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Growing concerns down on the farm in North Ireland
Belfast Telegraph, September 4, 2004
Northern Ireland farmers are looking forward to an Indian summer. And they need it after a season which almost washed out their harvest hopes.

Ironically, in early spring some were complaining about the dryness of the ground and the difficulties a rain-free summer would bring.

But the recent spell of wet weather has inevitably taken its toll, particularly on vegetable growers.

"It has really been a nightmare," said produce merchant Phillip McKee, a leading advocate of the farmers' markets.

"The weather has certainly hit hard, particularly in low lying areas.

"Growers are telling me of drills of potatoes submerged in water and vegetables which are beginning to rot.

"In fact, whenever they come to harvest these vegetables lots of damage is caused.

"It is not a nice situation to be working in."

Not everyone has been badly affected by the inclement weather though.

Cereals growers who follow a programme of growing winter crops were more fortunate than their counterparts who have still to harvest hundreds of acres of spring grown barley, oats and wheat.

Co Down cereals farmer Graham Furey, who is a deputy president of the Ulster Farmers Union, says: "We won't make a crisis out of a few days bad weather but we are certainly looking for a sustained improvement in weather conditions.

"English grain farmers were a bit unfortunate in that they were harvesting a couple of weeks earlier than we were and they ran into very bad weather.

"We were fortunate with our winter grown crops but it is a case of fingers crossed for the harvesting of those sown in the spring time.

"There is no doubt some farmers will experience losses in their grain harvests this year.

"At present over 50% of the spring crops have yet to be harvested and it will be the end of the month before they are safely gathered in.

"Indeed, there are pockets of the country where it will be even later before the combines leave the fields for another year.

"But there is always a question mark over the weather. Perhaps that's what makes farming interesting."

Reeling from the effects of the worst summer in living memory farmers across other parts of the United Kimgdom feel they should be entitled to weather aid.

While no one denies them the right to receive such support, after such atrocious conditions, should they we granted it Northern Ireland farmers will be anything but pleased.

"We had a dreadful year in 2002," says UFU communications manager Joe McDonald.

"Our application for weather aid is lying on someone's desk in Brussels.

"We would not deny our counterparts compensation for what they have had to endure this summer.

"But if weather aid is granted to other parts of the UK we will be asking questions."

Meanwhile, Co Armagh's Bramley Apple crop looks very promising with both fruit quality and fruit count high.

A combination of favourable weather temperatures at blossom time during May and good growing conditions during the summer has resulted in a favourable crop load. Growers are looking forward to the harvest while hoping for dry weather conditions.

At the Department of Agriculture there is agreement wet summer weather has affected farming.

"The recent wet weather, particularly during the month of August, has caused concern amon farmers," a spokesperson said.

"However, the wet weather has had little adverse effect on potato crops and yields and quality should largely be unaffected at this stage.

"The winter barley crop had largely been harvested earlier and the spring barley crop can withstand periods of wet weather without undue effects on yield and quality. Better weather towards the end of last month allowed good progress with harvesting."

As ever, the Ulster farmer still looks for brighter days bringing with them the prospect of better fortunes from the land.

Some will be fortunate in their endeavours. For others it will be a time of loss.
MGR Archive 5.9.2004
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