FOD­DER CRI­SIS HEATS UP AS WEATHER STAYS COLD[

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.

The Kerryman (North Kerry) - - FRONT PAGE -

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

POLITI­CIANS ARE SHOUT­ING NOW. I’VE BEEN ON ABOUT THIS SINCE AU­TUMN.

Photo by Dom­nick Walsh.

JJ Costello from Kil­moy­ley with farm feed which Neilus O’Connor of Neilus O’Connor Agri Con­trac­tor from Moy­vane col­lects for farm­ers in North Kerry.

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