Farmers didn't want any imported fodder before now: Creed
Farmers would have refused an offer to import fodder in February, Agriculture Minister Michael Creed has claimed.
Mr Creed, who faces criticism for not intervening in the crisis sooner, also rejected suggestions the Government should have moved earlier on the fodder issue.
However, farmer groups and the Opposition claimed they have been calling for a direct intervention since late last year.
They said the Government's initial attempts to address the crisis failed to prevent it spreading across the country.
Mr Creed is already under fire for a stark U-turn on fodder earlier this week.
He announced funding to import 20,000 tonnes of feed after previously saying farmers could go online and that there was "clearly an availability of fodder in the country".
Mr Creed yesterday vowed that the Government's fodder support scheme would be extended into June for livestock farmers if required.
However, he rejected suggestions he should have intervened earlier.
"If I had approached the co-ops and asked them on February 1 if we should have started importing fodder, they would have said 'no, we won't do it'," he said.
"If we had started importing at an earlier stage and we had got an early or a normal spring?
"What we have been doing all along is dealing with a dynamic situation which is changing on an almost weekly basis.
"We are working with all of the stakeholders including the co-ops, Teagasc, individual farm organisations and taking it as appropriate at any given time."
After parts of the country faced further deluges of rain, Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) president Joe Healy said some farmers would not have sufficient resources left to buy the imported fodder.
He also called on Mr Creed to suspend all on-farm inspections while the crisis is ongoing.
Fianna Fáil agriculture spokesman Charlie McConalogue said the minister should have intervened much earlier.
"The problem is the minister was in denial and did not have a suitable scheme in place to address the issue," he said.
"In February, what the minister should have done is made efforts to make sure the fodder we had was stretched as much as possible.
"This could have been done if meal vouchers had been handed out.
"I think the minister has totally mishandled the issue," he said.
Mr Creed insisted a Government initiative to underwrite the import of 20,000 tonnes of fodder from overseas would help alleviate the problem.
He added that if the poor weather continues, 40,000 tonnes of fodder or more would be imported until June if necessary.
Under the €1.5m scheme, the Government is paying for the transport of fodder from southern England into Ireland, where it is then provided to farmers at cost price.
The scheme is operating in liaison with Irish co-ops but Fianna Fáil called the establishment of the scheme a "U-turn".
Mr Creed acknowledged that the long, challenging winter has been a very difficult time for farmers.
"When we move from this very difficult period, I think all of us - all stakeholders - will have to sit down and learn the lessons from this in terms of changing weather," he said.
"This is the second time in five years we are in this situation."
Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association president Pat McCormack said Glanbia's acquisition of fodder yesterday showed the crisis had grown significantly.
"Most of Glanbia's work is done in the east of the country but it was in the west where the initial fodder fears grew," he said.
"It buying up fodder shows farmers in various parts of the country have been hit."