By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — With the cumulative effect of the relentless rain this year leading to a collapse in income for tourism and agriculture, Ireland’s agriculture minister, Joe Walsh, has flatly ruled out any question of a state bailout with emergency aid for those worst hit.
Farm organizations have claimed some of their members face ruin and there could be a big exodus from the industry unless they get aid.
The Meteorological Office said the cumulative effect of the rainfall throughout this year could put it among the 10 wettest on record.
“Apart from March, every month this year has been wet and some have been very wet,” a spokesman said.
In the first six months the rain was a record for Valentia in County Kerry, where the weather station has been taking observations since 1892.
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“It has been quite variable across the country,” the spokesman said. “Different parts of the country have been worst hit at different times. Belmullet [in County Mayo] had its wettest June on record. We have records there going back to the mid-1950s.
“In July it was a little bit above normal for most places but probably not as wet as most people imagine — the rain was actually below normal at three of our stations. The period from January to date has been exceptionally wet. But in terms of the summer, it has been wetter than normal but not exceptional.”
Temperatures have also been below normal, but there have been no big highs or lows. “It is only in the last week that a couple of our stations had actually reached 20 degrees [Celsius] — which is quite unusual.”
Walsh said a number of measures are being taken to ease the pressure on farmers but no new finance is available.
He recognized it has been “a very difficult summer and rainfalls are at an all-time high.” All government agencies, he said, are trying to help them and the dates for programs are being staggered but there is no extra cash available.
“The bottom line is, in relation to a specific fund, we do not have that kind of money available to us given the tight budgetary situation we have now,” he told RTE.
The Teagasc farm advisory service, in its latest report, said that with the cereal harvest now under way, the yield is expected to be down about a ton per hectare.
While some improvement in the weather has alleviated some of the problems for vegetable growers, it is likely too late to have an impact on soft fruit, apple and nursery stock producers.
Grass growth rates improved to 80-90 percent of normal in the dry land areas but are still at only 50 to 70 percent of normal in the heavier wetland areas.
“In general, grass is still scarce on many farms and grass regrowth is below average after grazing and silage/hay cutting,” the report said.
“Silage remained to be cut in 40 to 80 percent of wetland areas and the area and yield of second cut silage is expected to be substantially reduced. Some farmers are facing the prospect of a winter feed shortage.”
Milk yields are down, particularly in wetland areas, where the drop is as high as 15 percent.
Beef farmers are finding animal performance has been down by up to 25 percent. Depending on the area, from 5 percent to 70 percent of cattle farmers are feeding meals.
Lamb performance varies from close to normal to up to 20 percent below normal in worst affected areas. The outdoor strawberry crop has suffered severe losses with yields down 50 to 75 percent.
Apply growers have been severely affected, with the lowest yields predicted for many years. While some apple growers escaped with modest damage, many may face losses up to 70-80 percent of production.