Seanad debates

Tuesday, 16 April 2024

1:00 pm

Photo of Seán KyneSeán Kyne (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

The Minister is very welcome. I thank him for the measures he has put in place in recent weeks in this unprecedented period.The national fodder and food security committee is very important. It needs to be ingrained in farmers that they can plan for an average year, but if they have an average year, therefore, they have years that are not average. There are years that are quite good, with an early spring and a late autumn or late winter, which is great, but where there is a year at the other extreme, with an early winter and a late spring, as we have seen, that leads to the problems we are experiencing in many parts of the country now. Fodder security needs to be looked at every year and it needs to be ingrained in farmers in terms of ensuring they do not just plan or hope for an early spring every year.

It varies in different parts of the country. In my part of the world, mid-April is the average for stock to be let out, but there are areas where dairy farmers traditionally have stock out by day in February or out by day and night by St. Patrick's Day, which happens in parts of Cork and the south east, as Senators Lombard and Cummins would be used to. That is a different story. In Connemara, we are often jealous of the big dairy farmers but we would not be jealous these days, with the thought of the 150 or 300 cows a farmer might have in certain parts of the country going out for just a few hours, issues with slurry tanks filling up and concerns about damage to paddocks, having enough fodder and getting next year’s fodder in, never mind this year’s.

It is unprecedented. Others have rightly spoken about the impact it is having on certain parts of the country, particularly for dairy and tillage farmers. I acknowledge the work the Minister has done with regard to the fodder and food security committee and the fodder transport support measures. I note from his opening statement that farmers in the south east are seeking fodder rather than selling it, which paints the picture. The west is not as badly hit because we are more used to the longer winters.

It is obvious there is a national obsession with weather but what I have heard from talking to farmers in the last period is the following statement, namely, the climate is changing. That does not mean they have gone green or that they are now members of the Green Party, but they understand there is something afoot and something is changing here and they acknowledge that. That is the first step. It does not mean they are all to blame or that Ireland itself, on its own, is to blame, because it is part of a bigger worldwide picture, but it is gradually becoming ingrained in people that there is something happening.

We have had unprecedented rain but we could be back here in six weeks’ time with an ongoing drought and no end in sight to that either. Unfortunately, this is what we are facing and we have to plan for it. We have to plan for fodder reserves and we have to ensure we plan for the non-average year and for things that can go awry, whether it be floods, drought or capacity for slurry storage. People have criticised farming by calendar, and I can understand that. It is important to match slurry applications to soil temperatures and grass growth, and that is the best approach, but given the situation we have had, where there is a gap of a couple of weeks in January, I think leeway should be given in certain circumstances because, as I said, we just cannot plan for the years we have had.

My final point revolves around slurry and the trafficability of land when there are continuous applications of slurry on the same areas of land. This is leading to issues of trafficability in that the land becomes not as trafficable and more easily damaged, which is something to note in regard to management and farmers' infrastructure.

All in all, it has been an unprecedented time for farmers. It will stop raining, as we know, and it is important that farmers engage and reach out where they are having problems. As I said, there are brighter days ahead and it is to be hoped we will get over this in the very near future.


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