Farm Ireland

Tuesday 22 January 2019

'I’m just tired and fed up': Sligo suckler farmer on physical and mental burden of the fodder crisis

Riverstown farmer John Graham points to the poor quality grass in fields right now.
Riverstown farmer John Graham points to the poor quality grass in fields right now.

Sorcha Crowley

Suckler farmer John Graham could right now be enjoying a cushy office job in Dublin earning a decent salary as he once did.

Instead he’s returned with his wife and young family to the family farmlands of Riverstown where he’s the local IFA livestock volunteer rep.

“It’s a different life. When you send a cow to market you know you’re sustaining life somewhere,” he told The Sligo Champion as he tended his herd.

“I know someone somewhere is going to cook a meal with care, or our milk is going into formula for babies in China,” he said.

John, like fellow farmer Raymond Barlow down the road, knows the hardships endured by farmers all around the county this spring thanks to the fodder crisis.

“I’m tired, just tired and fed up. Financially it has impacted us very severely.

“I’ll be selling cows and where before I would have been looking to develop the farm more and develop it so that things could be run more efficiently, financially and personally I’m not going to be able to do those things, buy those things,” he said.

“That doesn’t feel good,” he said.

“I just have to keep going, I’ve a young family there. I milk with my father in the morning and the evenings as well. Every so often you’ll see something that reminds you of the date of the year and you realise it’s only a couple of weeks away from mid-summer and cows are still inside.

It’s just put the whole business on hold.

“You’re looking around the shed and there’s so much stuff that should have been done by now but I haven’t had the finances because I’ve had to spend it on meal,” he said.

John is fortunate in that by sheer good luck his father has a little bit of silage left over to share with him - just enough for another week and a half.

“I hope to goodness we have the cows out by then. We’d hoped to have them out weeks ago. This is the first year that I personally haven’t sold silage. I’ve always had a little bit left over and sold but this year I’ve a net intake,” he said.

“It’s really, really, really depressing to say the least,”he added.

The mood among the farming fraternity in rural Sligo is one of near despair. “There seems to be no coherence from Government.

The first time that Minister Creed comes out and says there’s an issue and starts giving out the transport schemes was when the guys down the country had a problem, in his own parish,” he said, referring to the farming community in Munster and Leinster.

“I’ve been shouting about this problem since last October saying this was going to happen.

“It wasn’t a case of crying wolf, because even if we got the cows out early, we were still in a bad position because we were in early,” he said.

“I had stretched my bales out perfectly to last week and I hoped to have the cows out last week. It is possible sometimes to have cows out in March but there was no hope at all this year,” he said.

John said the fodder transport scheme introduced by Minister Creed simply adds another layer of stress onto already-stretched farmers.

“Only 22 farmers took up the scheme. It’s too complicated. It may have updated but that was the amount of farmers that had availed of it as of last Friday. It’s not that farmers don’t want fodder, it’s because it’s too complicated. You have to go through the co-ops, bring Teagasc on board - farmers don’t want any more hassle right now.

“For the sake of €8 a bale it’s just not worth it. Just focus on getting feed in front of the cows.Money has gone out the door a couple of weeks ago. Just get the cows fed,” he said.

While John accepts there is an animal welfare issue he insists “no animals have died in Sligo because of starvation.

“None. I have spoken to both the animal disposal companies and they have said that there has been none that they’re aware of.”

“It shouldn’t come to a point that animals are dying that they need help. There needs to be some form of guidance for farmers on the ground.

“When it came to last September Aurivo and others came on board and advised farmers and that helped an awful lot in this area.

“Things would be an awful lot worse if it wasn’t for Aurivo,” he said.

“They’ve been proactive and they’ve recently reduced the price of the meal, any bales they brought in they had no profit on them,” he said.

John knows of some “particularly bad cases” of farmers in crisis. “Generally there’s no welfare cases but farmers are affected.

He used to be an IFA employee and has contacts all around the country. A doctor from down the country rang him up recently.

“He asked me if there was a campaign going on to help farmers. He said ‘I have six guys in here in the last seven days, all farmers and all with severe depression’.

“This was in relation to the fodder crisis. Farmers are physically and mentally burdened and they don’t want to say it,” he said.

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