Fodder fears growing again as farmers pick up the pieces

Farm leaders warn sector could take months to recover from the aftermath of Storm Emma

IFA President Joe Healy

Claire Fox and Louise Hogan

Farmers were battling the aftermath of Storm Emma this week as the full costs of the Siberian cold snap were calculated.

The south-east and east was hardest hit by the weather event, with farmers facing significant losses on a number of fronts.

Collapsed sheds due to the snow, the difficulties dairies faced in collecting milk, as well as lamb and ewe losses on sheep farms all added to the overall cost for farmers.

Dairy and beef farmer Karl Winters is among the farmers dealing with significant structural damage due to heavy snowfall.

The farmer in Taghmon, Co Wexford estimated he could lose 10-20pc of his stock, with some killed outright and others injured as sheds collapsed.

On Friday, part of a shed housing 140 cows came down, while the following day the roof of accommodation for 100 cattle also fell in. Four other sheds were destroyed.

Mr Winters estimated the loss of animals and the destruction will cost "hundreds of thousands" to repair.

"On Friday, we lost the cowshed and we were going to move them to the big cattle shed but we're lucky we didn't because then that was flattened," he said.

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IFA president Joe Healy, who was on the ground visiting hard-hit farms in the south-east yesterday, said farmers were counting the cost of significant damage to their farms and farm buildings, as well as losses of stock.

He also warned it would have a negative impact on grass growth and put pressure on tight fodder supplies.

Sheep losses remain a serious concern in the aftermath of last week's blizzards, particularly for hill and mountain farmers. Snow drifts in excess of eight or nine feet were reported last week across the midlands and east. Sean Dennehy of the IFA said these conditions had resulted in significant difficulties arising on both lowland and hill farms where farmers had sheep out.

INHFA leader Colm O'Donnell, who farms in Sligo's Ox Mountains, said losses could be severe in hard-hit regions such as Wicklow, the Comeraghs and the Mourne Mountain range.

"I'm sure there will be some losses, it is inevitable with the amount of drifts," said Mr O'Donnell. He added that the extent of the losses will not be known as farmers would only be able to access their flocks over the coming days.

While milk collections have returned to normal in most of the country, lingering snow drifts in many upland districts and poor road conditions in parts of Wexford, Kildare, Carlow, Wicklow, North Cork, Limerick and Tipperary have restricted access to dairy farms. A spokesman for Glanbia said the dairy was endeavouring to get to as many milk suppliers in the region as possible, but he admitted that conditions in many areas were very difficult. The "Trojan efforts" of milk hauliers over the last few days has been applauded by dairy processors.

Glanbia, Dairygold, Lakeland Dairies and LacPatrick stated that staff had worked around the clock to clear what was effectively a 'wall of milk' and prevent more severe losses on holdings.

Using 'rigid' collection trucks in the most difficult regions, Glanbia collected close to 11 million litres of milk on Sunday, while Dairygold collected over nine million over the weekend.

On a more positive note for farmers, both IFA and ICSA said beef prices had strengthened on the back of tighter supplies due to the weather and they urged farmers to dig in for better returns.

IFA livestock chairman Angus Woods claimed the beef trade had strengthened by 5c/kg.

ICSA beef chairman Edmond Graham said farmers with numbers of cattle to sell were in a good position to secure strong prices. "Supermarket shelves are empty and factories will be under pressure to get beef moving to supermarket distribution centres."

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