Dail fodder debate was 3 weeks too late

The Dail should have debated the fodder crisis some weeks ago, when the extent of the problem had been initially identified.

But to their credit our politicians did bring some new thinking to the subject in hand.

In the first instance, the principle of offering meal vouchers to those cattle farmers most badly affected is one that should have been acted upon.

There is full justification for this approach, given the scope of last autumn’s Sheep Welfare Scheme.

Under the conditions that have been prevailing on many suckler and cattle farms over recent months, the feeding of meals would have provided the most effective way of maintaining animal health and welfare levels.

In addition, most farmers can offer concentrates without a reliance on the machinery required to feed silage.

Some might argue that offering a meal voucher scheme contravenes European Union (EU) state-aid regulations.

But that’s not the point. Surely the Government could have made the case to Brussels for such a measure on animal welfare grounds.

I also believe that it would have been cheaper to have gone down this road than to have committed to the cost of a fodder transport subsidy.

Hopefully, the current spell of good weather will help ease the fodder pressure on most Irish farms. But the livestock industry is not out of the woods just yet. There is now a real challenge to ensure that conserved fodder levels are fully replenished over the coming weeks.

This will entail every farmer using whatever opportunities that present themselves to make silage throughout the 2018 grass-growing season.

Suckler beef and cattle farmers have traditionally adhered to a two-cut silage making programme.

Such an approach is now old hat. Grassland utilisation on Irish livestock farms is abominably low.

This state-of-affairs must be addressed in a proactive manner.

One way of achieving this is to commit to making three, or possibly four, cuts of silage on an annual basis. This will have the combined benefit of enhancing the actual volumes of forage that are made and its quality.

The additional harvesting costs will be more than compensated for by the improved performance attained by livestock over the winter period.

The past months have been more than testing for Irish livestock farmers. It followed-on from the intense fodder crises that also characterised the spring of 2013 and 2011.

Surely, it’s time for farmers to learn for the future and plan accordingly.