I support the motion, and I was pleased that Dr Paisley stopped short of calling for passports for Southern pigs so that the Assembly can be united on this major issue.
The crisis, of course, is not confined to the pig industry; it affects agriculture as a whole. Whether one owns a picturesque farm in Fermanagh or a window box in Cullybackey it does not matter — everyone will be affected by this crisis if it is not dealt with. I support Mr Haughey’s suggestion to widen the whole debate about the crisis in agriculture.
In 1996, farm output in Northern Ireland was £942 million; in 1997 it dropped to £803 million; and estimates for this year put output at £756 million. That is an overall drop of 20%. In terms of income, the situation is even more serious. In 1996, total income was estimated at £319 million; last year it dropped to £203 million; and this year the figure is no more than £156 million. That is a drop of over 50%. We must seriously consider Mr Haughey’s comments because the drop in income is not confined to pig producers. Income from pigs is down 24%; sheep income is down 25%; cattle income is down 12%; and income from broilers is down 8%. However, I am happy to report that potato growers are making some money — but only potato growers.
Dr Paisley referred to debts. I think he said that £40 million was owed to the manufacturers of feeding stuffs. I would add to that the £500 million that is owed to banks and the £80 million that is owed to hire-purchase companies. That shows the seriousness of the matter.
The reasons for the crisis in agriculture have been well documented here, and I do not propose to go over them again. The solutions, of course, are also well known. Some reference has been made to the Ulster Farmers’ Union and the Northern Ireland Agriculture Producers’ Association. Let us take forward the suggestions that have been made in the debate, and fully involve those organisations in solving the problems.
A whopping 62,000 people are employed in agriculture in Northern Ireland on 32,000 farms. The market is valued at £2·28 billion, which is 8% of gross national product. The crisis has implications for the wider community. I do not own a farm, but I live in a rural area and am wise enough to know the effect that this crisis will have if it is not dealt with.
I am involved in rural regeneration programmes vital to the future stability of Northern Ireland. They are part of the peace process, and they could be put in jeopardy if this problem is not dealt with. Members have asked questions about who is getting the profit. We have been told that retailers may be creaming it off, but I do not think so. There is a chain of middlemen which needs to be uncovered.
Sometimes we can look to the Republic of Ireland for inspiration. The Government there recognised the problems that large multinational supermarkets would create and put appropriate controls in place. Only last week, one of the largest, Tesco, announced plans to import huge quantities of potatoes. The Government of the Republic stopped this, so there at least, the potato growers can breathe freely for another while.
There are many difficulties facing the agriculture industry. Some of the solutions are long term; the industry needs reinvestment and financial support. Above all, it needs a level playing field. The Assembly should take on board the excellent and very positive suggestions that have been made here today.
Sometimes I wonder why two thirds of the world is starving, while the other third cannot find a market for its foodstuffs. It leaves me bewildered. In supporting the motion, I also ask that the suggestions that the debate be widened and that the Assembly give its support to the agriculture industry as a whole be taken up immediately.