Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland farmers hoping for rain as heatwave threatens to destroy crops

From left: Wilson’s Country chairman Angus Wilson, Comber potato grower Hugh Chambers and Wilson’s agronomist Stuart Meredith
From left: Wilson’s Country chairman Angus Wilson, Comber potato grower Hugh Chambers and Wilson’s agronomist Stuart Meredith
A fire blazes in sand dunes at Benone beach
Betsy and Sid Taylor enjoy a ‘poke’
Gearoidin and Aibhrean Devine on skates
Donna Deeney

By Donna Deeney

Local farmers say they are praying for rain to avoid a disastrous harvest.

The extended heatwave - which could last for another fortnight - is continuing to cause problems.

Yesterday Armagh Observatory said it had recorded the warmest June since 1846.

And June 27 saw the hottest temperatures ever noted by the observatory since it started taking daily measurements in 1795.

Demand on water is running at 20% above normal, reservoir levels are falling, and now potato and other vegetable producers say they are facing problems because of the drought.

The first hosepipe ban since 1995 has been in place since Friday.

Many farmers rely on rain to water their land and do not have irrigation systems in place to cope with prolonged periods of dry weather.

The heatwave, which follows an extremely wet April, has played havoc with the production of spuds.

Angus Wilson, who set up Wilson's Country Ltd 40 years ago, said the crop of Comber potatoes currently being harvested is much less than it should have been. He warned that if it doesn't rain within the next week, the crop sown in May and due to be lifted in September will be in even shorter supply.

Mr Wilson said: "The early crop of Comber potatoes, which are being dug at the moment, is maybe half of what it should be and the rest of the crop is really, really thirsty.

"If they don't get water within the next fortnight, we are looking at a very significant crisis in the industry for next year's crop.

"Normally, Comber potatoes would yield around six or seven tonnes an acre, but we are looking at half that now.

"The main crop of potatoes that were planted in May are doing quite well, surprisingly, in spite of the drought, but that's because they don't need a lot of water at the initial growing period. But from here, going forward, a lot more water will be needed.

"If it doesn't rain within the next two weeks, we will be very concerned. In the 30 years since I started the business, I certainly do not remember conditions as hot and dry as this."

William Gilpin, from Gilfresh Produce, said that while carrots planted in May are not yet affected, rain is needed soon.

He said: "All our carrots are all well established and doing well, but we do need rain within the next two weeks. It is still too early to tell how things will pan out and what the yield will be, but we know already the crop will be later.

"We seemed to have had extremes of weather this year, in April and May, we had the extreme wet weather and now we have this extreme dry weather, but hopefully there will be enough rain within the next two weeks, otherwise we will have to try and get some access to water.

"Making sure there is access to water is not something that is normally a consideration when you are buying or renting land for growing carrots in Northern Ireland, but we will have to come up with something if this dry weather continues."

Meanwhile, demand on the water supply continues to be above normal levels.

Last night NI Water said there had been improvement in the "unprecedented" situation, but said demand for water remains 20% above normal levels.

Chief executive Sara Venning said: "None of us can afford to be complacent, however, and the hosepipe ban is still necessary.

"As we face into a period of extended dry weather, it is essential we all look at adopting water-saving habits as part of our day-to-day lives now and in the future."

Belfast Telegraph


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