Midlands farmers facing fodder crisis

Thursday, 2 August 2018

AFTER enduring a very harsh and protracted winter, followed soon after by excessive drought due to record-breaking low levels of rainfall, farmers in the Midlands are now bracing themselves for a potential fodder crisis.
As the twilight of the 2018 summer begins the farming community in Offaly and North Tipperary are being advised to prepare for shortage of feed for their animals.
Fianna Fail's spokesperson for food and horticulture, Jackie Cahill, who has farmed in Tipperary all his working life, told the Tribune this week the situation facing farmers across the region as autumn approaches is very bleak.
ìI donít make this prediction lightly but the situation is stark for farmers, and I donít see anything on the horizon that will limit the risk to animals and farmers,î he said.
ìWe have been in an extended fodder crisis for nearly six months. Recent wet weather and now an extended warm weather period has both depleted current stocks and reduced the ability of farmers to save fodder for the coming winter.
Deputy Cahill suggests there are things that can be done to deal with both the immediate challenges and to prepare for the coming winter and spring period, but warned that the current supply of feed is being used up at an extraordinary rate, and if something isnít done, animals will suffer and farmers will lose their livelihoods.
Deputy Cahill said Department must incentivise tillage farmers to grow catch crops such as kale and turnips rather than planting more winter cereals. This will deliver more food for animals later in 2018.
He also recommends extending the deadlines for the spreading of chemical fertilisers and slurry to allow grass to keep growing and for farmers to keep animals out longer, as well as start importing and storing fodder from overseas to prepare for winter and spring. ìWaiting till later in the year will only see farmers paying higher prices,î he said.
Deputy Cahill was also very critical of Minister for Agriculture and wants to him to open new markets for 18 month plus beef. ìThese animals should be finished off indoors but there is a worry that there wonít be the feed needed. Minister Creed has been sleepwalking from one crisis to another in his department over the past 12 months. He seems either ignorant of the challenges or unwilling to do anything about them,î he said.
He also wants the Department to roll out the low-cost credit facilities promised by Minister Creed in Budget 2018 this year, because, he says, farmersí ìcash flow is already under severe pressure, and low-cost credit is critical to helping them survive.î
Lastly, Deputy Cahill wants the government to ensure fairness for farmers at selling point and warns factories must be monitored to ensure fair pricing for farmers. ìI have already heard of farmers being offered reduced prices for beef,î he said.
ìThere simply isnít enough feed in the country for our animals. Most farmers would be replenishing their fodder stocks for next winter, but there are burning through whatever they have just to keep their animals alive. With little to no grass growth, itís unlikely that any more fodder will be stored up.
ìWe have one chance to prepare for next winter and spring. Minister Creed must do what is needed and what is necessary to prepare for the looming emergency. Anything else will leave farmers high and dry,î Deputy Cahill said.
Tipperary's Fine Gael candidate, Garrett Ahern sent a statement to the Tribune claiming the government are taking steps to prepare for a potential feed crisis and said he has spoken personally to Minister Creed, who he said is ìalready taking steps to mitigate any issue and ensure there is no shortage of fodder in the winter months.î
Farmers have had to contend with a very wet spring before enduring drought conditions from a heatwave throughout June and July and Mr. Ahearn said the Fine Gael led Government is ìwell aware of the issues around Tipperary for people making a living from agriculture.î
ìMinister Creed formed a representative group chaired by Teagasc including stakeholders such as Co-ops, banks, farm bodies, amongst others, to coordinate advisory messages to farmers this summer around replenishing stocks that have been used up and also to manage grazing and fodder through this extended period of extraordinarily dry weather,î said.
ìThis group will meet regularly, particularly during this difficult period, until the issue of securing adequate fodder supplies for next winter has been fully addressed. The group has met on three occasions, the most recent meeting taking place on Thursday last with the Minister taking part.
ìDetailed agronomic advice is being regularly communicated to farmers by the bodies represented on the Fodder Group, including through our own social media account. Co-ops and feed compounders represented on the group have increased feed output to meet demand and the banking institution members of the group are also working closely with farmer customers on effective financial planning to see them through the current difficult spell,î he said.
Meanwhile, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (ICSA) has called for an urgent review of market support measures such as the Aids to Private Storage (APS) scheme for beef, in light of the current drought crisis.
ìDrought conditions are causing a myriad of problems for beef farmers so it is imperative that we look at all possible options to avert a crisis. APS could provide a means for getting prime cattle moving through the factories in sufficient numbers in a manner that wouldnít distort the market significantly,î a statement from the group's President, Patrick Kent said.
However, for that to happen Mr Kent said, there needs to be a ìfundamental rethink of the EU price support mechanisms in the case of extreme weather crises.î
ìThe aim of the APS scheme is to facilitate producers to store product for a stipulated period of time, with product then released back into the market at a later stage. The scheme can only kick in when the price of beef falls below 85% of an EU reference point that is set far too low and needs to be adjusted.
ìDairy reference prices are set at levels which mean that they can sometimes help the dairy sector but the beef levels are not fit for purpose.î
ìWhile the strategy of EU policy is to move towards risk management rather than price support, the reality is that farmers, particularly in vulnerable sectors like cattle and sheep, cannot sacrifice any existing direct payments to fund risk insurance. In any event, a properly functioning APS could help both dairy and beef sectors by taking out surplus cows on a short-term basis when there is surplus cattle going to factories due to a fodder crisis. This could yet end up being a welfare calamity for both farmer and animal. Essentially, we need to go back to the drawing board on a safety net for beef,î Mr Kent said.
ìWe have seen a big increase in the numbers of cows being presented for slaughter which has caused a bottleneck at meat plants. Factories are lapping up the opportunity to buy in lighter carcass dairy cows cheaply but the knock-on effects are hitting the wider beef sector hard. With the oversupply of cull cows predicted to continue indefinitely, the prime cattle trade is being undermined. This, coupled with ever increasing input costs, means there can be no doubt that a support mechanism to underpin the market in times of severe crisis is badly needed.î
Farmers in the Midlands concerned about the fodder situation can contact the Teagasc dedicated helpline to provide advice to farmers affected by the on-going drought.
Farmers can obtain direct support from Teagasc advisors on the spot. The helpline will operate daily from 9 am to 9 pm and can be reached at (087) 7971377. This helpline service and local clinics are open to all farmers, including non-Teagasc clients.


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