Kerry farmers count cost of fodder crisis
A STATE of emergency hit the county's farmers in April as cold weather stunted grass growth, resulting in cattle starving and farmers struggling under crippling costs to get imported fodder for their animals.
The spring of 2013 was one of the coldest in living memory, resulting in a crisis for farmers across the county and entire country.
From April through to the end of May, farmers were unable to get their cattle onto land that was utterly devoid of growth. Reports of entire herds going hungry had become commonplace by the end of April - at a time when cattle would ordinarily have been on the land by a number of weeks.
Agencies in the agricultural sector, from Kerry Group to the IFA and local marts began importing fodder from as far as the UK and even France in a desperate bid to keep herds alive with even the best-prepared of farmers running out of fodder stocks by May.
"My God Almighty, but we've never seen it as bad and it is costing farmers a fortune buying feed, twice as much as what we would be paying usually. It's at breaking point now for many farmers in the worst fodder crisis we've ever seen," Lispole farmer Denis Galvin told The Kerryman in April.
IFA Chairman Sean Brosnan spelt it out just as clearly that same week: "We have to get cattle onto the land now as there's just no feed anymore...but there's little or no growth...we've had fodder crises before but this is the worst ever," Mr Brosnan said.
The State struggled to respond to the crisis, which intensified as May brought no respite. By the end of the month, herds were only alive thanks to emergency rations from outside of the country. It was all down to the sustained easterlies through the period, bringing a wind-chill factor that was simply not reflected in Met Eireann reports of the time - as wind chill is not recorded by thermometers.
The sight of farmers queuing for hours at delivery points was common across the county. In one incredible event that said it all about the fear and desperation, over 1,000 people turned out at a 24-hour prayer vigil over the crisis in Rathmore Parish Church. It was also reported that farmers had fought among each other at a number of Kerry delivery points in the mad scramble for fodder.
Lixnaw farmer John King told The Kerryman at the end of May that he had only kept his herd alive through feed he sourced through his brother-in-law in Kilkenny.
"The biggest issue for us is the total uncertainty we're faced with in getting enough fodder...I've never seen anything remotely like it," Mr King said.
If 2014 brings a similarly late start to growth on the land, it is feared many farmers might lose herds in a knock-on effect from the privations of this year's weather.