"I was able to graze that field once this year,” says Noel Cremin as he points out one of his fields. “I put work into draining it when I took over the farm.”

Noel farms in northwest Cork, near the Kerry and Limerick borders, in an area known as Sliabh Luachra. Translated into English, it means “a mountain of rushes”. That paints its own picture.

Describing his 48-acre farm at Foyle, Ballydesmond, Cremin says: “It’s a great place to grow grass in a dry year but in a wet year it’s a disaster. Land is pretty heavy, you’d have a few dry patches here and there but the vast majority of it is very heavy land. We have a lot of grass at the moment - we just can’t feed it.”

Noel keeps close to 20 cows every year and a few replacement heifers.

Heifers with their calves on Noel Cremin's farm in Sliabh Luachra. \ Tommy Moyles

Following a herd depopulation due to brucellosis in the 90s, his father purchased 10 Limousin x Friesian heifers, something he describes as “probably the best thing we ever did. We have a Parthenaise bull with a few years and use AI for replacements.”

He rents 30 acres two miles away from the house where heifers graze in summer and silage is made there. Typical of many farms in the area, he runs an autumn-calving system, producing weanlings.

“I sell them in Kanturk Mart and find there is no delay there, which is good when you are working off-farm. I sold the older ones in July and the bulls averaged about 400kg and made €950.”

Cows in Noel Cremin's farm in the Sliabh Luachra area. \ Tommy Moyles

He got his cattle out in mid-April this year and housed them for a week during a bad spell in June.

“You’d be lucky to be out the middle of April on a good year or possibly sometime in May; it depends on the weather, really. There have been years when it’s been the first of June. Some of the cattle are in since the start of September. We normally house around the first of November - anything after that is a bonus.”

This leads to its own issues.

Slurry and fodder pressure

“The length of the winter is the problem here. You are drawing feed in and then you have more slurry. Dry ground is scarce here so you are actually putting all the slurry out on the same ground.”

With consistent rain since the middle of July, it was a challenge to get enough silage made with ground conditions difficult.

When asked how he is fixed for winter fodder, Noel replies: “Things will be tight. I got straw in September at €22 per bale. There’s no way you would get it for that now.

“I got 56 bales and there are about 30 left. Silage will be very tight, anything that is not in-calf will be getting the road just to be sure and I’ll probably work the ration a bit more.”

A field Noel has only been able to graze once this year. \ Tommy Moyles

Like many farmers throughout the country, economic necessity means Noel does shift work off-farm.

“My basic payment is somewhere around €3,500 and they’re cutting that back every year here and there. Mine was cut this year because of the new bridge that was put in. I took over the farm in 2002 and only had one reference year.”

He has cameras installed in the sheds for calving and can watch them on a television in the house but due to unreliable broadband he can’t use a phone to view them.

Noel says he is lucky to have his parents keeping an eye out when he is away working but that everyone is busy so neighbours aren’t as free to give a hand like they used to before.

“When I was growing up, neighbours would call around to help out or for a cup of tea. Now everyone seems to keep to themselves and mind their own business. It’s one of the bigger changes around here.

“I suppose everyone is working off-farm now. The income from the farming isn’t good enough to keep them at home. They haven’t time, to be fair about it, and that's probably the biggest part of it.”

Hen harriers

According to Noel, the Hen Harrier Scheme is very controversial in the area. New planting of forestry is restricted and, as a consequence, the value of the land has fallen.

“There was a farm around here for sale and there wasn’t even an offer on it because it was designated. To be fair, forestry is the only option around here for people selling land because you are not going to get someone from good ground coming into marginal land.

“The compensation for the hen harrier is pretty poor. I’m in GLAS for the 48 acres here and I have 18 acres designated for the Hen Harrier Scheme. I get €2,700 per year out of it.

“If the value of the land is gone, there should be some form of annual allowance on it. Farmers with bigger farms can only put so much ground into GLAS, anything over that you won’t get anything for and you still have the same restrictions.”

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