Monday evening may well go down as one of the darker days in many farmers’ careers.

Following storm Kathleen, which passed without too much damage, there actually had been some drying on Sunday.

Then came Monday’s persistently heavy rain. It tore fields asunder and washed towards already full slurry tanks.

The hope is that Monday can be looked back on as the last truly awful day of this truly awful winter.

The weather forecast is finally suggesting some respite, and the hope is that grass, which has grown, can at last be utilised. Farmers will hope to turn livestock out over the next seven days, and tillage farmers will finally get into the fields to start what now will be a springtime cereal sprint.

But even if that best-case scenario comes true, the long winter, which began for many in September, has left deep scars. Those scars are as deep in bank accounts as they are in paddocks and stubble fields. And something needs to be done.

Perhaps former Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed’s signal innovation as minister was the first low-interest loan scheme.

With Government funding offering security, money from the ECB was loaned to farmers at lower interest rates than the commercial market was offering. And without security.

Those loans were specifically for capital investment, and came when dairy expansion was cranking up. They were mostly hoovered up by dairy farmers, with average borrowings north of €50,000.

We now need a very different low-interest loan scheme, but we need it badly. Tens of thousands of farmers are running out of money. These are the ones who rarely if ever have borrowings, who pay as they go, living handy, as they say.

Except the winter has been extremely long, with fodder and meal expensive, and straw at record prices.

Rural economy

There is a real danger that the entire rural economy, whose wheels are greased to a significant degree by these farmers, will grind to a halt. Smaller farmers promptly pay contractors for slurry spreading, fertiliser application and silage harvesting, often on the day. Their bills with vets, merchants and oil companies are smaller, but never let run too far.

How about a low interest loan fund for cashflow reasons for these farmers? Instead of 10,000 farmers needing €50,000 each, we have 50,000 farmers needing €10-15,000 each. With interest rates where they are, small businesses cannot afford to be unofficial banks for farmers.

The banks and credit unions are offering credit, but interest rates are a significant cost in themselves.

Each hundred million in a low interest loan fund would cost about €15m in Government backing, judging by previous schemes.

How about it, minister?