Farmers Fear Food Shortage After Freeze

Crops are ruined. —farmers

January 16, 2010
By Antonia Oprita
Donegal News, Ireland

FEARS are beginning to emerge of a food shortage in Donegal as crop farmers face the prospect of losing one hundred per cent of their produce in the wake of the big freeze.

Photo: Charlie Doherty, potato farmer, from Burt in a five-acre field in Newtoncunningham where all his crop was ruined with frost. (Donna McBride)

Donegal Creameries has also reported that a small number of dairy farmers in the county have had to 'spill' their milk as treacherous roads made collection impossible in some places.

Before Christmas, farmers in Donegal avoided a milk scarcity by gritting roads themselves to allow access for milk collection lorries. However, with the prolonged cold spell many are finding it harder to manage. f

"We're struggling to get it all in but we have a number of smaller vehicles on the road so we're managing reasonably well now," a spokesman said.

Milking machines also proved almost impossible to keep right during the cold spell, with farmers reporting that lines were freezing as quickly as they are being freed.

The freezing weather conditions of the last three weeks had had a devastating impact on potato producers, with initial estimates showing losses of over €15m on potato crops still in the ground.

Donegal IFA Chairman William Monagle said 6,000 acres of potatoes across the country remain unharvested due to the disastrous wet weather in November and early December, and the frost in the last few weeks.

He said: "This situation is a wipe-out for growers who endured a very difficult season with low prices for their produce, rising input costs and the worst weather conditions for years."

"We had hoped that a thaw in the weather might come and we could salvage some of the crop but at this stage it looks as if 100 per cent of the crop is destroyed. We will know for certain in the next month to six weeks if any of the country's potatoes have survived. In my experience growing potatoes for many years, we have never endured weather like this.

"There are over 1,000 acres in Donegal alone and it is a very important crop to the county."

Mr Monagle said the situation regarding field vegetable crops such as Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, carrots and celery is being monitored.

Growers have been unable to harvest these crops in the last few weeks and are not yet in a position to estimate their losses. In addition, some winter tillage crops, especially winter oats, are becoming vulnerable to severe frost damage following the extended cold spell.

According to local IFA representative, Mr Davie Keith there are concerns in relation to future food supplies, particularly given the fact that most of Europe experienced a similar prolonged freezing temperatures.

"At the moment it's hard to know what is going to happen. Producers here are facing total devastation and with the rest of Europe also experiencing extremely low temperatures there will be a shortage in imports as well."


At present many farmers across the county are still battling to maintain water and feed supplies to livestock despite an improvement in weather conditions.

As Donegal faces into the fourth straight week of sub-zero temperatures, providing water for stock is proving extremely difficult. Even though temperatures have increased, Met Eireann is predicting continued hard weather into next week.

Keeping water flowing is the main challenge facing farmers. Water lines to drinking troughs in sheds and yards are frozen solid and many farmers have been unable to keep taps flowing. There are now fears pipes will burst as the thaw sets in.

Mr Keith said that farmers across Donegal have been forced to draw water from streams and rivers to ensure adequate supplies for housed livestock.


There have also been reports of farmers reopening watering points on streams in order to get water to stock. In some cases farmers have been forced to move cattle out of sheds and allow them direct access to water courses.

Others are using pumps to fill drums and tankards in order to bring water to sheds or to cattle and sheep that are being out-wintered.

However, getting water and feed to livestock on out-farms is proving extremely difficult due to the treacherous condition of secondary roads.

Mr Keith said the current weather conditions have made the working day longer and more difficult for farmers.