Irish livestock farmers usually purchase enough hay or silage to last them until the spring when the grass begins to grow and animals feed on that instead. However, prolonged bad weather has left waterlogged fields, hindering grass growth, resulting in a forage crisis in the country, and animals being kept indoors.
Farmers have been calling for support since November last year.
The Irish Government acted last week, announcing a fodder import scheme and pledging €1.5m to help meet the costs of importing such animal feed. Hay and silage is being sourced from other EU countries to alleviate the crisis; the scheme is being operated through a number of dairy co-ops.
The Government said it expects the financial contribution it has allocated under the measure will reduce the cost to farmers of imported fodder by approximately one third. “The initial allocation will support the importation of up to 20,000 tons of fodder into the country and this will be kept under ongoing review until the current crises is over.”
IFA president, Joe Healy, said the scheme should be a straightforward subsidy to all farmers in need of fodder, but more needs to be done.
“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 asked the Minister to suspend on-farm inspections temporarily.
Healy also stressed to co-ops and processors the importance of supporting farmers through this difficult period and to avoid any cut in product prices, as such a move now would have a huge impact on farm incomes and farmer morale.
Glanbia is one of many Irish processors rolling out fodder support aid.
It said it has arranged for the import of 1,000 tons of alfalfa from Spain to help with feed shortages.
It also announced a support payment of €50 per ton on all ruminant feed and sugar beet pulp purchased by Glanbia Ireland members during the month of April, in an effort to stretch silage supplies.
Last week saw Irish co-op, Dairygold, confirm that it had organised for the import of over 2,500 tons of haylage and hay from the UK to help alleviate the tightening supply situation for its members.
Irish state agency Teagasc, which is responsible for research, advisory and training services to the agriculture industry, has launched a national helpline to assist farmers affected by fodder shortages.
Teagasc has set up a Forage Register in an effort to help combat the fodder shortages. The register is aimed at helping farmers who have run out of silage and other fodder to source supplies from those with a surplus.
The register was one of the key actions to emerge from a meeting of Irish dairy industry stakeholders at the end of March to discuss the weather related difficulties and feed on farms. Representatives from Teagasc, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), and the major dairy co-operatives were involved in the discussions.
Speaking after the meeting, Dermot McCarthy, head of the Teagasc advisory service said: “Given the late spring and slow grass growth rates it will be essential for many farmers to budget feed to meet the minimum roughage requirement of stock for the next three to four weeks. To achieve this, it is important to act now and complete a feed budget that will indicate how much silage can be fed on a daily basis to stock to stretch the feed and how the balance of requirements can be met from grass and supplements. On balance, most people need to be feeding more meals to fill the gap.”
The Irish dairy sector last experienced a fodder crisis five years ago - in April 2013.