Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland farmers flounder in the deluge

Weather hits harvests while fears grow as the lambing season looms

BY Adrian Rutherford

Farmers in Northern Ireland face a bleak start to 2014 after a month of torrential rain took a heavy toll on crops, it has been warned.

Higher than normal rainfall, which has left parts of the countryside saturated, could lay waste to much of Northern Ireland's unharvested vegetable produce.

With similar problems in England, it could push up prices at the tills in the long-term.

The warning comes from the Ulster Farmers' Union, which said a wetter than normal January was causing misery.

"The main concern is fresh vegetable supplies because farmers are growing all the year round and harvesting all year round," said chief executive Clarke Black.

"Farmers will have contracts with supermarkets and those will certainly be hit by the weather.

"It (harvesting) will just not be happening, and farmers will be hoping they have enough in store to cover them."

Mr Black said it was possible that a shortage of fresh vegetables could drive up prices in the shops.

"If some of the other areas of the UK, where we are depending on fresh vegetables, are also affected by heavy rain then it may very well drive up prices," he added.

"However, I wouldn't think it was a significant concern at the minute."

Mr Black said it was unlikely the potato harvest would be seriously affected by the wet conditions.

"The good end to last year's harvest has meant that most potatoes are out of the ground by now," he added.

"Any potatoes left in the ground will be very much damaged, but we believe most of our members' harvests are completed and the potatoes safely stored away." According to the Meteogroup forecasting agency, Northern Ireland had an average rainfall of 125mm in January – 47% above average.

One of the biggest recorded downpours came earlier this week when Ballypatrick Forest weather station in Co Antrim recorded 23mm of rain in a 12-hour period.

Forecaster Ben Windsor said Northern Ireland had fared better than other parts of the UK. He said England and Wales have seen rainfall which is 91% above average. However, the heavy rain has still caused misery for many Northern Ireland farmers.

James Bell, a farmer from Co Antrim, said the upcoming lambing season could be hit by the rain. He is a livestock farmer so hasn't been affected by poor crop returns.

"One of the big issues is the lambing season, which isn't that far away," he said. "Ground conditions are very poor and getting the sheep out on to very waterlogged fields is always very difficult.

"For livestock farmers it's been difficult because basic things like spreading slurry cannot be done."

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