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Horticulture in the Dail - Tom Hayes Speaks About 2014 Allocation for Sector

Tom Hayes (Tipperary South, Fine Gael)
At the beginning of this budgetary process the Government was determined to build on the progress achieved in recent years in developing the agrifood sector and, in particular, to further contribute to the future growth and prosperity the sector could achieve for Ireland, expanding its revenue base through growth in export earnings. I welcome, in particular, the suckler cow scheme, the allocation of over €105 million for the 2014 forestry programme, €10.9 million for Bord na gCon, €4.2 million for the commercial horticulture sector and over €84 million for food safety, animal health and welfare and plant health measures.

Over €105 million has been allocated to the forestry sector, which is more than half of the Department's capital allocation. This will be enough to maintain the 7,000 hectares of new planting which is consistent with the figure for the previous two years. Funding for this sector is also unique in that it is entirely funded by the Exchequer. I welcome the funding for the forestry programme which encompasses the provision of grants for the establishment of new forestry, the payment of forestry premiums and the continuation of other forest support schemes such as the forest road scheme which has been allocated an increase in funding.

The provision of Government funding has been a major factor in the development of forestry for several decades. I am pleased the Government has been able to commit €105 million towards its continued development. Many of the forests which were planted, with Government support, are now at or approaching thinning stage. Forest owners and the State can now derive tangible returns in the form of income for owners from thinning, as well as at a national level from the supply of raw material to the timber processing and wood energy sectors.

As the budget has been announced earlier this year, there has as yet been no firm indication as to the area of new forestry for which payments will issue in the full year of 2013. The level of demand for the afforestation grant and premium scheme has been relatively constant for several years. While all of us in the forestry sector realise that a higher level of afforestation needs to be achieved to meet industry demands, we have to be realistic and work together to grow awareness of the returns from forestry as a land-use option and cultivate that demand. The continued allocation by the Government of funding for the forestry programme is a crucial element in that process. The current allocation, on the basis of take-up in recent years, should meet the current level of interest.

I am pleased the Government will continue to support the greyhound racing industry through the horse and greyhound racing fund. The greyhound racing industry forms an important element of the fabric of life in this country, particularly in rural areas. Bord na gCon estimates that the industry supports in excess of 10,000 jobs and provides €500 million in economic output. I want to ensure this indigenous industry is appropriately structured to face the challenges that lie ahead. Accordingly, I have arranged that the Department will commission a wide ranging review of Bord na gCon. The call for tenders document has been issued. I have also arranged that stakeholders will have an opportunity to make their contribution to the review by way of a stakeho!der consultation process. Submissions received will be provided, without comment, for the successful tenderer for consideration. The closing date for receipt of submissions from stakeholders is 22 November 2013.

I am delighted support for specialised capital investments has been increased by almost 30%, with €4.2 million allocated to the scheme of investment aid for the development of the commercial horticulture sector in 2014. The late Minister of State Shane McEntee always recognised the value of this scheme and constantly fought to maintain its funding during the recession. Given the improved economic situation, I am delighted to be in a position to significantly increase the level of funding available for this competitive grant aid scheme. It represents the main source of State funding for horticulturalproducers and is seen as vital to improving growers' competitiveness, as well as the quality of output. It also allows growers to innovate and diversify production in a sector where output per annum is approximately €300 million at farm gate level, with further gross value added of approximately €70 million. I intend to launch the 2014 scheme in the next month.

Up to €84 million has been allocated by the Department for food safety, animal health and welfare and plant health measures, which encompass a broad array of measures, including meat inspection, brucellosis and TB testing. This funding will protect the industry, of which we are very proud.
The Government has provided more than €1.84 million specifically for the support and development of the organic sector in 2014. The funding has been maintained at the same level as in 2013. The sector has a significant role to play in the food industry.

It is not good enough for Ireland to import organic products when we can and should grow them here. The outlook for the agri-food sector remains very bright and the sector will continue to contribute strongly to national economic recovery. There is a new awareness of the vital economic importance of the sector and I am confident that the measures introduced in budget 2014, in a very challenging fiscal environment, will help us to continue on the path towards national recovery.

Source: HortiTrends News Room