How is the fodder crises affecting organic farmers? Oliver Moore investigates.
The fodder crisis, so severe for farmers all over Ireland, is effecting organic farmers in a more varied manner.
Limerick organic dairy farmer John Liston tells me about the situation for him on his 80 hectare 50 milking cow farm.
Along with the lower stocking rate, “its a later spring in organic. Conventional lads have grass by Patrick day, but in organic its April before we have grass”
Liston still bought in over 6 tonnes of nuts, but hasn't had to resort to bought in silage until the end of April.
“You tend to be a little self sufficient in organic, with the high cost of feed” he adds. “So its typical to grow kale for winter, or arable silage with peas in it for protein. The organic concentrate price hasn't risen that much compared to conventional, but it was already very high.”
Nevertheless, grass is a month late and Spring milkers are finding it harder than Winter milkers, as the latter “are geared up for buying in feed” he says.
Further west, into north Kerry its a different story. Higher rainfall and an already wet soil has made for a disastrous time for both conventional and organic farmers.
In organic dairy farmer Kate Carmody's (pictured) experience, the whole region has suffered. “The land was sinking under the weight of water. We have a good soil, but its a heavy gley subsoil. It become impossible. I ploughed up a large area to put grass seeds in, and it was left idle for the whole year.”
Carmody is angry the Department have taken so long to realise that there is actually a fodder crises.
Following a statement by organic certification body IOFGA last October, farmers were encouraged to apply early for derogations if they felt they had a case – that's once off rule changes in catastrophic or disastrous situations.
“I alerted the Department last September of the troubles me and other farmers in north Kerry were having. There was silage left uncut in the fields. The Department knew about this, and yet I had to weight 4 months for a derogation.”
In the four months she waited to get a derogation to use a hay that was free of synthetic inputs and fertilizer, her feed bill was “crippling”.
“'Catastrophic circumstances' are needed for a derogation. We had that. My derogation was the first one in, but it still took months. I don't take no for an answer, so I get these things done, but a lot of vulnerable people don't know how to fight their corner. The Department have really disappointed me, they are all nice when they arrive, but they are just box tickers. This is an emergency.”
Carmody also adds that “organic payments were the last payments to be made in Kerry.” Again, belligerence helped, she claims.
Both certification bodies claim to have been acting early to try to avert the worst extremes of this crises.
“Last October IOFGA did issue a press statement urging farmers to plan ahead for their fodder requirements as we anticipated potential shortages. In the intervening period IOFGA have worked with farmers to match demand with supply. This has been relatively successful and we have managed to assist a number of farmers in this way.”
However, they add “In recent weeks... fodder prices have risen exponentially which is extremely worrying for the coming months”.
They also encourage producers to contact them if they have difficulties sourcing fodder.
Organic Trust “have been working with our farmers to identify those with surplus fodder and linking them up with those who are in deficit. To date this approach has proven very successful thereby ensuring that animals in the organic system can continue to be fed an organically certified diet.”