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I am glad 2009 has finally passed so I can erase the memories

I hope you all had a very happy Christmas and a peaceful and healthy New Year.

The situation in farming and the weather can only get better so let us all face into this new year with hope in our hearts for better things to come. When I am finished writing here I am going to close down this computer and not open it again for two whole weeks -- bliss! It is often the simple things in life which bring us most happiness.

Looking back over 2009 I have to say it's been a difficult year for us in all aspects of farming. It must be said, though, that very little of our challenges can be directly attributed to the current recession.

Yes, our financial woes can be somewhat attributed to a tightening of bank lending controls and to some measures introduced by the two Budgets this past year, not the least of which was the payment of FWMS over three stages.

To my mind, the Budget's have introduced tax payments that those of us in full-time farming will find extremely difficult to fulfil. The abolition of the Fallen Animal Scheme also aggravates the situation for us.

But by far the worst damage inflicted on farming was by the massive reductions in price paid by our co-ops and buyers for product across the board. Our prices, be it for milk, grain or beef, fell through the floor. The beef scenario has been going on for years, but severe hardship was imposed on farmers this past year in both the dairy and grain sectors.

Last year both milk and grain were produced at below-cost levels. Consequently, dairy and tillage farmers suffered severe financial losses -- made all the more galling for dairy farmers by the recent 10c reduction in price given to the supermarkets.

The consumer has seen none of this and has not demanded it, but if the co-ops concerned could afford to drop 10c to the supermarkets then they most certainly could have afforded to have given dairy farmers a fairer price for milk produced. The recent rises in price, while welcome, are still not sufficient, and we finished last year producing milk at below-cost levels. This cannot be maintained.

The whole issue of below-cost production was also exacerbated by appalling weather conditions throughout last year, which was the third wet year in a row, and the grain harvest was only saved by a few weeks of an Indian summer during September and October.

Yield had already been lost by that stage and this, coupled with the insulting prices offered for grain, meant that many grain farmers did not return their land to winter crops. Indeed, the weather broke again before the job could be completed.

Milk production was also severely affected by the very wet conditions, which were then responsible for considerable extra costs in the form of concentrate and buffer feeding through the summer. There was no opportunity whatsoever to introduce cost-saving methods in an effort to cope with poor prices for product.

Last year will certainly be remembered for the big flood, with much of the west and south ravaged. This has affected the wider community and farmers, leaving many people displaced and in dire straits.

As far as farmers are concerned, land will not be fit to farm until next summer as most was under water will have to be ploughed and re-seeded. Indeed, here on the home farm -- despite the fact that it is a dry holding -- we have some flooded areas in fields. This will necessitate drainage and re-seeding next March -- weather permitting of course. It is awful to look out the window to see these flooded areas -- small as they are -- and my heart goes out to those farmers feeding their stock from a boat.

On a personal note we also had our bad times as we lost our entire beef herd last February as a result of the feed scare. We lost our herd to circumstances outside our control and it will take years to recover from this.

All in all, we are glad to see the back of 2009. It was a year of struggle and strife and does not carry many happy memories. It was a year of little hope and little job satisfaction, and it says much for the stamina of farmers that most managed to hold on.

However, such losses cannot be sustained in the long term. Perhaps the November price rise in milk will now herald a return to more profitable production levels.

The good news on the home farm is that we exited 2009 with another batch of female calves.

Thirteen calves were born last week -- and 12 of these were female.

Irish Independent