A matter of life and death


We constantly complain about the weather in Ireland, but there’s a good reason for that; very few of us are more than one or two generations off the land.

To a farmer, the weather is a life or death issue, and the poor weather we’ve had all year has proven disastrous for animals that would normally be out grazing at this time of year.

With poor silage returns last summer due to the constant rain, farmers have had a very limited amount of fodder put by for winter feeding. That wouldn’t be much of an issue if there was plentiful grass, as there normally would be by late April.

However, the lack of warmth in 2013 has delayed growth. Any amateur gardener can see that, when heather, a winter flower, is still in its full glory, and the likes of cherry blossoms are delayed.

The causes of our changing climate are well documented, but right now the problem is a more immediate one; making sure animals are kept alive.

Cork County Council heard an emotional testimony on Monday from Cllr Declan Hurley, a farmer who has lost seven cattle to starvation. While many of us experience stress in the workplace, the care and attention farmers must give their animals places a massive level of responsibility on them.  A number of suicides nationwide in recent weeks have been linked to the fodder crisis by the IFA.

Farmers and farming are at the heart of the Irish economy; the agri food sector is one of the beacons of hope in a bleak economic outlook, and one the Government has not been slow to show off. It’s our flagship sector; if there was a crisis this major in the Foreign Direct Investment sector, you can be sure we’d have heard more about it.

For those of us who don’t have any direct link to farming, a drop in supply of meat will mean food prices rise, and that’s the last thing anybody needs at the moment. The IFA has already warned retailers that farmers will have to renegotiate prices.

Action taken this week by Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney, to provide €1m in funding for farmers to purchase fodder from abroad, is a welcome step.

Farmers are being encouraged to seek support from their local coops, neighbours and representative organisations, and to ask for help if help is needed; for their animals’ health or for their own, while they try to cope in tough circumstances. 

While the funding is an emergency measure, prevention is always better than cure. It’s to be hoped that precautions will be taken now to ensure a steady supply of food for next year.

Published in the Cork Independent, 25/04/13

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