Opinion: Our milk glass was half-full last year, now it's half-empty
How quickly the pendulum has swung on milk price. This time last year we were seeing consistent increases and the hope was to repair the current accounts damaged by the low milk prices in 2015/2016. We were even hopeful of building the rainy day fund for future downturns.
For anyone lucky enough to create one it did not take long for the tide to turn due to the wet autumn and now an incredibly difficult spring. The efforts to care for the animals and ensure they were properly fed has led to an increased workload on every farm along with the added financial pressure associated with purchasing extra feed or supplement.
The effects have been very severe on farmers in almost every county and no doubt are leading to physical exhaustion and increased stress levels. The financial impact has yet to be seen fully because massive amounts of feed have been purchased in recent weeks and while merchants are good enough to allow their customers put it on credit so that the animals are cared for, ultimately the bills will come and with them the harsh reality of payment.
With regard to milk price there is no doubt the higher prices obtained in 2017 combined with lower grain prices led to increased output internationally. This, along with the construction of factory-sized dairy units in some countries, is increasing global production.
I found a statement from our EU Agricultural Commissioner a bit frustrating when he told us to curb our expansion plans, while the rest of the world expands at will, and also considering the big Russian market remains closed to dairy exports due to sanctions imposed by the European Union.
I also feel our Minister for Agriculture could have stepped up and acknowledged the extent of the fodder shortages far earlier, as floods washed across the north-west and Donegal from last autumn.
The really sad part of this ongoing feed crisis is that for many farmers who are now short of feed across the south and east it's because they supported the campaigns highlighted and coordinated by the IFA and supported by Teagasc to match counties and move feed to the farmers most in need earlier in the winter.
Their campaigns highlighted the shortfall very early in the winter resulting in most farmers feeding more imported grain at enormous cost all through the winter to stretch existing silage supplies thereby disguising the shortage of home-grown winter forage.