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Darragh McCullough: Farms are oases of normality amid the chaos as Mother Nature does her thing


Life goes on: The McCulloughs ploughed non-stop last week on their farm in Meath

Life goes on: The McCulloughs ploughed non-stop last week on their farm in Meath

Life goes on: The McCulloughs ploughed non-stop last week on their farm in Meath

A creeping sense of dread is all around us. While farmers joke that they've been practising physical distancing and self-isolation all their working lives, after nearly three weeks the gags and WhatsApp threads are starting to wear thin.

I am noticing a gradual retreat of older generations, terrified of the statistical odds that the coronavirus is creating. Whereas my parents were more than happy to have me call in for lunch two weeks ago, none of us dare cross the doorstep now.

There is also a fear about the impact of Covid-19 on milk and beef processing, demand and ultimately prices.

I've heard talk about the fall-off in demand resulting in a lack of storage space, along with concerns about keeping processing facilities going if half the workforce are out sick.

There are suggestions that dairy farmers should be considering switching to once-a-day milking to flatten the peak. It seems that everything these days is about flattening the curve.

Maybe the turnaround in the weather has me overly upbeat, but I am feeling relatively optimistic about how this will work out.

The figures from countries around the world tell their own story.

Countries that have either a lack of resources or poor leadership are seeing mortality rates as high as 10pc of their reported cases.

Logic tells us that this isn't because the disease is more lethal in their areas. Instead, there is a basic lack of awareness or money to get people reporting symptoms.

I witnessed a marked difference in attitude to the issue among most of my foreign flower pickers, who initially believed that the whole thing was a 'fake'. That's the Trump effect, where a high-profile world leader plants the idea that this pandemic was all a hoax.

However, everybody's attitude is changing as the realisation that Covid-19 is not just real, but also deadly serious.


The next challenge is to keep the resolve up for the weeks ahead. Everyone can suck up two or three weeks of pausing normal routines, but I can see it getting more difficult to maintain with every passing week.

Despite the general state of chassis in the world around us, however, life on farms has never been more normal.

The dramatic turn in the weather over the last fortnight has resulted in a huge burst of activity in the fields.

We finally got ploughing and sowing the 130ac that we had intended planting with winter cereals back when the weather initially broke last September.

Land that has good organic matter levels has ploughed up well for us, but it's been noticeable how sticky even light land along the coast has been after the incessant rainfall in this region over the last 12 months - 23pc higher than normal.

We ploughed non-stop last week, and then hired in a disc cultivator to help break down the sod ahead of the seeder.

The original plan was for land coming out of daffodils, onions and potatoes to go into winter wheat, with the stubble ground to be sown with winter barley.

I dithered during January and February about getting going again with winter cereals. But the unrelenting wet made up my mind, with the cost of trying to grow middling crops of winter cereals simply not worth the punt.

The next plan was to carpet the place with spring barley, but I opted to put half the area into Bobas spring beans on the basis that they shouldn't be any less profitable than barley, and will hopefully give me an added boost of better soil structure for the next crop. Our light land should be well placed to handle any challenges posed by a late harvest associated with late sown crops of spring beans.

I also suspect that the country could be swimming in barley this autumn, so reducing my exposure on that front might be sensible.

The daffodils are all picked and, more importantly, sold.

While the pickers aren't able to travel home, there is no problem sourcing work for them as local fruit and vegetable growers look to fill staff shortages created by the lack of flights coming into the country.

Like everything in life, stuff cuts both ways.

Over 90pc of the cows are calved and all bar the calving and calf sheds are empty. Fields that looked miserable and were ungrazeable three weeks ago are moving through the growing gears at a pace.

Despite the chaos outside the gate, nature does its thing. Life carries on.

Indo Farming