An astonishing 77% of farmers have said the Government should find a way to ensure that underused land is given over to growing fodder, when they were interviewed for this year’s Irish Examiner/ICMSA opinion poll.
Of the 524 surveyed for the poll, only about 50 disagreed with this suggested government policy.
One in three slightly agreed, but 45% (236 interviewees) strongly agreed, and 13% would neither agree nor disagree (see detailed results on page 14).
The surprise backing of farmers for this radical policy could give the government extra weapons in fighting fodder shortages, which are imminent in the coming winter, and were severe last winter and spring, and previously in 1986-87, 1998, and 2013.
The finding reflects the hardship many farmers have endured throughout 2018, as the pasture for their livestock failed first due to protracted winter conditions, and then due to drought — while some neighbours’ fields went under-utilised.
Between August 12 and August 26, the 524 farmers or farm dwellers were asked if they agreed or disagreed with the statement, “Government should find a way to ensure that underused land is given over to growing fodder”.
At the time, how to secure enough livestock fodder was uppermost in many farmers’ minds, with some areas not having yet received enough rain to recover from the summer drought, and some areas experiencing a secondary drought
Interviewees in the poll agreed fairly consistently across age and acreage categories with the statement.
Only 68% of the relatively small number of tillage farmers in the poll agreed, compared to 75% of dairy farmers and 79% of livestock farmers (the two categories which dominated the randomly chosen poll sample, making up 90% of the 524 respondents).
Of the 417 interviewed at the Tullamore, Cappamore, Virginia, Iverk, and Dualla agricultural shows, 76-85% agreed that the Government should find a way to ensure that underused land is given over to growing fodder.
Their support for such a policy may reflect the feelings of about 130 (24%) of those polled nationwide at seven agricultural shows, who admitted their livestock mortality increased due to the severe weather conditions in Ireland over the past 18 months.
Over a third (36%) said they actively reduced their farming intensity as a result of the bad weather. Three in five of the polled farmers (57%) said weather conditions impacted their farming intensity.
The poll finding on underused land is especially relevant in view of Agriculture Minister Michael Creed’s indication that home-grown fodder is the main requirement, along with some imported fodder, to solve the current livestock fodder problem. There are no compulsory measures to increase home-grown fodder production, but Minister Creed announced a €2.75m measure in early August to pay tillage farmers €100-155 per hectare, designed to deliver an extra 23,000 hectares of catch crops.
He has also announced relaxation of GLAS regulations for Low-input Permanent Pasture, Traditional Hay Meadows, and Environmental Management of Fallow Land, which will allow GLAS participants to produce fodder from about 270,000 additional hectares.