Farm Ireland

Thursday 19 April 2018

Arctic chill pushes farmers to the brink as finances tighten

Cattle deaths up 20pc, milk proteins dive and fodder prices rise further

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Financial pressure on many farms is reaching breaking point as farmers struggle to deal with a triple whammy of fodder shortages, mounting feed bills and near Arctic weather conditions.

Heavy rain and snow and sub-zeros temperatures have forced farmers to re-house stock right across the country, while grass growth has fallen to just a fraction of normal levels.

The developing crisis has been reflected in the marts, where prices for plain store bullocks slumped by €50-100/hd in the past fortnight as cattle entries have surged but grass-starved buyers hold off purchasing, despite strong factory prices.

Cattle deaths have also increased sharply. The latest figures from the Department of Agriculture's Animal Identification and Movement System (AIMS) show a 20pc rise in cattle deaths for the first two months of the year. The latest AIMS data shows that almost 8,800 more animals died in January and February this year, compared to the same period last year.

Some 55,247 cattle died on farms in January and February 2013, compared to 46,455 in 2012. Young cattle aged between six weeks and 24 months old and older animals, mainly cows, have taken the biggest hit.

Total losses during January/February of stock aged between six weeks and 24 months rose from 9,050 animals in 2012 to 12,991 in 2013 – an increase of close to 3,900hd.

The number of animals lost aged over 48 months was also well up, going from 9,654hd in 2012 to 15,622 in 2013 – an increase of almost 6,000hd.

However, calf deaths were down. Some 21,754 calves aged up to six weeks died in January-February this year, compared to 24,097 calves in the same period last year.

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The death toll comes on top of a crippling shortage of fodder on many holdings, with farmers being forced to pay extortionate prices for scarce feed.

Silage and hay prices range from €20 to €40 per bale but the prices do not come with any guarantee of feed quality.

Feed bills have also risen sharply due to the late spring and farmers are finding it increasingly difficult to extend credit lines with co-ops and merchants.


Declan McEvoy of IFAC urged farmers to seriously consider transferring merchant debt to bank finance through term loans of three to five years.

"Merchant credit costs double bank credit and, provided the fundamentals of the business are sound, banks are willing to help farmers restructure their debt," Mr McEvoy said.

"Farmers need to be prepared with their most recent accounts, a cash flow forecast for two years and a clear idea of how much money they need to get out of trouble," he added.

A lack of finance was resulting in underfeeding on some farms, according to Heather Peppard, a nutritionist with Kilkenny merchants Bretts.

"Milk volumes are way back and milk solids have taken a nosedive, with protein levels of 2.78-2.9 compared to 3.1-3.15 last year," she said.

The nutritionist said farmers should think about liquidating stock by selling surplus heifers and cull cows where necessary.

Meanwhile, ICMSA president John Comer has called on Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney to make an application to the EU Solidarity Fund to provide financial assistance to farmers. Mr Comer said the past 10 months of rain had led to serious fodder shortages, massive feed bills and unrelenting mental stress on farmers.

"The minister must take measures to assist farmers for what is now a nationwide problem," he insisted.


Irish Independent