Focus on fodder and finance at tomorrow’s Agri Committee meeting

Minister Creed and representatives from four banks will appear at the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine to answer questions on measures to aid farmers coping with fodder shortages and drought.

The meeting is scheduled to take place at 2:30pm tomorrow afternoon (Tuesday, September 4).

Low-cost loans

Committee members are expected to ask Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed and senior bank officials when the Agriculture Cash Flow Support Loan Scheme will be reopened following the summer heat wave, which drastically reduced supplies of hay, straw and silage needed to sustain cattle and other livestock.

The scheme – which is financed by the state-owned Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland via three retail banks – recently provided unsecured loans of up to €150,000 for farmers to cover fodder and fertiliser costs at a discounted interest rate of 2.95%.

The scheme is currently closed to new applicants because it was fully subscribed during an exceptionally wet and snowbound winter and spring.

Representatives from all four banks — Bank of Ireland, Allied Irish Banks (AIB) and Ulster Bank, as well as the Strategic Bank Corporation of Ireland — are scheduled to appear before the committee.

The committee and witnesses are expected to discuss other sources of financial assistance, including the Fodder Transport Support Measure and retail banks’ credit facilities.

Other likely topics include the Fodder Census, risk management measures and the potential impact of Brexit on fodder supply chains.

‘Keep financially afloat’

Commenting ahead of the meeting, committee chairman Pat Deering said: “Farmers struggling to keep their livestock thriving and market-ready have faced setback after setback amid the extreme weather patterns of 2018.

“The committee is eager to discuss with Government and banking officials how the Cash Flow Support Loan Scheme performed to keep farmers financially afloat during the exceptional snow and rain at the start of the year,” deputy Deering said.

“This will help us to understand what further support farmers need now because of the summer heat wave and drought – and what more should be done to build fodder reserves to safeguard against the risk of yet more extreme weather ahead.

If erratic weather patterns continue to disrupt the production of hay, straw and silage and reduce animals’ ability to graze normally, an increasing number of livestock owners will require low-interest loans to sustain their businesses.

“The committee hopes to learn more from the Government and participating banks about how well the existing loan scheme operated through this year’s first fodder crisis, when it will reopen for new applicants and under what terms, and what other measures or supports may be offered to help farmers maintain and manage livestock for market in this year of climate extremes.”

Deputy Deering said farmers, bankers and the Government also needed to consider in greater detail the potential for Brexit to undermine the supply chain of fodder imported from or via the United Kingdom starting in 2019.