Farming

| 10.1°C Dublin

Farming

Darragh McCullough: 'I thought farmers had little to fear from COVID-19 because of their usually bullet-proof immune systems - I was wrong'

Close

Darragh McCullough pictured on his farm in Stamullen, Co. Meath. Picture credit; Damien Eagers / INM

Darragh McCullough pictured on his farm in Stamullen, Co. Meath. Picture credit; Damien Eagers / INM

Lockdown: An Emergency Department nurse during a demonstration of the COVID-19 virus testing procedures set up beside the Antrim Area Hospital in Northern Ireland. Photo: Michael Cooper/PA Wire

Lockdown: An Emergency Department nurse during a demonstration of the COVID-19 virus testing procedures set up beside the Antrim Area Hospital in Northern Ireland. Photo: Michael Cooper/PA Wire

PA

/

Darragh McCullough pictured on his farm in Stamullen, Co. Meath. Picture credit; Damien Eagers / INM

Two weeks ago I wrote that farmers had little to fear from COVID-19 because of their usually bullet-proof immune systems.

But this was a good example of how naive everyone was in the early stages of this pandemic.

Like many others I hadn't thought deeply enough about the wider implications. Even if you are a farmer in the hale of your health or youth, you still have someone close to you that is much more vulnerable to this galloping epidemic.

Some of the working arrangements here have already been tweaked with one of the lads working from home because he has a family member with an underlying condition.

I find myself checking in on my own folks and my in-laws to see how the older generation are getting on. Everybody is being very sensible in keeping to themselves without getting lost in the panic.

But in doing so, older people are also becoming even more isolated than normal, which is not good for their spirits and well-being.

Farmers could do with a bit of a lift too, such has been the weather. We're in the final throes of what has been a brutal daffodil-picking season. Constant rain, weekly storm alerts and Arctic temperatures mean that it will be a tougher job convincing all my Romanian crew to sign up for the same work next year.

Ground conditions have been atrocious and, unlike most arable farmers, we just don't have the option of shutting the gate and coming back when Mother Nature decides to smile again.

That's why we ended up towing our tractor out of a field that it had buried itself to the axle in last month.

I keep telling myself that with every passing week we're that bit closer to a dry spell, but at this rate we will be finished with the daffodils and gone from the field before we get a break.

The one upside of saturated soils is that they stay colder for longer and, combined with cool air temperatures, we haven't had any big flush of flowers to scramble after.

That normally results in a fridge full of produce that has me sweating for the following weeks pestering customers to take more without killing me on the price.

A bigger risk this year could be a collapse in demand for non-essential items like flowers.

Cancelled orders

The first and only cancelled order so far this year has been the Irish Cancer Society's Daffodil Day fundraiser.

Normally we supply over 160,000 flowers to this good cause, but we never aim make any money from it, so the only loser is the charity.

But if everyone is obsessing about stocking up on toilet roll (what's that about anyway?) and otherwise avoiding shops, it could destroy sales.

Normally, a succession of key dates from Valentines, followed by International Women's Day and Mother's Day through to Easter Sunday makes up about one third of total annual flower turnover.

We might get to Mothers Day without a total shutdown of the country, but all bets are off for Easter in nearly four weeks' time.

By then my pickers are usually heading home to Romania, pockets bulging, to spend time and their hard-earned wages with their families and friends. In June, they reappear for the next tranche of work with bulbs and onions.

But will flights from Romania still be operating in the coming months when the disease is due to peak?

Will there be a shortage of staff regardless, with so many people unwell and recommended to stay away from work?

The dairy unit here is also in the midst of calving and any bout of sickness there over the coming month would put a severe strain on a situation that is already running at maximum capacity.

I was even thinking twice about togging out as per usual at our new market stall at the Green Door

Market in Bluebell this Saturday.

There is no reason for me to be worrying about the hygiene there given it's in a big airy hall with plenty of space for people to get around without feeling claustrophobic.

But when all the advice is to minimise our interaction with strangers, you suddenly find yourself second-guessing every situation.

And is anyone really going to be interested in buying flowers?

But maybe it's the little things like a bunch of flowers or friendly banter with a stranger that actually helps people get through national crises like this?

Indo Farming