Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Questions (12)

Martin Ferris

Question:

12. Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on the ongoing fodder crisis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21509/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

I am acutely aware of the difficulties being experienced by some farmers across the country at the moment. I recently announced that the transport fodder scheme will now run until Friday 10th May and clarified that maize silage is eligible under this scheme. The weather has improved which in turn has led to improved grass growing conditions. However, there are farmers in parts of the country who are still finding it difficult to locate enough forage for their animals.

This will ensure farmers have access to fodder for the foreseeable future and will reassure farmers that fodder supply will not be an issue until grass growth improves. While access to fodder is a priority, grass growth in the months ahead will be the key to ensuring that this problem is overcome. The latest initiatives agreed by the dairy co-ops build on the measures I have already introduced which were designed to deal with immediate challenges.

Since the scheme was announced over 900 loads of fodder have been received or ordered. I am satisfied that this volume of imports is making a real difference on farms and assisting farmers through the shortage. The extension of the scheme of a further week will build on this and ensure that further supplies are imported with the benefit of the transport subsidy. The amounts of such supplies will require notification to my Department prior to 10th May and approval for coverage under the scheme.

My Department has been working with the industry on this. I want to commend the Dairy co-ops and farm organisations for their work over the past two weeks. I am delighted that the co-ops have introduced a number of extremely helpful initiatives such as interest free credit for fertiliser purchased during the month of May and reduced prices in respect of feed supplies of meal. The Irish Dairy Board, IFA and Agri – business launched more than €3 million of extra fodder aid for farmers last week.

In parallel with the introduction of the scheme the other issues taken include requesting the banks to take a flexible approach towards extending credit to farmer customers at this difficult time. The co-ops responded already with the introduction of interest free credit to farmers for the purchase of fertiliser in the month of May, which will be a key component in addressing this year’s fodder problem.

I have asked the advisory service to prioritise advice to farmers in the period ahead and to focus on the optimum use of fertiliser in generating feed for the national herd. To assist cash flow issues, outstanding farm scheme payments are being processed with urgency. Approximately 1,500 payments under the Agriculture Environmental Options Scheme issued during the last 10 days and close to a further 600 AEOS payments will issue within the next week. Together these payments are valued at approximately €3m.

My Department’s emergency animal welfare helpline is still receiving calls from herdowners. Over 550 calls have been received to date through the system. The vast majority of calls are being adequately supported through fodder being made available under the transport subsidy scheme but a small portion of farmers, in need of more substantial support have been assisted directly by the Department. The Department’s Veterinary Inspectors continue to be actively engaged in providing emergency assistance under the Department’s early warning system to farmers whose animals are currently experiencing serious welfare issues and where the farmer him/herself is unable to cope with the situation.

I want to remind farmers that the animal welfare emergency assistance continues to operate where animal welfare is seriously at risk at the emergency helpline number - 1850 21 19 90 (Low-call). I want to reiterate that no animal should die of starvation in this country and help is available to those farmers who cannot cope. I believe this comprehensive set of measures outlined here will assist farmers. I will continue to work with all stakeholders in the sector to get through this difficult period caused by very unusual weather patterns.