Still weeks to grass in worst hit crisis areas

Deluges of rain in 2012 on the heavy, slow-draining soils in north west Co Cork have left farmers unable to ease their fodder crisis.

“If the rain stopped tomorrow, it would still be three weeks before we would see grass,” said ex-National Dairy Council chairman, Dominic Cronin.

“The problem with the land is going back 18 months. We have tried everything, worked with Teagasc and the co-op, but there is just no getting cattle back into the fields.

“In other years, we would have been able to get fodder from the east of the country, but that is not an option this year. A hardship fund is needed now. It has gone too far, and there is a real welfare issue now.”

Co-op member Mr Cronin said the Duhallow region had 73 inches of rain in 2012, versus the normal annual average of 57ins.

“The only way out of this for farmers is to subsidise the concentrates,” said Boherbue Co-Op general manager, Declan O’Keeffe, when he met Fianna Fáil leader, Micheal Martin, and north-west Cork FF deputy, Michael Moynihan, on Monday, along with Boherbue chairman, Con MacSweeney, and 20 or so co-op suppliers.

“We purchased a number of pits of silage, and the co-op is subsidising 100% of the cost of distributing this to farmers. We have a list of 20 people looking for this silage, but we think that number will rise to 40 or 50 soon. People are panicking. Their bigger issue will be dealing with the fact that their milk output is halved, which will double their money problems,” said Mr O’Keeffe.

He said millers and grain merchants in the UK only allow seven days’ credit on animal-feed exports, adding to cash pressures caused by the fodder crisis at Irish co-ops. Boherbue is offering credit-free terms and is not charging for the silage transport costs of €15 to €25 per tonne.

At the meeting with the Fianna Fáil team, one co-op member suggested a cull fund that would allow him to kill 20 of his herd and focus on feeding the remaining 50 cattle. Others cautioned against this option. The man said his 70-cow herd was typical of Duhallow. He estimates the rainfall has cost him €21,000, based on €90 per animal over the past 70 days for extra silage and concentrates. His milk is down by half in value terms, due to lower protein content and reduced volume. He warned of an escalating risk of depression and suicide among farmers in Duhallow.

Several farmers urged the Department to release SFP, DAS and other payments. Others, however, noted that this was not a solution, because those monies were earmarked for other bills later in the year.

Farmers are not the only ones impacted by the cash and fodder crunch. Boherbue members estimate that the fodder crisis has taken €1.5m out of the local economy.

Martin said he would raise the concerns of the Duhallow farmers in a Dáil debate. Moynihan said that every day the fodder crisis continues is adding to the pressure on the local community.

These views were echoed by John Daly, whose Lisrobin, Kiskeam farm was visited by the two FF deputies. Around 100 of the 110 cows on the Daly family farm have calved to date, with ten more to follow.

Some calves have been sold, others retained as replacements.

“We’ve been very lucky with the calving,” said Daly. “I pumped rations into the cattle last October, because I was expecting bad weather. But, now, they’re inside day and night, and they are back about six litres of milk per cow, per day versus last year. They’re costing me around €200 a day in silage and rations.”

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