Concerns are mounting across Northern Ireland at the potential negative impact the spell of dry, hot weather will have on the farming industry in the weeks and months ahead.
While yesterday’s light rain will have come as a welcome relief to many, the damage may already be done after weeks of scorching sunshine.
Ulster Farmers’ Union president, Ivor Ferguson, says concern is growing about the availability of winter fodder and his officials have been inundated with calls from concerned farmers.
Mr Ferguson explained: “We have received a number of calls from farmers who are worried, mainly from the Co Down area, but we are hearing reports that grass yields are down across the countryside.”
The fears over supplies of fodder is not new, however the cause of the problem has turned full circle.
Earlier this year, the UFU highlighted fodder concerns after months of wet weather during the winter and spring but now it is the warm summer that is causing the problems.
Mr Ferguson added: “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 here and it is posing challenges. Not just for fodder but for vegetable and cereal crops as well.”
The UFU says, while a welcome break from the rain, 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. In areas where grass growth has slowed right down, livestock farmers are already feeding silage ear-marked for next year and additional concentrates. All of which are adding cost. In areas that still have grass – reports are that growth has slowed and the expectation is this will impact on winter costs,” said Mr Ferguson.
The UFU is encouraging farmers to plan ahead for winter feeding.
“Many already do this but it will be particularly important this year,” says Mr Ferguson. Fodder calculators are available through DAERA’s website. Farmers can also contact DAERA and CAFRE for help and guidance. Mr Ferguson said, “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. We have to make the best of what comes our way and manage our businesses accordingly. But that doesn’t make it any easier or any less stressful. I would encourage farmers to be aware of their own mental health and ask for help if they need it,” said the president.
The UFU continues to monitor the situation.
The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) is also keeping a close eye on developments.
A spokesperson said: “The current spell of dry and hot weather is posing challenges for farmers and livestock. The Department, through CAFRE, continues to provide practical support and advice on dealing with high temperatures and poor grass growth on livestock farms in particular. It is anticipated that grass growth rates will recover with further rain.
“DAERA will continue to monitor the situation closely and will review our practical support provision as necessary.”
Further advice on ‘Drought management on beef and sheep farms’ is available at www.daera-ni.gov.uk/news/drought-management-beef-and-sheep-farms