Lessons must be learned on fodder crisis, admits Creed
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed has admitted that "lessons" will have to be learned from the fodder crisis gripping the country, but denied it was time to "dismantle" the ambitious plans to grow the multi-billion euro agri-sector.
Mr Creed came under considerable heat as politicians accused him of being "in denial" over the extent of the forage shortages due to the extended cold wet winter.
It comes as co-ops continue to bring in thousands of tonnes of stocks of hay, haylage, maize silage and alfalfa from the UK and as far afield as Spain.
However, Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) president Joe Healy warned it was now a "financial crisis as well as a fodder crisis".
Farmers will be counting the costs for months to come as they face major bills as they move to purchase feed and fodder to see their animals over the next few weeks. Weather forecasts from Met Éireann pinpoint signs the wet spring may soon start to dry out, with less rainfall than normal expected over the next week, while temperatures are due to jump by 2C.
Labour TD for Longford-Westmeath Willie Penrose described it as the "perfect storm". He said the expansion of cows in the dairy industry following the removal of milk quotas had been matched by changes in the climate with more extreme weather events.
Mr Creed said the "need for the lessons" to be learned is very much on his mind. However, he insisted targets set by the industry and stakeholders for the expansion of the agri-sector to €19bn worth of exports under Food Wise 2025 should not be abandoned.
"We are living with the visible impact of climate change," he said, adding they would have to "insulate" the sector against unpredictable events. "We'll have to factor that in to our farming practices. I do not believe for a minute it is time to dismantle our ambitions. It is an absolute priority to make sure that in future years we conserve enough fodder to deal with whatever winters may come at us."
Mr Creed stood by the decision to only sanction a fodder import subsidy scheme in recent days, pinpointing the "horrific rains" over Easter as a game changer.
However, Fianna Fáil's Charlie McConalogue claimed the minister was "persistently in denial" and had been left scrambling to get on top of the issue.
It comes as vets report one of their busiest ever springs as they deal with diseases and injuries from cows, calves and sheep being housed for long periods, while some knackeries have reported a rise in the number of fallen animals.
Mr Creed said it was important to put the facts across as the "perception" for people listening in from the "outside is that cattle are dying on farms from malnutrition". "That is not the case." He said there were injuries on farms due to cattle being housed for long periods.
"There is no evidence to suggest at all there is any significant level of malnutrition of animals fuelling those numbers," he said, adding there was nothing to suggest there was a "calamitous increase".
He said the mortality figures reported to the Department of Agriculture for January and February were slightly lower than 2016, with March figures yet to be collected.
Politicians called for a 'meal voucher' scheme and on-farm inspections by Department of Agriculture officials to be called off. Mr Creed said they had contacted the European Commission in relation to inspections but suspending them could have an impact on releasing EU payments.