Fodder in the North: ‘Not a crisis – but it’s not far off one’

As their southern counterparts are declaring a crisis, farmers in Northern Ireland are still giving mixed reports on their fodder outlook.

Ulster Farmers’ Union president Barclay Bell said the topic was discussed at the organisation’s executive meeting on Wednesday night.

“At the moment lots of men have enough silage to see them through the next two weeks, but we monitor it every day,” he said.

“It has been a long winter and it has cost them a fortune to feed their stock. They are probably trying to play this out as long as they can before buying more in. Others will have noticed supplies were getting low a few weeks ago and bought in then.”

The next fortnight

Bell explained that, as a result, the next fortnight’s weather would likely be critical for many of the region’s farmers.

Yesterday AgriLand reported that GrassCheck researchers had advised farmers to budget their forage until May 1.

Their latest predictions showed grass growth was almost at its lowest level in April in 10 years, beaten by a bad spring in 2013.

“Yesterday, we called around all of our office managers,” Bell added.

They weren’t saying it was a crisis yet – but that’s not to say that in two weeks’ time it won’t be.

Bell said he was aware of individual cases where farmers were beginning to struggle – one farmer in Fermanagh who had previously thought he would just scrape through reported that last weekend’s weather had put him back under pressure.

In the west, supplies bought in from the Republic were understood to have been keeping some farmers on the right side of things – but with demand tightening south of the border, it’s unlikely much more straw will head north.

Bell said he had contacted farmers in England and Wales and said that supply there was also becoming tighter with prices of around £100/t of straw quoted. Round bales were fetching between £26 and £30.

Department’s stance

The sentiment was similar at the Dundonald House.

A department spokesman said: “DAERA has been monitoring the fodder position closely over the winter and farmers have been proactive in managing their fodder stocks and supplies against demands.

“The late spring has created an additional and unwelcome pressure and the department is currently working with the agri-food industry and farming representatives to assess the emerging situation.

“Advisors from CAFRE continue to be available on the ground to provide practical support and advice to farm businesses affected.”

Official department advice on fodder, as well as budget calculators are available on DAERA’s website.