Farmers' fear as bad weather sparks animal feed concerns
Concerns are growing about the pressure on farmers to have enough fodder for livestock following a prolonged period of cold weather.
Heavy rain has caused problems across the agriculture industry in recent weeks.
Lower yields from silage cuts mean many farmers are having to buy in meal to feed their animals.
Ulster Farmers' Union president Barclay Bell said: "We are monitoring the fodder situation on a daily basis through our group offices to try and gauge the situation across different areas.
"We would appeal to farmers to try and help each other out in what has been a difficult year. We are still getting mixed messages on fodder availability. It will greatly depend on the weather over the next few days and it will be a very close call as to whether the situation improves or deepens.
"With slightly better weather forecast for next week, we are hoping it will be the former."
The UFU says that one of the wettest winters, following persistent rainfall, has made conditions "very difficult" for Northern Ireland's farmers.
Mr Bell added: "Soil has been at saturation point, and as a result, there were real difficulties in doing field work.
"This prolonged period of wet weather across the province has put major feeding pressure on farmers. Many have had cattle housed since August and struggled to get silage cut in the autumn of 2017.
"A period of low temperatures has also been a contributory factor to slow growing conditions for grass. The cold winter followed by a late spring has resulted in lower than average grass covers across many farms."
He indicated that many farmers are now having to buy meal to supplement silage stocks for feeding animals.
"It has been a difficult spring. Cows are calving and sheep are lambing and farmers are unable to put their animals out to grass, because there is no grass."
Campbell Tweed, a farmer from Cairncastle in Co Antrim, added: "People who have little silage are having to buy meal. It is an expensive time. We have little grass. Normally we would have some silage. It is not good. I just hope there will be some improvement around the corner.
"This time next week I will be lambing. Normally I would have plenty of grass for that. It is a critical time of year," added Mr Tweed, a past president of the UFU.
"It is just the way of the weather. It broke at the end of May last year. Farms in the Republic have had it exceptionally bad with the 'Beast from the East' (a recent spell of bad weather). We are a bit behind them for grazing."
He also noted that farmers in Northern Ireland are behind with their groundwork for planting crops of potatoes and barley due to the exceptional weather.
Earlier this week the Belfast Telegraph reported how this year has seen the latest-ever planting of early potatoes in Northern Ireland as farmers battle poor weather conditions.
Industry experts said potato growers still have not lifted large swathes of their harvests from last year and many are already behind schedule planting this season's early crops.
Lewis Cunningham, managing director of Craigavon-based potato firm Wilson's Country, said they estimated that 60% of this year's early crops have been planted, but growers are nearly a full two months behind their normal planting schedule.