Storm Ophelia was a reminder of how vital generators and other back-up equipment are for dairy farmers
Dairy farmers were forced to play the generator game as a result of power outages suffered due to the 190km/h winds of Storm Ophelia last Monday.
At the height of the crisis last week, more than 500 of Glanbia's suppliers were without power and were forced to scramble for generators. In a lot of cases this meant farmers could only milk once a day as they had to share generators.
Glanbia's Pat O'Keeffe said that while in many cases accessing a generator was not the problem, many farmers did not have the proper wiring in place to install the generator straight away, so milking was further delayed.
"There's plenty of hardship about and there's been heavy rains with Storm Brian too," said Mr O'Keeffe. "There's lots of milking once a day. Many are without water.
"I'd advise farmers to make sure they have access to a generator and make sure they are wired up for one as it has happened where farmers get access to generators but do not have the wiring. I already know a farmer who is buying one because he doesn't want to be caught out again by a power outage."
While Kilkenny dairy farmer Denis Drennan did not suffer any lengthy power shortages as a result of Storm Ophelia, he loaned a couple of generators to local farmers, and he noticed that many farmers didn't have the changeover switch needed to use a generator.
"I have a couple of generators rolled out to farmers," he said. "The biggest problem is that farmers don't have the changeover switch which is needed to install a generator. The switch breaks the line from the ESB main and prevents those working on the ESB line from getting electrocuted. It's very important.
"Most machines are very modern. There's so much technology, we need electricity,. It's very hard to milk the old way now.
"Farmers should be advised that they need a generator and they need the changeover switch. I hate to see an idle generator that could be put to use just because there's not proper wiring in place."
Trevor Ryall of Ryall's Farm Equipment in Watergrasshill, Co Cork, said they sold their last generator the Saturday before Ophelia hit, but he said the demand for them after the storm was "incredible and unprecedented".
"It shows the amount of people in crisis," he said. "All farmers should have back-up generators.
"It's not too bad if electricity is only gone for a day or two but everyone is scrambling together for generators now."
Sean O'Leary, chairman of the IFA dairy committee, urged farmers to make sure they have access to generators and a "back-up plan" in place for events such as Ophelia.
"It's obvious from what's happened here that farmers need to be more prepared and make sure they buy a generator or have access to one. Electricity plays such a big role, so a system needs to be put in place in advance," he said.
ICMSA president John Comer said that they were inundated with requests about generators last week, and stressed that more has to be done to ensure farmers have access to them.
"In practical terms, we will need the processors, the Department and certainly the ESB to actually work the farmers in terms of establishing 'a bank' of generators and also ensuring that proper and tested 'switch-over' facilities are there on dairy farmers so that the generators can be deployed easily and used quickly," he said.
"We've had numerous calls from members who had access to generators but didn't have the proper 'switch-over' and were therefore unable to use their generators."
Milk cooling was another issue for dairy farmers as in many cases the generator wasn't strong enough to cool the milk. Enniskeane, West Cork farmer Stephen Shorten was without power all last week and was unable to cool his milk.
"We can only milk once a day, and the generator which is wired up to the PTO on the tractor won't cool the milk, which is a nuisance, but Bandon Co-op have been helpful," he said.
Teagasc dairy specialist George Ramsbottom said there's a danger that cow's milk productivity can decrease when reduced to one milking a day at this time of year, and that farmers should look out for clinical mastitis in their cows.
FBD CEO Fiona Muldoon revealed that 70pc of claims made to them as a result of Ophelia last week were agri-related.
With last week's weather events in mind, Graham Minogue, head of agri at Zurich, said that there are measures farmers can take to weather-proof their farm.
"In terms of farm buildings you should check for loose sheets on galvanised roofs that could come off. These are simple repair jobs that can be done in time instead of putting them on the long finger," he said.
"Tying up gates and locking shed doors is a big one before storms. With winter on the way, things like insulation and water pipes must be looked at again. It's all about risk management and identifying potential hazards," he explained.
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