Fodder crisis set to cost farmers more than €900m

A national drive to maximise feed output this summer is now being sought

Caitriona Murphy

The ongoing fodder crisis is set to cost farmers at least €900m, the ICMSA has claimed.

The losses stem from a 30pc rise in concentrate feed usage, combined with a 40pc increase in the cost of forage and expected falls of 5-7pc in gross output on dairy and beef farms, according to ICMSA policy adviser Paul Smyth.

Mr Smyth estimated that incomes on beef and dairy units could fall by close to 60pc this year.

High level crisis meetings involving State bodies and agri-business interests took place in Portlaoise in the last week to develop a national plan to tackle the problem, which now looks set to continue into next winter.

The meetings heard calls for a national drive to maximise fodder output on farms this summer.

In response, the Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, has announced an extension to the fodder scheme that has already subsidised nearly 2,000 loads of imported fodder.

Under the extension, fodder purchased by next Friday (May 24), and delivered the following week, will qualify for the Department's transport subsidy scheme.

Teagasc estimates dairy farmers on heavy soils are facing a 50pc shortfall in fodder supplies and are encouraging farmers to fatten and sell all cows that are not in-calf.

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The expert group also advised farmers to finish animals with concentrate meals so as to avoid 'fire sales' of cattle later this year.

In addition, they urged farmers to continue fertilising all available fodder and grazing ground, as well as buying silage, hay and alternative crops like whole-crop silage from lower stocked units and tillage farms.

A national fodder audit will also be carried out on July 1 and again on October 1 to measure the extent of the feed shortages at farm level.

While fodder imports continue to roll off ferries daily, demand for imported hay, silage, maize and straw is exceeding supply by at least four to one.

Farmers require at least 12,000t of fodder per week but supply is estimated to be only a quarter of that.

Those importing fodder have described it as a "logistical nightmare". One co-op source said his company had received only one of the 40 loads it had ordered through the IFA fodder import scheme by last Friday.

Eddie Downey, co-ordinator of the IFA import scheme, said some 3,000t of hay sourced in France was originally due to be delivered in bulk by cargo ship but the association had been forced to revert to transporting the hay by lorry on ferries.

"It is slower and, yes, it is frustrating for people on the ground," Mr Downey admitted.

"But we are doing our best and we had 1,000t landed in Ireland by Saturday evening."

Sinn Féin has called on Minister Coveney to intervene with his French counterpart to have fodder destined for Ireland moved through French ports.

"According to farming spokespersons who have contacted us, some 3,200 bales are sitting in French ports waiting to be loaded, but the French dockers are refusing to load them," said Sinn Féin's Martin Ferris.

Irish demand for hay and other forage is beginning to discommode farmers in Europe. Welsh farmers have warned that their own fodder supplies are being disrupted by the Irish fodder import subsidy scheme and the Farmers Union of Wales (FUW) has made representations to the Welsh Government seeking to stop any measures which would create more problems for their members.

The limited supplies of imported fodder are being prioritised for the west, southwest, midlands and northern counties, where farmers have been forced to rehouse cattle.

Hay from Britain, France and Holland was delivered to Manorhamilton, Monaghan, Killeshandra and Bailieboro over the weekend, through Lakeland Dairies, the ICSA and the IFA.

Despite yesterday's announcements, pressure continues to grow on Minister Coveney for a much larger crisis fund and for aid to be sought from the EU Solidarity Fund.

Irish Independent

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