Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue has said that due to the risks of fodder shortages next winter, “what farmers plan to breed they must also plan to feed”.
The minister said farmers must “think prudently when it comes to silage and grain to ensure we will have more than enough to cover the level of stock on an individual farm”.
He made his comments in a debate on the status of the agricultural sector in the Dáil on Thursday afternoon. He was joined for the debate by ministers of state at the Department of Agriculture, Senator Pippa Hackett and Martin Heydon TD, along with several rural TDs from Government and opposition parties.
Minister McConalogue told colleagues that he has “operated a twin-track approach to the crisis” brought about by increasing farm income costs, worsened by the war in Ukraine.
He said this approach has involved the provision of “advisory measures” to farmers and “targeted financial supports for farm families”.
On these financial supports, the minister said that over the past two months he has announced “targeted measures worth in the region of €90m to support the agriculture sector directly, including a €20m package in two separate parts for the pig sector”.
“These measures will help Irish farmers at a time of escalating costs and build resilience against the expected impact of the events in Ukraine,” he said.
The Fianna Fáil minister said that as of Thursday, “there appear to be sufficient supplies of animal feed” globally and highlighted that “Irish importers are actively competing in the global market to ensure the supply will continue uninterrupted”.
“Fodder availability on farms for next winter depends on several factors, particularly the level of grass growth and silage production this year, but there appears to be a decent bank of silage on farms carried over from the winter,” he said.
Minister McConalogue pointed to the recently announced Department scheme that will pay farmers up to €1,000 to save hay and silage this year as a means of supporting farmers to ensure this fodder supply.
‘Gets some things wrong’
First to respond to Minister McConalogue’s statement, Sinn Féin agriculture spokesperson Matt Carthy TD said that while the minister has “a tough job at a very difficult time” and that “he gets some things right as issues arise”, he also “gets some things wrong”.
Carthy said that what is “consistently lacking in all of [the minister’s] deliberations” is a “vision for Irish farming, Irish food and Irish agriculture”. He said this lack of vision concerns him.
Focusing on the “family farm model”, he said that “farmers will not survive unless they get fair prices for their produce”. He noted the financial supports put in place by the minister to combat farm input cost inflation but described them as “minimal and, all too often, too little too late”.
Describing the challenges of climate action, Carthy said the “Government is putting in place barriers in regard to low-emission slurry spreading, solar energy, anaerobic digestion and organics”.
“In every one of those areas, the Government is always far too slow to act but always far too quick to implement the provisions that penalise farmers in much the same way as workers and families,” he said.
He called for a “vision for a family farm network that will last not just a year” but for “successive generations”.
Independent TD Mattie McGrath, who is understood to have called for Thursday’s Dáil debate on agriculture, said the contributions from previous speakers equated to the “most phoney, disrespectful and dishonest debates we have ever had in [the Dáil]”.
The Tipperary TD claimed the Government has “lost interest in Irish agriculture” and said the “minister has his head in the sand”.
“Farmers are being blackguarded. Non-governmental organisations, from An Taisce down, are tormenting and plundering the land and family farms out there. It is shocking,” he said.
McGrath warned that “farming must be protected and cannot be under siege the whole time”.
While stating that he does “not envy the minister his job”, Fine Gael TD John Paul Phelan asked the Dáil: “As the world’s population continues to grow exponentially, who is going to feed it?”
“What we are continuously faced with is a chorus of commentators who offer no solutions other than to ban things and to cut back on production, who lecture about issues they know very little about and propose the ruin of a way of life,” he said.
The Carlow-Kilkenny TD said it should be “the few countries, and Ireland is chief among them, who produce food to the highest standards of environmental protection, sustainability and animal welfare” who feed the world’s population and not “countries whose systems are unsustainable”.
He called on Minister McConalogue to “stand against the continuous chorus from commentators and others in our national media calling for less production of meat and dairy and to ask them who is going to supply these products into the future if the most sustainable country in the world at producing them is going to cut back on production in those key sectors”?
Responding to the points raised during the debate, Minister McConalogue said the Oireachtas “cannot give enough time” to “such an important industry”.
He pointed to the work of the National Fodder and Food Security Committee and again noted the supports he has made available to farmers affected by increasing input costs.
The minister committed to come before the Dáil again on the matters discussed as early as the “following week, happily, and would be only delighted to do so”.