Winning the war on water
We travel to Macroom to find out how good drainage has transformed Con and Neilie Lehane's farm
In wetter regions, farmers talk about ‘winning back’ land. It’s not a reference to high-stakes poker – rather a phrase used when talking about the never-ending battle to wrest land back from the paralysing effects of water.
One third of Ireland’s 4.4m hectares of lowland mineral soils is classified as wet land. Combined with the 0.8m hectares of blanket and basin peat, heavy soils account for a huge proportion of the milk and meat produced in this country.
Con and Neilie Lehane are a father and son combination that have spent their entire lives fighting the good fight against the elements that surround their farm at Ballinagree 10km north of Macroom in the foothills of the Boggeragh mountains on the Cork-Kerry border.
They are one of the nine farms located throughout Munster and up into Connacht that are being used by Teagasc to demonstrate best practice in their Heavy Soils Programme.
The farm runs at altitudes of between 500-1,000ft, with high annual rainfall rates of up to 1,600mm. Despite volumes that are double that of drier farms on the east coast, one of the biggest eye-openers on a recent open day on the farm was the revelation that new drains were carrying 10 times the total volume of rainfall.
“Some 90pc of the water that these drains are required to take away from the field is ground water that is welling up from the water table underneath,” said James O’Loughlin, head of Teagasc’s drainage programme.
However, the Lehanes are obviously good operators. Despite the physical challenges, they still produce 475kg of milk solids per cow, with a stocking rate of 1.42 livestock units (LU) per hectare.
The Lehanes typically drain a few hectares every year, with Con estimating that 40pc of the 150ac farm has been tackled over the years.