Many farmers struggling in fodder crisis aided others in need
Many farmers now struggling with the fodder crisis had freely given away their fodder months earlier to help others, said a leading livestock farmer.
It was "bucketing rain" yesterday on the hilly farm owned by Angus Woods as he spoke of the plight of farmers trying to cope with dwindling fodder stores as April continues with "non-existent grass growth".
Woods, who tends cattle and sheep on his farm outside Wicklow town, is chairman of the national livestock committee of the Irish Farmers' Association. He said farmers continue to help each other.
"Earlier in the year, a huge proportion of IFA members donated fodder free of charge to farmers in difficulty in the western counties.
"Ironically enough, a lot of those farmers who donated free are now short of fodder themselves because they never envisaged ending up in April without any grass," he said.
"Our colleagues in counties like Leitrim and Sligo and Mayo and Galway were highlighting this fodder problem for months on end and the Department of Agriculture was ignoring them.
"They told farmers they had nothing to worry about. But it's all come home to roost now," he said. He called on the department and on Agriculture Minister Michael Creed to become "a lot more proactive" to help farmers.
In November, the Sunday Independent published the comments of Co Leitrim farmer Desmond McHugh, who warned then that a future fodder crisis was looming.
Mr McHugh, who also operates a Met Eireann climatology station near his home, said farmers feared becoming the first victims of climate change. He cited recent deluges had shown a disparity of weather conditions, with conditions getting wetter as you move from east to west.
He warned then of an "accumulative impact" as the land takes a longer time to recover from huge amounts of rain.
Meanwhile, IFA president Joe Healy said Minister Creed must implement further measures to support farmers immediately.
He said the fodder import scheme announced by Minister Creed must be open to all co-ops, licensed merchants and livestock marts.
"The scheme must be inclusive of outlets who serve all farming sectors and all the regions of the country," he said.
"The minister's attempt to resuscitate his national transport scheme, by reducing the minimum distance fodder has to travel from 100km to 50km before it will be eligible for a subsidy, will not work.
"He should stop tinkering with restrictions and make the scheme a straightforward subsidy to all farmers in need of fodder.
"While it is welcome that fodder is now coming into the country, easing the supply issue, some farmers have already spent huge amounts on fodder and will not have sufficient resources to purchase the imported fodder," he said.
He repeated his call on the minister to suspend all on-farm inspections while the crisis is ongoing and to fast-track outstanding payments and remove any impediments either nationally or at EU level.
He said farmers are awaiting the final instalment of payments under GLAS and the Sheep Welfare Scheme worth €30m. Releasing this funding would provide a badly-needed cash injection on farms at this difficult time.