Crisis Reserve refund should pump-prime fodder aid scheme

This week has seen the EU commit to refunding farmers a total of €433 million, which was withdrawn from the Basic Payment budget earlier this year to form a Crisis Reserve Fund.

The aforementioned figure constitutes the amassed underspend from the scheme, of which €13.2 million will be coming back to Irish farmers.

My immediate response to this development is that the money now becoming available, should be ring-fenced and used to fund a fodder support scheme, for those livestock farmers who were not able to make sufficient silage and hay, in the wake of the atrocious weather that blighted 2017.

And just for good measure the government should make a similar contribution, so as to double-up the available kitty.

By this stage the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, should be fully aware of the disaster that is unfolding for cattle and sheep farmers along Ireland’s Atlantic seaboard. Teagasc advisors on the ground are seeing for themselves just how depleted fodder stocks are on many farms.

And, no doubt, all of the farming bodies are feeding through to government their assessment of just how bad the forage situation is in so many parts of the country.

Farmers have no control over the weather; so there should be absolutely no argument put up by Brussels. They should not be objecting to the rationale behind some form of fodder aid scheme seeing the light of day over the coming weeks.

Eye of the storm

Last year, it was grain growers who found themselves battling the elements at harvest time. In the light of the destruction caused then, there was every reason for them to be made eligible for some form of compensation.

In their case it took months for this sentiment to be turned into a reality. Twelve months on, and it is their livestock counterparts who find themselves in the eye of the storm.

But here’s the thing, these farmers can’t afford to wait months for some form of aid package to be made available. Their need is immediate. And the clock is ticking.

The money coming back from Brussels, given the dissolution of the Crisis Reserve Fund, actually belongs to Irish farmers.

I see no reason why it cannot be put to good use in pump-priming a fodder aid scheme for those livestock producers – who really will be in dire straits over the coming months.

There are lots of precedents for schemes of this type to be green-lighted by Minister Creed. But the time for prevaricating is over. He needs to make some real decisions on the matter well before Christmas.