Wednesday 28 September 2016

Washout: Donegal farmers in race against time to save crops

Farmers throughout the west are battling the elements, but those in Donegal face a fodder crisis

Ken Whelan

Published 20/09/2016 | 02:30

Adam Kerrigan on water-logged land at the family farm in Ballintra, Co Donegal. Photo: Philip Mulligan
Adam Kerrigan on water-logged land at the family farm in Ballintra, Co Donegal. Photo: Philip Mulligan

Tillage and livestock farmers in Donegal are in a race against the weather to save late autumn crops and avert a fodder crisis because persistent, heavy rain continues to hold up operations on both fronts.

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The unremitting downpours in the region have held back most tillage operations, with over half of the crops yet to be cut, while the sodden state of the ground is causing a fodder crisis for the county's livestock farmers which, they say, is likely to persist into next spring.

The inundations throughout Donegal this year "are nearly as bad" as 1985 - a benchmark year in the region for appalling rainfall and one which resulted in "pop corned and half dripping" takes from the fields - the IFA's county chairman, Michael Chance, told the Farming Independent this week.

The association has drawn up contingency plans to get additional harvesting equipment into Donegal from neighbouring counties once there is an improvement in the weather, while the county's livestock farmers will meet in Ballintra tonight to consider their winter fodder options.

"It has been very depressing this year with the weather hindering everything. We have offers of combine harvesters from farms in counties further south to harvest the crops once the weather lifts. We need three or so good days to save the rest of this year's crops," the IFA chairman said.

Chance explained that apart from the weather, the "tillage men" have been hit by poor prices and lower yields. "It is rarely that you get hit by these three factors at the one time in the same year," he added.

He also pointed out that the tillage ground in the county was becoming badly compacted as farmers took what few chances they got to harvest crops.

The current compacted state of the ground will also have an adverse effect on sowing season next spring.

Stephen Robb, a Lifford tillage farmer and contractor who covers over 900ac in the northwest of the county, described the weather conditions as "disastrous" for cereal growers.

"It just played havoc with the harvest, the soil and ground conditions generally. There has been ground damage; compaction will be a real problem next spring," he said.

Robb, who was a finalist in the recent FBD Young Farmer of the Year competition, said that as with the rest of the country, crop yields were also down.

"We have been hit from all angles. Spring was slow to come, and when we had two weeks of sunshine in May it came at the wrong time.

"We can get the job done well if we are given a chance by the weather, but all we got this year

was constant rain," he added. The same weather is causing huge problems for the county's livestock farmers, who meet in emergency session in Ballintra in south Donegal tonight to consider the crisis.

Adam Kerrigan, who farms in Ballintra, near Ballyshannon, and runs a silage/slurry contracting business there, said he has never seen the land so wet in all his years farming and contracting in the area.

"I was born in 1985 and the men I deal with say the current situation is even worse than back then and that was a really bad year," he explained.

"You can't get on to the land because it is so wet, and farmers who normally have their first-cut in by the end of May or the start of June are still waiting to get out on to the land. What silage we have cut so far is just water," he said.

"I have never seen it so bad. The livestock farmers are totally sick of it.

"Firstly they have to deal with bad factory prices and then the constant rain throughout the year. They are telling me that there will be fewer cattle reared in Donegal next year," Mr Kerrigan added.

The whole mess is being compounded by the upcoming slurry deadline, which is causing panic among the county's livestock farmers.

"With the weather so bad here they were forced to bring in their livestock and now the slurry tanks are filled up again and they have to be emptied by the slurry deadline in October," he pointed out.

Between the slurry tanks overflowing and the shortage of fodder, the farmers are becoming spooked and depressed, he said.

Last week, Kerrigan only managed to get out on Wednesday and worked from 6am to midnight, but by Thursday his contracting equipment had to be laid up again because of another bout of heavy rain which was expected to last until last weekend.

He said a fodder crisis in the country was inevitable.

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