Review of the year: Farming crisis, fodder and debt levels
APRIL: The entire month of April will go down as the darkest hour for Irish farming in living memory. The continuing unseasonal weather had brought the grass-based agri sectors to crisis point, given the total unavailability of fresh and conserved fodder stocks in the country.
In response, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney introduced a €1 million funded fodder import scheme. The monies would be used to defray the cost of bringing in silage, hay and haylage from outside the Island of Ireland.
Meanwhile the demand for concentrate feeds went through the roof. All of this served to increase debt levels on local farms. But to their credit, both the banks and the co-ops acted with the best interests of farmers at heart and made the required finance available. Coveney went on the record to say that animals would not die from starvation on his watch.
The fodder that was brought into the country was distributed to producers on a pre-agreed basis. As a consequence farmers were seen night after night on the television queuing up at their local marts, and other collection points, simply to get sufficient fodder to keep their stock alive. It was akin to watching a scene from famine hit Africa back in the 1980s.
While all of this was going on Teagasc staff were working flat out with farmers, advising them on how to make best use of the scarce fodder stocks that were available. Meanwhile the IFA had established supply links and sourced more than 8,000 tonnes of hay and fodder in the UK. The organisation had also managed to source 3,000 tonnes of hay in France. All of this was imported and distributed through the co-ops, merchants and livestock marts.
But long before the end of April it had become obvious that the Government would have to make more money available to facilitate the importation of fodder. In truth it didn’t require much additional lobbying on the part of all the farming organisations to get Coveney to come on board with another €1 million.
But fodder imports were one thing: the reality was that Irish agriculture needed the weather to improve dramatically. An as April turned into May the fulfilment of this wish seemed to be as far off as ever.