Farm Ireland

Saturday 18 November 2017

We are among the 23,000 awaiting payments

Robin Talbot

WB Yeats wrote in 1919 about The Wild Swans at Coole (in Co Galway). In it, he talks about "nine and fifty" swans. We mightn't be able to write poetry like Yeats but we can certainly beat him on the number of swans here at Coole, Ballacolla, this month. We have many multiples of 59; one day last week I lost count at 300.

They are happily grazing pastures that were closed up in mid-October. It never ceases to amaze me how nature adapts. Since we started closing up pastures earlier to have spring grass, the word spreads quickly among the swan population and every year they arrive in bigger numbers.

This year is the earliest I can remember them arriving. Usually their arrival coincides with cold weather. We had hoped that maybe, for once, they had got it wrong, but they were spot on, as ever.

As I write, the view across the snowy landscape is straight off the front of a Christmas card -- but it presents challenges. We have been lucky in that we haven't had much trouble with frozen pipes so far. Our main concern is how slippery the yards are and it is quite difficult to walk around them safely. I am at the stage now when I fear I mightn't bounce as well as I once would have.

The other thing we notice is that cattle appetites have shot up. The cow-rearing calves were eating 3,000kg of feed per group per day but now that has gone up to 3,200kg.

We changed around all the stock bulls this past week. They were let to the cows on October 20 so this move comes after six weeks. We will move them again in around three weeks times. We always ensure that each bunch of cows has had two different bulls running with them -- one after the other, not together.

We will remove the bulls from the maiden heifers next week, which means they will have been running with the bull for eight weeks. I always think an eight-week breeding season for maiden heifers is long enough. Any heifer that takes more than eight weeks to go in-calf is probably not going to survive in a compact calving herd, so I believe its better to take the slow breeders out sooner rather than later.

We are among the 23,000 farmers whose single farm payment has been held up by the digitisation of maps at the Department. Like a lot of other farmers in the same position, this is causing us serious cash-flow problems at the moment. But what really angers me is that we had absolutely no correspondence about it from the Department.

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The first that affected farmers knew was when they got their first SFP payment in mid-October. In our case, alarm bells started ringing when we looked at the payment slip, which stated that 50pc of our SFP had been lodged in our account. This was not, in fact, correct. It listed our entitlements but only the ones that did not need to be digitised, and totally ignored the entitlements that were still to be digitised as though they didn't exist. An explanation would have prevented a lot of worry and distress.

My first thought is that I had made a major blunder on my Area Aid application, but on checking I discovered this was not the case. It annoys me that the Department thinks this is an acceptable way to treat anybody. Where is the Charter of Farmers' Rights? OK, gripe over.

This is a verse my wife wrote for this year's Christmas cards:

Is that an angel flying by,

Or another snowflake falling from the sky?

Our world today can often make us blue,

But its been hard before, yet somehow people got through;

May Christmas bring you peace and pleasure;

The New Year many memories to treasure.

Robin Talbot farms in partnership with his wife, Ann, and mother, Pam, in Ballacolla, Co Laois

Irish Independent