Hope has sprung after farm fodder crisis

Tuesday 30 April 2013 16.25
Hay has been arriving by the truckload into the country following a severe lack of fodder
Hay has been arriving by the truckload into the country following a severe lack of fodder

A weekend of fair weather has greatly lifted the spirits of farmers. It's been a long time coming and once again hope has sprung!

This past week the nation seems to have realised how bad things are and has got behind farmers to a fair degree.

 RTÉ's Joe Mag Raollaigh reports on a difficult  few weeks for farmers

A weekend of fair weather has greatly lifted the spirits of farmers. It's been a long time coming and once again hope has sprung!

This past week the nation seems to have realised how bad things are and has got behind farmers to a fair degree.

Even to see hundreds of acres of Shannon Airport grass being cut to feed cattle in west Clare, and the arrival of hay by the truckload into the country creates a positive mood.

The last three weeks have been particularly difficult for farmers and their animals.

We heard an awful lot in the farming press and from around the country about how bad things were all last year but then we had March.

It was the coldest on record and wreaked havoc on farms around the country as the last of the fodder was consumed, the cash had run out, the grass wasn't growing and there was nothing left to give to the animals. The fallout from March is still being dealt with.

Sometimes it takes a particular image or event to really crystallise what you are hearing into reality. For me that came with a visit to a knackery in Roscrea three weeks ago. There, dozens and dozens of dead animals; sheep, lambs calves and cows lay around a yard. There were so many the knackery couldn't keep up.

They were working extra hours, longer weeks, collecting fallen stock from near and far and they had been that busy for weeks. The owner said they were 100% busier than the same period last year.

The sights and sounds of that yard were not for the faint-hearted. We broadcast a warning before they were screened. The story they told was stark.

The other event that brought it home to me was the story of Declan Hurley which we featured on RTÉ News last week.

Confident, successful dairy farmer (and Cork county councillor) that he is, he told of seven of his cows dying from malnutrition and how his credit was exhausted with the bank and his local co-ops. He also told how other farmers were contacting him with similar stories. A brave man for standing up.

For weeks the farming organisations had criticised the Government for not doing enough to deal with the matter.

The IFA, ICMSA and ICSA all took a similar line; that farmers' EU payments should be brought forward, and special funds should be made available for those worst off.

All along, however, the minister seemed reticent to go down these routes. His message was for farmers to help each other out, use the best of Teagasc's advice and to talk to the banks for loans and the co-ops for credit.

That worked for a long time, until it suddenly became apparent there was no significant supply of fodder left in the country, and it had to be imported.

It resulted in the minister's three weeks' scheme to cover the cost of transporting fodder into the country which is now in full swing. More hay has been sourced and is on its way. Some payments have also been accelerated.

During the past week we also began hearing stories of farmer suicides linked to the pressure they were feeling.

It was the IFA who first commented publicly saying there had already been a few "tragedies."

A bit of digging on our part and we discovered that vets in the Department of Agriculture that visit farms had sought and received training in spotting the signs of suicide.

Armed with this information we then had to think of the implications of broadcasting it. Would it help or hinder farmers? Would it hinder vets doing their jobs? Would it create fear or would it highlight a very real and urgent problem? Was it in the public interest to broadcast? I thought so.

We discussed it editorially and decided to go ahead. What happened?

The following day the minister began to publicise the lo-call Dept of Agriculture animal welfare line, with a really strong message that no farmer has to watch his animals die of hunger. He said there was immediate emergency help available if required. That has been a huge relief for many.

The number is 1850 21 19 90.

I said at the beginning that sunshine between the showers brought some hope at the weekend that things might improve. If they don't, the beginnings of another crisis year are already upon us.