Saturday 19 January 2019

The fodder crisis is an emergency that needs more than a piecemeal reply

Editorial comment

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Since last October farmers across the country have been warning about a looming fodder crisis which - thanks to a combination of extreme bad weather and increased cattle stocks - threatened to be the worst seen in the country in several years.

Despite the constant and regular warnings, the Government and State agencies were slow to act and it is only in the last week that we are seeing anything like a co-ordinated response to the worsening situation.

To be fair there is only so much the State agencies can do to prepare for such a crisis. You can't, for example, stockpile fodder like the grit stores that are maintained in case of a spell of freezing weather.

However, schemes like the fodder imports support scheme announced by Agriculture Minister Michael Creed could and should have been introduced earlier.

In a bid to keep their herds alive and their farms in business many farmers have already spent huge amounts on fodder and now can't afford to buy enough of the imported fodder, even at subsidised lower prices.

All over Ireland there are hundreds of farms that are threatened with closure and many thousands of livelihoods are at stake.

Many readers will question why the State must once again intervene and bail out the farm sector - especially considering the fact that this sector already benefits from a huge array of grants and subsidies, the like of which most private businesses can only dream of.

But while it has been superseded by tourism and the technology sectors, agriculture remains a vitally important sector which is the economic backbone of many counties.

If thousands of IT jobs were on the line in Dublin we'd expect the Government to step in. In this case the same is true.

Those living in urban areas - particularly those without any rural background - might be inclined to sneer at this notion but they should take note of one important fact.

If the farming sector was allowed to go under, food would become more expensive and their wallets will be lighter.

Those who say farmers should be left to fend for themselves should ask themselves where exactly they think the food on their dinner plates last night came from.

You might be able to grow some veg in a back garden or a city allotment but try raising a Friesian cow or a few sheep in a suburb.

The Government needs to help farmers through this short term crisis but what is also needed is a detailed look at how this happened and how it can be prevented.

And it is here that the farmers can do their part. As mentioned earlier a major cause of the current situation is an increase in the size of the national herd.

This has grown by 20 per cent, to around 1.4 million animals, since 2015 - when milk quotas ended - without any matching increase in fodder production. That massive discrepancy has to be dealt with if we are to avoid further costly repeats of the current crisis.