‘Not too late’ to introduce a meal voucher scheme

It is not too late to introduce a meal voucher scheme for farmers facing fodder shortages, according to Fianna Fail’s agriculture spokesperson, Charlie McConalogue.

Deputy McConalogue was speaking today from the plinth of Leinster House as his party prepares to bring forward motions in the Dail and the Seanad calling for the Government to take immediate action to remedy the current fodder crisis.

He was joined by members of the party’s agriculture and rural team, including: Jackie Cahill TD; Niamh Smyth TD; and senator Paul Daly.

“Unfortunately, the Government has been caught totally cold in relation to the response on this issue,” deputy McConalogue said.

“The Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed, spent most of the winter denying that there was any problem with a fodder shortage in the country, despite the fact that Fianna Fail and the farming organisations warned him on several occasions that he needed to be prepared and that he needed to acknowledge the fact that there was a difficulty.

“He still has not responded to the very real need for support for farmers at farm level. In particular, we need to see a hardship scheme put in place for the many farmers that are finding it difficult to get by as a result of the financial strain that they are under at the moment.

Fianna Fail – for a number of months now – has been calling for a meal voucher scheme, in order to assist farmers who need support in relation to making the fodder that they have stretch.

“We have – from the commencement of the winter – indicated that a meal voucher scheme, if it had been introduced in proper time, could have ensured that fodder supplies that were in the country could have been stretched and made to last longer,” he said.

Farmers ‘struggling to afford’ feed bills

The minister’s decision not to put such a scheme in place has meant that the crisis is much more acute than it should, or that it otherwise would have been, deputy McConalogue claimed.

Continuing, he added: “It’s still not too late, because farmers at the moment are feeding concentrates and meal – and many of them actually are struggling to afford to do that.

“A meal voucher system – which would assist those who need to do that over the next two or three weeks – would be very important and we believe the minister should still do that.

€1.5 million at the moment has been allocated towards the import of fodder from abroad; we believe that shouldn’t be capped. We believe that a similar figure would actually make a massive difference to those farmers who are struggling.

“A low-interest loan scheme would also be of great assistance to the vast majority in the farming community who are under immense financial pressure at the moment.

“But, for many, a meal voucher scheme is going to be important – because they are struggling to ensure that animals are fed and to meet the financial repercussions of the crisis they find themselves in,” he added.

Meanwhile, as part of the motions being brought forward today, Fianna Fail has also called on the Government to immediately pay outstanding 2017 balancing payments for GLAS and the Sheep Welfare Scheme to ease the cash flow difficulties that farmers are facing.