Blistering heat and a lack of rainfall in northern and central Europe has caused the region’s worst drought in two decades, putting pressure on yields, prices and fodder supplies.
According to a new report from the EU’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), Ireland is one of the EU’s most-hit countries. “Significant rainfall” in the last week of July has helped “slightly”, the report said, but the situation is still worse than the drought of summer 2006.
The UK, Denmark, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, northern Germany and southern Sweden are also seeing “pasture productivity” at historic lows.
“In the past 20 years there are few growing seasons in which dry conditions have had a greater impact on pasture productivity,” says the report by the JRC’s food security unit.
The report also found “a steady decline in crop yield forecasts” due to the continuing dry spell in northern and central Europe since May and June of this year.
Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Finland have also been badly affected, though recent rainfall has improved the situation. And northern France and the Czech Republic have seen harmful dry conditions.
The EU has offered to help farmers by paying out CAP money early (as of mid-October rather than December) and by letting them off crop diversification and fallow land requirements.
The EU is also considering “further derogations” from its CAP “greening” measures to allow livestock farmers to produce more fodder.
Eight EU countries have officially applied for help through the scheme, though Ireland is not among them.
Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal and Sweden were granted for derogations from specific greening requirements in July. Other countries can apply, though the request must be approved by all EU governments.
Under EU state aid rules, farmers can also be compensated for up to 90pc of the damage caused by drought, and fodder purchases can qualify for state aid in certain cases.
But one EU source pointed out the “hypocrisy” of the EU’s “greening” rules, which pay farmers to keep land fallow at a time when there is a fodder crisis.
“You have grassland lying fallow, and you have dairy farmers depending on buying in feed from those being paid by the EU not to cut the grass,” the EU official told the Farming Independent.
MEP Mairead McGuinness said farmers were experiencing a “double whammy” after an unusually cold and wet winter had already depleted fodder supplies.
She said the Department of Agriculture should look into giving more “support” and “flexibility” to farmers, particularly those on EU genomics schemes who may have to reduce herd numbers, farmers unable to sell TB-infected cattle and animal feed manufacturers that have to cope with increasing demand.
“This will mean extra costs for farmers and will hit incomes,” Ms McGuinness said in a statement. “I’m also very concerned about the impact this is having on farmers and their families. The extra financial costs of buying in feed is serious, but so too is the level of stress and worry which farmers are having to deal with.”
The ICSA said there has been no grass growth in most dairy regions of Ireland, placing extra costs of up to €10,000 a month on the average dairy farmer
Growth conditions have improved in many parts of the country recently, but there is still “a massive deficit in winter forage supplies” the ICSA said.
EU faces new pressure to end duties on Russian fertilisers
Pressure is growing on EU trade officials to end long-running anti-dumping duties on Russian ammonium nitrate fertilisers.
Irish farmers and diplomats have long been lobbying the EU to end the measures, in place since 1994. The bloc says Russian companies had been flogging exports at lower prices than at home, and renewed the duties in 2014. They come up for review in November.
EU sources say it is no longer just an “Irish issue”, while news magazine Politico reported this week that farmers’ unions across the bloc are supporting the call.
But some EU commissioners and many big producers — such as the UK’s Grow How, global agri-giant Yara and Poland’s Grupa Azoty Zakłady Azotowe — fear ending the duties would allow Russian companies to undercut them again.
Fertiliser is the second-largest expenditure on Irish farms, with prices rising at twice the rate of other farm costs, according to the IFA.
New EU limits on cadmium in fertiliser imports could further raise costs for farmers, as the only country where cadmium levels in soil naturally respect the limit is Russia.