Thursday 29 September 2016

'The winters are getting wetter and farming getting harder'

My week: Francis Tyrell, Mullingar, Co Westmeath, farmer and Agricultural contractor

Ken Whelan

Published 24/02/2016 | 02:30

Francis Tyrell, farmer and Agricultural contractor from Mullingar.
Francis Tyrell, farmer and Agricultural contractor from Mullingar.

Work is ramping up for Francis Tyrrell as the springtime arrives and the days get a little longer.

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The farmer and agricultural contractor who works with some 80 farmers in the hinterland of his home base at Sonna outside Mullingar.

He has just completed a day spreading slurry and reviewing his work schedule for the upcoming months.

Hedges cutting and slurry spreading are the main tasks for the next few weeks, then some site work followed by spraying fertiliser and come the start of May it will be hell for leather with moving and baling silage.

"It will be mayhem by then. It'll be 7am to 2am days and Sundays as well. The phone will be ringing all the time," Francis says.

"But things are pretty busy at the moment and we are getting on with the hedge cutting before the deadline at the end of the month. I can't understand why we are not allowed continue the hedge cutting into next month because the birds don't really start building the nests until the end of March," he says.

His contracting company, which operates from the family's 100ac home farm in Westmeath with an extra 100ac rented, had to purchase piped slurry spreading machinery to deal with the wet conditions on farms in the region caused by the winter storms and flooding chaos in the Shannon basin.

In rough expansion terms the amount of baling the Tyrrells are doing has risen four-fold since when Francis started back with his father James around 15 years ago.

"It's been a disaster around Westmeath. Conditions are testing and heavy.

"We are using the new piping system now rather than trying to bring tankards across the fields.

"I have never seen it so bad. It's very hard on the farmers, the poor divils. We have had this in 2009, 2012 and now this year. It's becoming regular now.

"Climate change must have something to do with it.

"The winters are getting wetter and farming is just getting harder and harder and prices are becoming less and less," he says.

But despite his awareness of the challenges of climate change he is emphatic that the authorities have to dredge the Shannon if the land inundations of the past six years are to be tackled, he says.

Francis took over the contracting business from his father who still helps out with the work and his company employs one worker full-time and another on a seasonal basis.

He also rears a suckler herd on the home farm and is helping out with the calving which is going on at the moment. The beef is sold through Granard Mart.

The 35-year-old has worked in the business and on the farm all his life apart from the 'mandatory' year he spent in Australia after he left school.

"I was just having the craic with friends and we went all over Australia - Perth, Darwin, Sydney and Adelaide.

"I worked as a barman but not for long. I prefer the other side of the bar, and worked as a mechanic. I even worked on the Olympic village which was built there in 2009. It was just all craic all the time," he recalls.

When he got that rite of passage out of his system he returned to Westmeath met and married Patricia, a local teacher, and the couple now have two daughters - Katie (7) and Sarah (3).

So what does he do in his spare time?

"What spare time? It is all contracting for me and then farming in the evenings.

"I do a bit of car racing down in Mondello with friends but I might get only seven Sundays in the year to do the racing," he says matter-of-factly.

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