Irish farmers will step up to the challenge of growing extra grain to help Ireland deal with supply line disruption from Ukraine, the Agriculture Minister has insisted.
Charlie McConalogue is convening a meeting with farming representatives on Tuesday to develop a plan to increase domestic production of grain.
Some senior figures within the industry have said they will engage positively with the minister but have stressed the need for added state support for farmers.
Ireland is heavily reliant on imported grain, with around 60% of the 5.5 million tonnes used in the country every year sourced from overseas. It is used both in products for human consumption and for animal feed.
Ukraine and Russia are both key international exporters of grain. Russian also supplies more than 20% of fertilizer used in Ireland.
Proposals at Tuesday’s meeting will include asking all Irish farmers to commit to growing some crops this year. Such a plan would mirror measures introduced in Ireland during the Second World War.
Seeds will need to be sown in the coming weeks ahead of growing season.
Mr McConalogue has assembled a rapid response team within his department to develop plans to deal with the anticipated disruption to supply lines this year.
The minister said usually at this time of the year Ukrainian tillage farmers would be preparing to plant their crops.
“Unfortunately, instead they’re facing this situation of an invasion and illegal war and the abominable act by President Putin,” he told RTE Radio One.
“And, as a result of that, many of them have gone to war and are involved in the war instead of planting crops.”
Mr McConalogue said he was confident farmers would respond positively to the call.
“It’s really important we work in collaboration and as a team and I’ve no doubt that farmers across the country – as they’ve always done at times of challenge in the past – will step up in relation to responding to that,” he said.
The minister indicated that any plan would be accompanied by government action to support farmers.
“Across the board, at the moment, the Government is obviously assessing the challenge that is emerging as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” he said.
“We’re very aware of the need to respond to those challenges properly. We were working across Government on that.”
Irish Farmers’ Association president Tim Cullinan stressed that the farming sector in 2022 is very different from the 1940s.
“We are in very challenging times and farmers will certainly play our part in any national or European effort,” he said.
“However, it is far from certain that asking all farmers to plant crops is the best use of the resources that are likely to be available to us.
“The biggest issue facing farmers is the rocketing cost and availability of inputs. This is where the Government needs to focus their efforts, as well as looking at some of their own regulations.”
Mr Cullinan said it would be “very unwise” of the Government to make any decisions prior to full engagement with farmers’ representatives.
“Irish farming is very different than it was in the 1940s. What was done then may not be the solution today,” he said.
President of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA), Pat McCormack, said the plan had to be “viable”.
He said legislation on fertilizer use would need to be relaxed to facilitate the extra growing.
“We’ll certainly enter there (the meeting with the minister) with the best form of faith to try and accomplish and make the best we can of a very, very difficult situation,” he told RTE.
“We will approach it with an open mind and I think all farmers should be encouraged to do so but it has to be practically possible and it has to be viable.”