This year is set to eclipse the fodder crisis of 2009 as broken weather and spiralling feed costs force farmers to sell off non-essential stock.
Dairy farmers told the Farming Independent how they were selling spring calving heifers now in a desperate bid to conserve dwindling feed supplies for milking stock.
"Anything that can't be milked is being off-loaded," said Listowel mart manager, Barney O'Connell.
Numbers were reported to be double normal levels in Skibbereen Mart last week. However, demand for plainer stock at marts has weakened as the worsening feed situation has frightened off potential customers.
Cull cows were back by €150 a head in Listowel. Both cows and stores were down by at least €100 in Castle Island, according to mart boss Richard Harnett.
"Farmers could spell confidence backwards up to the start of July, but it has evaporated ever since," he said.
Continuing bad weather has forced increasing numbers of stock indoors, with grass growth rates at one third of normal levels on heavier soils.
"Looking at how low growth rates have fallen on heavier monitor farms, I'm getting worried about what will happen with feed supplies next month," said Teagasc grass researcher, Michael O'Donovan.
"The prolonged nature of the bad spell is making it a more serious situation than 2009."
Disastrous growth rates have forced farmers to start buying record amounts of supplementary feeds.
Dairygold's Mallow feedmill had outstanding orders for more than 3,000t of feed at the weekend -- treble the normal amount for the time of the year.
"Nobody saw this coming but it's gone ballistic here," commented Dairygold's feed and fertiliser purchaser, Pat Flanagan.
"We've been pleading with the ports to stay open for the bank holiday weekend to try to keep grain coming in but we can't get citrus, the EU embargo is limiting gluten supplies and soya has gone even scarcer.
It's unprecedented and turning into a proper crisis."
Brett Brothers managing director, Jimmy Brett, agreed that it was an unprecedented situation where adverse weather both here and abroad had significantly reduced grain volumes and quality to the point that prices were escalating on a weekly basis.
"We have raised prices by €45/t since January, but I wouldn't be surprised if prices go up by another €50/t between now and Christmas," he said.
The combination of rising feed requirements and prices has put many farmers under financial strain, according to Dairygold's mid-Cork sales manager, Denis McCarthy.
"We have farmers working through payment plans arising out of the 2009 disaster, but this is going to force us to revisit those plans again," he said.
"It's frightening for farmers going back into paddocks that have been poached three or four times already and applying fertiliser that doesn't seem to be doing what it is supposed to be doing."
Moorepark's Michael O'Donovan said that the absence of growth and response to fertiliser were all secondary effects of the saturation that heavy soils have been suffering from for the last eight weeks.
Teagasc figures for the last six weeks on farms in Tipperary show that daily growth rates per hectare have been at or below 25kg drymatter.
- Darragh McCullough
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