Concerns are being raised that farmers will not be able to adhere to the slurry spreading ban which comes into force in just over a fortnight’s time.
October 15 marks the end of the season for spreading and as the weather has been so wet in recent weeks the chances of farmers getting slurry onto the fields is looking slim.
Last week UUP leader Robin Swann confirmed he had written to DAERA seeking an extension, while the Ulster Farmers’ Union have been continually reminding farmers not to take risks that may ultimately impact on their basic payments.
Ulster Unionist MLA Rosemary Barton has warned that the deadline for spreading slurry this year will be ‘impracticable and unenforceable’.
The Fermanagh and South Tyrone representative called for flexibility from DAERA for farmers who spread slurry beyond the deadline of October 15 as concerns of a fodder crisis continued to grow with farmers still struggling to get sufficient volumes of grass for winter lifted.
Mrs Barton said: “Many farmers I have spoken to across counties Fermanagh, Tyrone and Londonderry are in a dreadful situation. The weather over the last two months has been awful, with persistent rain and few dry gaps between. Poor ground conditions have made it impossible for most to get machinery out on the land to get second cuts of silage lifted.
“Whilst fortunately the beginning of the year saw a dry summer with good yields of high quality grass lifted, the frustrating reality for many now is that they have literally seen the advantage of this good harvest eaten away as cattle have been housed weeks earlier than they usually would have.
“I’m aware of dairy farms across Fermanagh which have been keeping cattle inside simply to prevent further land poaching and which as a result have been using far more feed than they usually would at this time of year just to try to maintain milk yields.
“Time is now running out to get the remaining grass lifted. The best of the quality has gone, but unless there is a good break in the weather soon many will not even be able to get it lifted to serve as even bulkage for dry cows. A shortage of fodder will inevitably see some farms forced to purchase bales at a massively inflated price.
“Whilst there is little that they can do to mediate against waterlogged land, the Department of Agriculture will soon be effecting a policy which could greatly exacerbate the current situation. The closed period of slurry is just weeks away and yet tanks across much of Northern Ireland are still far from empty. The incessantly poor weather has limited opportunities to get slurry spread, and the failure to lift further cuts of grass has also greatly limited other traditional means of reducing slurry levels.
“It is important that DAERA work in partnership with farmers, issue guidance and demonstrate flexibility to those many farmers who find themselves in an impracticable position to spread slurry. Arbitrary dates do not dictate weather patterns, as everyone knows, particularly farmers, it is not practical to have all work that requires actions on the land take place just within certain time periods.”
She added: “Farmers are very anxious about the slurry deadline - it’s simply another pressure which they don’t need at this time. I hope common-sense will be shown and flexibility from DAERA.”
Newry & Armagh DUP Assemblyman William Irwin MLA also highlighted that the wet weather was adding mounting pressure on farmers.
Mr Irwin said: “Once again we have a very difficult situation affecting farmers right across the province, where persistent wet weather has badly affected harvesting as many second and third cut crops are still in the fields. The knock-on effect of this has been an inability to get slurry spread on already wet ground. The weather has also had a knock on effect in respect of winter fodder. I would encourage anyone who feels they will have a shortfall to contact CAFRE for advice on how to manage such a situation.
“With the spreading deadline only a fortnight away, I am speaking to many farmers who are facing real difficulties in trying to get their tanks emptied. I have spoken to Departmental officials and I have urged them to be understanding and approach this period with a practical mind set and an understanding of the situation facing farmers.”
The TUV has also taken the opportunity to raise concerns.
In a letter to the permanent secretary, TUV leader Jim Allister said: “In light of the recent persistent wet weather I believe it is imperative that you sanction an extension of the slurry spreading period. Without such an extension our farmers will be in an impossible situation. You can alleviate the crisis. I trust you will.”
Farmers For Action have requested a meeting with Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) Mr David Small.
The group has backed Robin Swann’s call for an extension of time due to what it describes as “the recent devastating amount of rain across the province”.
Sean McAuley, of the FFA Steering Committee, stated: “Farmers and contractors would not physically have enough hours in the day to clear the back log even if the first two weeks in October were dry.
“As farmers have always argued - you farm by the weather not the calendar. FFA intends to put to Mr Small that the decision to be made will determine how farmers will react over the next 12 months. Extension time will mean help for livestock farmers to maintain current stock levels, where as a lack of extension time will mean many livestock farmers having reached the end of their tether with current livestock numbers and having to down size, thereby, climate change and bureaucracy proofing their business thus putting at risk many thousands of jobs in the agri food sector.
“This year has broke the camel’s back with EU enforced calendar farming, poor prices and the undoubted onslaught of climate change giving us milder and wetter seasons, all coming together making farming lives impossible for many across Northern Ireland.”