Drought strife: ‘Farmers’ first responsibility is a duty of care to themselves’

Farmers’ “first and primary responsibility” during the extremely difficult drought conditions across the country is a duty of care to themselves, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed has cautioned.

Speaking about the incredibly tumultuous conditions farmers currently face as they attempt to prepare for the winter ahead, Minister Creed told RTE Radio 1‘s Morning Ireland that “all the appropriate steps” are being taken to mitigate the long-term impact of the warm, dry conditions that have persevered throughout the summer months.

“We are working with all of the stakeholders involved – the farm organisations, the co-ops, banks, Teagasc, the advisory service – to ensure that all of the appropriate steps are taken.

“Some of which we have delivered already in terms of commitment from the European Union to bring forward payments,” he said.

This week, Ireland was granted approval for a derogation to make advance payments of up to 70% for Basic Payments and 85% for supports granted as part of rural development under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) from October 15.

The minister said he is “working closely” with the EU Commissioner of Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan, who he met with earlier this week to discuss terms and conditions on EU-funded schemes which “might be loosened” so that “further resolutions” to the problem can be tabled.

Catch crops

Earlier this week, Minister Creed sent a formal request to the European Commission asking for “the relaxing of a number of conditions” that could potentially make a “significant amount of land” available for the conservation of fodder.

“The overwhelming message that I want to get across to farmers is that we acknowledge that there is a really difficult situation on the ground arising from the fodder – that is adding to the difficulty that was already there in the spring.

Our entire endeavour now is to close the gap in the fodder provision for the winter that we have identified what the scale of that is and we are taking all of the appropriate steps.

When asked about calls from farm organisations to incentivise tillage farmers to immediately grow catch crops which would grow late into the autumn to help with feed options, the minister said he encourages this option also.

“I met with the leaders of tillage farmers earlier this week; I appreciate that there is a significant quantum of land that could be available to add additional fodder into the winter; we are looking at how farmers might be encouraged to add.

“There is a market demand out there for that crop now and I’ve met with the tillage farmers to encourage them in that region,” he said.

The other side

He thanked all of the stakeholders – including the farm organisations for their constructive work within the stakeholder groups.

There is no silver bullet here; there is no single action that will resolve this issue. But, I think collaboratively we will address this issue and come out the other side.

“We have taken a number of initiatives and we have delivered in terms of prompt payments; we have secured approval from the EU for that.

“We have seen the stakeholder group deliver in terms of, for example, the Dairygold and Glanbia co-ops’ financial products – zero-interest credit facilities etc.

“We have Teagasc out on the ground as a consequence delivering advice to individual farmers so it is not a ‘wait and see’ problem – it is an evolving situation and we are committed to working with all of the stakeholders to ensure that we come out the other side.

No shortcuts

He emphasised that there is strong governmental recognition of the difficulty. He also stressed that safety must remain paramount in the minds of farmers.

The most important message to farmers is their first and primary responsibility is a duty of care to themselves.

“This has been an extremely difficult year; I acknowledge that. There is help out there, there is professional help from advisors, there is department help through Teagasc. I would encourage farmers to seek that help because I do acknowledge that this is an extremely stressful situation,” the minister concluded.