Business Farming

Friday 19 September 2014

New farming year, same old rain: is it ever going to stop?

Published 30/01/2013 | 06:00

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The gradual lengthening of the evenings and the bright January sunshine highlights the arrival of a new farming year. It also reminds us that Mother Nature, through her control of the seasons, pretty much dictates what will happen on our farms.

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In spite of some recent deluges, we can only hope that she will be a much more benign mistress this year and assist us with more favourable weather in which to carry out our farming chores.

I was fortunate to be able to keep my cattle out a bit longer than normal this back-end, with the last batch going in on December 19.

My records also tell me that my average purchase weight this year was about 10kg heavier than usual, which should be a considerable help next autumn.

The real reason behind my keeping the cattle out longer was concerns about silage supply.

While I took just one cut last year, yields were good and it bulked up well in the pit. It may have been a bit of a risk not taking a second cut, but it left more land available for grazing later in the summer. This turned out to be a real bonus considering the bad weather.

As we approach the end of January, it would appear that, given a normal spring, I should be ok for silage, but who knows what will happen? Whatever does happen, we will just have to deal with it.

Having not been at a mart since November, I called into my local mart last week to see what was happening to the trade. As I walked into the ring a bunch of tall 'housed' Friesian stores were being sold. I was quite surprised that they made very little more than I paid for the same type of cattle last November. Considering recent reports of the opening of the shipping trade, I wondered whether this was a confidence or money issue. On reflection, the most likely reason for the low prices is the shortage of winter fodder.

The monsoon rains returned to these parts once again last week. With the exception of a few short breaks, it is now nearly eight months since this spell of very wet weather began. My farm had been showing signs of drying out, but now it is looking more something like a scene from Waterworld than a place to fatten cattle.

Because of the return of the rain, the most immediate problem I face is the spreading of slurry. The tank at one side of my shed is getting quite full, partly because I put about a foot of water back into the tanks after emptying them last autumn, but mostly because of all of the rain.

Luckily I have another two or three weeks' capacity left before the real panic sets in, so I'm hoping for the best.

Why did I put water into the emptied tanks? I did this on the advice of my contractor and I find it a great help when agitating the slurry, as well as getting a much quicker response on the ground on which it is spread.

On a broader front, our beef industry is teetering on the brink of a crisis yet again following the disturbing revelations concerning the contents of some processed beef products.

This time there are no concerns about food safety, but I feel that a growing scepticism among the public at large in relation to the contents of processed food will be very difficult to overcome.

As usual, it's the farmers who will have to bear the brunt for what happens to their product long after it has passed out of their control.

Finally, on a more optimistic note, the experts tell us that demand for our beef will remain strong. On the weather front, things are bound to improve eventually.

John Heney is a beef farmer from Kilfeakle, Co Tipperary

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