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Friday 21 September 2018

'I have never seen it as bad in 40 years of farming'

James Barrett on his farm in Cork
James Barrett on his farm in Cork

James Barrett has spent several months looking in horror at weather forecasts, and the rain was still pouring down outside his dairy in Watergrasshill in Co Cork when we were chatting last week.

"I have never seen it so bad in my 40 years of farming. It has been averaging 174mm a month of rain throughout the winter down here and up to 180mm over at Cork Airport.

"Although we have dry enough ground, it is hard to get the animals out on the land," explained James, who farms on his own with a little help from his sister Rose.

"I am still getting over the seven inches of snow we got here on March 1. I have never seen that amount of snow so late in all my farming life.

"But I suppose the weather is the weather.

"We get it and we just have to get on with it."

He was looking forward to a break in the weather.

"If we get seven days out of the change in the weather the ground should be dry enough to get the animals out and to start the other jobs on the farm," he said. "That will take the pressure off us."

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The next jobs include spreading some 40,000 gallons of slurry on his 50-acre farm and fertilising the land for the first cut, which he is hoping to take up in June.

James, who will only admit to being in "his later 60s", took over the farm - which has been in the family on his mother's side, the Corbetts, for over 150 years - when his father Edmund passed away in the early '80s, and he has been running a mixed farming enterprise ever since.

He has a herd of some 30 Holstein crosses supplying milk to Glanbia and a further 30 store Angus crosses for sale at local marts.

He is happy enough with the milk price, saying: "I'm getting 30c/l with a three cent top-up. I suppose Glanbia are doing the best they can.

Brexit

"On the stores side, animals have been selling at €2/kg at Fermoy recently, which is good for stores between 400kg and 450kg live weight."

As well as the weather, James is also somewhat preoccupied with the ongoing Brexit negotiations, which he believes will have negative knock-on effects on Irish agriculture regardless of their final outcome.

And if James was a betting man, he would be putting his money on a 'stalemate' outcome on the negotiations next autumn.

Asked about his main off-farm hobbies, he cheerfully said he had no interest whatsoever in the GAA, then quickly adds that his consuming interest is ploughing.

He is a dab hand at it, having won the national standard-class championships a few years ago in the Midlands with his local East Cork team.

"We plough in October and November and judge in January," he said. "We were judging last January locally in a field that was covered with water. You should have seen the state of it! I have always loved the ploughing and no doubt always will."

I asked him what Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed - a fellow Corkman - should be doing to help farmers generally.

"He was good on the subsided fodder scheme earlier this year but there is very little he can do unless he can do something about the weather," James said - adding that it was still teeming down outside the dairy window.

In conversation with Ken Whelan


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