Minister allocates €1.5m for fodder import scheme

‘No super-crop out there’ for Irish farmers to fall back on during feed shortages

An emergency fodder delivery arrives from the UK to the Dairygold Co-Op in Ballymakeera, Co Cork. Photograph: Daragh McSweeney/Provision

An emergency fodder delivery arrives from the UK to the Dairygold Co-Op in Ballymakeera, Co Cork. Photograph: Daragh McSweeney/Provision

 

There is no alternative hardy versatile crop that Irish farmers could grow to withstand a fodder crisis caused by a long winter and a cold, wet spring, according to Irish crop experts.

The combination of extreme weather and lack of grass growth across most of the country has made importation of feed inevitable, in their view.

On Thursday, the Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed allocated €1.5 million towards a fodder import scheme which will support farmers but be run by dairy co-ops. It coincided with the first consignment of imported feed, sourced by Dairygold, arriving in Rosslare port. Other co-ops have successfully sourced feed on the island of Ireland and from abroad to redistribute to the worst-affected farms in coming days.

Dr Paul Crosson, head of LacPatrick co-op’s farm advisory team, outlined what farmers have been going through in Border areas: “For many, winter started last August and there has been little or no improvement in the situation. While farmers would plan for a long winter, the current situation is beyond anyone’s best planning.”

Many farmers are short of fodder where typically they would have their livestock out at grass and appropriate silage stocks in reserve. Weather over the next seven to 10 days will be critical. If conditions improve and temperatures rise, grass growth will resume and the situation will be largely resolved. If not, many could face an unprecedented scenario, particularly for those on difficult, marginalised land.

Key feed crop

Grass remains the key feed crop for Irish farmers, Dr Crosson said. The best approach to be able to counter a fodder shortage was to match stocking rates with the amount of grass being grown on farms, to ensure there were always adequate reserves in place, and if necessary to optimise soil nutrient management to maximise grass yields, he said.

Jimmy Burke, professor of crop science at UCD, said Irish farmers were reliant on baled silage, dried hay and to some extent straw as a feed supplement and “there’s no magic bullet . . . there’s no super-crop out there” to help farmers withstand a long winter and poor spring.

Grass-growing was what made Irish agriculture competitive, he added. As farmers wait for grass growth, there were few options other than importation of feed.

Siobhán Kavanagh, nutrition expert and regional advisory manager at Teagasc, said most farmers were not set up for alternative feed crops. A range of feed options were available including whole crop wheat, maize silage fodder beet, alfalfa hay, catch crops (such as kale and rape), crimped grain and concentrates. But these increased costs, often required additional machinery so they can be used, and had varying nutritional value, she pointed out.

Climate change

Dr Peter McKeown, NUI Galway lecturer in plant and agri-biosciences, said extreme weather events, which are increasingly linked to climate change, were very hard to plan for.

The reality was more cattle were being produced in Ireland. That required more feed. Given the climate was less predictable, he believed there was a likelihood of more years when farmers would be reliant on imports of feed.

While hay was being brought in from the UK, that source could not be guaranteed if similar conditions occurred there. While one could never ascribe an individual weather event to climate change, such extreme conditions as recently experienced in Ireland were more likely the worse climate change got, Dr McKeown added.

The political fallout from the fodder crisis, meanwhile, continued on Thursday. Pat McCormack, president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, said “the official suggestion that the fodder crisis happened ‘out of the blue’ was not tenable or accurate”.

“As far back as September last year, farmers and farming organisations were vocal of warnings that an impending crisis in fodder supply would occur should it not be urgently addressed,” said Fianna Fáil agriculture spokesman Charlie McConalogue.

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