Q&A with Minister Creed: ‘Farming is in my DNA’

It’s three weeks since An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny announced Cork TD Micheal Creed as his new Minister for Agriculture.

He has held several positions on the Fine Gael frontbench including; Agriculture, Fisheries and Food between 2007 – 2010, 

A Macroom native Creed is married to Sinead and has three children and takes over from outgoing Minister Simon Coveney who has now taken over the Housing and Local Government portfolio.

He sat down recently with Agriland’s Ciaran Moran to discuss his plans for the role and some of the sectors key issues.

Q. What’s your knowledge of the Agriculture sector?

A. “I was born and raised on a dairy farm although we did some beef farming as well.

“When I left college in UCC I went full-time farming and I was full time farming until the late 80s.

“I went into politics in 1989. My father who had been in the Dail previously retired in 1989. I continued farming for awhile but eventually, I just couldn’t dedicate enough time to it.

“The family farm is leased now.

“I have had the inside the farm gate experience.”

“It’s in my DNA.”

Q. Did you expect to get the Job?

A. “No, while I had held the Ag portfolio in opposition and had been the subject of speculation in 2011 and in 2014.

“To be honest with you from the point of just self-preservation I tried to insulate myself as much as possible this time from the speculation.

Fine Gael Leader Enda Kenny and Minister Michael Creed
Fine Gael Leader Enda Kenny and Minister Michael Creed

Despite your best efforts, it does hurt when you’re looked over.

“At a personal level and it hurts and at an organisational level. I just decided that I wasn’t going into that space this time.

“There was nobody more surprised than I was when I got the call on that Friday afternoon.”

Q. How will this minority government work? Will you have any power?

A. “I am very conscious that while I was asked to serve in this position by the Taoiseach, I serve by the whim of the Dail.

“I spent an awful lot of time in my political career on the back benches in opposition and to be honest the executive has abused parliament.

“And it’s not a bad thing that you have to go out and build consensus for the proposals that you want to put through.

Sean Coughlan CEO ICBF with Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed TD and Sean O'Sullivan CEO Cork Marts.
Sean Coughlan CEO ICBF with Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed TD and Sean O’Sullivan CEO Cork Marts.

“I don’t care where I get a good idea from. If it’s a good idea and if it will serve the national interest and the interest of the agrifood sector I will take it on board.

“This government’s only prospect of survival is recognising that it can’t continue as business as usual. We have to build consensus and listen to others.

“But there will come a point where decisions have to be made.

People will have to realise that we can’t have silly buggers games being played.

“There is an onus on me to build consensus, but there is also now an onus on opposition parties to realise that they have power now as well and with power comes responsibility.

IFA President
IFA President Joe Healy meets Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed

“Indeed, the area of responsibility goes beyond the area of parliament and extends to all the various interest groups in agriculture.

“We can’t be playing circuitous games where organisations when they can’t get what they want from the Minister they go around the back door to the opposition.

“That won’t work either.”

Q. Why so much for agriculture in the programme for government?

A. “If you were a fly on the wall of a lot of the Fine Gael parliamentary party meetings over the last five years an awful lot of stuff that has found its way into the programme for government and was raised in negotiations by others were issues about which we in Fine Gael had multiple long debates on as well.

“We were in a space where that for at least three of the five years we were cutting expenditure. We weren’t in a position to deal with some of the issues which we are now trying to progress.

Also Read: Whats in the programme for Government for Agriculture

“We are now in a different space.

“We still have a requirement and should always have a requirement to have prudent management of the public finances.

“But we are in a position now to address some of the policy shortcomings that were identifiable awhile ago but we didn’t have the money to resolve.”

Q. How can you help dairy farmers as the crisis deepens in the sector?

A. “There is a number of things that we are pursuing.

“The tariff on fertilisers is one. We are in contact with the French Minister on this issue and resolving it would result in a €14/t saving, which would be significant for farmers

“We are pursuing for the cohort of farmers in the dairy sector that have a superlevy liability a deferral of that liability. But the jury is out on whether we can get commission approval for that.

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“Additional intervention for skimmed milk powder is a critical area and we are hoping to see action on that by the Commission in the near future.

“A lot of these things won’t raise the price of milk but they will arrest to some degree the free fall, which has gone on further and for longer than most people thought.”

Q. What is your view on milk supply controls?

A. “While I appreciate that there are other voices on the Irish stage on this issue.

I just don’t see the value.

“Why would we vacate market space to others who will not put any controls on their supply.”

Q.What will the planned new sheep scheme look like?

A. “The new sheep scheme has a €25m budget.

“The department will have to get something back if we are to get the scheme through at European Level.

It’s not money for Jam and I know the sheep industry out there know that.

“I don’t want to be prescriptive about what we will have to get. It will have to cut the mustard at European level. I think the industry realistically knows that too.

Department sheep tagging

“EID tagging is one area where we could go.

“We are looking to explore new areas for the sheep sector in terms of exports. Our current tractability would be weak and would be acknowledged as weak in some of the markets we are trying to explore.

“This is something we could improve.”

Q. What is the future for beef farmers?

A. “The beef sector is difficult.

“We are looking at a significant increase in the volume of cattle this year.

“We are actively pursuing a range of export options. Particularly live exports.

The beef industry has significant challenges.

“I do think what it is embarking on now in terms of the Beef Data and Genomics Programme is something that the dairy industry embraced many years ago.

“In terms of improving the genetic merit of the herd.

Minister Creed KTP

“We will need that and an awful not more to ensure there is a viable income for beef farmers.

At the Beef Forum, we have to get real business done in the interests of farmers. I look forward to working within that framework.

The beef forum, however, is not a price-setting mechanism and neither can it be a name calling forum.

“I do hope that the establishment of Producer Organisations might be a way of giving the beef industry more sharper focus in terms for their dealings with meat processors.

“It something that the department is willing to fund in terms of their establishment and support and development.”

Q. What are your views on the Climate Change and Agriculture debate?

A. “I think we need to challenge the mindset out there that says we can’t do this in agriculture.

“We are doing it and have been doing it since 1990. All the measures that we need to take to reduce our emissions levels are sensible farm management issues that will reduce costs.

Minister Creed speaking to farmers in Bandon mart
Minister Creed speaking to farmers in Bandon mart

“On top of that, it’s the farmer that suffers most in terms of the consequences climate change. Just ask the farmers across the Shannon callows who’s land in some places is still under water

“We have to tackle this collectively on the planet and in so doing we carry our fair share of the burden.”

Q. What role will forestry play as asolution for Ireland?

A. “This is an issue that we are significantly concerned about from an Irish perspective.

We need to get the credits we deserve for our afforestation programme.

“We are spending exchequer funding a multi-billion euro investment in forestry which would be questionable if we are not given sufficient credits for it.

“The accounting system that they use under KYOTO suited us.

Forestry

“However, there is a change a foot in Europe at the moment which causes us some concern and which would bring into question out multi-billion euro afforestation programme investment.

“I see this as one of the issues that will be subject of long and late into the night negotiations.”

Q. What are your thoughts on CAP reform?

A. “The immediate concern that I have is whether Commissioner Hogan is going to open up a full mid-term review of the CAP.

“In that context, we have a number of issues in the programme for government that we are anxious to progress if that happens such as the CAP on payments.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed TD with Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan
Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed TD with Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan

“Beyond that, i haven’t given it any thought to a full-fledged debate on a new CAP.

“At this stage, the jury is still out in terms of a mid-term review and whether is happens or not. It’s a huge undertaking and given how long it took to conclude the previous cap will a full review be worth the effort?

“One thing I would be concerned about is that there is a lot of traction at the moment for supply controls in the dairy sector. Now would be very concerned if we opened up that debate again.

“The danger of a mid-term review is that where it would give us opportunities in some areas it could bring dangers in other areas.”

Q. What is the Department’s role in addressing falling farm incomes?

A. “It’s every farmer’s ambition that the market would deliver an income to them and when the market fails that spotlight shines on the department here and that’s fair.

“We need to address market failures when they arise.

“I’m not uncomfortable in that scenario. I appreciate the markets are cyclical and that there are market difficulties.”