The Department of Agriculture has announced an emergency telephone number for farmers who cannot feed their livestock.

The low cost number was already in use to access the Department's animal welfare fund but the decision has now been taken to publicise it more widely.

The lo-call number is 1850 21 19 90 and will be monitored until midnight, seven days a week for the duration of the crisis.

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said he has increased the number of operators who will staff the line to ensure that immediate help is available to any farmer with animals in dire need.

He also said that following a meeting with the heads of co-ops in the Department earlier today, the decision has been taken to immediately ramp up the importation of hay.

He said he anticipated lorry loads and even shipments of hay being brought into Ireland.

All agricultural inspectors have been instructed to deal sensitively with farmers during this difficult time and he said farmers will be given a couple of days notice prior to inspections.

Co-ops have also agreed to advance interest free credit to farmers to purchase fertiliser to encourage grass growth.

The minister said the €1m transport fund announced yesterday should pay for the transport of between 800 and 1,000 lorry loads of bales into Ireland.

He has asked all the banks to delay repayments from farmers until after the summer when their incomes will have improved from the proceeds of the harvest and direct payments.