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Darragh McCullough: Endless stress of harvest time pushes everyone to their limits

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Mutual benefits: Darragh McCullough is in a dairy partnership with a neighbour

Mutual benefits: Darragh McCullough is in a dairy partnership with a neighbour

Mutual benefits: Darragh McCullough is in a dairy partnership with a neighbour

It’s supposed to be a time of year when anticipation and satisfaction combine as the crops roll in.

But I’m just a bundle of anxiety.

Over the last two weekends, crops that were visibly deteriorating by the day were suddenly fit.

I had about 75 acres of spring barley that was crackling in the golden Sunday morning sun when the combine rolled in. I should have been there, with a trailer ready to rock.

Instead, I was stuck under a conveyer belt back in the yard, trying to tighten it to allow a better flow of onions across the cleaning line.

I was on the phone to one of the lads trying to figure out if a sensor also needed adjusting on automated box-filler that was determined to revert to manual operation.

So I missed the call from the contractor on the combine wondering where the hell was the trailer I’d promised just the day before.

As on many tillage farms at this time of year, there are several urgent jobs to be tackled all at the same time.

The barley had been sprayed off over a week earlier, and the contractor was doing me a favour by turning up to harvest my area before even tending to their own crops. So that operation was a non-negotiable.

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Multitasking: The demands of harvesting grain and crops can leave farmers with a long list of jobs needing urgent attention. Photo: Damien Eagers

Multitasking: The demands of harvesting grain and crops can leave farmers with a long list of jobs needing urgent attention. Photo: Damien Eagers

Multitasking: The demands of harvesting grain and crops can leave farmers with a long list of jobs needing urgent attention. Photo: Damien Eagers

But we also have a multi-annual contract to store nearly 1,000 tonnes of onions for Meade Potato Company.

Farmers have no business growing onions in Ireland since we just don’t have the natural advantages of the heat and sun that the onion hotspots of Holland, Spain and Italy have.

But since when did logic have anything to do with farming?

In fairness, it was super looking crop, and is worth a lot of money if they can be harvested in good conditions.

The big challenge is always to get that job done before the weather turns and incessant rain ends up blackening skins and rotting the heart out of the crop.

So cranking up the onion line at 7am on the same Sunday morning was also a non-negotiable.

That takes a fair bit of co-ordination of tractor drivers, with at least three machines working in the field and two more tractors hauling trailers.

Another crew are needed to pick off stones and weeds on the intake line, with forklift drivers taking away the tonne boxes as they fill and stacking them on specially designed drying walls fitted out with enormous fans and gas burners.

These ensure that a sheikh or oligarch somewhere east of here is kept in the luxury that they are accustomed to, as we burn our way through tens of thousands of euro of electricity and gas over the coming weeks.

Forgive me if I conjure up images of a sprawling farm complex fitted out with the latest technology and experienced personnel.

But nearly all the field machinery is contracted in. I only supply a chaotic jumble of sheds, kit and staff that have been here for anything from two weeks to 42 years.

Every time a trailer of grain landed back to the yard, the trailer tipping onions into the intake hopper had to lower and pull out.

Trucks to haul away the grain to the merchant had to be scheduled for as early as 4.30am and again at 9pm in an effort to keep space for the grain harvest to continue without holding up the intake of onions.

Meanwhile, I’ve got about 150 tonnes of daffodil bulbs getting bullied from one shed to the next as they await their chance to be planted out.

And there were the usual pleading calls to the crew that have bought the straw to get here before the downpours last Wednesday sliced another 20pc off the straw yield.

You’d almost feel sorry for me.

Except I’m the guy that does none of the above. The sweeping up after each bulker has been sent off; the standing beside a conveyor for up to 12 hours a day; the 18-hour days burning diesel in the field.

I just bounce around fretting over what I’m forgetting, pestering people on their phones and hoping that the wheels stay on, literally.

The good news is that everybody turned up as promised, and all the machines performed flawlessly, so all that could be done has been completed. The grain yielded a very respectable three tonne per acre at 19pc moisture, and the straw did an even more surprising three big bales to the acre.

But I won’t be relaxing just yet. The end of harvest 2020 is in sight, so fingers crossed for the coming week.

Darragh McCullough farms at www.elmgrovefarm.ie

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