Bad summer for farmers


IT HAS been a miserable summer for most people, but farmers and their enterprises have been particularly badly affected. Sodden land and persistent rain have kept machinery and animals out of fields and have seriously affected the operations of tillage farming and animal husbandry.

Even at this late stage, a spell of fine, dry weather would make all the difference between a poor financial year and a really bad one.

The weather forecast for the coming days is not encouraging. Grain producers are running out of time as crops pass their "best-by" date. One-third of the harvest, worth an estimated €120 million, is still in the fields and is deteriorating. The situation has been made more difficult by a fall in grain prices on the world market.

Farming has always been subject to financial uncertainty. And its practitioners tend towards pessimism, as was parodied in the verse, "We'll all be ruined, said Hanrahan", which gained currency in the 1950s. In spite of that, few farmers would swap their lifestyle for urban occupations. The sector is well supported financially, the Common Agricultural Policy and the European Union having transformed the face of Irish agriculture.

As with the rest of the economy, this is the most difficult situation that has faced agriculture since the mid-1980s. But just as the fundamentals on the financial and industrial side have changed for the better during the past two decades, so has the situation in relation to farming. The industry has modernised and invested heavily in plant and machinery. And while some farm incomes will suffer this year, the impact should be tempered by last year's 18 per cent growth in earnings for the agricultural sector. As with industry, farmers should not lose heart. They should prepare for the inevitable upturn when improved weather conditions and world demand for food puts them back in the driving seat.

The grain harvest has been described as "a salvage situation" in some areas. And you can understand why when wildfowl are grazing in flooded fields along the Shannon and lakes are at winter levels across the country. It is not just grain farmers that are affected. Beef and dairy farmers have to keep their animals off the land because of poor ground conditions. Milk production is down on last year. And beekeepers report that honey production and the pollination of crops and flowers have been badly affected. It is a depressing situation. But we can count our blessings if we look elsewhere in the world, to where tropical storms and torrential rains have caused massive flooding and loss of life.