Mairead McGuinness MEP and first-Vice President of the European Parliament said today (Friday) that the fodder situation on many farms in the country is extremely serious and requires detailed and urgent attention.
The drought continues to impact on many livestock farms with severe shortages being experienced and stocks of winter feed already being utilised to feed animals.
Speaking ahead of the Tullamore Show, one of the biggest gatherings of farmers in the rural calendar, which takes place this Sunday, the MEP said it is clear that some counties are more deeply impacted than others.
“I’m also very concerned about the impact this is having on farmers and their families. The extra financial costs of buying-in feed is serious, but so too is the level of stress and worry which farmers are having to deal with,” she said.
“Recent rainfall has helped somewhat but has not been sufficient to reduce drought conditions across all counties. The East and South of the country are particularly hard hit.”
She said a 25pc above normal recovery in grass growth rates will be required to make up the deficit in fodder supplies.
“Many farmers are hoping that this will happen but are also trying to plan for shortages today with no guarantee that conditions in the coming weeks will improve sufficiently.
“Such is the nature of the drought that the situation is not uniform and weather patterns from last year mean some areas are experiencing a far deeper fodder shortage and are likely to take some considerable time and effort to redress,” she said.
“The current drought comes in the aftermath of a cold and wet year last year, where growth was poor in many areas and farmers were compelled to invest extra unexpected resources to feed animals. Effectively it’s been a double whammy,” she said.
The MEP said that the Teagasc helpline is an important lifeline for farmers seeking help and support.
“Teagasc is providing important guidance to farmers on practical ways to address their fodder shortage and providing an important listening ear for farm families.
“I have received calls from women on farms who are deeply concerned about the financial circumstances they face in trying to buy-in extra feed and pay the normal household and education costs of the family.
“There is considerable mental health stress in farm households and it’s important for people to talk about the pressures they are under and to seek help.”
The MEP said it is also important that flexibility is given to farmers who are part of TAMS and Beef Genomics schemes and that urgent clarification is required from the Department of Agriculture on this issue.
“Some farmers will have to reduce numbers, but if they do so, they may face having to pay back grants under these schemes. This would be extremely unfair and unjust.
“In addition, animal feed manufacturers must also prepare for an increased demand for the winter months and plan ahead.
“This will mean extra costs for farmers and will hit incomes,” she said.
McGuinness said that extra support is also needed for a group of farmers locked up with TB who face particular challenges and are unable to sell animals because of the disease situation on their farms.
She said that recent weather patterns are forcing farmers to ask questions about how to cope and what is a sustainable production system and a debate on this issue is necessary for the medium to long term future of farming.
“However, coping with today’s problems is also needed and every effort has to be made to assist farmers in difficulty,” she said.
The MEP said the issue will be a central focus of discussion by farmers at the Tullamore Show this Sunday.