By Terri Leonard
FARMERS are being asked to look out for each other by sharing fodder supplies where possible as the fallout of a late spring continues to take a heavy toll on farmland.
Markethill beef and sheep farmer James Speers says the dire weather conditions have contributed to “one of his worst ever lambing seasons” and has left much of his land water-logged.
Farmers are suffering “mentally, physically and financially” under the burden and he fears that, if faced with another summer akin to last year, we could be looking at a “crisis”.
“It’s been the same for me as nearly everyone else, the weather has had a detrimental effect on farms here and has caused havoc for farmers’ plans,” the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster (YFCU) President told FarmWeek.
“The ground on my farm has been wet from last August so I’ve had to house my cattle earlier than in any other year meaning that silage stocks have had to be opened earlier than usual too.
“At this point the silage on my farm is all gone but I’m fortunate in that there’s a silo on the other side of Armagh that I’m able to draw down from. But tanks are at capacity and ground conditions are terrible.
“We’re almost in mid-April and usually arable farmers in my area would be out ploughing the land by now and preparing to sow it but it is just too water-logged to do anything.”
He added: “For a lot of farmers there just seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel; I try to be optimistic and take one day at a time but it’s been tough. We’ve just finished lambing 100 sheep there and it’s been one of the worst years for lambing we’ve had without a doubt.
“Right now farmers should be preparing their ground and sowing crops for the following year but we are now weeks behind schedule,” he continued.
“Usually people talk about getting out round the time of Balmoral Show for their first cut of silage but we’re under six weeks away from that and you couldn’t be thinking of doing that at all.”
He is calling on farmers to support each other by working together to share fodder supplies where they can.
“The farming community are resilient people and they’re always up for the fight so I know this is something we can overcome but we need to work together. I would appeal to farmers to look out for their neighbours, help each other out where you can.”
“In my area farmers have been working together sharing silage supplies and I know this will be happening in other areas too,” he said, adding that he commended the Department of Agriculture and CAFRE for being “very responsive” to the situation during the winter period by providing support tools for farmers.
He also said farmers who are struggling should get in touch with the Rural Support charity which has just launched a new 0800 helpline number.
He concluded: “This has been a very long winter for farmers, it began in August and the strain is now showing on them mentally, physically and financially.
“If we get another wet summer like last year I fear this will have a severe impact. People are just waiting for the coin to turn upside down so they can get stock out onto the fields but if there was another wet year ahead of us it could cause a crisis in farming.”
Meanwhile, the Ulster Farmers’ Union has said the next two weeks will be “critical” for farmers as they assess their fodder supplies.
It has just launched a live fodder map to help keep track of farmers who are either in need of supplies or have a surplus available.
UFU President Barclay Bell said: “We would appeal to farmers to try and help each other out in what has been a difficult year. We are still getting mixed messages on fodder availability. It will greatly depend on the weather over the next few days and it will be a very close call as to whether the situation improves or deepens.
“With slightly better weather forecast for next week, we are hoping it will be the former.”
The union said it will continue to monitor the situation in the coming days.