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Thursday 19 July 2018

'I don't know if my sight is gone forever yet' - farmer battles heat and fodder crisis after farming accident

Farmer Michael McSweeney who the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe paid a visit to this family farm in Patrickswell. Photograph Liam Burke Press 22
Farmer Michael McSweeney who the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe paid a visit to this family farm in Patrickswell. Photograph Liam Burke Press 22

David Raleigh

A farmer, who lost the sight in one eye in a farming accident in recent weeks, has highlighted how gruelling farm workloads are impacting on farm safety.

Speaking on his 198-acre farm, at Patrickswell, Co Limerick, Michael McSweeney, a fifth generation mixed dairy and beef farmer, said some farmers are struggling to keep afloat in the wake of the continuing heatwave, a fodder crisis, and never-ending red tape from Europe.

The father of two McSweeney said he's not sure if his sight is gone forever after a farming accident in recent weeks.

“I don't know if my sight is gone forever yet, but it is temporarily gone."

The accident happened about three weeks ago as he was fixing tines on a bailer.

“The eye is still there, but, I can see nothing with it. I’ve heard of people who've had their sight come back in twelve months, but I don't know. The surgeon won't say.”

“At the beginning (doctors) were saying my sight would never come back, and now that has changed to an unknown, which is a good thing,” he adds.

With a shrug of his shoulders, the 51-year old muses: “I’m in limbo”.

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McSweeney, like many in his sector, is hurting physically and emotionally, under the strain of a drought and a sustained fodder crisis.

Standing in a field of freshly cut grass, he moulds a handkerchief in his fist and dabs the sweat from his brow.

“The problem with farm safety is the farmer has to work too long hours, and he gets tired,” he continues.

Deadlines and Pressure

“The hours are too long, he's under pressure with deadlines, and, he's worried about the department coming.”

The list of what has to be done seems endless.

“In the spring he is calving cows 24-hours-a-day. A cow can calve anytime of the day or night. A farmer has to feed the cows, he has to milk the cows, feed the calves, and he's tired after that.”

“Then he has to go inside and do paper work.”

The administrative side of the business, meeting safety standards, and applying for farm grants is as demanding as the physical requirements.

“If you haven't it done, they’ll deduct you ‘x amount’ because you are not up to spec. There's no down time, no chill out time,” he says, squinting in the sun.

Despite digging a well 10 years ago, he's unsure if it will last in the current drought.

"It's depending on the weather. A lot of the shallow wells are going dry. Anyone with a shallow well is in trouble."

Fodder is "a big issue" too.

"We're feeding stuff that was cut about a month ago. If it continues it'll be worse than what it is in the winter. There are no reserves...reserves are gone."

He adds: "I've 34 bales left over from last year and we are using four bales a day now. We have about 13 hundred bales made, but, during the winter peak we (will be) using 12 to 14 bales a day."

Despite the hardships facing him he says: "I still love it. You are born into it. It's a way of life."

Farming Generations

The McSweeney's have farmed in Patrickswell for the past 127 years.

"We're here since 1891. I'm fifth generation," Michael says with pride.

His mother Bridget McSweeney, aged 75, and his son Daniel, aged 19, are clearly cut from the same cloth.

Bridget quips: “I milked cows, stacked hay, drew bales, don't talk to me."

"And, I had to feed everyone too."

Daniel McSweeney, departing the conversation for a few hours work on the tractor, sums up the mood: “Farming is a dangerous job, but, when you're tied to time, pressure is pressure, and you just have to keep going."

In the past 10 years over 200 people have died on agricultural related incidents, mostly involving farm vehicles and machinery.

Ten farm deaths have been confirmed so far this year.

The figure for the whole of last year was 24.

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