Growers braced for the worst as crops are exposed
Replay of last January as wet soils freeze hard
Cereal, potato and vegetable farmers were preparing for the worst this week as their crops were exposed to sub-zero temperatures.
As the snow recedes around the country, concerns are mounting that a range of vulnerable crops will become more exposed to the severe frosts that are hitting the country every night.
Up to now, snowfalls actually insulated crops such as winter oats, potatoes, carrots and beet from the night-time temperatures that fell as low as -16C in the midlands last week.
Met Éireann also reported temperatures as low as -10C in Dublin and -8C in Shannon Airport. Despite the record-low air temperatures, soil temperatures around the country remained above 0C all last week.
However, growers are getting worried because soils are well saturated and are dangerously close to the disastrous conditions that wiped out 27,000t of potatoes last January. Winter sown oats such as Barra were also seriously affected, while millions of euro of vegetable crops from carrots to brassicas were lost.
While crops look normal in the soil, severe freezing causes cell walls to rupture in high-moisture-content crops such as potatoes. These will then rot when they thaw out. Celery, cauliflower and carrots are also prone to damage from the cold.
Growers have been better prepared this year after getting caught out particularly badly last winter. Adverse harvesting conditions meant that up to 20pc of the potato crop was still in the ground in January. This year, it's believed that less than 10pc of the crop is still in the ground.
In addition, many vegetable growers have taken extra precautions to protect their crops. Philip Dreaper grows over 100ac of vegetables near Birr, Co Offaly, where some of the lowest air temperatures were recorded last week. Last year, he lost more than 60t of carrots. This year, he is taking no chances, with straw and plastic laid out over 16ac of carrots at a cost of up to €1,000/ac to protect it from the worst of the weather. "I think we'll be fairly OK provided temperatures don't drop any lower than we've already experienced," he said.