Opinion

Teagasc has key role to play in fodder crisis

Teagasc must be made an honest broker in the fast-developing debate on how best to manage the forage crisis that is unfolding in the west of Ireland.

Advisors on the ground are best placed to quantify the scale of the problem, both at individual farm and regional level.

The Teagasc resource is also best positioned to assess whether or not there is enough conserved fodder on the island of Ireland to get the country’s entire livestock sector over the hump of the next three to four months.

So much for the logistics of what has to be done, in order to make life bearable for the many farmers who were directly affected by the atrocious weather that impacted on most parts of Ireland during 2017.

In addition to all of this, government must respond immediately, so as to support those farmers most directly impacted.

Even if there is enough fodder in the country to go around, the reality is that hay and silage prices will go through the roof over the coming weeks. In fact, this is already happening.

And, let’s be very clear about this. It’s those farmers who could not make enough silage, through no fault of their own, that will be left to pick up the tab for all of this.

One way of addressing this issue would be for the government to make available ‘welfare payments’, which would be redeemed in return for the purchase of fodder extension rations.

All of the compounders now manufacture feeds which meet this specification. In addition, going down this route would help eke out the supplies of actual fodder that are available in the country.

It is also a very transparent way of pricing rations that will, genuinely, help farmers in need get through the early months of 2018.

Simply relying on farmers least affected by the poor weather of 2017 to ‘dig out’ their colleagues now in dire straits, leaves too many opportunities for speculators to get involved.

If it’s a case of the feed compounders coming on board, then the price of the rations they offer can be easily evaluated.

It is also apparent that suckler farmers are more exposed to the fodder shortage than is the case with their sheep counterparts. The government may also wish to factor in this reality as it plans for the weeks ahead.

One issue, though, is very real. There is a genuine fodder crisis now unfolding in the west of Ireland. And a coordinated response from government is required with immediate effect.