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By Sean Byrne

The last few months have been a very difficult spell for farmers as they cope with challenging weather conditions and find it more difficult to make a living. Rainfall in July at 217% was the highest ever, which prompted our Bishop Ger Nash to issue a special prayer for those working in the industry. This followed a critical drought and hot spell which lasted for most of May and well into early June. Crops which were sown late in the wet spring now lay lodged and seriously damaged in Wexford fields due to this rain.

The poor weather has knock on effects and financial implications for many farmers particularly those in the tillage and dairy sector who may see their incomes halved this year after the record income levels of 2022. Farming cannot prosper if farmers cannot prosper, and climate is the biggest factor facing farmers at the moment. The average family farm family is caught in a vice-grip squeeze with agri-processing companies and multi-national supermarkets paying inadequate prices. This is a global phenomenon. Farmers on the horn of Africa currently face a massive famine with total loss of livestock in many cases due to 6 years of solid drought.

It is acknowledged now that there are only about 100 serious vegetable producers left in Ireland. More and more fruit and vegetables are not produced in this country but are produced abroad. This will lead to food shortages and increased prices for food. This should be highlighted more. The great majority of farmers are willing to step up to the plate from an environmental point of view. However, one vegetable farmer told me recently that he could halve his use of spray if his supermarket did not insist on every parsnip been the same size and shape. Further savings could be made in packaging and plastic.

Modern technology does give some hope for saving carbon and nitrous oxide production, and should be made mainstream immediately. Things that come to mind include protected urea fertilizer, direct injection of slurry, feed additives and animal genetics

Farmers should be facilitated to become energy producers in addition to food producers. Anaerobic digestion, solar farming, and on shore wind farms all can play a useful role in saving our planet if some of the stranglehold of bureaucracy was removed.

Forestry is a simple and effective way to mitigate carbon emissions, but again due to excessive bureaucracy, it is not making the progress needed. We must hope that the political establishment would show a little more flexibility, think outside the box and remove these barriers that impede progress.

It is very important for farmers to have coping strategies and try as much as possible to adapt a positive and hopeful approach. We cannot control what happens with the weather but we can control how we react to it.

When the summer storms damaged my barley crops in 2020, I got solace from the sense of community which was around. My contractor had 6 combines on the go in one day (2 of his own and 4 others) trying to get the harvest saved. This showed a community of backbone and neighbourliness which brings great consolation.

It is very important to tap into this community of family and neighbours to share our stresses and worries. A problem shared is a problem halved. It also helps us realise that other people are in the same boat and maybe suffering more than we are.

Enjoy the creation and nature that is around us. Observe the rabbits running in the fields, the streams meandering towards the rivers, livestock grazing in the fields. Laughter is one of the best antidotes to stress so do not lose hope no matter what happens.

Finally and most importantly, draw on the deposit bank of faith in God which oozes with perseverance and resilience. Many times the darkest hour is just before the dawn. God is at our back and all around us, giving us his eternal wisdom and blanket protection. Safe Harvesting.


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