Fodder crisis exacerbated by difficult weather conditions

Minister for Agriculture orders review of supplies and relief measures for farmers

 Pat Murray, of Knocknagapple, Monaseed, Co Wexford is one of the many farmers  finding it difficult to feed their livestock. Photograph: Garry O’Neill

Pat Murray, of Knocknagapple, Monaseed, Co Wexford is one of the many farmers finding it difficult to feed their livestock. Photograph: Garry O’Neill

 

An immediate review of fodder supplies has been announced by Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed in response to the crisis facing farmers.

The move follows difficult weather conditions in almost all parts of the country. High levels of rainfall, widespread flooding, and lack of grass growth due to cold temperatures has compounded difficulties caused by the fodder shortage.

Thousands of farmers have had to keep livestock indoors far longer than usual and are running low on available feed in the form of dried hay, silage or wheaten straw.

Department of Agriculture officials met farm advisory body Teagasc and major co-ops last week to discuss the issue. Following another difficult weekend, the group is to meet again on Wednesday.

It “is ensuring a co-ordinated approach to the issue and will also look at the availability of fodder including possible recourse to the option of imports, should it be required”, Mr Creed said on Tuesday.

Earlier IFA president Joe Healy said the Minister needed to “ensure an emergency response to tackle the fodder and income crisis on farms”.

Extreme weather conditions were causing havoc and untold stress at farm level, he added. “The situation is close to a national emergency on farms...The Minster has to call together all the stakeholders.”

The weather over the Easter weekend had left farmers reeling when they really needed a period of good weather to get things moving, Mr Healy said. “Poor grass growth because of cold weather and wet conditions in fields due to huge rainfall has meant that farmers who are already under pressure for fodder have had to keep their animals indoors at a time when they should be out on grass.

“We’re now into April and with the terrible conditions over the weekend, the situation is at crisis point in almost all parts of the country,” he added.

“We cannot rely on the weather picking up to solve the problem. We need to stop the megaphone diplomacy and sit down now to have constructive engagement to see what can be done”.

Dairy sector

Problems have become more widespread in recent weeks and include the dairy sector. IFA National Dairy Committee chairman Tom Phelan has called on co-ops to support farmers on milk prices this month.

“While market returns continue to be challenging in this early part of the season, co-ops need to invest in farmers to help them cope after a horrendously long winter, late spring and a hectic calving season made worse by atrocious weather which left many exhausted and stressed,” he said.

Fodder stores had been depleted as cows were brought in early last autumn and had to be kept in until late this spring, Mr Phelan said.

Protein levels in milk had plunged in March. “Without any price cut at all, farmers would be looking at a depressed milk cheque for March,” he said.

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed said review of fodder supplies will look at option of imports, should it be required. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times
Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed said review of fodder supplies will look at option of imports, should it be required. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

“Co-ops have been lecturing farmers about sustainability: now they must ensure that sustainability is also about the economic viability of dairy farmers, including for the long term. This must mean supporting farmers through difficult conditions such as were experienced in the last seven months, and in the short term minimising any adjustment to March milk prices,” Mr Phelan said.

Shortage of money

Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association rural development chairman Séamus Sherlock said he was concerned at reports of co-ops and merchants tightening up on credit when many farmers were in a vulnerable position. “The shortage of money is becoming just as big a problem as the shortage of fodder. Even where farmers are able to source fodder, being able to afford it is another matter,” he said.

Most drystock farmers were hoping for better weather to facilitate grass growth which in turn would allow stock back out on to grass, he added. “Financial pressures can very easily manifest into mental health issues and no one wants to see struggling farmers driven into impossible situations.”

Mr Sherlock urged Mr Creed to speed up the balance of payments owed to farmers from various schemes. “Constant delays in payments only add to the frustration and make any sort of planning very difficult.”

Mr Creed has called on farmers who still have supplies, to continue to make these available to neighbours through local groups, co-ops and Teagasc.