Dairy and cattle farmers across Donegal have been coming under severe pressure as their slurry storage nears capacity nears breaking point. Even though the end of the closed period for slurry spreading is around the corner, fears have been expressed that it’s still not a ‘dung deal’.
For some of the worst affected counties, such as Donegal, unsuitable ground conditions are exacerbating the problem. Under the Nitrates Directive, these farmers are not permitted to spread slurry until February 1.
Even though the open season for slurry spreading in Zone C counties (Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim and Monaghan) begin this coming Wednesday, atrocious ground conditions, particularly on heavy soils, mean that many farms are not trafficable.
Indeed some farmers are understood to be within days of filling their maximum storage capacity as some farmers were forced to house animals as early as the end of September or October. Slurry can provide a valuable range of nutrients for crop growth - but needs to be applied at the right time to avoid losses to the environment and be available to the growing grass or crop. Effectively used, slurry can reduce the need for ‘bought in’ fertiliser.
However, spreading slurry when soil and weather conditions are not appropriate can potentially lead to high losses of nutrients, including nitrogen and phosphorus.
Farm leaders and advisors have received calls from farmers worried about their slurry capacity.
“It was a hit-and-miss summer for spreading slurry, followed by a bad autumn when cattle were housed early on tanks that hadn’t been emptied,” said one of those affected.
“Now, ground conditions are so bad we would need at least two dry weeks before farmers could go out with a tanker,” he added.
Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) national president Gabriel Gilmartin has said that farmers in the Zone C counties should have been allowed to begin slurry spreading sooner.
“These farmers in Donegal are prevented from taking advantage of the good weather forecast for the rest of the week by mindless bureaucracy. They were also caught out with very poor weather in the latter half of 2011 and even though there was an extension to October 31, this was of no use due to inclement weather at the time.
“This is now an animal welfare issue with the risk of slurry coming up through the slats in some cases. We must take the worry out of slurry.”
Donegal ICMSA says answer is flexibility not ‘calendar dates ringed in red’
“The problem itself is obvious: the fact that Donegal, Cavan, Monaghan and Leitrim are required to have a longer closed period means that, even in normal weather conditions, our slurry storage facilities will be brought up to their limit. When we don’t have normal weather conditions – which we certainly didn’t have last year in Donegal or right throughout October of this year – we see cattle effectively being brought in a month early and using slurry storage facilities that farmers were unable to completely empty from the previous housing period”, said Cecil Fairman, Secretary of Donegal ICMSA.
“The weather problem is unavoidable but what can be dealt with - and what must be dealt with - is the silly and completely counterproductive adherence to a fixed date calendar that is actually making the problem worse. For instance, we actually had a ‘weather window’ last November in Donegal which would have allowed us to spread slurry safely, but we were within the closed period so nobody was able to take advantage of the opportunity. By the time we are legally allowed to spread slurry the grass is coming up and the ground is waterlogged both of which ensure that any good farmer is not going to spread slurry. I’m not sure there is anyone to blame here, but if there is any blame to be allocated for this situation, it most certainly doesn’t attach itself to the farmers who are the ones looking at the slurry – which they weren’t allowed spread when the weather would have allowed it – now seeping up through the slats of their storage tanks. There has to be an application of common sense here and the Department and local authorities have to move away from a rigid calendar-based notion of farming to a much more flexible system that is based on responding to the conditions tomorrow or the day after and not to a specific date ringed in red on the calendar”, stated the well known Ballybofey farmer.
Donegal IFA Development Officer, Davy Keith said both he and IFA Co. Executive chairman, PJ McMonagle had spoken to the Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney TD at a recent meeting in Dublin who along with the two Donegal Fine Gael TDs Dinny McGinley and Joe McHugh had made representations to the Minister for the Environment, Phil Hogan TD about the matter.
“In know many farmers who are struggling to hold out at the moment but they have no option. There is no viable way of getting rid of it. When the good weather came we could do nothing and even now there’s no guarantees when the slurry season opens that we’ll get it out. The calendar way of operating must become a thing of the past, it’s not contusive to running a farm sensibly,” he said.