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Tuesday 17 July 2018

Fodder crisis on the horizon as relentless rain takes its toll

MIRROR IMAGE: A swan makes its way through the colourful reflections in St Stephen’s Green in Dublin. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

Farmers fear they are the first Irish victims of climate change as a fodder crisis looms on the horizon because of incessant rain since July and a shortage of consecutive dry days.

Recent deluges have also shown up a disparity in the weather conditions on both sides of the country, with conditions getting increasingly wetter as you move from east to west.

Desmond McHugh doubles up operating a Met Eireann climatology station near his home in Co Leitrim with running the family farm.

He monitors temperatures and rainfall every day, records the figures and then sends the data to Met Eireann headquarters every month to be analysed by experts. There are more than 400 similar stations nationwide.

Once his figures are logged they are used to improve weather forecasting and given to interested parties such as An Garda Siochana, Irish Water and local authorities, who may use the data to carry out essential public services.

Mr McHugh's figures show there have been fewer dry days this year between July and October, compared to the same period last year. It has also been the wettest July-October period, in terms of rainfall levels, since 2009. These are key months for farmers because the brighter and drier days allow them to prepare for winter. He said he fears this is an indication of the impact climate change is having on Irish weather conditions.

"From the middle of July onwards, things started to get really difficult. Then, from the middle of August, it took off and there was less drying and less evaporation. That made things very difficult."

Last year, he observed 10 dry days between July and October. However, this year he counted only seven.

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Met Eireann archives show Mr McHugh recorded an average of 23 dry days for the same period over the past nine years.

This year he recorded 528.8mm of rain during that period, a 54pc increase on last year. The highest amount of rain during the past four months came on August 22, the same day as the devastating floods that hit Co Donegal. Mr McHugh recorded 38.4mm of rain that day. This has not helped farmers.

"It has a knock-on effect because it takes the land a longer time to recover after a huge amount of rain. We don't know what the future holds, so if it continues to stay wet, there will be an accumulative impact. That will then go on and hit people financially,'' he said.

"Some farmers were able to get a second cut done during the summer, others were not. Those who didn't will be left short during the winter for feeding cattle. This will have an impact financially because it means they will have to go out and invest in feeding their cattle."

He also said the figures demonstrate a clear disparity between weather conditions on the east and west coasts.

Met Eireann meteorologist Sandra Spillane said there has traditionally been a difference in rainfall levels on both sides of the country. However, it has been observed that wet days are occurring more regularly.

"In general, we have found that the eastern half of the country has between 750 and 1,000 mm of annual rainfall," she said.

"However, due to a mainly westerly airflow across the Atlantic Ocean, rainfall in the west averages 1,000-1,250 mm and up to 1,500 mm in some coastal areas. Even more higher up in the mountains, annual rainfall totals in excess of 2,000 mm are not uncommon."

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