It’s unlikely that St. Patrick will ‘turn the stone’ in 2018

Given the weather forecast for the next few days, I think it’s reasonable to predict that St. Patrick will not be gifting us an early spring this year.

One is then left to conclude that our patron saint is taking a well-earned rest in his ‘mansion above’.

Meanwhile Irish livestock farmers are left to look out across a bleak countryside, wondering when they will be able to get their slurry tanks emptied and animals out to grass.

However, the outlook for tillage farmers is even more concerning. The continuing cold, wet weather means that spring crops cannot be sown out and the field work required to get winter cereals back on-track cannot be undertaken. It all adds up to more frustration for growers at a time when market prices for grain remain in the doldrums.

The only chink of light that I came across for tillage farmers over recent weeks was the frenetic activity of men baling straw in fields close to Raphoe in east Donegal on the day before the arrival of the heavy snow.

From what I could see the round bales produced were of decent enough quality. Let’s hope they make a euro or two for the men in question over the coming weeks. I sense that winter has not released its grip on us just yet.

Tillage farmers have every right to regard themselves as the “yesterday men” of Irish agriculture.

Over the past number of years they have been buffeted by a combination of very weak grain prices and the vagaries of the weather in this part of the world.

But the biggest challenge facing cereal growers is their inability to compete with their dairy counterparts, when it comes to accessing the land they need to develop their businesses.

Last autumn’s Oireachtas report, which directly addressed the very many challenges that confront cereal producers in Ireland, offered some hope that the Government would step in and put in place a meaningful recovery plan for the sector.

To date, nothing of a tangible nature has been done or said by policy makers to help the cause of tillage farmers.

Let’s hope it’s not a case of praying for a decent harvest later this year and the return of sustainable prices around the same time.

This is no strategy at all. In fact, such an approach would only serve to kill off a sector which must be maintained as vibrant component of the Irish farming and food industry.