Tuesday 27 September 2016

'I have lost 50 acres of my farm for the year'

Winter flood waters are receding but the clean-up and long-term consequences are only beginning for affected farmers

Ken Whelan

Published 10/02/2016 | 02:30

Donal Hynes who farms near Annacotty, Co Limerick estimates that he has lost a quarter of his productive land for the year due to winter flooding Sean Curtin/Fusionshooters.
Donal Hynes who farms near Annacotty, Co Limerick estimates that he has lost a quarter of his productive land for the year due to winter flooding Sean Curtin/Fusionshooters.
Ronan Feighery

Donal Hynes reckons he can write-off about a quarter of his farm this year because of the winter storms.

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"This has been the worst year ever and remember we are used to flooding down here," says Donal, speaking from his farm in the Mulcair valley, near Annacotty, Co Limerick.

"We have never seen flooding at this level. I don't believe I'll get the 50 flooded acres on my farm back into production this year," he told the Farming Independent.

The 70-year-old is philosophical about the regular floodwaters on his farm caused by storms and the water coming through the Parteen Weir.

But he is dreading the clean-up operation when the water eventually disappears. "There will be a terrific amount of rubbish to clean up after this year's floods. We'll be lifting wheels, plastic bottles, glass bottles, bin bags - you name it - when the land dries off. One year we picked up 40 bin bags on the land after the floods. We've even had to lift dead animals, which fell into the river during the storms, in previous years."

But most of all he is keeping his fingers crossed that some passerbys don't come near the farm when the water subsides and think it would be great fun to start breaking the glass bottles all over his land.

It happened before and Donal had to painstakingly pick shards of glass from the land before the cows could be let out.

Donal and his son Sean run a 150 Friesian dairy herd close to Parteen Weir but despite the latest unprecedented flooding the roads to the farm remained open and they managed to get their milk away to Dairygold.

But while the water is now going back, all Donal now sees is the "the dead yellow grass underneath". He is not optimistic about getting the 50ac back into operation anytime soon.

"This is going to take a long time to dry, it will be tough. The grass is just dead and I think it could take a year to get it back working properly," he predicts.

Flooding is an occupational hazard for the Hynes family but Donal has never seen anything like this year.

"Yes climate change must be a factor but the real answer is to dredge the Shannon. And that hasn't been done in my lifetime. There are two 'half mile stretches' one near Parteen and the other on the way towards the University of Limerick, which, if they were dredged, would solve the problem overnight," Donal reckons.

"And it would be cheaper than having helicopters and rescue personnel all over the place and all those pumps pumping and all the manpower that is needed every time there is a storm," he adds.

A proper water relief scheme for the Shannon is urgently required, Donal feels.

"It's the only answer. It worked on the Mulcair. They dredged that 11 years ago and there hasn't been any flooding since," he points out.

He is underwhelmed about the Government's reaction to this year's freak storms.

"If you put so many bodies onto a task force to manage a waterway you are never going to get agreement. It will be impossible to get agreement with so many vested interests. I hope I live to see a solution to the problem but I wouldn't be confident about this Shannon task force at all," he says.

In the meantime the upcoming weeks for the Hynes family will just be constant reminder of all the winter storms as they look at the 50 acres of sodden yellow ground on their farm and wonder when this valuable grazing land will come back into production.

Corncrakes and wildlife dying out

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It’s the ‘greasy scum’ that stays in the grass for months after the waters recede that really gets to Ronan Feighery.

He estimates his grass also loses 50pc of its dry matter when it eventually comes back into the production cycle. We’re used to flooding in the Shannon callows.

“It can happen three times a year and up to now the flooding was seen as a good fertiliser giving the soil new minerals but since 2009  the minerals are gone and all that is left is this greasy scrum,” he says.

Ronan (pictured above) runs a herd of 85 British Friesians for the dairy enterprise and 50 head of Angus on the beef side at his 180ac owned and leased farm between Shannon Harbour and Shannonbridge in Co Offaly.

Some 35 acres of the enterprise is out of action because of the floods.

“About 40  farmers in the area have been affected this year and it’s going to be well into spring before things get back to normal,” says the former Macra national chairman.

“It used to be fine in the callows and the water would be off the land by early spring but now it will be St Patrick’s Day at the earliest before the land is dry again. And when things were bad in 2009 we were told that the flooding was a once in a millennium event. Now it is back and just as bad,” he says with an undisguised resignation in his voice.

Now, he says you could stand in the middle of any of his fields and all you will smell is an overwhelming stink.

“Even the corncrakes are dying out as are other rare birds and plant life and the anglers from the continent are not around much anymore,” he says ruefully.

Ronan reckons that this type of flooding will probably occur every five years in future unless something is done about properly draining the Shannon.

“The politicians can make their promises but when the sun starts to shine the floods will be forgotten by everyone. The politicians come down and sympathise and are nice but you know there is no political will or money for that matter to solve the problem,” he says.

However, Ronan says he does counts his blessings. He has just been in the shed seeing his 26th early calf being born.

“I have an 85pc calving record,” he says, and while his callows may stink at the moment he hasn’t had to deal with  any “personal flooding” like some of the residents who have been flooded out of their homes  down in Shannonbridge.

The optimist in him is looking forward to some day when his toddler sons may enjoy the smell of hay from those currently stinking and flooded 35 acres.

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