Tim and I stood in the woods above the field we call John Riordan’s Inch. It was 25 September. It’s a narrow field that runs for about one kilometre along the river Shournagh. Storm Agnes was raging and the river had swelled and overflowed into the field.
The power of the river was threatening with its water churning, rushing, angry and brown. It carried leaves and branches and debris and dumped it unceremoniously into the field on top of a nice cover of grass. Silage had been taken off a few weeks previously and the grass had been recovering well. During the summer, Colm had extended the riparian strip to the required 4.5m along the river bank. As we looked down upon it from our vantage point, we could just see maybe 10cm of those poles sticking up out of the water, indicating that the water on the field was approximately a metre high.
The strength of nature is unpredictable. Over a few days, the water subsided. A week later, after a few days of heavy rain, the flood was out again – pushing grass recovery back once more. It ebbed away and built to a flood again. Then there was calm and growth.
Last week, storm Babet did her mischief. The deluge came fast and furious. 110ml of water was recorded in our rain gauge. I had a physiotherapy appointment in the Bon Secours hospital and Diarmuid had a renal check-up in CUH. Given that many of the roads into Cork city would be impassable, the jeep was chosen as the safer mode of transport for all.We joined the morning traffic queues. The Bons telephoned to say that my appointment was cancelled, meaning that I was stuck with the lads! The renal team in CUH are very efficient and Diarmuid’s nurse, Theresa O’Neill, had him on his way in no time.
On our return journey, we could see that JR’s Inch was once again under a heavy flood. Over the day, it became clear that Babet had outdone Agnes. She had hit Glanmire, Midleton and Killeagh and other east Cork towns and villages hard; flooding businesses and homes, leaving people reeling in disbelief. The cost of clean-up and recovery will be huge and may be insurmountable for some businesses despite government subvention. I’m quite sure there was extensive damage to farmland, too.
Flooding costs farmers money. One look at the field changed the feed availability on the farm.
A few days after, Tim and I went on the weekly grass walk/drive. It is at times like this that we realise the value of good farm roadways; ensuring accessibility to fields. We would take our lives in our hands attempting to travel on greasy grass on hilly slopes. We drove down to the bottom of the farm to Healy’s Bridge where the Inch begins. The riparian strip fence was like a heavily insulated pipe with leaves piled upon leaves wrapped around it. Babet had risen the flood waters higher than Agnes!
The cost of flood damage
I remember many years of farming in Woodside where a flood was a very occasional event. Then, Cork County Council built houses on a floodplain near us. In time, the houses flooded. The Council built an embankment along the river to protect the houses. It sent the flood further down river and now those fields belonging to farmers flood frequently!
Flooding costs farmers money. One look at the field changed the feed availability on the farm. The 3.6ha in the Inch should have had a cover of 2,000kg of dry matter/hectare. Tim did the calculations quickly, 7t of dry matter feed was now out of the picture, because of constant flooding in that field. The Inch might yield something later on in the season, but it would not be suitable for milking cows. Tim would take it out of the grass wedge calculations. Replacing it with silage at €200/t will amount to a cost of €1,400, or rations at €350/t will cost €2,450. The general public might see a flood in a field, but they are unlikely to consider it money lost to the farmer. Wet weather is also seriously inhibiting grass growth. “There’s never a good time for autumn rain!” Says my driver. And then a huge chocolate buzzard takes to flight out over the front of the jeep, reminding us that farming is beautiful, too!