I congratulate Deputy Ó Cuív on this very comprehensive motion. He outlined very well the volatile marketplace for farmers and the growing pressure on farmers’ incomes. We cannot allow farmers to be at the mercy of big processors and large supermarkets. That is not a situation over which anyone could stand. I would like the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, to set out the framework in which the market operates. Deputy Ó Cuív has called for an independent beef regulator to rebalance the power between the various parties in the market. In recent weeks, we saw cattle prices rise in Northern Ireland and in the United Kingdom but prices in the Republic of Ireland have fallen to tenth place in terms of the highest to the lowest price in the European Union.
As a Deputy representing a rural constituency, I know that agriculture is the engine of the rural economy and it must be actively supported by the Government. The previous Government introduced Food Harvest 2020, which is a very ambitious project. It was the central plank of the policy of the last Government, as it is of the current Government, and it certainly should be supported.
Teagasc produced an annual income report for 2014 which shows great disparities in farm incomes. Suckler cow farmers, in particular, have found it very difficult. As they are heavily reliant on the single farm payment, which is gradually being reduced, we must look out for them, in particular. The analysis by The Farming Independent last April showed that Irish beef producers experienced price declines up to six times greater than their European Union counterparts. Some 80,000 dry stock farmers are seeing their work and effort sapped up by the large processors and the supermarkets.
Last week the Irish Farmers’ Journal reported that a farmer in Ireland could expect €350 less than a farmer in Britain for the same type of animal. That comparison shows the seriousness of the situation. I hope the Government will push the live export trade, which is very important in the west of Ireland and is an alternative to any monopoly by the factories. The Minister is maintaining contact with the Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive and the British Government. That must be strongly promoted. Finding new markets is also very important.
The Teagasc national farm survey from 2013 showed a 22% collapse in suckler incomes and a 39% reduction in sheep incomes. I have had representations on the disadvantaged areas scheme payments in south Galway, in particular the Slieve Aughty area. These payments were due in mid-September but no payments under the disadvantaged areas scheme were paid to farmers in the Slieve Aughty area. The single farm payments are due in October and I am concerned about the situation for farmers claiming on commonages, such as the Roxborough commonage in Castledaly. Farmers in that area claim they were issued with application forms in April 2014 with preprinted areas, which were wrong. The farmers state that they are being accused of an over-claim, despite the fact they had been led to make the application by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I am concerned there will be a knock-on effect for farmers in other commonages throughout the country. There is a commonage in Derrybrien, which has been cut from 99% to 50%. Commonages like these are designated special protection areas and the onus is on farmers to comply with the EU directive. As well as Roxborough, there are townlands like Cloughan, Kilbeg and Kilnacappagh where the digitised acreage in hectares was 1,115 – 100% – but it has been reduced to 476 hectares in 2014, or 42.7%. Obviously, the people concerned have many grievances. They are the people on the family farms – the cornerstone of the agriculture industry – and we must support them. I hope we all recognise the right of all workers to get a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work but I do not believe these farmers are getting fair play.