For farmers on the Shannon Callows and other areas, the threat of flooding is always there. For most of the year, they may only have a portion of their land in adjusted acres. Many farmers depend greatly on these areas for silage and summer grazing. According to former IFA flood project chair Michael Silke, quoted in the report of the joint Oireacthas committee on flooding and property insurance that followed summer floods in 2012, “thousands of hectares of grassland and meadow for grazing stock and harvesting for winter fodder were destroyed. Farmers who lose land lose the ability to feed cattle for that year; they were forced to house their stock in early summer at huge financial cost and faced financial ruin.”
The Shannon Callows is a special area of conservation and for this reason land cannot be reseeded or drained under the EU habitats directive. Farmers are producing silage off rough permanent pasture. Yet silage coming from reseeded grass is far superior in quantity and quality. These farmers are at a disadvantage.
Summer floods may not be as obvious as the huge floods in winter, but they can be more problematic for farmers. This year, flood waters were still high at the end of March/April in some areas and grass could not be grazed until mid-June. A local farmer told the Irish Farmers Journal that stock could be let out onto land by 1 April. Now this is not feasible until the middle of June.
Floods are now coming faster and for longer. Many farmers only get to graze cows for three summer months, with a nine-month store period. This year the good weather in June helped to dry out the land a lot. When the land is wet, you cannot get optimum grazing out of fields as they poach a lot quicker. This makes grass budgeting and planning essential.
Flora and fauna have taken precedence over the family and farm
Slurry also poses another major issue. Every year there is the threat of overflowing tanks. Last winter, the Department of Agriculture issued a special dispensation for spreading slurry after the cut-off date for some areas. In previous years, however, farmers say they were desperate and had to spread slurry on to the land at undesignated times. They were threatening their payments with the risk of a fine.
The future of these farms are bleak. Farmers say they will have no successors. Many have already had to look for part-time employment.
"Flora and fauna have taken precedence over the family and farm," said a farmer from the Athlone area who wished to remain anonymous. He also added that with high silt deposits in the rivers and lakes, water levels must be kept high to facilitate the navigation of boats. "The tourism and recreational industries are also getting priority over farmers."
Earlier this month, Ministers of State for the OPW Sean Canney and for Flood Relief Kevin “Boxer” Moran held a meeting of their Independent Alliance group of this issue in in Athlone.
Minister Canney said that he was formulating a flood policy with an intergovernmental group including the Departments of Agriculture, Environment, Social protection, OPW and Flood Relief and Finance. The aim of this policy will be to increase response time for acting on floods and remediation work. Humanitarian aid such as food and animal feed for those affected by floods, insurance and reinsurance and relocation of houses and farm buildings are also under discussion.
A draft policy should be drawn up in the coming month. Minister Canney said funding was available to implement it, with €430m available over the next five years from the exchequer.