I am acutely aware of the difficulties being experienced by some farmers across the country at the moment. My Department has been working with the industry on this and in a collaborative effort, a comprehensive range of measures has been put in place to assist the sector during this difficult period. The Deputy will be aware that my Department has put in place a €1m fund to contribute to the transport costs of importing fodder to the country, which has reduced the cost of purchasing fodder for farmers by approximately a third. More recently I announced an extension in the duration of the Imported Fodder Transport Scheme to Friday 10th May, and a broadening of its scope to include maize silage. All fodder ordered in advance of that date will be supported by this scheme. The amounts of such supplies will require notification to my Department prior to 10th May and approval for coverage under the scheme.
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. In addition, The Irish Dairy Board has announced the establishment of a €2 million emergency fund for its dairy farmers to be operated through the Board’s supplier co-op members. I have also asked the banks to take a flexible approach towards extending credit to farmer customers at this difficult time.
For people in particularly acute situations, my Department’s animal welfare emergency assistance continues to operate, and where animal welfare is seriously at risk at the emergency helpline number - 1850 21 19 90 (Low-call).
I should also pay tribute to farm organisations that have been pro-active in their efforts to provide assistance for the importation and distribution of fodder for hard pressed farmers.
These measures 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. At this point, over 900 loads of hay, haylage and maize silage has 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 recent extension of the scheme will build on this and ensure that further supplies are imported with the benefit of the transport subsidy.
While access to fodder is an immediate priority, grass growth in the months ahead will be the key to ensuring that this problem is overcome. In this regard I have asked Teagasc’s 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.
It is of course entirely appropriate that in circumstances such as these, the stakeholders in this critically important sector should pull together to overcome the difficulties being experienced by farmers. For my part, I will continue to work with all stakeholders in the sector to get through this difficult period caused by very unusual weather patterns.