Ag committee members ‘greatly troubled by reports of animals going hungry’

Members of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine are “greatly troubled by reports of animals going hungry”, according to chair of the committee and Fine Gael TD Pat Deering.

It has been confirmed that the committee will meet on Wednesday, April 11, to address the ongoing fodder crisis and that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, will be present.

Speaking today, Deputy Deering said: “The fodder crisis is of huge concern to farmers right across the country. We as a committee are greatly troubled by reports of animals going hungry and farmers being unable to access adequate fodder.

The bad weather we have experienced over the past number of months has resulted in below-average grass growth at a time of year when animals would usually be back outside in the fields.

“The committee has called this meeting during the Dail recess in order to engage with the minister on the measures his department will be putting in place to address this issue.

“While the minister confirmed today that his department is working on rolling out a scheme supporting the importation of fodder from outside the country, the committee will also wish to discuss possible financial supports for farmers,” the chair of the committee said.

‘Some meaningful signal’

Meanwhile, the president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA), Pat McCormack, has indicated that we have to start from where we are now and that it was not too late for some meaningful signal from the Government that they understand the scale of the challenge.

McCormack outlined that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine had been told over four months ago that unless there was a measurable improvement in the weather that permitted cows to be put out on or around St. Patrick’s Day that plans would have to be drawn up immediately to facilitate the importation and transportation of appropriate amounts of fodder.

The idea that this crisis has arisen ‘out of the blue’ was not tenable and the present situation had been completely foreseeable for at least three to four weeks, he said.

As well as that, the overall situation has not been helped by the “hopeless inadequacy” of the Fodder Transport Support Measure introduced by the department earlier this year.

‘An appropriate and measured response’

Earlier today, Minister Creed said that the department’s response to the fodder issue has been “appropriate and measured” to date on RTE Radio 1’s Today with Sean O’Rouke show.

He maintained that the idea he would have ordered co-ops to import fodder in the back end of last year would have been “absurd“.

The accusation that we should have intervened [in September or October] and imported fodder is really a ridiculous argument to be honest with you.

“What was originally a campaign in the north-west, we responded to. We said: ‘If there is a problem and you can’t source fodder locally in the north-west, we will subsidise the transport’ – and we did that.

“A few have availed of that to date; it will be bigger than the numbers there already, the co-ops tell us they have applications.

“But, we’re being criticised now for responding to the north-west issue by transporting fodder from elsewhere. I think that most people that had a difficulty in the north-west actually resolved that issue by buying fodder in the north-west. Some availed of the option to have the subsidised transport scheme.

“What we’re dealing with in fact is a ‘zero-sum game‘. We had X amount of fodder and if we had had a normal spring – even if we had late spring – it would have been adequate and it would have been an easier case of trying to get the fodder to places where there was need.

“What we’ve had is an extremely late spring and an extremely wet spring,” the minister said.

‘A dynamic situation’

The minister argued that the current situation is dynamic and that someone who didn’t have any fodder issue three weeks ago may be facing shortages now.

Continuing, the minister said: “Some have had this problem since the back end of last year; they put their hand up and we responded in an appropriate way at that stage. At all steps along this point, our response has been appropriate and measured – and it is appropriate and measured now.

To the farming organisations, I would say that we can have all the debates and the post-mortems when this is over.

Minister Creed outlined that the department has been engaged with the co-operative movement in terms of the fodder issue for quite some time.

“They know, in the context of those who are importing fodder at the moment, that financial assistance – similar to the scheme in 2013 – is available to them; that’s not an impediment to them getting on with the business of importing it.

“That fodder has arrived through Dairygold and will be arriving through Glanbia later this weekend,” he said.

‘Put your hand up’

In conclusion, Minister Creed underlined the importance of farmers managing the scarce resources they have available to them.

He was also confident that no animals would die as a result of a lack of fodder and that the department helpline is there for farmers to contact if they are in need of support.

In conclusion, he said: “The message we would like to send out out loud and clear to the farming community is that if you have a difficulty on your farm – either running out or already out of fodder – you need to put your hand up and come forward to your local co-operative or Teagasc.”