Even the ‘love of the land’ has its lim­its

Irish Independent - Farming - - FARM OUR - JOHN HENEY

One swal­low never makes a sum­mer and un­for­tu­nately nei­ther did the beau­ti­ful four days we got in late April make a spring.

How­ever, the four fine days did mark the start of grass growth even if it was short lived and the sub­se­quent night frosts meant I still had a long way to go be­fore I was out of the woods.

The warm spell over the Bank Hol­i­day week­end was again a great help and per­haps now af­ter months of hard­ship I can look for­ward to a re­turn to some sem­blance of nor­mal­ity on my farm.

I’m very lucky to have a dry farm and I shud­der to think of what farm­ers on heavy soil still have to cope with.

While the cat­tle who have been out since April 9 on lit­tle more than half-stocked pad­docks ap­pear to be do­ing okay, they are still well be­hind where they should be in a nor­mal year.

I have been let­ting stock out in dribs and drabs over the last few weeks and with the im­proved tem­per­a­tures I should have them all out soon.

My silage fields have re­sponded well to the im­proved weather.

How­ever, I feel that it may still not be good enough for cut­ting be­fore the end of the month, but in farm­ing you never know.

Look­ing at how well my silage fields are do­ing, you could ar­gue that I was fool­ish not to have also spread some fer­tiliser on my graz­ing fields.

The rea­son I didn’t is that I am de­ter­mined to stick to my low-in­put sys­tem. There is a long graz­ing sea­son ahead of us so hope­fully the weather will im­prove suf­fi­ciently to com­pen­sate for the poor spring growth.

We of­ten hear about Ir­ish farm­ers’ ‘love of the land’. This is a unique ro­mance which most peo­ple out­side farm­ing will never un­der­stand.

This winter’s harsh weather and late spring are a very good ex­am­ple of some of the ex­treme chal­lenges which farm­ers face be­cause of this ‘love’.

And while we all like to keep the ‘best side out’, farm in­come re­search clearly shows that for many of us — es­pe­cially in the cat­tle sec­tor — this love for the land is cer­tainly not in­spired by mone­tary gain.

In re­cent years, the love of the land has been ac­com­pa­nied by ex­pan­sion­ary ex­u­ber­ance and I would ar­gue that this po­tent com­bi­na­tion has been some­what cyn­i­cally used by our pol­icy mak­ers to fur­ther the growth tar­gets set out in the Food Wise 2025 plan.

Many young farm­ers in­volved in low mar­gin en­ter­prises such as cat­tle farm­ing have been ac­tively en­cour­aged into mak­ing large in­vest­ments in high risk ex­pan­sion plans.

The pol­icy-mak­ers don’t seem to have given much thought to the dire con­se­quences for these farm­ers if things go wrong

This spring proved that the best laid plans can go ter­ri­bly wrong.

Farm­ing in New Zealand has long been held-up to us as the model which we should fol­low.

How­ever, re­search there has dis­cov­ered huge is­sues of de­pres­sion among the farm­ing com­mu­nity and high­lighted the dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect de­pres­sion can have on fam­ily re­la­tion­ships

Em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence sug­gests that Ir­ish farm­ers are now be­ing af­fected in a sim­i­lar man­ner.

All this re­minds me of a line from a play by Marie Jones called Stones in His Pock­ets.

One char­ac­ter speak­ing of a farm­ing friend de­clares (and I para­phrase) ‘he put his trust in the land but the land let him down’

I find this line to be par­tic­u­larly poignant and up­set­ting as the char­ac­ter in­volved blames him­self for events which were to­tally be­yond his con­trol.

Un­for­tu­nately, many Ir­ish farm­ers also tend to blame them­selves when things which are well out­side their con­trol go wrong.

The real tragedy would be if we don’t learn from the many prob­lems farm­ers have en­dured this spring.

As well as en­sur­ing a suf­fi­cient sup­ply of silage for next winter, we must also iden­tify and recog­nise the un­der­ly­ing struc­tural and pol­icy prob­lems.

These is­sues must be faced up to and mech­a­nisms put in place to cope with the many stresses and dif­fi­cul­ties which arise in mod­ern farm­ing.

If it can be done in New Zealand, surely it can also be done here.

Farm walks

On a more cheer­ful note, any­one driv­ing around the coun­try­side over the past few weeks could not but no­tice the many road­side signs di­rect­ing farm­ers and in­ter­ested par­ties to var­i­ous farm walks and demon­stra­tions.

The sign which at­tracted my at­ten­tion was for the an­nual ‘Beef Open Day’ in Grange, Co Meath, ‘Beef 2018’.

I have al­ways en­joyed at­tend­ing this an­nual event and I am cer­tainly look­ing for­ward to at­tend­ing there again on June 26.

I have no plans to rad­i­cally change the way I man­age my farm, but lis­ten­ing to new ideas is never a waste of time.

There’s al­ways room for im­prove­ment.

John Heney farms in Kil­feackle, Co Tip­per­ary

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