The Irish Natura & Hill Farmers Association has outlined to Minister Creed a number of options that if taken collectively can help farmers facing fodder shortages. Speaking on the current crisis National President Colm O’Donnell stated “that this situation has developed because the Minister refused to listen to those of us that have for months now been warning of an impending fodder crisis.”
While it is regrettable he continued “that our advice was not taken, what is of far greater concern is the impact that this is having on the mental health of farmers, who have endured enormous stress for the last number of months, not knowing how, or when they will be through this. For these farmers it is important that they discuss their problems with someone they trust, or maybe a professional, or if they want they can contact our office.”
With recent media attention focusing on the need to bring fodder into the country O’Donnell stated “that while this is an option that needs to be explored it will take time which is what we don’t have. For this reason the following proposals we believe can have a more immediate impact.”
• The immediate roll-out of a meal voucher: This recommendation was made by the stakeholders group last January and if implemented then would have played a major part in averting the current crisis. We now need to see measures around this put in place in the coming days.
• GLAS – Traditional Hay Meadow: Farmers in GLAS with Traditional Hay Meadow are required to close-up these meadows on the 15th April. This needs to be put out to the 1st May and if a derogation from Europe is required, it should be sought now with farmers notified this week of this proposal. This will give them time to plan their grazing.
• GLAS Payments: Cash-flow for many farmers is now a major concern. Yet in GLAS we have some 4,000 farmers still waiting on their 2017 payment. This has to be sorted, but the Department seem to be incapable of doing so in any efficient manner. This is why another mechanism needs to be put in place. A payment directly from the State on a loan basis which would be refunded from the farmers GLAS payment when Department staff get around to the final validation of their payment will get these farmers paid. This was done in France a number of years back and we believe can be done here provided the will is there to do it. For the other 46,000 farmers there is a 15% payment still due which we are told won’t be paid until the summer. There may well be a need to engage with Brussels on this but we believe they will be sympathetic and accommodating in ensuring this gets paid out over the next two weeks.
• Transport Subsidy Scheme: From its announcement we had major reservations that this could deliver and unfortunately this was proven correct. However the scheme is there and with some changes can still have an impact, all be it quite low. With this in mind we are recommending that the 100km restriction be lifted and that registered hauliers be included as the Co-ops seem uninterested in the scheme. The establishment of a fodder register by Teagasc is even at this late stage a help which can be assisted by a simplified transport subsidy scheme.
• Hold on Farm Inspections: The current stress levels for many farmers are at unprecedented levels. For this reason we are recommending that all inspections (with the exception of those on animal welfare grounds) be suspended until the 15th May. Inspections are stressful for farmers when everything else is going well, but under present conditions may well be a tipping point for some farmers.
O’Donnell concluded by stating “how the measures outlined here can if implemented in full help alleviate some of the problems but needs to be acted on.”