Fodder crisis: ‘I stand over the timeline of events 100%’

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed recently sat down with AgriLand to give an insight into the arduous fodder situation which impacted on the country in recent times.

He reflected over the actions taken by Government to negate the challenge endured by farmers over the past number of months up to recent weeks, and outlined what lessons need to be learned in the aftermath of such a troublesome spring.

Shortage

“We were tracking the situation almost since the ‘Ploughing’ last year. We responded appropriately at the given juncture and we gave advice to farms in terms of the initial fodder transport subsidy in the north-west – and that was extended to other areas and then the support for importing fodder,” the minister said.

The irony of it all was, in the context of the north-west, we had a situation in latter days where there was fodder being transported from the north-west to the south and south-west. So people have to draw their own conclusions from all that.

Minister Creed said that it has been a very difficult six months in farming; it has rained incessantly, which put some farmers under difficulty.

“We have, under the fodder import measure, imported about 18,000t of fodder. And, if you take the overall fodder requirement of the country, that is probably the equivalent of less than a day’s feed for the entire bovine population – so you’ll have to draw your conclusions as well as to whether that constitutes a national fodder crisis.”

Continuing, he said: “We moved; it was difficult for individuals in certain cases, and we assisted in every way we possibly could.

Farmers are still feeling the aftereffects of this and we will be collectively chasing our tails for the year in terms of the requirements to harvest sufficient fodder for the winter ahead.

“Obviously Teagasc will concentrate on advice to farmers and agricultural consultants to help farmers through that period.”

The minister provided a breakdown of the run-up to the support measures, outlining the Department of Agriculture’s reasoning behind its actions.

“We sat down at different stages but, in the context of the decision to import fodder, what we were looking at at that stage was our best available advice – and it’s at best a ‘guesstimate’. But we had Teagasc in the field and we had spoken to co-ops, and we said at that stage we were looking at possibly two weeks’ fodder in the country.

“We took a judgement call then that we had fodder in the country and then we took a call that it probably wasn’t a sufficient comfort zone to be able to say ‘okay, we can ride this out’.

“Although we had fodder in the country, we felt that it was appropriate to import.

I think that was the prudent thing to do, and it worked out, and those that needed it got it.

“But I mean it has been criticised in some quarters as if I said ‘today we have two weeks’ fodder’ and then later that afternoon I said ‘we are going to be importing’ – they are not mutually exclusive statements.

“And the thing that actually surprised me in the course of the subsequent days is the amount of fodder that was unearthed – particularly pit silage around the country rather than bales.

“In fact, I would suspect that we actually had more fodder in the country than we anticipated at that stage – but all that is based on a guesstimate because there is no log kept.”

Timeline of events

When asked in hindsight if he stood by the timeline of events, Minister Creed was very clear: “If we had said to Glanbia or Dairygold on St. Patrick’s Day ‘go and import’ they simply wouldn’t have done it.

And I think everybody recognises that we moved at the appropriate time. I stand over the timeline 100%.

Continuing, the minister added: “I mean, the impression is being created in some quarters that we should have been importing fodder earlier; that this was foreseeable last October.

We would be hauled – and rightly so – before public accounts and everywhere else if we had started importing last October and we got a decent spring.

“We’ve had experience in this department of dealing with that before on previous occasions, because it was the right thing to do at the right time in 2013.

On the issue in 2013, Minister Creed said: “In fact, the import of fodder started earlier; it was around the end of April and it continued right through the month of May. We started earlier and we’ve stopped now.”

Fodder concerns for next year?

When broached on concerns already over an incoming fodder shortage for next year, the minister said: “What has happened in this long winter is we have practically used up all reserves – so the challenge now is to make silage at every possible opportunity.”

Minister Creed noted that farmers should perhaps make baled silage where they wouldn’t have considered doing it before.

“I think every opportunity needs to be availed of now to maximise silage making in particular.”