Farm Ireland

Sunday 21 April 2019

Comment: Fodder crisis is a nightmare scenario – and cost could be felt for years

Ciaran Moran on his farm in Roscommon.
Ciaran Moran on his farm in Roscommon.
Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

For us farmers, not having enough fodder to feed your stock is the stuff of nightmares.

However, it is a vista that faces many farmers this morning as they see the back wall of their silage pits edging ever closer by the day, and for some, there’s nothing left at all.

The impact such a situation can have on farmers should not be underestimated, with recent research by Teagasc showing the main cause of depression among farmers in Ireland is the unexpected death of their livestock.

However, while it hit the headlines in recent weeks, the fodder shortages have been apparent in many parts of the country for months.

On my farm in Roscommon, we were lucky to have harvested a reasonably big crop of silage last summer.

Coupled with having less stock on the farm this winter, we should have enough fodder to get us through the rest of spring.

We were also in a position to help a neighbour in December and January with some silage for his sheep, but for many that has not been the case.

The origins of the now undeniable fodder crisis that faces farmers all over the country go back to last summer.

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A combination of events occurred that none of us could have predicted or planned for.

Last year, first cut silage made in late April and early May was generally of exceptional quality, but quantity was a big issue with many farmers harvesting lighter crops.

As the summer rolled on, those cutting silage later saw quality levels drop due to bad weather.

Many farmers who usually do a second cut of silage could not, which all led to a significant reduction in the volumes of fodder harvested in 2017 to feed stock over the winter months.

It is no understatement to say that the weather this spring has not helped.

In some regions, an extremely wet period from September saw livestock housed much earlier than usual, lengthening the winter. Storm Ophelia, followed by Storm Emma, put a lot of farmers under severe and unprecedented pressure, and many with increased stocking rates struggled to cope with the situation of more cattle and less feed for them.

Now the country has been forced to import feed from the UK and Europe to alleviate the problem, at a huge cost to the farming community.

The last fodder crisis, in 2013, is estimated to have cost in the region of €500m.

The cost of this most recent crisis will be felt by many in the farming community for many months and possibly years.

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