BY NEIL McKNIGHT
Local farmers face disastrous losses as torrential rains threaten to wipe out their crops.
Farmers have spoken of their fears after some of the worst weather conditions in more than 50 years.
The heavy and persistent downpours have left farmers unable to harvest their produce.
And the possibility of frosts have heightened concerns of even more losses among the agricultural community.
It has been claimed that farmers across the Ballymoney and Moyle boroughs stand to lose “thousands upon thousands of pounds”.
With many bogged down by money worries, it is hoped that a much-needed dry spell will end their misery.
UUP councillor and farmer Willie Graham also said cattle have been brought out of fields early following “the worst season in over 50 years of farming”.
He said: “Farmers have been getting it very tight, it’s been a very, very poor season. The spring was too dry, too cold – we never had a summer apart from spells in April and May, and it has been a disaster since.
“Many fear that part of the crop has been lost. Lots of potatoes are lying under water – thousands upon thousands will be lost.
“It’s the worst season in over 50 years of farming. In 1985 it was bad but there was quite a good autumn and most crops were harvested, however this year there was no let-up.”
Mr Graham estimated that 20% of barley and 40% of potato crops will be lost.
“Farmers are going to have to just take it on the chin, and look for support from wet weather payments.
“They will be a help especially for people who have lost crops. It has been a huge blow to the farming community.”
One local farmer said it has been impossible to collect his crops.
He said he has brought in 50 acres of potatoes but still has to harvest another 50 acres of spuds.
When he spoke to the Times he was digging in the fields trying to drain water.
The farmer stands to lose £2,000 an acre and added that the financial losses will be “unreal”.
He said: “It’s probably been the worst season – we’ve had no dry weather for combining the barley and straw.
“We stand to lose 50% of the crop if we don’t get these potatoes dug.
“If frost comes in the ground it will be lost.”
Dunseverick farmer Rob McConaghy also voiced his financial fears because of the terrible conditions.
Luckily he has his own grain cut on his farm, but the contractor still has to cut 400 acres of crops for farmers in Dunseverick, Limavady and Ballycastle.
Mr McConaghy also has around 150 acres of crops to cut for Ballyrashane Creamery in Coleraine.
He said the saturated fields have been unable to carry machinery.
“How we will get it in the field, I just don’t know,” he said.
“There is lots of concern at the present time. Around Coleraine fields of barley are still to be cut.
“It’s very worrying, all contractors are in the same position. With the cost of diesel there’s very little money to be made in contracting this year.”
Whitepark Bay farmer Mark McCurdy, who owns 125 acres in the surrounding area, still has 65 acres of spuds in the ground.
In addition to the saturated ground, the cost of planting crops and poor returns at market, Mr McCurdy said his main fear is frost.
“Nothing is happening at the moment, everything is at a standstill.
“It all depends on the weather and frost has to be the biggest worry at the moment, whenever the ground is so wet. If frost comes it will wipe the crop out.”
Mr McCurdy said he is fearful as he stands to lose large sums of money.
“You’re talking thousands of losses. I’m very worried, it’s a huge amount of money to be losing.
“It’s the worst I’ve seen, one of the poorest harvests.”
Meanwhile, Ulster Farmers’ Union President John Thompson said the wet weather has caused a lot of problems for farmers and tested their resilience.
He said farmers struggled to meet the 15 October slurry spreading deadline because of the poor ground conditions and delayed farm work, but thankfully the union agreed more flexibility in the rules with the Environment Minister and the EU Commission.
He added: “Potato growers will also be concerned about ground conditions as will cereal growers hoping to sow winter crops. And many livestock producers have housed their animals earlier than planned.
“So there is no doubt a spell of dry weather would be a big help to farmers in the area. But the weather is always the biggest variable facing farmers and we’ve been in this situation before. The one thing I am confident about is that come what may, the farmers will do their best to cope.”