Seanad debates

Tuesday, 16 April 2024

1:00 pm

Photo of Erin McGreehanErin McGreehan (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister. It is always important and welcome to have statements on agriculture. We all want to shine a light on those we are meeting day in, day out. We are living it and we are hearing from farming families from throughout our constituencies about how hard it is. We can see it. We are fairly miserable here when the rain is pouring down around us, and we have to be cognisant that that is farming families' shop floor.

I acknowledge the Minister's work for farmers in the Cooley Peninsula after the desperate flooding last October. His departmental officials conducted an initial survey to examine the extent of the damage, and I am very grateful for the considerations that are ongoing in the Department. There are restraints, such as the sourcing of funding along with the state aid rules, and I look forward to hearing further updates from the Minister in the coming weeks. I know he understands it. He witnessed it a couple of years ago on the Inishowen Peninsula, where there was very similar land damage, so he knows how hard that is for farming families. That was last October, and here we are again talking about continuous bad weather. Unpredictable weather patterns have caused such a desperate time for many reasons and people have had to watch their income being washed away.There is a problem with the high cost of production. People are looking at the cost of things and at their margins getting tighter and tighter and being overlapped in so many ways. As the Minister knows, the ground has never been so wet. You can hardly walk on some of the land now, never mind put machinery or cattle on it.

I very much welcome the Minister's announcement on the fodder transport support measure, which I hope will alleviate some of the pressure on farmers. There have been delays in getting tractors onto land and delays in the growth of the grass - everything is delayed. My fear is that the fodder crisis and the lack of fodder being produced for next year will compound the problem. I hope that we can have a fodder scheme like the one we had last year.

I thank the Minister for the national sheep welfare scheme that was announced last week. That extra €8 per ewe cannot be underestimated and it has been greatly welcomed. But, and there is always a “but” when it comes to farming, we know that €8 has been whittled away by production costs so, while it is welcome, it is really going forward to stand still.

There is an issue that I want to highlight with regard to the sheep sector, particularly for hill farmers on my home turf in the Cooley Mountains, and I am sure it is no different in Donegal and elsewhere. Some 25% of extra meal has already been used this winter, and the winter is not over yet. There are welfare issues for farmers and for stock. I suggest that the Government look at the possibility of intervening with some sort of subvention in the near future, for example, a meal voucher or direct support to keep farmers able to support their animals with meal. This would help sheep and suckler farmers who are experiencing serious problems, especially in the hill areas. As the Minister knows, lambing is in full swing and major problems are being experienced because sheep farmers are lambing in extreme conditions. I have never witnessed such bad weather. There are issues with meal and there are more lamb deaths than normal because of that. Animals are out and they might be getting caught in rivers or hedges; they are running away to get shelter and they are getting caught in different places. It is not for the lack of someone looking after them, it is just that accidents are happening. In addition, lambs are not being born alive in many instances and while there are always deaths, the number is higher this year.

We have not seen the land so wet or conditions so trying for a long time. The Minister spoke very well earlier on the Commencement matter raised by Senator Robbie Gallagher and he said he understands that things are very difficult for farmers. I look forward to hearing from him about how we move forward to raise morale and support farming families. They are the backbone of the country.


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