resourced in every area.
I do not know, because I am not involved in agriculture, what the products should be. If I knew what were the new products that the market would require in any area of production I could probably make myself a millionaire overnight. That is what enterprise is about. It is about identifying new products, developing a way of producing them and getting them to the market in a way that the market will accept. We have not begun to do that, and that is what a training service ought to be about. The idea that we will have a training service leading people to produce more and more of something that nobody wants, that is costing us money just to store and at prices that are not guaranteed, is the  height of nonsense. Nevertheless, I am intrigued at the squeals of pain that the extraordinary effective agricultural lobby can produce here at the suggestion of even a minor contribution to the costs of their own security from the realities of market economics.
The Minister quoted a figure of £7 million as the cost of the Farm Advisory Service and he said that there was somewhere between 29,000 and 70,000 farmers taking advice. I am intrigued by the fact that the last time I looked up the statistics there were about 170,000 farmers in the country and, of that 170,000, 100,000 do not bother with advice, so we have 70,000 who bother of whom 29,000 get intensive service. If you divide 29,000 into £7 million it works out at £250 a year. It is hardly a huge charge, if they have to pay at all. If you divide 70,000 into £7 million it works out at £100 a year, which is hardly an enormous charge.
When I hear Senators here who support the Government who are going to charge £10 a month to people on medical cards to have access to prescriptions and who then start to shed tears about poor misfortunate farmers having to pay out the same amount for advice that can make them richer, I get quite humid and upset at the way people can shift their views depending on whether the lobby they are talking about is powerful or powerless. I do not have any great objection to farmers being required to pay for the services that are available. The top 14 per cent of farmers, the last time I checked their incomes, were earning average incomes of about £30,000 a year. You can add on 100,000 or so farmers at the bottom of the agricultural production market—
Mr. Byrne Mr. Byrne
Mr. Byrne: Rubbish, a pipe-dream.
Mr. B. Ryan Mr. B. Ryan
Mr. B. Ryan: I will show the Senator the figures if he wants them. The rich farmers in this country have managed to fox the country on such a scale by having themselves averaged with the 50,000 or 60,000 who earn very little and so reduce average farm incomes quite substantially. The truth is that there is a section of the  farming community who are rich by any standards, who have done very well out of the EEC and who not only should be paying for these services but should be paying for every other service since they are manifestly unwilling to pay for them through taxation. My only regret is that there is so much left in the area of agriculture which is provided gratis to produce things that nobody wants, at prices which people cannot afford, in order to sustain a large section of the economy in the luxury to which they are accustomed without having to worry about those things they lecture everybody else about. Everybody else gets lectured about the need to be competitive, efficient, economical, market oriented and export orientated. There is only one section of our community which sits back and presumes that it is entitled to a living simply because it has a traditional role and a traditional cosy view of ourselves.
It is time agriculture copped itself on and realised that it has no future unless it is able to sell in a competitive market on the basis of competitive market economics selling products that people want. If reality is beginning to dawn in the way of charges, demands for payment and for taxation and in the way of prices that reflect market demand, then it is about time it happened. The consumer would benefit, this country would benefit and in the long term a slimmed down but real agricultural industry, based on real products that can sell on real markets, would be far better for this country than an artificial economy based on high consumer prices and no reference or concern for market demand.
Mr. R. Kiely Mr. R. Kiely
Mr. R. Kiely: I would like to welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food with responsibility for horticulture and congratulate him on his appointment and wish him success especially in the field of horticulture. He displayed a great willingness, when he was spokesman on horticulture in Opposition, to familiarise himself with every aspect of the horticultural industry. I have no doubt that this sector of our economy is in safe  hands. This is one area in which we need to specialise, especially as we have many horticultural imports. We could benefit if the horticultural industry was brought to full production here.
Having listened to Senator Brendan Ryan, he has convinced me that agriculture is at a great loss in that he did not choose farming as a profession. I doubt that he would become a millionaire overnight, but definitely from the way in which he spoke I think agriculture is at a loss in that he did not choose farming as his profession. Perhaps wisely, he chose an academic role. However, speaking in favour of the farmers, I might give this House some figures which were quoted by the West German Minister for Agriculture and which I read recently in a periodical. He said that the income per person employed in agriculture in 1986 in The Netherlands was £14,135 per annum. In Great Britain it was only £8,500 and in Ireland it was £3,900. That average income is much lower than the income of people employed in other sectors in this country. While, as Senator Ryan said, some farmers might enjoy a good standard of living, the majority of farmers have not a decent wage to enjoy a good standard of living. The purpose of this Bill is to provide a training service for these farmers. It will train them to become efficient farmers and bring them into a good line of production.
I welcome this opportunity to speak on the Bill. It is important when discussing anything concerning the agricultural community that Members should acknowledge the contribution made by the advisory service to the development of this industry over the years. They made an immense contribution in terms of the progress which has been made in the area of research. It is worth noting the advances that have been made in the dairying sector. There have been great advances made in the dairying sector. I spoke in this House on the milk cessation scheme and I will give Senators figures drawing a comparison with The Netherlands. In 1965, the average yield per cow per annum in The Netherlands was 4,207 kilograms, while in Ireland it was 2,308  kilograms per cow. In 1983, in the Netherlands it was 5,290 kilograms and in Ireland it was 3,654 kilograms. This proves that we were closing the gap and that we were progressing in this country regarding production. This was due to the advice given to the dairy farmers by the advisory service. The old advisory service proved of great benefit to farmers. Research carried out by the specialists in Moore Park was conveyed to farmers by the advisory service and led to great advancement in the dairy sector. I do not think anybody will dispute the fact that we have some of the most efficient dairy farmers in Europe — of course, we have others who are not efficient — but that significant development is as a result of the dedication of those involved in research and in the advisory service.
It is important that the Seanad recognises that any money voted by the House for education or research into the agricultural field is more than repaid in terms of returns to the nation. We are all aware of the increase in the volume of agricultural exports and the benefits that accrue to our economy. We should recognise that farmers were very eager and willing recipients of the advice given to them. They have always displayed a tremendous commitment to the industry for their own benefit and also for the benefit of the nation. Advisers who worked in close co-operation with the farmers were, in effect, development officers because of their involvement in local communities. Investment in agricultural education was more than repaid through agricultural exports. The agricultural community were always anxious to learn, to improve their living standards and overall efficiency of the industry.
We must recognise that our entry to the European Community provided us with a base on which to build our agricultural industry. There was a lot of controversy at the time about our application to join the Community, but there can be no doubt but that the agricultural industry and our economy benefited significantly from our membership; and it  continues to do so, although on a somewhat reduced scale.
It is ironic that the response of Irish farmers to the call for increased production by good farming techniques has resulted in the introductioan of the quota system for most of our agricultural products. I must express strong criticism of the present marketing position in agriculture where the opportunity for expansion no longer exists. That is the real problem facing agriculture. A quota applies to most of our agricultural products and that automatically restricts potential for development in that industry. Because we depend on agriculture we should endeavour to renegotiate our position in the Community regarding that sector. Our production of milk is three-quarters of a tonne of milk per hectare, whereas in the Netherlands it is 3½ tonnes of milk per hectare. I do not know whether the previous Minister used that to make Ireland an exceptional case when the quota was introduced, but it proves that we were not as developed as other EC countries and should be treated as a special case.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: Senator Kiely, you have gone a bit away from training and advisory services.
Mr. R. Kiely Mr. R. Kiely
Mr. R. Kiely: I will bow to your ruling.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: If you would swing a bit back.
Mr. R. Kiely Mr. R. Kiely
Mr. R. Kiely: Right, a Chathaoirligh. We depend on agriculture and, unless we can come to some satisfactory arrangement within the EC to give us an increased share of the European market, there will not be a real scope for improving the agricultural industry or for saving many farmers who are in extreme financial difficulty.
This Bill is about the advisory services. Since the early fifties I have had a close association with the advisory service in my own county. I had the privilege of taking their advice and benefiting from it. They have done great work, especially in planning development programmes for  farmers, and in silage lay-outs which make farm enterprises more modern in order to meet the challenges facing this country since joining the European Community. They can visit farmers more than once. The can draw up a plan and the farmer and themselves can discuss it. The can also change that plan, but I think they will always come up with the most suitable plan for the particular farmer. They advised the farmers in such a way that money was spent in the proper way towards increased production.
Tribute must be paid to them for the contribution they made to the changing face of agriculture. Many of the instructors and advisers went far beyond the call of duty in order to visit halls, meeting places and community centres during winter months. I am sure people involved in farming well know that they have gone beyond the call of duty to organise lectures in local halls in the evenings, something for which they must be appreciated. They are prepared to give their time in that way and for no pay. They made an essential contribution to agriculture.
The main thrust of this Bill is concerned with charges. Nobody likes to pay charges, but we must appreciate the constraints on the economy and the Government at present. Farmers will not object to paying these charges because the advice they get will be worth two or three times what they will pay for it. If the farmers were to get advice from another source, for example, a semi-State body or a private, commercial agri-business, they would have to pay for it. I am sure they will avail of the advice because they will benefit from it. Farmers will never refuse advice because it will put them on the right road to efficient farming.
Sitting suspended at 5.30 p.m. and resumed at 6.30 p.m.
Seanad Éireann 116 Agriculture (An Chomhairle Oiliúna Talmhaíochta) Bill, 1986: Second Stage.