Belfast Telegraph

Pressure on farms has deadly consequences

Editor's Viewpoint

To those not brought up in a rural setting, farming probably seems a laid-back occupation, which merely keeps pace with the changing of the seasons. But of course nothing could be further from the truth.

Firstly, it is an uncertain occupation at the moment, with farmers in many sectors complaining of getting a poor return on their investments and their labour.

Secondly, it is a 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week industry, especially for those farmers who combine arable and livestock farming. Animals have to be tended and kept in the best of health and the land has to be worked, whether it is planting crops, cutting silage or spreading slurry to promote grass growth.

Not only is the pressure unrelenting, but can build up due to poor weather at the wrong time.

There is some suggestion that two farming accidents in Tyrone and Fermanagh in the past week - one of them sadly causing the death of a well-respected farmer - were possibly the result of that pressure.

Both involved slurry. The deadline for spreading slurry was on Saturday and the farmers were obviously keen to meet that timeline.

Slurry is a volatile substance and the fumes from it are highly toxic. In one instance in Fermanagh, five cows were killed by the fumes, and in Tyrone, farmer Alastair Sloss was overcome with fumes and fell into a slurry pit.

Both men were obviously experienced in the handling of slurry but the accidents show that in certain circumstances, tragedy or near tragedy can easily occur.

In the last 15 years in Northern Ireland, 11 people have lost their lives in accidents involving slurry.

While the Department of Agriculture has to impose a deadline for final spreading of slurry on farmland, consideration must also be given to prevailing weather conditions.

Exceptions can be made but did the Department make that sufficiently clear this year?

While the exact circumstances of these two latest cases are still unknown, what they highlight are the dangers that lurk on every farm.

Dangerous animals, heavy machinery, toxic materials all pose potential risks to farmers, many of whom have little help on the holdings, as children move away to less-demanding occupations.

All the time the farmers are trying to make a living from what to them is a labour of love. Sometimes, sadly, that labour becomes a tragedy.

Belfast Telegraph


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