The Minister for Agriculture has said the aim of a new silage support scheme "is to support farmers, particularly in the livestock sector, beef and sheep."

Charlie McConalogue said he is finalising the details of the funding plan, which he has brought to the Cabinet for approval.

Speaking as he arrived for the meeting, the Minister said he wants "to ensure that we grow enough grass over the course of this year, to ensure that we're secure in terms of fodder and food for next autumn and next spring."

He said it is part of the process of responding "to the challenge of there being war now on European soil for the first time in over a generation and that brings real challenges."

Mr McConalogue said livestock farmers will be able to avail of up to €1,000 under the scheme.

The scheme, worth up to €55 million, is to encourage farmers to store sufficient fodder for animals next winter.

"The proposal that we are looking at is introducing a scheme which would incentivise beef and sheep farmers to sow fodder, hay or silage and pay up to a maximum of 10 hectares at €100 per hectare," Mr McConalogue said.

"We must make really good use of the next number of months to ensure we have sufficient fodder and hay saved for next winter and next spring, to have the resilience to deal with challenges that are there from the war in Ukraine."

With ongoing prices increases in feed, fuel, fertiliser, and other agriculture inputs, beef and sheep farmers have been demanding help from the Government, with many saying the viability of their enterprises are threatened.

A recent Teagasc analysis of Irish farming found that beef and sheep sectors are facing severe losses due to production costs, with family farms suffering income declines between 13% and 25% in 2022.

The Teagasc report, which was published last month, found production costs on cattle farms are 24% to 30% up compared to 2021, with cattle prices expected to rise 12-16%.

It said sheep meat prices are forecast to rise 10%, but production costs of 30% are expected.

This year, the Minister for Agriculture has already announced €20m in supports for pig farmers, €12m to encourage farmers to till extra land and €3m to support the horticulture sector.

Irish Farmers' Association President Tim Cullinan said it was important that Minister McConalogue had come forward with the scheme, but more will be needed to cover the "sky rocketing" increase in costs of production.

"Sky rocketing input costs are putting huge pressure on farmers and we are already behind time in encouraging farmers to maximise grass growth," he said.

Mr Cullinan added: "There are real food security concerns emerging from global agencies and it's important that Irish farmers are helped and supported to produce food."

The Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association said there were reports that Minister McConalogue may exclude dairy farmers from his proposed fodder scheme.

"Such a move would send a terrible signal to family dairy farms and would completely fail to recognise the challenges facing dairy farmers this year," said ICMSA President Pat McCormack.

He said farmers will be "extremely angry" if the minister moves ahead with this decision and "the reality is that a person milking, for example 50 dairy cows, will be excluded from support while a farmer with perhaps ten cattle and an off-farm income of €500,000 will qualify".

The ICMSA is calling for all livestock and dairy farmers to be included in the payment scheme.

Macra na Feirme President John Keane said the minister's proposal was "a step in the right direction".

He added: "At current fertiliser prices this will support farmers to purchase approximately one tonne. Much more is going to be needed in order to ensure that fodder security and indeed food security for next autumn and winter."

With additional reporting by Fergal O'Brien