Fodder crisis spreading to dairy heartland as 'livestock and human crisis' looms

Major operators are down to their last two weeks of feed

IFA President Joe Healy
IFA President Joe Healy
Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

A forage register to connect feed buyers and sellers is being established by Teagasc as a fodder crisis looms in Munster and south Leinster.

The register will help farmers who have run out of fodder to source silage and other feed supplies from those with surplus stocks.

The move comes as farmers and feed traders report a definite tightening in fodder supplies across the east and south-east of the country.

The supply of silage, hay and straw for sale has totally dried up in Leinster and east Munster over the past 10 days, say fodder traders.

There are increasing concerns that the shutting down of fodder supplies in the east could worsen feed shortages being experienced in the west.

With poor grass growth pushing the winter-feeding period into April, there are fears that severe fodder shortages could now hit highly stocked dairy farmers across south Leinster and Munster as silage pits empty.

Many major operators have warned they have just two weeks left of sufficient fodder supplies.

"There is a serious lack of silage and hay and finance on farms," IFA President Joe Healy said. He said the crisis was a livestock and human one, as the stress on farmers was huge.

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"I don't think people realise how serious it is in many farms," he said this morning.

He said the fodder transport scheme had simply not worked as the fodder crisis has "now spread to many other parts of the country where grass growth has come to a standstill".

Farmers and those involved in the wider agri-sector maintain that supplies are quickly running out and a sustained spell of warm weather and a surge in grass growth is needed.

Teagasc's fodder register aims to stave off any short-term fodder supply difficulties that arise.

Farmers who have silage to sell are invited to ring their local Teagasc office to get it listed on the register.

Teagasc will compile a list of names, telephone numbers and details of surplus forage and will make the list available to farmers in the market for forage.

The initiative follows a meeting in Moorepark involving Teagasc, the Department of Agriculture and the major dairy co-operatives which was called to discuss the emerging fodder difficulties.

The meeting heard there was adequate forage for around two to three weeks, with some on the brink of running out and others with supplies.

It follows Agriculture Minister Michael Creed coming under pressure in the Dail over the fodder issues across the country.

Mr Creed confirmed 15 applications in total had been received for the targeted fodder transport measure. However, he said they expected farmers to hold off filing forms until they had all their fodder sourced.

Amid mounting pressure, he insisted they were continuing to engage with Teagasc and the industry while "closely monitoring" the situation.

The farming organisations have called for a meal voucher scheme to be put in place.

Dairygold confirmed the majority of suppliers have enough feed for 10 days to two weeks. The co-op's agri staff are examining all options and locations from which to source fodder.

A Dairygold spokesperson said the co-op had put in place a multi-disciplinary task team which was working with Teagasc on "collective and individual plans to help those most in need during the current fodder scarcity".

Dairygold said the co-op was not importing fodder to address localised shortages but pointed out that Dairygold's feed mill at Lombardstown, Co Cork continued to work 24/7 to meet the demands of farmers.

Dairygold confirmed that for farmers with limited feed, bulk loads of fibrous raw materials such as soya hulls are being delivered to "strategic geographic locations such as Mogeely, Castletownroche and New Inn" where members can access the materials quickly.

Further locations are also being considered.

The co-op has advised member suppliers in difficulty to contact their sales manager or milk advisors. Glanbia, whose catchment area was badly hit in the storms, held nutrition clinics and urged anyone in difficulty to contact their local representative.

The head of Teagasc's advisory service Dermot McCarthy urged farmers to budget feed to meet the minimum roughage requirement of stock for the next three to four weeks.

"It is important to act now and complete a feed budget which will indicate how much silage can be fed on a daily basis to stock to stretch the feed," Mr McCarthy said.

Teagasc's Dr Siobhan Kavanagh said nitrogen should be applied immediately to ensure maximum grass growth once temperatures begin to rise.

"Farmers need to be flexible and get stock out to graze dry ground, when possible," Ms Kavanagh advised.

Poor grass growth has exacerbated the fodder crisis by driving the market for hay, straw and silage.

Grass growth across the provinces is well below normal levels and running from 6kgsDM/ha/day in Ulster, to 7kgsDM/ha/day in Connacht, and 9kgsDM/ha/day in Munster and Leinster. Growth rates of 20-25kgs/ha/day would generally be the norm for this time of the year.

Meanwhile, a feed trader from the northwest said supplies from the east and south-east had helped "keep a lid on demand" in the area.

He said the situation could quickly deteriorate if grass growth did not significantly improve in the short-term.

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