Belfast Telegraph

Farmers face 'perfect storm' on winter feed following hot weather

By Mark Bain

Farmers are voicing growing concerns about the availability of winter fodder after the long, hot, dry spell.

Newtownards beef farmer Sam Chesney, who is also chair of the Ulster Farmers' Union's beef and lamb committee, said they are now left facing "a perfect storm".

"The Ards peninsula is extremely dry and many farmers are contacting me to say they are over halfway through their winter stock of fodder already, which is extremely worrying at the end of July.

"The longer the dry spell goes on, the harder it will be to get through the winter.

"Don't get me wrong, as farmers we're enjoying the hot sunshine as well as everyone else, but the harsh reality is that from an economic point of view we need a little rain at some stage to ease concerns."

Mr Chesney said it had been a hard winter during which many crops were lost through flooding - and now they were being lost to drought.

He said: "Earlier this week I lifted three trailers of silage, when I'd normally be lifting 14. That's a big shortfall.

"This time last year, a bale of straw was costing £40. This year, because of the difficulties, it's £80.

"But we have to be resilient. I'm advising farmers to grow forage crops if they can, like turnips.

"I'll also be using sawdust for winter bedding rather than straw, which has doubled in price. There are ways to try to get around this issue, but for many it'll be a case of resetting for next year already.

"The dairy industry has been particularly badly hit as they would get through a lot of silage. It's been a very tough year for them so far."

Ulster Farmers' Union president, Ivor Ferguson, said: "We have received a number of calls from farmers who are worried, a lot from the Co Down area, but we are hearing reports that grass yields are down across the countryside."

Earlier this year, the UFU highlighted fodder concerns after months of wet weather during the winter and spring.

Mr Ferguson said: "We have gone from one extreme to another, without time for recovery in between.

"Undoubtedly this has had an impact on grass growth and indications are fodder levels will be down.

"Farmers aren't complaining about the good weather, but the reality is, this type of dry, hot weather is highly unusual for Northern Ireland and it is posing challenges. Not just for fodder, but for vegetable and cereal crops as well."

The UFU said the dry weather is increasing costs on farms, which will ultimately have an impact on cash flow.

"Vegetable and cereal farmers are having to irrigate fields as best they can to save crops," said Mr Ferguson.

"We are in regular contact with DAERA and CAFRE. However, I would encourage farmers to contact them directly so they have a robust understanding of the impact of the weather on farms.

"One thing we know as farmers is that we can't control the weather."

Belfast Telegraph

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