Contractors call for extension of hedge maintenance period

The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage is being called on to extend the current open period for the operation of hedge maintenance machinery by 16 days.

The Association of Farm and Forestry Contractors in Ireland (FCI) is asking that the period be extended out to March 17 to take account of a prolonged period of heavy rain during January.

Citing data from Met Éireann, the FCI noted that rainfall totals for last month were above the long-term average (LTA).

This high level of rainfall – that has resulted in poor conditions in many fields – has severely impacted on the ability of farm contractors who provide hedge management services to fulfil their annual hedge management work schedules for their client farmers.

Speaking yesterday (Thursday, February 4), John Hughes, the FCI’s national chairperson, outlined: “The type of work that we are seeking an extension for will be restricted to annual hedge maintenance work that ensures sustainable stock-proof fencing while preserving biodiverse habitats in Irish hedgerows.”

He added: “While we accept that this extension will not provide a guarantee of suitable weather conditions, based on previous weather records, field conditions are highly likely to have improved enough to allow machines to traffic in field conditions without undue damage.”

The FCI says that the work carried out during any extension of the period can be restricted solely to flail machines, and can exclude mulchers or saw blades.

The FCI said it would ensure that its members would be aware of what machinery they could and could not use, and what restrictions would be in place if an extension was granted.

Hughes noted that soil moisture deficits were in minus figures in most areas of Ireland for the month of January.

He argued: “This provides clear evidence of the levels of soil moisture [which] impact on the ability of hedge management machinery to be used in fields without causing severe surface and deeper soil structural damage.”

He also argued that the current deadline of February 28 was forcing contractors to work longer hours in order to complete work.

“Given the extent of hedgerows that require management in Ireland, the working time calendar cannot be achieved in a practical and safe way this year to meet the needs of farmers, environmentalists and general road users because of the current weather constraints,” Hughes concluded.