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Drought heaps further heavy financial burden on farmers

July 9th, 2018 9:20 AM

By Emma Connolly

On another really hot day, Durrus-based beef farmer Noel Ward wraps a bale of silage intended for use as winter feed for his cattle. However, it is feared that some farmers may have to dip into their winter fodder supplies sooner as grass growth has ground to a halt in many areas. (Photo: Andy Gibso

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FARMERS are being hit with hefty ration bills of around €1,000 a week as the prolonged dry, warm weather has brought grass and crop growth to an almost complete standstill.  

And that’s an expense that’s only going to increase unless there’s significant rainfall in the coming days with conditions deteriorating rapidly, according to agri experts.

Naturally a lot depends on land type and stocking rate, but across both tillage and dairy, everyone is impacted. 

Considering many are still clearing expenses associated with the exceptionally long, wet winter and spring, the situation is even more serious.

Corney Buckley, West Cork IFA chairman said farmers were financially at ‘crisis point.’ 

‘The worry is that we don’t know how long this is going to continue. There will be compensatory grass growth with heat in the soil, but it’s guesswork when that will be. Cereal crops are definitely suffering,’ he said. 

As well as having to buy in extra ration, some dairy farmers are already using bales and, in extreme cases, have already had to open silage pits. 

In the meantime, the second cut of silage is being grazed, while being way behind in growth with many herds being housed indoors which requires additional labour.

Scott Lovell, Barryroe Co-op’s agri operations manager, said their mill had enjoyed a short respite after an exceptionally challenging winter, but was once again ‘flat out’ to meet the ‘challenges of getting feed out.’

‘An average farmer should be feeding grass and two to three kilos of ration in the parlour at this time of the year. That’s now at six kilos. If you have 100 cows that would be an extra cost of around €100 a week, and it’s increasing all the time,’ he said. 

Their mill is working additional hours, which given the fact that many staff and drivers had already booked holidays, was proving another challenge. 

Cork Central IFA chairman Harold Kingston said there was a ‘heavy financial worry’ for everyone, but said he had greatest concern for crops. 

‘Spring-planted barley and beet are suffering badly. Straw also looks much shorter, which could point to a supply issue, which will impact everyone. It will mean less income for tillage farmers and be more expensive for farmers,’ he said. 

He also said water could become an issue, but pointed out that Irish Water had committed to providing assistance to anyone in difficulty. 

‘The drought is currently hitting growth patterns and not wells as water table levels are still high’.

 There could be restrictions though if farmers are depending on the mains or group supplies,’ the Courtmacsherry farmer said. 

The Irish Water farmers’ helpline is 1850 278 278.

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