IFA National Rural Development Chairperson and cattle and sheep farmer John Curran from Fordstown is still feeding silage to his cattle, which he has been unable to let out to grass due to the wet weather.

Fodder transport measure announced as farmers face "absolute nightmare"

As water-logged fields continue to cause huge problems for farmers, a scheme to pay for the transport of fodder to farmers in need was announced this week by the Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue.

The measure was announced during a meeting of the National Fodder and Food Security Committee on Tuesday. It will cover the cost of transporting fodder over distances above 75km and will operate through co-ops allowing supplies to be moved from areas where there excess to areas experiencing shortages.

The unprecedented wet weather has been causing huge stress for farmers across the country who have had to keep livestock inside far longer than usual due to sodden fields following persistent rain.

Tillage farmers have been unable to get into fields to plough or sow crops with planting well behind schedule.

By April, cattle would usually be out grazing but the adverse weather conditions mean most farmers have been continuing to feed silage and fodder inside while others who have no slurry storage left have been forced to let them out regardless of the damage it is doing to the ground.

Meath IFA Chairman Dermot Ward said it is a very stressful time for farmers and they have huge concern for the mental health of farmers and their families.

To help those who are running low on fodder, he said Meath IFA has set up a helpline so that farmers in need of fodder can be connected with farmers who have a surplus. He added that farmers are being very generous and are charging the going rate and are helping each other out in whatever way they can.

John Curran is an organic sheep and suckler farmer in Fordstown and is also the IFA National Rural Development Chairperson. He said normally all livestock would be out in the fields by now and farmers are getting a big of a break after the springtime lambing and calving but they are still inside and have been since last October.

He said: “Cattle were in a month early and they are still in, a month later than usual. Farmers have budgeted feed for five or six months and are now running into their seventh month.” He said feed is very scarce for farmers and what is left is poor quality.

“Slurry storage is full as farmers couldn't get out with slurry and farmers are letting smaller animals out to relieve the pressure even though the fields are not suitable.

“Lambs are struggling outside as there is no place dry to lie and sheep are being fed rations twice a day to keep them right when usually they would be on grass only.

“The general mood among farmers is that they are fed up and drained and there is no light at the end of the tunnel or promise of anything better for the next week to ten days either,” he said.

The planting season is usually well underway by now but prolonged spells of persistent rain mean farmers are weeks behind schedule and if the weather doesn't soon pick up, a shortage of potatoes is predicted as potato farmers struggle to harvest crops that should have been done months ago and can't get into the fields to plant new crops.

Stephen McCormack (below), of McCormack’s Family Farms in Kiltale who produce salad leaves and herbs described the weather as an “absolute nightmare”.

“We are already a good three weeks behind. Land is absolutely saturated. Regardless of what type of soil it is, whether it is heavy, sandy, stony, peaty, they are all saturated. Even though we are seeing a little bit of drying some days, it rains at night and we are back to square one again.”

He told how some of their fields are flooded and they have been going in with small track machines to dig trenches to free the water-something they would do during the winter months, not in April.

Looking at the weather forecast, he said it was “very worrying” with no change on the horizon.

“If it doesn't dry up some way by the middle of April it is going to be a very serious situation for all farmers, not just what we do. There are very few cows out on grass and if they are out in the day, they are in at night.

“We are behind, the potato man is behind. None of the early potatoes that you see planted in the south east have been done yet. Spring wheat isn't sowed yet. The land isn’t dry enough to even plough it. I really don't know where this is going to end or where it is going to improve so we can get on with what we should be doing at this time of year.

McCormacks would have their own product on shelves in May but this year they are looking at June. Stephen said even if the weather comes good, the ground will need a week to 10 days of good weather to be able to plough it or get planting.

“Normally we have 40-50 hectares sowed at this stage but we have nothing in the ground. We got three hectares ploughed three weeks ago but haven't been able to do anything since. I have half a million plants between herbs and lettuce coming next week for planting. If I can't plant them within 7-10 days of arriving here. I am going to be dumping them.”

Thomas McKeon is a tillage farmer from Castletown and said a big issue at the moment is trying to get out with fertiliser and spray on winter crops as they can't travel on the ground. “If you go out on land now, it will leave it in a mess and you will run into trouble at harvest time with machinery.”

“We would usually have our corn in by now and be starting our potatoes. For the foreseeable, the forecast is not good, there's no sign of it picking up. If weather came good, it still wouldn't be fit to plough for a week. Its starting to get late and this affects yield. There's an optimum time for putting it in and we are at that time now and there is no sign of any change in the weather.”

Meanwhile, Minister for Agriculture, Charlie McConalogue has asked the department to pause farm inspections not specifically required to support payments until 22nd April and has also asked Teagasc to establish a system for co-ordinating advisory supports to help farmers maximise existing fodder stocks and provide a basis for those with surpluses to engage with those who are struggling.

“I also met recently with the main banks and my department is continuing to engage with them. I have impressed upon them the need to show forbearance with farmers where cashflow issues are emerging in response to current difficulties. I also asked them to ensure access to short term finance and overdraft facilities where needed to deal with the pressure arising from the current exceptional weather conditions.”

Meanwhile, IFA Meath Farm Business Chair Fergal Hennessy has said that with the continuing adverse weather conditions, banks and credit unions must make immediate support available to help farmers.

“Farmers are under intense pressure due to the continued challenging weather conditions, with cattle housed much longer than planned, vegetable crops unable to be harvested and tillage crops unable to be sown, cash flow issues are building on farms.

“We are in constant contact with both the Credit Unions and the banks on this issue and the response we are receiving is positive, with a message to come and talk to providers of credit to see how they can assist farmers through this period,” he said.

“While this message is positive, the problem now is one of time. Where farmers have a requirement for fodder and have cash flow pressures, they need immediate access to cash. Credit Unions and especially banks must look at putting solutions in place for same day decisions on lending applications during this period. Waiting for days or weeks for a decision is not good enough if fodder needs to be purchased now for animals,” he concluded.