‘Exceptional’ turf-cutting season despite labour shortages

While the heatwave has caused serious worry for farmers throughout the country, it has been very positive for turf-cutting, according to independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice.

“It has been a very good season. The biggest problem arose where the stone turf – the real black turf – needed to be brought in quickly or it would have gone to dust; the sun would have baked it up,” said Fitzmaurice, a farmer, contractor and cutter who represents the Roscommon-Galway constituency.

‘Ferocious pressure’

“However, in general the turf got a great run this year. Turf that wasn’t even turned was brought home.

“It was an exceptional year for turf – even though I remember good years in the ’80s and one year in the ’90s,” said the deputy, claiming he had worked every morning since May on bogs in the Galway/Roscommon border area.

Fitzmaurice explained that, in his case, he was five weeks behind starting due to the bad weather earlier in the year, which put “ferocious pressure” on his team.

Everyone was shouting at us. When the weather gets good, people get excited.

“You have to condense the season into a tighter time so contractors were working 18 and 19-hour days, seven days a week,” the TD noted.

Contractors have been affected by the skilled labour shortage in machinery driving.

“All contractors around the country have been finding it impossible to get machinery drivers. They are struggling. There were days when I couldn’t get cover myself and I had to go to the Dail.

“There is a massive scarcity of good, qualified drivers. On top of the general issue, bog work is seasonal, and a lot of people don’t want short-term work.

“Agricultural and bog work is tough and isn’t for the faint-hearted,” the TD said.

‘Bog Buddies’

Meanwhile, the heatwave didn’t have an impact on ‘Bog Buddies’, a family-run enterprise in the midlands that incorporates peat into framed designs.

The manufacturing end of the business is run from Athlone, with the framing and customising done from the Claypipe Visitor Centre in Knockcroghery, Co. Roscommon.

A wholesale distribution business is also based there.

turf

“We can take from the bog at any time of year,” said Ethel Kelly, who runs the enterprise.

“My brothers Anthony and Vinnie do the dirty work, taking mushy peat from the family bog in Ballyforan, Co. Roscommon, while I look after all the framing and the orders in Knockcroghery.”

Running for the last six years, Bog Buddies – which has secured Local Enterprise Board funding – exports to the UK, US and Australia.

“There’s also a big market in Ireland, such as for housewarming gifts,” said Ethel. “People like the fact that they’re quite rustic and fun, with a different twist.”