Farm Ireland

Thursday 22 February 2018

Farmers feeling the heat as drought anguish takes hold

Greenfield opens silage pits amid renewed fears of fodder crisis

Fruit growers Jimmy and Susan Kearns - demand is high as consumers opt for cooler eating options
Fruit growers Jimmy and Susan Kearns - demand is high as consumers opt for cooler eating options
Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Drought is becoming a serious problem for farmers across the south and east of the country as the heatwave has brought grass growth to a virtual standstill on dry farms.

Some farmers have been forced to install temporary water troughs on farms as wells and streams have gone dry in parts of Tipperary, Waterford, Wexford, Cork and Kilkenny.

Others have been forced to break into their valuable winter fodder reserves in an effort to preserve diminishing grass supplies.

In Tipperary, Rockwell College farm manager Jim Treacy recorded a 50pc drop in grass growth rates last week and he expected it to decrease further as the dry weather continued.

Teagasc's Greenfield farm in Kilkenny is another casualty of the drought, with daily grass growth plummeting from 55kg to 13kg dry matter per hectare during the heatwave.

Dr Padraig French, head of Teagasc's dairy research, predicted that up to 75pc of the Greenfield cows' diet this week would consist of silage and meal.

Waterford farmer Joe Flynn started feeding silage on Wednesday and doubled the concentrate feeding level for his 70-cow herd.

"I just don't have enough quality grass in front of them so I need to stretch it out with silage and meal," he said.

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"My first-cut silage yield was down by one third so we were already in silage deficit and now we're feeding what should be saved," Mr Flynn said.

"I have lovely aftergrass coming for a second cut, but unless we get some rain I will be forced to graze it, but this would be a last resort," he added.

The Flynn farm at Ardnahoe, Dunhill, 12 miles from Waterford city, received just 12mm of rain in a six-week period and was on the point of burning up over the weekend.

"The last time we had this situation was in 1976 when every blade of grass wilted and all the fields went foxy," he said.

Wexford farmer David Hemmingway was also forced to start feeding silage and extra concentrate on his 50-cow dairy farm at Tagoat, near Rosslare Harbour.

"We got none of the rain that fell a fortnight ago and for the past three months we've had a drying east or northeast wind that is literally vacuuming the moisture out of the ground," he explained. "In my view we're heading into a second fodder crisis because of the lack of grass growth," Mr Hemmingway warned.

Meanwhile, vets have reported numerous cases of heat stress in farm animals as a result of the heatwave.

Richard Lane of Abbeyville Veterinary Hospital in Cork city urged farmers with large numbers of cows to ensure they had adequate water supplies. "I've seen a few cases with pneumonia-like symptoms due to the heat stress in the very high temperatures," said the vet.

"Animals that get dehydrated will start to underperform very quickly and need treatment."

Vet Mairead Wallace-Piggott in Millstreet, Co Cork, added that she had seen some cases of water shortages in herds where water troughs could not cope with demand and urged farmers to provide extra troughs in paddocks.

However, it is an ill-wind that blows no good.

Farmers in the salad and soft fruit sector are reporting a doubling and trebling of sales as consumers opt for cooler eating options.

Wexford strawberry grower James Kearns said that they were working from 6am until 1am at night to keep up with demand.

"Luckily, the fruit is coming as fast as we can pick it so at last we're getting a break after a few terrible years," he said.

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