Fodder support for farmers to be extended into June
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed vowed the Government's fodder support scheme will be extended into June for livestock farmers if required.
The vow came as the Cork TD rejected claims the Government had disastrously underestimated the scale of Ireland's weather-related fodder crisis.
Mr Creed insisted a Government initiative to underwrite the import of 20,000t of fodder from overseas would help alleviate the problem - and he said that, if the poor weather continues, up to 40,000 tonnes of fodder or more will 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 prices.
The scheme is operating in liaison with Irish co-ops.
Dairygold boss, Jim Woulfe, said they have contracted with Wexford-based Nolan Transport to bring 20 lorry loads of fodder into Ireland daily for the next 10 days as some of its suppliers ran out of feed.
The Cork-based co-op is bringing in 4,500 tonnes but, like other co-ops, could extend that fodder total if required.
Mr Creed rejected suggestions the Government should have moved earlier on the fodder issue.
"Implicit in that question from Fianna Fáil or others is that we should have been importing fodder much earlier," he said.
"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.
"All our interventions at all of the times since last October have been measured and appropriate.
"In October, we brought forward the date for the Single Farm Payment. We paid the maximum permitted at that time.
"In January we had the support measure for haulage and transport regionally into the north west.
"We have a measure that is appropriate to where we are at now.
"Remember what happened in 2013? In 2013 we didn't start importing fodder in November or December either.
"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.
"In 2013 it was 40,000t (of fodder imported) - it was about 2,800 truck loads.
"What we said is, from dusting down that template, we have provision made between here and the end of April. If necessary, if the weather continues and the importation continues to be necessary, we can revisit that."
Mr Creed said the feed now being imported is of exceptionally good quality.
"I think one of the most important things we have seen so far is that the quality of the fodder is top class," he said.
"It has been very good quality fodder so far and that is very important. What we have announced now is a financial package until the end of the month. At the end of the month it will be reviewed and we will continue to support the transport costs with the co-ops for as long as is necessary.
"Judging from 2013 it started on April 20 and it continued right up until the June Bank Holiday.
"If necessary we will stick with it as long as that.
"But obviously we hope that the weather will give us a break as well. The ambition is to deliver the fodder at cost - in other words what the bale is bought for in the UK, it is delivered to the farmer for that.
"The Department with the co-op are meeting the transport costs."
Mr Creed acknowledged that the long, challenging winter has been very difficult 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? This is the second time in five years we are in this situation.
"How can we build our resilience in these matters?"
However, the UK fodder deliveries came as farmers across the south were hit by another bout of disastrous weather with up to 50mm of rainfall falling in less than 24 hours across Cork, Kerry and Waterford.
Thousands of acres of farmland are now under flood waters as rivers including the Blackwater, Lee and Funcheon broke their banks in many rural areas.
Mr Creed was speaking as he met farmers in Millstreet, Co Cork today as part of the roll-out of the Govenrment's Euro 1.5m imported fodder initiative.
Fianna Fáil have accused Mr Creed of a dramatic about-turn given the Government's assurance on fodder supplies. Charlie McConalogue TD described the policy change as 'a blatant U-turn'.
The IFA warned that the fodder initiative threatened to prove a case of "too little, too late."
ICMSA President Pat McCormack said it was apparent the Government and Department of Agriculture should have responded to the looming fodder crisis far earlier.