‘I do not believe I am out of touch’ – Creed

The political standoff over the extent of the country’s fodder shortage has continued in Dail Eireann this evening with Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed insisting that the situation is “under control”.

Speaking in Leinster House, Minister Creed faced heavy criticism from opposition TDs including: Fianna Fail (FF) spokesperson on agriculture Charlie McConalogue; Niamh Smyth (FF Cavan-Monaghan), Eamon Scanlon (FF Sligo-Leitrim); Jackie Cahill (FF Tipperary); and Eugene Murphy (FF Roscommon-Galway).

In a series of sharp exchanges directed at the minister, the opposition labelled the Government’s fodder transport subsidy scheme “a failure” following reports that just 15 people have applied to avail of the measure to date.

Calls were made for a meal voucher scheme in a bid to “plug the gap” for those struggling to cope with the prolonged winter, late spring, poor grass growth and unsettled weather projections for the coming weeks.

Issues regarding the psychological impact of ongoing fodder challenges on farmer health were also put to the minister, who was repeatedly accused of showing “no empathy” towards farmers in affected regions.

Concerns over animal welfare were also raised with claims that some stock have been housed for up to nine months due to inclement land conditions.

“As we now get into a late spring no one has fodder to spare – we need contingency plans to ensure that fodder can be transported from outside the country,” said deputy McConologue.

Scanlon also alerted the minister to the case of one desperate farmer that recently reached out to the department in light of his struggle to feed his cattle.

He is in such a state. He has no money, he is on Farm Assist, he had no credit, and he said he is thinking of shooting his cows and shooting himself.

“The official consoled him and told him that she will help him. That is a fact and I think there are a lot of people that are not at that stage; but they are not far off it,” he said.

Addressing the issues raised Minister Creed assured the opposition that the fodder situation is being monitored “very closely” and as “a matter of priority” by himself and his department.

Accepting the concerns tabled he also stressed that the fodder transport subsidy measure remains “fully available” to those in need.

In direct response to the low uptake on the measure so far, he said it is “not unexpected” as the processing of applications for payment can only take place when the completed application – including the co-operative declaration and fodder budget – has been received.

“I’m conscious that most farmers are looking after food supply through meal supplement. My officials continue to engage with Teagasc and industry on this.

“The key focus on support must remain on fodder budgeting and grass management. I am monitoring the situation very closely.”

Although the minister said he is not familiar with the call highlighted by Deputy Eamon Scanlon, he said he will follow up on it.

He stressed that he does “very much appreciate” that some farmers are under pressure.

My department has the capacity to respond on individual cases in circumstances where they are looking at the back of a silage pit wall and there is no other option and cattle are bellowing in the shed. That is a very challenging situation.

The minister also accepted that grass growth is significantly behind last year; however, based on the data he has been presented with, he believes there are “significant and adequate” fodder levels available until the weather improves.

“I do not believe I am out of touch; I have been in two marts in my own constituency recently. It is an issue and we are actively managing it.

“We are coming to the end of a difficult period that I think we can collectively learn from as we move into the spring,” he concluded.