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Sunday 16 December 2018

IFA boss in Wexford says the county is the worst hit by drought

Cattle eating silage on Hook Head during the recent good weather
Cattle eating silage on Hook Head during the recent good weather
Reporter Pádraig Byrne talking to IFA national president Joe Healey during his Wexford visit

Pádraig Byrne

While we have seen some rainfall over the past week, it's only a drop in the ocean compared to what farmers need to see themselves through some of the most difficult weather conditions in recent memory.

Having battled through a long, wet and snow-filled winter, farmers only had around a month of normal weather this year before they were faced with drought conditions.

With many already using winter's feed, a major crisis is pending and it was against this backdrop that IFA national president Joe Healy arrived in Enniscorthy last Thursday to meet with farmers and see if there's any more the association can do to help.

"The South East and Wexford are without doubt among the worst areas hit," told the Wexford People.

"The whole country was bad, but in the West and North West, we've seen adequate amounts of rain for the past fortnight. Wexford hasn't had that yet. Farmers had hoped to replenish yards with stock following a long difficult winter. But most farmers have fed out their first cut of silage and are now grazing the second."

Mr Healy said that the IFA was lobbying hard for farmers and proposed that the government take urgent action on things such as the delivery of low-cost loans, flexibility in relation to fertiliser and slurry and providing incentives for tillage farmers to grow fodder crops on harvested lands. Mr Healy is also calling on the Minister for Agriculture to immediately reactivate the fodder import scheme which was available earlier this year and outline what steps are being taken to alleviate the crisis.

Local farmers with IFA national president Joe Healey and Wexford IFA chairman James Kehoe in Ballymurn last Thursday
Local farmers with IFA national president Joe Healey and Wexford IFA chairman James Kehoe in Ballymurn last Thursday

"As a matter of urgency, Minister Creed must now clarify what exact measures he has sought and is seeking from Brussels,' he said. 'It is reported today that no formal request has been submitted by the minister for a number of derogations that are needed under the GLAS scheme to help farmers to save more fodder before the winter."

As farmers entered the hall at the IFA centre, many of them tried to remain upbeat, despite being very firmly pinned to their collars. One farmer spoke of having to spend an extra €3,400 per week in comparison to last year to keep 150 cows fed. Many farmers have accused processors and suppliers of profiteering and taking advantage of the dire straights that farmers are in.

"There's definite profiteering going on by the factories," one local farmer said. "€160 a head is gone off the price of cattle in the last six week period. The factories are profiteering in areas worst hit by the drought. This is what's having the biggest impact."

While there had been some grumbling from certain areas over the IFA's engagement with this issue, Mr Healy says that it's something they are looking at.

"We are calling on the processors not to take advantage of an unprecedented situation," he said.

"It has been an issue and factories have dropped the price of cattle over the last six weeks, knowing that farmers are trying to unload stock. I would urge that factories would be responsible in this situation. Similarly I would urge a maximum payout for dairy farmers and we've met with vegetable retailers in recent weeks and they've committed to an increase in prices."

South Leinster regional chairman Tom Short, national development officer Joe Brody, Wexford IFA vice-chairperson Edel Gahan, national president Joe Healey, Wexford chairman James Kehoe and director
general Damien McDonald
South Leinster regional chairman Tom Short, national development officer Joe Brody, Wexford IFA vice-chairperson Edel Gahan, national president Joe Healey, Wexford chairman James Kehoe and director general Damien McDonald

The county IFA chairman said that farmers right across Wexford are in dire straits.

"Wexford in my opinion is the worst in the country at the moment," he said.

"We are a very active county and provide 10% of the total agricultural output for the country. This has been unprecedented weather. I know that silage stocks on certain farms are well below 50%. We're calling for the government to take a number of small measures that will have a big impact. Really at the moment, we're depending on a really good back end to the year and high growth, but unfortunately we're at the mercy of the weather."

South Leinster IFA chairman Tom Short agreed that Wexford farmers were facing an incredibly difficult situation.

"I look after eight counties and Wexford is probably the worst hit, south Wexford in particular," he said.

"Some colour is beginning to come back with the little bit of rainfall in recent days, but it would take two or three weeks of rainfall to see any significant growth. Glanbia at the moment are estimating that the country is about 3milion bales short of where we need to be. The government needs to get pro-active and do what needs to be done. Small measures, such as extending the dates for the spreading of fertiliser, could make a huge difference. We need to see action now before it's too late."

Meanwhile, farmers across the county are left looking to the skies. They are being forced to spend out excessive amounts of money on feed and are simply hoping for the best.

"There will be a mass exodus out of farming, make no mistake about it," one under pressure farmer said.

"Lads are still trying to buy fodder, but it cannot be bought at any price. The cost of feed is astronomical. People are spending thousands more than usual every week just to keep things going. Something has to give."

Wexford People

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