Food security threat to State outlined at response group meeting

Officials to draw up a plan over the weekend on how to grow more crops in coming season

Teagasc and Department of Agriculture officials are to draw up a plan over the weekend on how to grow more crops in the coming season.

Likely pressures on Ireland's agriculture production and food supply over coming months due to the Ukraine war were spelt out at the first meeting of a specialist group set up by Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue to help ease impacts.

The projections and possible support measures for farmers in boosting output was outlined to members of the National Fodder and Food Security Committee, which met at the Teagasc Moorepark facility in Co Cork.

Both Ukraine and Russia are major global players in the grain, feed and fertiliser trade, while supply disruptions are already directly affecting Ireland.

Senior Department of Agriculture inspector Michael Moloney provided an update on the current food security situation, while Teagasc director Prof Frank O'Mara outlined evolving challenges facing the sector.

Mr McConalogue told the meeting every farmer would need to grow as much grass and crops as possible this year, and match available feed with livestock before next winter.

The meeting was told by the Farm Contractors of Ireland that it would require 2 million litres of diesel to complete the silage harvest this year, while a self-propelled harvester would have to pay an additional €110,000 on diesel compared to last year.

Challenges

Speaking after the meeting the Minister said he established the committee to ensure the sector can “respond effectively and rapidly to one of the greatest challenges of our time”. He said farmers were prepared to “face this challenge head on” and he would support any way he can.

A separate package of supports for farmers, reported to be worth tens of millions of euro, to grow feed and fodder is due later this month.

Ahead of Friday’s meeting, IFA National Grain Committee chairman Kieran McEvoy said urgent action was needed to support tillage farmers, circumstances could result in less grain produced this year, rather than more.

“While the Minister has been talking about the need to grow more grain, it’s more likely we will have less grain due to rocketing input prices,” he said. “The Minister needs to act now to support tillage farmers who are the people with the experience, expertise and equipment to grow more crops.”

Diesel prices

Agricultural diesel prices had skyrocketed, Mr McEvoy added. At current prices, it would cost an extra €100 a hectare in diesel alone to produce grain.

“Farmers need more cuts in excise duty and in the carbon tax. It’s critical that sufficient agri-diesel supplies are available during the key spring and summer months when planting and harvesting of crops takes place,” he said.

There were real concerns about the availability of fertiliser later in the spring. “It’s vital that an inventory of fertiliser supplies is undertaken immediately by [the] Department of Agriculture,” he said.

“The tillage sector is in a position to supply more grain and feedstuffs for the livestock sector this year and into the future to help offset some of shortages anticipated in supply chains,” he added.

As it stands, however, only 7.5 per cent of the Irish agricultural area is devoted to crop production. Further decline needed to be halted “and future policy decisions must aim to restore the cropped area to at least 11 per cent of the agricultural land area”.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times