Fodder bailout is a welfare issue after latest rain deluge
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed yesterday asked his officials to develop a fodder import scheme, and said a collaborative effort of all stakeholders is needed to support farmers without adequate feed supplies, until livestock can be turned out to graze.
Previous governments have been quicker to come to farmers’ aid in circumstances such as these, with Michael Creed last week saying he would closely monitor the situation, before taking further action, having earlier introduced a fodder transport subsidy which farmers say has too much complex bureaucracy attached, and for which only 15 applications had been received, up to last week.
Earlier last week, he reminded farmers the basic requirement for viability, whether on an expanding dairy farm or a dry stock farm in a more difficult area, is the capacity to conserve adequate winter feed for the livestock numbers on the farm, even for such a prolonged and difficult winter as this has been. This is in keeping with his responsibility, as agriculture minister, to lead the focus to improve productivity per animal, in order to reduce emissions.
With agriculture under political bombardment for years over increasing greenhouse gas emissions due to expansion of livestock numbers, there may be less political willingness to help the farmers whose livestock are being maligned as a cause of climate change, even if many of these farmers have been through hell since last autumn, trying to feed their share of the expanding cattle herd, which was at 6.7m at the end of December.
The Government has come under increasing pressure from environmentalists, to whom An Taisce added their voice last week, asking Mr Creed to take personal responsibility for reversing the upsurge in ammonia pollution, which is the latest stick for environmentalists to beat the agriculture industry with. The Environmental Protection Agency last week pub- lished figures showing that Ireland exceeded its EU emission limits for ammonia for the first time, in 2016, and showing that emissions of this gas are increasing.
The agriculture sector accounts for 99% of our ammonia emissions in Ireland, arising from our annual use of 40m tonnes of animal manures and 300,000 tonnes of nitrogen in fertilisers.
The Environmental Protection Agency announcement may have come at a bad time, just when the livestock farmers causing ammonia emissions need a bailout to rescue them from the effects of very bad weather.
Of course, ammonia is only a minor problem compared to other greenhouse gas emissions attributed to our livestock, the most important of which is methane.
But also at issue is whether farmers can reasonably be expected to cater for such a prolonged and difficult “winter”, which began last autumn for many, and will continue well into 2018.
Mr Creed said last week conditions had improved sufficiently to allow some grazing by day.
But that is no longer the case in most areas, after a week of heavy rain, up to two inches in some areas. That has deepened the emergency for many farmers, and raised animal welfare worries, not to mind farmer welfare worries.
Early this week, soil temperatures were still below the six degrees needed for grass growth in many areas. Bad weather continuing into April is especially devastating for farmers in the north and west, who couldn’t get a second cut of silage last year due to bad weather which also forced them to take cattle off the fields. Some of them are facing into a ninth month of feeding housed cattle.
It was co-ops led by Dairygold who have taken the initiative, deciding to import fodder.
It all adds up to an unprecedented situation that farmers could not be expected to handle on their own without extra Government help.
“What is at issue is if farmers could reasonably be expected to cater for such a prolonged and difficult winter, which began for many last autumn, and will 2018” continue well into