Farm Ireland
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Monday 25 June 2018

'There's been hundreds of thousands of pounds lost' - Northern farmers count the cost after wet weather cuts crop and silage yields

David Butler lost a significant proportion of his barley harvest because of saturated fields. Image: Belfast Telegraph
David Butler lost a significant proportion of his barley harvest because of saturated fields. Image: Belfast Telegraph
Eamon Sweeney

Eamon Sweeney

Poor weather conditions have been blamed for the lowest silage yield recorded in Northern Ireland in 12 years.

The area of hay saved by our farmers also decreased in 2017, by almost two-fifths to approximately 7,000 hectares - the lowest level ever recorded - with yields also tumbling to a 15-year low.

The figures were released yesterday by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) as part of its December Agricultural Survey 2017.

The survey shows that adverse weather conditions hampered silage cuts and, as a result, a drop in average silage yield to 29.5 tonnes per hectare - the lowest recorded in Northern Ireland since 2006.

Overall, the planting of cereal crops was down 20pc at the beginning of December 2017 in comparison with the previous year.

The sowing of winter wheat amounted to a total of 5,700 hectares - a 22pc decrease on 2016 - while the amount of winter barley sown covered 6,400 hectares, representing a 10pc drop in comparison to the previous 12 months.

A study by Teagasc found 90pc of farmers in the north-west are facing serious fodder shortages. Stock Image
A study by Teagasc found 90pc of farmers in the north-west are facing serious fodder shortages. Stock Image

Allan Chambers, an expert in seeds and cereals at the Ulster Farmers Union, told the Belfast Telegraph yesterday that it had been impossible to sow crops on large swathes of land last autumn.

"It was because of wet soil conditions from persisent rainfall. Soils were at saturation point on some farms, as a result there were real difficulties," he said.

"There were fields in Northern Ireland that were completely impassable and no work could be done, including harvesting."

Mr Chambers runs his own 300 acre arable farm at Seaforde in Co Down.

He said that in 50 years it is only the second time he has seen crops being totally wasted.

"The effect of it all is that there has been a shortage of fodder and so the price of silage has doubled," he said.

"There have been heavy financial losses as a result of not being able to cut hay or harvest grain or potatoes.

"I have been in farming for 50 years and this is only the second time in Northern Ireland that I have witnessed crops being totally wasted.

"The last time was in 1985, but even then it stopped raining in September.

"This time is started raining at the start of August and it only really stopped this week."

"It costs £300 to sow an acre of grain, so that's £15,000 every 50 acres.

"There's been hundreds of thousands of pounds lost across Northern Ireland.

"I just hope that the weather improves to allow farmers to get field work done this spring."


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