THE fodder crisis that followed the wettest winter in decades reaped a bitter harvest among farmers, with a significant rise in suicides across the country.
These include a cluster of an estimated seven deaths in the last number of months in west Clare, which was among the worst affected regions during the emergency. And suicides are still occurring among the farming community, according to Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) sources.
They reveal that some farmers who found themselves under intolerable pressure last winter and spring have found it impossible to emerge from the depression that engulfed them during the crisis.
"It's not just one thing, it's a combination of factors; the fodder crisis, money worries, a huge increase in pressure because of the new regime of inspections," IFA deputy president Eddie Downey told the Sunday Independent.
The IFA have linked up with suicide charities such as Pieta House and meetings have been held around the country focusing on farmers and stress. Individual IFA groupings have set up their own local initiatives focusing on suicide prevention. A new group has been established in the east Galway area aimed at increasing awareness. GELS (Galway East Life Support ) has also linked up with the local GAA to help farmers in crisis.
Mr Downey said farmers came under intolerable pressure because of last winter's weather, which exacerbated other pressures they were under. "When you have someone who might be a little fragile, then it all gets too much for them," he said.
Last year was one of the wettest years on record in Ireland. Farmers who would have usually cut silage for winter feed in late May or early June found themselves having to wait until mid-July, meaning there was not enough to make it through the longer winter. There were also issues with high mortality during calving because of the poor quality of feed that cows had to survive on.
Mr Downey added: "Farming can be a very lonely business. A farmer has all these worries, and for much of the day he might be working on his own. I certainly think that is an important thing to remember when it comes to farmers' mental health."
West Clare was among the areas hit hardest by fodder shortages. The IFA's chairman in Clare, Andrew Dundas, agreed that there were at least seven deaths suspected to be suicide in the region in the past 10 months.
"The fodder crisis was a major factor but really it is a combination of different things," Mr Dundas told the Sunday Independent.
Mr Downey said a new inspection regime factor introduced by the Department of Agriculture following demands from Brussels was also adding "another layer of stress" on farmers.
He added: "That has just added another layer of stress on farmers who are already under pressure. At the time of the crisis we predicted that one farmer a week would take their own lives. Sadly that turned out to be true."
Last year, a major new study called 'Pain and Distress in Rural Ireland – a qualitative study of suicidal behaviour among men in rural Ireland' was released by UCD and Teagasc.
One of the authors, Dr Anne Cleary, said people from farming communities were under strain due to changing circumstances. She pointed out that there was a strong link between inequality and suicide.
"The study indicates that rural dwellers are under pressure from change," she said. "Issues that weren't spoken about before are becoming more of a problem, and need to be addressed. Small farmers feel economically and socially marginalised."
Dan Neville TD, president of the Irish Association of Suicidology, told the Sunday Independent: "Farmers are finding it difficult to manage financially and to cope with increasingly vulnerable farming systems and the escalating pace of change and regulation. It is clear this is challenging for their male identities.
"The economic recession is a contributing factor in that construction and building work which had previously provided work for non-farmers and supplementary work for farmers is no longer available."