Friday 20 April 2018

Farms in race against time to curb losses

Lack of electricity and water supply to hit dairy producers hard

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Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

Farmers face a race against time to avoid devastating stock losses and an animal welfare crisis due to power and water disruptions across Munster in the aftermath of Storm Ophelia.

Thousands of farmers are now desperately trying to hire industrial generators to power wells, water supply systems and milking parlours, with many facing losses of tens of thousands of euro.

The crisis emerged as Cork City Council sought the assistance of the Defence Forces and specialist chain-saw teams from the forestry industry to help deal with 35 giant lime trees which have blocked the Centre Park Road.

The trees, which were toppled like dominoes by the 130kmh winds from Storm Ophelia last Monday, have totally blocked one of the main access routes to Pairc Uí Chaoimh, the Cork GAA grounds, which is set to be officially opened on Sunday.

While the ESB and Irish Water focus on tackling supply disruptions to all customers, the farming industry has emerged as potentially one of the worst-hit by the storm.

In north Cork, one farmer cannot use his newly built €100,000 milking parlour because he has been unable to source a sufficiently powerful generator.

Read More: Farming needs workable plan in time for our next extreme weather event

Outside Cork city, another farmer had a generator burn out under the load of trying to run a milking parlour and refrigeration units.

In Glanmire, John O'Connell was one of the lucky ones as ESB crews worked around the clock to restore his local power grid.

"It is very serious - you cannot operate a farm without electricity," he said.

The crisis is worst in Cork where some dairy farmers were without power for a third day - and cows run the risk of contracting diseases like mastitis and infections such as E-Coli if they are not milked within a 36-hour period.

The problem is exacerbated by the demand for generators nationwide to operate water pumping stations which have been left without electricity.

In Glanworth, generators had to be sourced from Laois to operate a number of small pump houses to restore water supplies to homes and farms.

Irish Water has dispatched almost 40 generators to Cork alone to operate pumping stations until power is restored to the water network.

It has also been made worse by the fact that the mild weather, good grass growth and high milk prices meant thousands of farmers kept their cows milking longer than normal this year.

"This time last year, most farmers would have either dried off or be drying up their cows because prices were so bad. This year, everyone has them milking later because prices are so good," Cork farmer John Keane said.

Read More: 'We can milk cows just once over 36 hours'

Some farmers are so desperate for generators they have been pleading to rent them for four-hour periods from neighbours so they can milk their cows.

Crucial

Irish Farmers Association (IFA) National Dairy Chairman Sean O'Leary said it was crucial that co-ops co-ordinate their efforts.

"The most pressing problem on farms is where they are left without electricity after a power outage which it could take days for ESB to deal with," he said.

"Ensuring that cows can continue to be milked is crucial from an animal welfare point of view, and maintaining refrigeration is essential to ensure the valuable quality milk produced is not spoilt or wasted.

"I am aware that some co-ops, including Glanbia, have made teams of electricians available, and are facilitating the loaning of generators between farmers who have them but don't need them and those who do."

He said farmers who continue to have difficulties should contact their IFA country chairmen and co-op.

Irish Independent

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