Opinion

Forage crisis is now on the cards for farmers in the west

It looks like it could be a very long winter for livestock producers in the west. The spells of very poor weather in July, August and September have severely hampered forage-making operations in the region.

The poor weather has also left farmers with no option but to start feeding from whatever fodder they already have in store.

Ground conditions are simply atrocious in many parts of Mayo. And the same holds for large swathes of Galway, Sligo, Leitrim and Roscommon.

The end result will be a certain fodder shortfall along Ireland’s entire Atlantic seaboard next spring.

In truth, it will take the driest October on record to rectify matters.

Furthermore, it gives me no pleasure to report that the same story is unfolding in many parts of Northern Ireland. Farmers west of the River Bann are tearing their hair out, wondering if they will get the chance to get their silage stocks boosted before winter kicks in.

Even more worrying is the fact that the weather prospects for the coming days remain quite changeable. And, as we all know, day length starts to drop-off considerably at this time of the year.

This is good news for millers as they will be expected to make up the forage gap with appropriately formulated concentrate feeds.

Indeed, some Teagasc advisors are already telling their farmer clients to purchase so-called ‘forage extender rations’, rather than attempt to buy in silage, the quality of which will be very doubtful.

But with opportunity also comes responsibility, where feed compounders are concerned. And, in this context, it is incumbent on them to start profiling the range of winter feeding options that will be available to those livestock farmers, now facing into a forage deficit scenario.

The price of rations is always a sensitive issue. Feed reps are always great guys to take your order first and then talk about the cost of it all, once the invoice is sent.

But the reality is that those farmers now facing into a parlous winter are the very same producers who have been struggling to make ends meet, given the poor market returns on offer to them for most of the past two years and more.

So, the very least they can expect is total transparency, on the part of feed compounders, when it comes to the prices charged for concentrate rations over the coming months.

There is also an onus on government to ensure that all support monies are made available to farmers without delay over the coming months.

Livestock producers in hill areas have been particularly hit by the bad weather. So they should be number one on the Department of Agriculture’s target list, when it comes to prioritising who gets paid.