ICSA suckler chairman John Halley has said that, for some farmers, the consequences of the drought is potentially disastrous and ICSA was particularly concerned about suckler farmers who will not be able to cope because income levels have been low for so many years.
“Breeding farms have a bigger challenge than trading farms when it comes to a fodder crisis because the impact of selling breeding cows is to destroy a lifetime’s work,” he said.
Mr Halley said that whereas dairy farms did have a lot of support from co-ops and also the benefit of cash reserves from last year, no such comfort existed for suckler farms.
“However, we must recognise that the situation can still be rescued on many farms if sufficient rain falls in the coming weeks,” he said.
Mr Halley said that, over the past week, rainfall levels had varied significantly and moisture deficit charts showed significant differences between counties.
It is clear that part of the solution will have to involve supports being targeted at vulnerable suckler farmers, particularly those in areas where the worst impact of drought persists, he said
“ICSA is very concerned that the drought has already impacted fertility and calf growth rates in many suckler herds. These impacts cannot be overcome in the short-term and the potential hit on suckler income is massive if weanlings have not reached their normal performance targets in herds dependent on selling weanlings,” said Mr Halley.
He said that there was also a growing concern that the massive effort to decrease calving interval in suckler herds will be reversed.
“Whereas dairy farmers can supplement with meals, the economics of sucklers means that feeding substantial quantities of meal to suckler cows was never a runner. While the cows are looking okay, we cannot say yet how much this will impact fertility,” he said.
The suckler chairman said that it was increasingly clear, for example, that the BDGP targets will have to be reviewed and that the shortfall in funding uptake must be retained in the scheme.
“Farmers will need flexibility to allow them to sell surplus stock even if it means not meeting the four and five star targets in 2018,” he said.
ICSA is also insisting that the underspend in the BDGP is put back in and believes a very strong case can be made to the Commission on this.
Meanwhile, confirmation by EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan that the State can provide support for farmers hit by the ongoing drought have been welcomed by the president of ICSA Patrick Kent.
Mr Hogan also said that that flexibilities around GLAS rules should be forthcoming.
“ICSA has already called for a hardship fund to help those most affected by the drought, particularly low income cattle and sheep farmers and cereal growers. It is now time for the Minister to take immediate action,” said Mr Kent.
Mr Kent said that Commissioner Hogan had indicated that support to fix drought problems was possible, which included buying fodder.
He had confirmed that the purchase of fodder can qualify for aid as either material damage or income loss.
"However, this now requires a commitment from the Government to put some funding in place. This will be a real test of whether the government cares about the incredible hardships faced by farmers this year. ICSA is not looking for an open cheque book. We want aid targeted at the most vulnerable farmers in the less profitable sectors," said Mr Kent.
The ICSA president also welcomed the positive response for flexibilities around schemes and derogations from greening requirements.
For example, it has already been confirmed by the Commission that there will be derogations from the three crop rule and to allow land lying fallow under ecological focus areas to be used for growing feed. ICSA also wants to see farmers to be allowed wrap bales on LIPP areas in GLAS and to have the deadline for spreading fertiliser extended beyond September 15.
"We also need flexibility to allow tillage farmers to sow westerwolds or other Italian ryegrasses under GLAS cover crops," he said.