Drought costing Louth farmer extra €3,500 a week

The extremely dry summer has put Louth farmers under huge mental and financial strain

Donard McCabe


Donard McCabe


Drought costing Louth farmer extra €3,500 a week

Kilkerley dairy farmer, Donal McElroy (RIGHT), with his father Gerry and two sons Harry and Tom. Grass shortages this year have cost Donal around €3,500 a week Picture: Arthur Kinahan

A local farmer has spoken out about the huge mental and financial pressure farmers in Louth are under due to the extreme weather this year.

“Guys have had a tough old Spring and the stress of having to pay for all this extra feed as well, it’s something people don’t think of”, said Kilkerley dairy farmer, Donal McElroy, speaking to The Democrat on Monday.

“Nowadays farming is a business. Bills have to be paid. A lot of farmers are working on their own, they don’t have colleagues to help them. They have to do all the work and have to manage the financial end of it too."

“It was costing about an extra €3500 a week”, said Donal, “to feed the cows." 

Mr McElroy, who milks 230 cows, spoke about the impact this year’s drought has had on his farm.

“Most years, the grass is a big part of the diet with maybe two or three kilos of meal over the summer”, he added.

“From, I suppose, the middle of June on, we were buffer feeding with round bales of silage, we were feeding up to nine kilos of meal, and three or four kilos of brewers grains.

“The east coast seemed to get an awful doing this year”, he added. 

Donal highlighted the harsh winter this year, that was followed by a late and wet Spring.

“If you remember we had the snow in March, and then the end of March and beginning of April was very wet. It meant we couldn’t get them out to grass, nearly until the middle of April.

“Then in May, there was very little rain, and June was the same. In May the growth was fantastic alright, but then once it hit June, and those real high temperatures came in, it just stopped growing.”

This had a severe impact in his area, according to Donal.

“Around Kilkerley and the Knockbridge area, the soils are light and we always seem to suffer in a dry year.

“It would have been harder around this area than other areas, we would have suffered earlier than even say, Inniskeen or Carrickmacross - they wouldn’t have suffered as badly as us.”

The extra feeding continued well into the summer, he added.

“We stopped feeding on the Friday of the bank holiday weekend, that’s when we stopped putting the extra buffer feed out. Now, we're still feeding five kilos of meal in the parlour, that's higher than normal, but we're just trying to build up grass coverage for the Autumn and try and make extra bales of silage.”

"In terms of planning for grazing and saving fodder for winter, Donal says farmers are under severe pressure for the rest of the year.

“For dairy farmers in Louth an awful lot of them wouldn’t have made a second cut [of silage], or if they did they would be making round bales.

“They may have also, only be getting one or two bales to the acre, where they’d normally be getting maybe five or six.

“What a lot of them have done now since the rain came “, he says, “is fertilize it again, in the hope of getting it cut, sometime around the middle of September.

“As with everything else, we’re totally dependent on the man above, that he’ll give us a good spell of weather to get it made.”

The Department of Agriculture has granted farmers two extra weeks this year to spread chemical fertilisers and slurry.
“I suppose that will help alright”, Donal says.

“I know some of the co-ops are trying to source fodder out in France and England, but what I’m led to believe is that they're suffering from a drought too, so it's not as plentiful there either.”

A shortage of wheat on the continent this year is also expected to drive up meal prices.

“It's all coming at us”, says Donal. “I think Co-ops could maybe help support farmers this year”, he said. “The co-ops seem to be making big profits, any time you look at Glanbia[and other co-ops], they’re making big profits.  

“Droughts like this don’t seem to be that common, but still and all, the years that they happen, we need all the help we can get.”