Weather conditions for much of last autumn were challenging for farmers in some parts of the west and the north west, in particular. Difficulties in harvesting fodder in some of these areas were compounded by the need to house livestock earlier than usual, resulting in additional pressure on fodder supplies over the course of the winter. To immediately address this issue I prioritised the payment of farm supports to assist farmers with cash flow. The European Commission agreed to this request, informed in part by the poor weather conditions of last autumn, for an advance payment of the 2017 basic payment measure and agri-environmental measures. These payments commenced at the earliest date possible - 15 October 2017 - and balancing payments issued in early December 2017. These payments, together with those issued under the areas of natural constraints measure, injected more than €1.4 billion into the rural economy by the end of last year and are providing a very welcome boost for farm families and will help to finance additional fodder purchase, where necessary.
At this time I also requested Teagasc, through its farm advisory service, to identify farmers who would be most at risk of running out of fodder and provide them with support to carry out fodder budgeting on their farms and explore all viable options to ensure they had sufficient feed for the winter months.
In order to provide additional assistance for those livestock farmers severely affected by ongoing fodder shortages, mainly in parts of the west and north west, I introduced a targeted fodder transport support measure, operated through the co-operative structure, to partly offset the cost of transporting fodder between those areas where it was available and those where it was scarce. This measure applies only to fodder purchased in the period from 29 January to 20 April 2018.
While the areas identified by Teagasc as being the most affected are predominantly located in parts of the west and the north west, the measure is not county specific within the region. Teagasc is also monitoring the fodder situation in adjoining areas and will carry out further assessments, if necessary. Like all measures, certain criteria apply. Farmers in a locality within the region identified by Teagasc as having a significant fodder shortage, having completed a fodder budgeting exercise with their Teagasc adviser, will be eligible to receive a financial contribution towards the cost of transport of fodder sourced through the co-operative system. Only the shortfall in fodder will be eligible to receive support under the measure.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House.
Teagasc assessment of whether there are significant forage shortages in specific areas is ongoing. It is important to emphasise that this is a targeted and locally focused measure, centred on areas of fodder scarcity that normal local trading in fodder cannot service. The measure will provide a financial contribution of €8 per standard bale of hay or straw for feeding and €12 per standard bale of silage or haylage towards the additional cost of transporting the fodder from the east and the south of the country to the affected areas of the west and the north west. Farmers will still pay the cost of the fodder in the normal way. To ensure normal local trade in fodder is not disrupted, a minimum transport distance of 100 km will apply.
Financial assistance under the fodder transport support measure is payable in accordance with Commission Regulation (EU) No 1408/2013 on de minimis aid in the agricultural production sector. No applications for support under the measure were received up to last Friday, 9 February. Processing and verification of applications for support will be carried out in a timely fashion.
Full details of the operation of the measure, including application forms and Department contact details, are available on my Department’s website.