Dry ground creates ‘stress factor’ for farmers already facing high costs

‘I’m okay for another month, but if it doesn’t rain soon I could be in trouble,’ says farmer

Tillage farmers are already looking ahead to the harvest of 2023 with trepidation. Rising costs, a tightened grain market, a wet spring and now a prolonged spell of very dry weather means many farmers are fearing the worst.

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue this week ordered a nationwide survey of silage and hay stocks as temperatures continue to rise.

Kieran McEvoy (48), a tillage farmer from outside Emo, Co Laois, said: “The later sowing crops are under serious pressure for rain. We are experiencing the highest input costs ever, a poor grain market and an increasing workload, so there is definitely a stress factor involved.”

Mr McEvoy has not planted as much winter cereal as he normally would and also has a lot of late sowing barley and oats. “With the dry weather you would be concerned that the necessary moisture wouldn’t be there, which will affect the growth stages of the grain,” he says.


The harvest for 2023 was always going to be “a problem”, he maintains. “Our only hope is for big crops and high tonnage,” he says.

The cost of fertiliser is one of the main challenges facing tillage farmers. “By April 15th farmers will have spread or purchased their fertiliser. Some fertiliser was bought around last Christmas, when we had the red-high prices,” he says. “So while there has been a decrease in the cost of fertiliser in recent weeks, the tillage farmer won’t be able to avail of it.”

The impact of the very wet weather during March and April remains. “For early sowing crops, the headlands were damaged through compaction, and drought compounds that.”

Headlands are the areas of a field where the machines turn. “It’s about 24m in from the ditch,” Mr McEvoy says, “so it’s important to get a good yield in this large part of the field”.

Ray McCormack (69), from Fermoyle, Lanesborough, in Co Longford, is a suckler and sheep farmer. “Due to the wet spring weather my yield of silage was down 20-25 per cent, but it was very good quality,” he says.

“There is no real growth in grass here at the moment, no regrowth in the pastures, because of the dry weather,” he says. “But, we’re lucky. We still have grass to graze in the paddocks. I’m okay for another month, but if it doesn’t rain soon I could be in trouble,” he adds with a chuckle.

Ground that he had set aside for bailed silage, he made “good quality” hay out of instead. Mr McCormack also intends to have a small second cut of silage after July 1st. “So I should be okay,” he says cautiously, “but it depends on the rest of the year”.

He has noticed that the cost of some of his inputs has come down a little. “Meal costs are about €410 a tonne, it was €330 before the war in Ukraine. It’s still up 70-80 per cent from what it was before the war,” he says. “Fertiliser has come back too. Urea was €750 a tonne at the beginning of April. It was up to €900 a tonne last year. Even so, it too is still dearer than what it was before the war.”

While he did get the slurry out yesterday, he has not put out any fertiliser yet due to the dry weather. “There is talk of rain for this Saturday or Sunday,” he says. “If it rains I’ll put the fertiliser out, but there would be little point in putting it out if it was too dry, as there would be very little regrowth.”

Conor O’Leary (59), of Donoughmore, Co Cork, is a dairy farmer. “As you know we had a very wet spell at the end of March, beginning of April and then it suddenly turned very dry,” he says. “I haven’t seen ground dry as quickly as this. By, say the 12th of May, the ground was very, very dry.”

Growth has been okay – until now, says Mr O’Leary. “It stayed normal after the first two or three weeks of the dry weather, but recently has fallen off considerably,” he says.

“However, the dry period was exceptional for harvesting silage, it was pressure free, you could call up the contractor and ask him to call out over the following two or three days or whenever he could,” he adds.

“Our land is very dry land, so moisture is now becoming an issue – rain is needed immediately,” he says. “Yesterday, we began drought mitigation measures, feeding silage with a higher protein ratio. If it rains this weekend, we can drop back the protein ratio, otherwise we’ll have to persist with it.”