The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, along with Teagasc, are going to have to “wake up” to the reality of the rapidly-developing fodder crisis, according to the chairperson of the ICSMA’s Farm Business Committee, Lorcan McCabe.

Speaking following a meeting between state agencies and farm organisations yesterday (Monday, December 11), the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) representative added that the state agencies need to formally acknowledge and then act to address the situation now pressing many farms – particularly in the northern half of the country, where the fodder situation is critical.

McCabe said that if the state’s farming and wider agri-food sector is to avoid a very serious problem then actions need to be taken now, adding that delaying such actions until early 2018 will only make worse what is already obviously a major challenge.

Speaking after the meeting, McCabe said that he was concerned that there seemed to be an attitude of “keeping the head down and hoping the problem will go away”, regarding the fodder crisis now “in plain sight”.

McCabe said such an attitude could not do, noting: “As a farmer from the Cavan area, it is my firm belief – based on real first-hand knowledge – that this issue will not just go away; it will have to be dealt with at government level at some stage in the next four months.

That’s the reality and pretending anything else is futile and a waste of valuable time. The sooner we face up to this, the more manageable the problem will be.

“That’s why the ICMSA is calling on the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to put in a place a package of actions immediately to alleviate the fodder situation on farms,” McCabe said.

Fodder transport subsidy

Meanwhile, calls for a fodder transport subsidy to assist moving fodder to border and western counties have been reiterated by the chairman of the Sligo branch of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA), Gabriel Gilmartin.

In cases of extreme hardship, he believes livestock meal vouchers are necessary.

Gilmartin said: “The situation is extremely bad in border regions and the minister needs to get to grips with this immediately.

Teagasc figures have revealed that 61% of farmers are short of fodder in the Sligo/Leitrim area, while the figure rises to 67% in Donegal. However, while it may be useful for Teagasc to quantify the exact scale of the problem, this must not be allowed to delay finding solutions.

“We already know that many of our members are under pressure following an atrocious late summer and autumn and now is the time for action to ensure that livestock are properly fed,” he said.

The biggest challenge is the movement of fodder, according to Gilmartin.

“The ICSA has sourced fodder already in the southern half of the country and we are working with the Irish Grain Growers’ Association to get more. However, it is the cost of transport that is the real killer.

“We also want to see meal vouchers for those most affected, which we believe should be verified by Teagasc or other planners,” he added.

Gilmartin is also of the belief that a low-interest loan scheme needs to be introduced to assist with the crisis.

‘Placing a huge strain on farmers’

Speaking following the meeting, the Connacht regional chairman for the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) Padraic Joyce said: “These figures are very stark and the fodder shortages are placing a huge strain on farmers.

The information gathered by Teagasc requires immediate action from the minister, who must bring forward measures to help those farmers who urgently need support to avert a crisis.

He called on Teagasc to quantify the type and volume of feed and fodder required in the north-west region, and to identify if there is any surplus in the rest of the country.

The IFA is also in favour of introducing meal vouchers and a transport subsidy to alleviate the fodder problem currently facing some farmers.