ACTION rather than a review is needed to deal with the immediate effects of the fodder crisis, West Cork farmer and Cork County Council member, John O’Sullivan, told a Council meeting this week.
The Fine Gael councillor welcomed the fact that Teagasc is carrying out a survey of available fodder, and will be conducting fodder clinics throughout the country, but he called on the Department of Agriculture and the farming co-operatives to do something now – such as provide ‘at cost’ rations to farmers who are under pressure.
Subsequently, on Wednesday, the Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed TD announced that ‘an immediate review of the supply situation’ would be carried out.
The review follows a meeting of department officials with Teagasc and the main co-operatives following what was described as ‘a difficult weekend.’
The minister acknowledged that the ‘significant rainfall over the weekend had created additional challenges for Irish farmers dealing with what has already been a difficult spring.’
He confirmed that officials from his department, in conjunction with Teagasc, have been actively monitoring the availability of fodder supplies for purchase by farmers; and he called on farmers who still have supplies, to continue to make these available to neighbours through local groups, the co-operatives and Teagasc. He also said his department would consider importing fodder ‘should it be required.’
Then, on Thursday, the Minister announced that he had allocated €1.5 million towards the introduction of a Fodder Import Support measure.
Cllr O’Sullivan told the meeting that he believes more needs to be done to tackle the crisis in the short-term.
‘In the last days of spring,’ he said, ‘we are still in winter and feeding is getting very scarce. The ground conditions outside are very wet and, when farmers do let cattle out, they are doing a lot of damage to the ground.’
Putting a cost value on the crisis, he said: ‘The cost to an average farmer is an extra €1,000 a week for the last five or six weeks.’
With the cattle inside since last September, he said: ‘they have had to be inside because we have had a six-month winter.
‘The advisory service used to advise us that 90 days silage was adequate, but we have now gone to 180 days, and it probably needs much more, so it is at least 100% worse.’
While West Cork might not be the worst-affected area, Cllr O’Sullivan predicted that next year’s feed is at risk because the ground is being damaged.
‘It is a very serious scenario. We are certainly going to have to consider what we will do for next year. The number of cattle will have to be reduced because the amount of silage won’t be there.’
Cllr Danny Collins (Ind) said the hardship on the animals is causing mental health issues for members of the farming community because there are cattle dying in the fields, or crying out in desperation for food.
Cllr Mary Hegarty (FG) said: ‘The farming community is the backbone of West Cork. They support local shops, business and local jobs, so now we should support them.’
The councillors agreed to write to the minister urging immediate action, but Deputy Michael Collins (Ind) has described as ‘inadequate’ the Department of Agriculture’s attempts to deal with the crisis to date.
Deputy Collins has called for an aid package for farmers to help purchase fodder and he has also asked the minister for agriculture to liaise with the Health Service Executive to provide a support system for farmers who might be suffering from psychological stress.
Meanwhile, the AIB has urged farmers who may need cash flow support as a consequence of the weather to contact their local branch.