County faces the fodder crisis
Tadhg Evans gets the views from around the county as Ireland gets to grips with a fodder crisis even worse than crises of recent years
To say the ongoing fodder crisis has put strain on farmers, to quote the IFA's north Kerry-based Neilus O'Connor, would be a massive understatement; that it's hit the entire country makes it especially troublesome when compared against similar crises of recent years.
O'Connor explained to The Kerryman this week that he's spoken to farmers that have had their herds indoors for some nine months due to the desperate weather that's run since last autumn. As of last Friday, some 25 farms in north Kerry were in need of fodder.
The number in the south of the county wasn't far behind. Councillor Dan McCarthy explained that Kenmare mart, which he manages, has been bringing in material since September. Last Friday evening, it received 60 bales of hay. By the time he spoke to The Kerryman, a short time later, just one bale was left in the yard. "All the politicians are shouting about it now," he said. "But I've been on about this since last autumn, that there was going to be a crisis because a lot of the farmers down this side of the country weren't able to cut the silage in July and August."
John Brassil TD summed up his own feelings on the situation by expressing his concern for farmers' mental health. Irate ICMSA President Pat McCormack said the crisis had been "completely foreseeable", describing the fodder scheme rolled out earlier this year as hopelessly inadequate.
Last week, Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed announced that €1.5million had been allocated for a fodder import support scheme, further illustrating the severity of the crisis. Kerry Group sourced 2,000 bales of hay and 1,000 bales of maize silage from the UK, brought into the county over the course of the weekend, in a bid to ease the crisis. A further 1,000 bales came in from other parts of the country over the weekend, and Frank Hayes has said another 1,000 bales will arrive from the UK in the coming days.
Others, such as JJ Costello in Kilmoyley and Michael Flahive in Ballyheigue, opted to open their silage pits to offer a helping hand to farmers in dire need of fodder. Their actions won't solve the crisis - but they've certainly played their part, as O'Connor commented:
"They've been exceptional in opening their pits and the value they offered. They didn't look for obscene prices; they were very, very fair in what they've charged. We're forever grateful for their help."
Explaining how we reached this point, IFA Kerry Chairperson Pat O'Driscoll, based in Valentia, joined his colleague O'Connor in pointing to the weather - but also to a bad tillage harvest and the nationwide element that has made this an even more problematic situation than shortages of the past.
"Since the end of July last year, we've had an awful lot of rain and people have had problems getting crops and silage on their own farms for cattle," he said. "Cows went in earlier this year, and we've had a bad spring on top of that. It's the heavier land in every part of the county that's been worst-affected.
"What has compounded the problem is there was a bad harvest of tillage as well, and there was very little straw harvested. People were short of silage already but they'd normally be able to buy straw to stretch out the supply; they haven't been able to do that this year. They have to go out now and buy silage on top of buying meal. The financial pressure is major. There is a lot of stress on fellas.
"It's a national problem. In other years it's been in parts of the country, but this year it's been all over the country. Moving fodder around has been a problem. It's been flagged and it's just got worse and worse. Now, nobody could have known the extent it was going to go to, in fairness, but it is a crisis by now. The €1.5 million announced by the government for transport subsidies is welcome, however."
One north Kerry farmer, who did not wish to be named, said "It's crazy at the moment. A lot of people talk about '12 and '13, but this is way worse because last year an awful lot of people didn't get their second cut of silage.
"Everyone is affected. I don't know what's going to happen in the next week or ten days if it doesn't clear up. If you can source feed, you're not badly off. But if you can't get it, you're in big trouble.
"I generally have the cows out the end of March, day and night, no problem at all. But with the cold and the weather this year, you can't have cows out. I know they're bringing in fodder from abroad, but you must acknowledge the amount of cattle that's in every yard around the country now...Since Christmas, I don't know have we had one altogether dry week."
With fodder rolling into the county over the weekend, Kerry Group's Frank Hayes said his group has been proactive on the issue and added that similar crises in recent years had boosted their ability to source feed.
"We had contacts, in the UK particularly, and we were able to source good-quality fodder directly. We engaged with the same suppliers in recent weeks," he said. "We [Kerry Agribusiness] have 36 stores in our network and we have identified the priority areas where the need is greatest. We're arranging the delivery of these large bales of hay through that network," he added ahead of the weekend's delivery. "We have a text service with individual suppliers, and we've also been active through this channel on this matter. That has resulted in a number of situations where we were able to connect individual suppliers who had surplus fodder to neighbours who required additional fodder.
"What's been brought into Kerry so far is to meet the immediate need, but we'll continue to analyse the situation and consult with suppliers to make sure we overcome these difficulties and act as required.
"This weekend is one measure. Kerry Group is taking care of the cost involved in sourcing and transportation. The material available will be provided at cost to milk suppliers...Beyond that, our personnel are available to meet suppliers, one-to-one, to discuss their issues," Mr Hayes added.
In offering suggestions to ease the financial burden being felt by farmers, Councillor McCarthy called for calm, pointing to a strong market for stock in encouraging farmers with surplus animals to sell: "There's no point in putting themselves under pressure over it," he said "Trying to feed big numbers? There's no point in being at it."
Mr O'Driscoll said that anyone with surplus fodder they can afford to sell should make contact with Kerry IFA at (066) 712 3279 to help farmers most in need. He also advised farmers to budget for at least three more weeks and said help is always at hand.
"There's a lot of work being done locally," he said. "Kerry Group are doing a lot of work; we've local marts doing work as well in arranging to bring loads in and minimising transport costs," he said. "Everybody is being told to budget for at least three more weeks. Teagasc are arranging clinics as well and people should go in and avail of it, get a budget, and know exactly where they are on their farm. If people are in crisis, there is help out there. You're not alone. Avail of that help."
Aside from Kerry IFA, you can contact Kerry Agribusiness at 063 35236, ICMSA at 061 314532, and Teagasc at 064 6632344 (Killarney), 068 21266 (Listowel), or 066 7125077 (Tralee). An online fodder relief exchange register is online at http://info.herdwatch.ie/fodder-relief-exchange