Offaly farmers brace themselves as weather continues to bite

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UNLESS the cold weather lets up and grass growth resumes then local farmers could be facing into a tough financial year, as the shortage of fodder and an increase in cattle deaths continues to challenge the industry.

UNLESS the cold weather lets up and grass growth resumes then local farmers could be facing into a tough financial year, as the shortage of fodder and an increase in cattle deaths continues to challenge the industry.

Speaking this week, IFA chairman Pat Hennessy said that the situation for farmers was getting very serious, with the quality of animal feed in many cases being very poor and no let up in sight to the current cold snap.

The crisis has seen a marked increase in cattle deaths since the start of the year, with figures from the Dept of Agriculture’s Animal Identification and Movement System (AIMS) showing that approximately 55,247 cattle died across the State in January and February. This is 8,792 more than the same period in 2012, when 46,455 deaths were recorded.

The price of hay and silage has risen due to the shortage, with Laois farmers being asked to fork out around €25 for a round 4x4 bale. Local farmers can take cold comfort from the fact that their counterpoints in other counties are having to pay as much as €40 a bale, with prices varying from €22 in Carlow, to around €35 in Cavan and Limerick.

Commenting on the crisis, Mr Hennessy said that fodder prices on the whole have not risen by much, but a few opportunists are taking advantage of the situation to hike up costs.

“In most cases, where you have farmers selling to neighbours, the price hasn’t gone up, but some opportunists have upped the price,” he said.

Mr Hennessy said that temperatures will remain low for the coming week, which means that grass growth will be restricted. His advice to farmers is to get their cattle out grazing on whatever grass is available and bolster this with feed.

“The land is dry, but cold, and the cattle will pick whatever grass is there and you can supplement that with meal,” he said.

Mr Hennessy confirmed that cattle deaths are up as a result of last year’s long winter and lack of sunshine, with the number of collections of dead animals by knackeries haven risen in recent months. He advised that this would be a good time for farmers to off load their cattle, as prices are high.

“The price of cattle is holding up very well, there’s a good demand for it,” he said.

He revealed that in general he has not heard of farmers experiencing problems over and above on previous years, but he confirmed that if the county does not experience grass growth in the next week then local farmers could be facing serious trouble.

The issue was raised at the IFA executive council meeting in Dublin last week, when president John Bryan said farmers were facing unprecedented problems and an urgent response was needed.

“Until the weather picks up, the wider agri-business community must support farm businesses through what is a very difficult time on farms,” he said, calling on co-ops, feed mills and banks to continue to support their farmer customers. He also urged any farmers with a surplus of fodder to make it available to their fellow farmers who are in short supply.

“Solidarity and co-operation will be needed to get us over the next few weeks,” he said.

For advice on dealing with agricultural problems during the cold snap, visit the IFA website at www.ifa.ie.