The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, has conceded that the extent of fodder shortage is likely to worsen over the next three weeks.
Responding to questions on the gravity of the “fodder crisis” on RTE Radio 1 show Morning Ireland, the minister said that if the current difficult weather conditions continue “it’s likely that in three weeks’ time we would have additional demand for fodder”.
Despite escalating pressure and concerns from farm organisations, co-ops and opposition TDs in recent months, the minister has repeatedly claimed that there is “adequate fodder” around the country and that the shortages have emerged in isolated areas.
But, with further meetings arranged with stakeholders this morning on plans to address the problem – including the possibility of importing new fodder stocks from abroad – the minister appears to be rolling back on his previous stance.
During the interview James Murphy, Kilkenny Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) county chairman and farmer, outlined the severity of the fodder crisis in many parts of the country and the stressful impact it is having on farmers and animal welfare.
“I’ve been farming for over 40 years and I’ve never seen a winter like this past one. I suppose the consistent rain meant we were feeding much earlier than usual and land is saturated and as a result fodder stocks have run dangerously low; we know we are down to just days now.
Lots of my neighbours and colleagues that I have been speaking to over the weekend are already out of fodder and it is a really, really scary place and a very stressful time for farmers.
He accused Minister Creed of “being in denial” on the issue up to this point; highlighting that the fodder crisis has been a major issue in the west and the north-west of the country for months.
“What one guy said to me, and it was difficult to listen to, was that for him the most stressful sound was a shed full of animals bawling for something to eat when they had nothing to give them. You can’t even source any anywhere; so it’s very serious at this stage and we desperately need our minister to act,” said Murphy.
Minister Creed responded saying “it’s not fair” to say he has been in denial on the issue.
“The estimate in my department last week was that we had in the region of three weeks’ fodder available.
If we didn’t get an increase in soil temperature now; it’s likely that in three weeks’ time we would have additional demand for fodder.
“What we are looking at now, based on soil temperature, grass growth, we are at about a third of grass growth now in comparison to what we were at this time last year.
“I understand the frustration of farmers who, at this time of year, normally would have cattle out on grass and particularly farmers in the south and east who would have expected a much earlier spring.
A lot of farmers would anticipate and budget for having cattle out on grass in late February; so I understand the frustration.
“But I don’t think it’s fair to say that I have been on denial on this issue because much of the fodder that James refers has previously, in the last number of weeks, moved from the south and east to, in particular, the north-west where there was an espalier campaign around fodder. And that has been moved with the assistance of the department.”
“What our assessment has been all along is that up to this point in time there has been sufficient fodder within the country and it has been a question of matching the availability with the demand and moving the fodder from one geographical area to the other.
“What certainly is on the agenda now is looking at other major options that would be necessary. We do not have control over what the weather events might be; but we have to anticipate that if they were to continue certainly looking at further rainfall in the coming days, lower soil temperatures, lower grass growth,” he said.
‘Shortage foreseeable since last August’
Last night, speaking on RTE’s Six One News, Joe Healy, president of the IFA said the fodder shortage was foreseeable from as far back as last August.
When asked why action wasn’t taken to import fodder into the country from shortly after the recent extraordinary snow events the minister said: “Because it would have been unnecessary“.
“If you go on to the online platforms at the moment that are selling fodder; clearly there is an availability of fodder in the country and it’s a question now of matching that availability of fodder in one geographical area with a shortfall in another.
What we are looking at now, and have been looking at for the last several days, is the alternative option of sourcing fodder abroad.
“It is fair to say that I am aware, arising from meetings that we have had with stakeholders, the co-operative movement and Teagasc, that they are acting in that space and what we are looking at is what is the appropriate intervention that the state needs to make to assist in that regard,” said the minister.