By Terri Leonard
THE Department of Agriculture has said fodder shortages are being “positively managed” by farmers through a combination of measures after it was criticised for its response to the developing situation.
It confirmed that by taking action such as buying in fodder and employing targeted destocking, there appears to be at this stage “sufficient supplies of fodder to address foreseeable demand.”
DAERA made the comments after facing criticism from Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann who urged the department to “step up” its response after accusing it of doing “too little too late”.
The MLA said: “Whilst I welcome the upcoming CAFRE meetings, for some it’s too little too late. The department should have been more proactive in assessing just how severe the fodder shortage is in the worst affected areas, and identifying any surplus fodder in other parts of the country which they could assist with being distributed.
“I have been warning since August that there was a danger of a fodder crisis. Whilst there was a short break in the weather two weeks ago, which led to possibly the single greatest number of round bales made in a single day in Northern Ireland’s history, the problem remains severe.
“Already politicians in the Republic of Ireland have been very clear that their government will simply not allow the situation to deteriorate to such an extent that there is a welfare issue to their animals. In reality that means they won’t sit idly by if farms literally run out of fodder and don’t have the immediate resources to bring more in.
“Unfortunately, no such commitments have been here, and in the ongoing absence of a local Executive it’s unlikely it ever will.”
Mr Swann said rising prices in the Republic are beginning to have an impact in Northern Ireland.
He said: “I’m aware of 4×4 bales of hay selling for €50 in the Republic, and people would be hard-pressed to find any sort of round bale of silage for less than €40. Straw is even harder to find. Unfortunately, these prices are spilling across over the border so fodder here is becoming just as hard to find. Even in my own constituency of North Antrim the prices which fodder is selling at is unprecedented.
“Many farms, especially in the North and West of Northern Ireland, have been housing cattle for months now. As a result, many are well through their first cuts of silage already.
“The one blessing over recent weeks is that the trade for beef cattle has been strong so many farmers have been able to offload surplus stock without taking a hit on price.
“But prices mightn’t remain as strong in the coming weeks. Whilst I would encourage farmers in affected areas to attend the CAFRE meetings, I would urge DAERA to step-up and look at how other neighbouring regions are responding to what could be the worst winter fodder crisis in many years.”
In response, a spokesperson for DAERA told FarmWeek: “DAERA has been closely monitoring the impact of persistent wet weather on farm businesses during August, September and October, which caused substantial disruption to silage harvesting (leading to reduced fodder stocks), slurry spreading, the harvesting of arable crops (particularly potatoes) and sowing of winter cereals and necessitated the earlier housing of cattle.
“Whilst these difficulties have been faced by farmers across Northern Ireland, the West and North West regions have been worst affected.
“However, fodder shortages are currently being positively managed by affected farmers through a combination of measures designed to reduce the risk of later difficulties during the winter housing period.
“These actions include targeted destocking, the tailoring of livestock rations to extend available fodder stocks and the purchase of fodder (silage, forage maize, fodder beet, straw and hay) locally and from the South of Ireland and Great Britain. Given these actions, there would appear at this stage to be sufficient supplies of fodder to address foreseeable demand.”
Outlining measures taken by the department to assist those in need, the spokesperson continued: “To assist farmers and growers, CAFRE has been providing knowledge transfer support and practical advice through a programme of technical press articles over the past several weeks, as well as on-line Fodder and Relative Feed Value Calculator resources.
“Three Winter Farm Management workshop events are being held on 20th, 23rd and 28th November at Omagh, Enniskillen and Coleraine respectively to help farmers take early action. Similar work is also being progressed through the Business Development Groups Scheme.
“It is, of course, recognised that this will be a difficult winter. Therefore, DAERA will continue to monitor closely the position of farm businesses and review the department’s practical support provision as necessary.”