'You can see the despair on the farmers' faces at the marts' - This Leitrim farmer has cattle indoors since August
The fodder crisis is hitting hard in Leitrim as dairy farmer Joe Devine can testify. His animals have been in and out of the sheds since last August and face another month of weather-related misery before any sort of normality returns.
"We are in despair about this weather and you can see it on the faces of the farmers you meet at the marts," says Joe (48) who farms on the Mohill side of Carrick-on-Shannon. "They are just praying for springtime weather.
"All of us have been housing our animals on and off since last autumn and have been feeding them supplements to preserve what little fodder we have left.
"We can't get out into the fields with the animals and it is going to take another month before the land dries out and things return to normal. And then we will have the knock-on effects in terms of the first cut for 2018," Joe explains.
He is unimpressed with the response from the Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed, to the crisis. "It was only when the fodder shortages became apparent down south and in the east that he moved on it."
Joe is married to Rosie, a secondary school teacher in nearby Longford, and they have one child, Isabelle (8). Rosie is from a non farming background, which Joe says is lucky "because otherwise she would never have married me".
He took over the family farm 20 years ago and built up the dairy herd from around 28 head to its current level of 70 pedigree Holstein- Friesians. He regards himself as one of the "nearly extinct" dairy farmers in Leitrim.
After finishing school, Joe went to the Ballyhaise Agricultural College in Cavan and then spent three years expanding his dairy knowledge at tutor farms in Meath, Cork and Monaghan before coming home to take over the family's 120ac holding. He describes the land as wet and peaty.
The herd was producing approximately 1,000 gallons per cow for Aurivo when he took over but today the bigger herd is averaging 1,800 per cow.
However, Joe says he is still getting the same price for his milk today as he got 20 years ago. "When I took over the farm I was getting an old pound for a gallon of milk and was involved in all the protests outside the Dáil at the time about prices. Today I am getting around 34c/l for the same milk which is more or less the same price," he says.
"And from what I have heard from the co-op, the milk price is likely to go down further this year." Looking at the broader agri issues, Joe says the retention of CAP at its current funding levels and an end to the tiered system of distributing these EU funds is vital for Irish farmers.
And he says it is critical that the Government hold the line on no hard border with the North post-Brexit and push for a tariff-free regime between Ireland and Britain. Anything short of that will be disastrous for Irish agriculture, especially the beef sector, he says.
Off farm, his main interest is the local GAA club in Bornacoola where his daughter Isabelle plays.
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