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Coveney urged to extend subsidy for fodder crisis

Pressure is mounting on Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney to extend his €1m transport subsidy scheme to include marts and other businesses importing fodder during the ongoing crisis.

ICOS marts chairman Michael Spellman said it made no sense for marts to be excluded from the scheme because not all farmers were members or customers of dairy co-operatives.

"Every county in Ireland has several livestock marts, many of which have taken the initiative to source fodder at a cost to themselves," Mr Spellman said.

"Farmers urgently require all available sources of fodder at this time. Good quality French hay is currently available at €110/t and some live shippers of young calves can readily access this forage for Irish farmers, but they are currently being excluded from the scheme," he maintained.

Mr Spellman was echoing a call from IFA president John Bryan to include both marts and private merchants in the transport scheme.

"There is a huge effort being made to source supplies of forage in Britain and elsewhere. The dairy co-ops have done an excellent job but they cannot reach everybody who is short of feed," said Mr Bryan. "In many areas, the livestock marts and the private merchants play a very important role in servicing farmers and we are strongly of the view that the subsidised transport scheme must be extended to cover them."

With another week of slow grass growth expected, Mr Bryan said the minister must also look at extending the fodder transport subsidy scheme closing date of this Friday by at least a fortnight.

Fleets of articulated lorries full of hay continue to arrive daily from Britain. More than 1,000t of hay have been ordered through one British co-operative in Kent. Glanbia, Dairygold, Arrabawn, Connacht Gold, Clare Marts, Acorn Group, Lakeland, Callan Co-op, Mullinahone, Tipperary Co-op and Castisland Mart are among the companies that placed orders with the Ramsak Co-operative in the past week.

While grass growth rates have improved in some areas, growth on heavy soils remains sluggish and farmers are facing at least another week of fodder shortages.

However, the crisis has prompted some unexpected acts of generosity, with farmers in west Clare receiving up to 1,000 bales of fresh grass cut from Shannon Airport's 300ac land bank over the weekend. The grass, worth up to €40,000, was donated by the airport to help farmers in the region.

But as farmers grapple with the current shortage, Teagasc has warned that the effects of the crisis could be felt into 2014 and even beyond.

A survey of Teagasc dairy discussion group farmers has forecast a 25-30pc shortfall in fodder stocks for next winter, according to dairy specialist John Donworth. He said farmers were on the back foot in terms of silage stocks for next winter because of the poor grass growth this spring and the necessity to graze silage ground.

"It's looking like the first cut of silage for most farmers will be around June 14-20. That means the second cut won't come in until around September 1," Mr Donworth said.

He predicted that the extent of next winter's fodder shortfall would depend on the second cut yields. But he said a "massive Indian summer" would be needed to make up for the poor spring.

Meanwhile, farm organisations have reiterated their call for farmers with surplus feed to release it to the market now and continue to help neighbours. The IFA has called on Minister Coveney to bring forward direct payments to help address the severe cash flow problems on farms. He added that there should also be flexibility for farmers on the stocking rates criteria for eligibility for the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme.

Irish Independent