Time to wake up to fodder crisis

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The recent rains have come too late to head-off a fodder crisis that will, almost certainly, engulf many parts of Northern Ireland over the coming winter months. A combination of the ‘Beast from the East’, the dry spring and the drought of June and July have seen to that. And let’s not forget that many livestock farmers came out of the last feeding season with silage and other forage stocks at perilously low levels.

All of this will, no doubt, bring pressure on the various authorities, including the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), to push for some form of fodder aid scheme. Tactically, this may well require approaches being made to the European Commission in Brussels.

If such developments do unfold, it will be the second year for such issues to dominate the local agri political landscape. Last year’s chaos was caused by the constant rain which fell throughout the summer months. In the response to all of this that was elicited by the Irish government in 2018, monies were made available to compensate for the cost of moving silage and other forages from one part of the country to the other.

This time, however, I feel that a different approach to the challenge should be taken. Compound feeds are much more concentrated and balanced forms of nutrition than is the case with silage. Moreover, many smaller livestock farmers are not equipped to deal with the haulage and feeding out associated large silage bales, or even bought-in clamp silage for that matter.

However, it is quite a straightforward matter for producers to eke out their own fodder supplies with the use of much higher quality concentrate feeds. The practicalities of making this happen involve the issuing of ‘meal vouchers’ to those farmers with a proven need.

And there is a proven track record of this policy option working. In the recent past, the Irish government has taken this approach on behalf of sheep farmers. So, I see no reason why this tactic cannot be employed within the livestock sectors, across the board, over the coming months.

Meanwhile, it’s up to the authorities, again including DAERA, to get on with the job of assessing how big the fodder deficit will be on farms during the 2018/19 winter feeding season.