Animals ‘screaming for feed’, says Coveney
Scale of crisis not seen in living memory
There is a “drastic” fodder shortage and it was causing huge stress for farmers, the Oireachtas agriculture committee heard today. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
The scale of the fodder crisis on farms has not been seen in living memory, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney told the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture today.
“This has never happened before. In living memory I can never remember us having to import large volumes of fodder from the UK,” he said.
The “drastic” shortage of fodder was causing huge stress for farmers and, for many of them, being unable to feed their animals was like being unable to feed their children. “The relationship between a lot of farmers and the herds that they manage is an incredibly strong one and that is why when animals are screaming for feed and farmers can’t provide that, it is a particularly stressful period,” he said.
Some 117 people had called the department’s animal welfare help line (1850 211 990) since the beginning of the year. “48 of them have related to fodder and practically all of those calls have been in the last week and we are dealing in a confidential way, farmer by farmer, case by case, with ensuring that we try to address the welfare problem that is resulting from the fodder shortage,” he said.
“There is no reason why any animal in Ireland should be starving at the moment, even though there is a shortage of feed. If a farmer has no money to buy feed, or can’t access feed, they need to contact us and we will pay to feed their animals.”
He said members of the public could also ring the help line if they were concerned about the welfare of an animal. Mr Coveney said he had asked farm inspectors to be sensitive on farm visits but said inspections could not be stopped because the European Commission rules had to be upheld in order for funding to be received.
Large amounts of hay was being imported and Dairygold Co-op had already brought in about 90 truck loads of hay. “That’s enough feed for 234,000 animals for a day,” he said. “There are another 150 truck loads being planned by Dairygold...and they are not the only ones.” Mr Coveney said he met the co-ops on Wednesday and they had agreed to “dramatically increase” the importation of hay “from the UK if they can get it there and if they have to go further afield to other parts of Europe they’ll do that too.”
Co-ops had also agreed to provide interest-free credit to farmers to buy fertiliser so that farmers could boost grass growth. He said farmers had to plan for the worst case scenario, and buy enough hay to put it in storage in case the summer is bad.
He said the banks had assured him that they wanted to lend to farmers and asked people to let him know if banks were not doing this.
Mr Coveney also said the feeding of horses was a “big issue” and some emaciated horses were being culled for humane reasons.
Fianna Fáil’s Éamon Ó Cuív said “a lot of pressure and a lot of hardship wouldn’t have happened” if Mr Coveney had said at an earlier stage that his department could pay for feed if animals were in danger of starving.