It's grim, there's no denying it. Here we are in April, with no sign of spring. Storm Kathleen is bashing through the country as I write. It's not easy to keep the head straight.

Like many farmers, I’m fond of sport. When farming is hard, I've always found it’s good to slip away for a couple of hours and go to a match to take my mind off things.

Except Wexford GAA has called off every single match scheduled for this weekend. That’s unprecedented at this time of the year. We really are in unchartered territory.

So that option is closed off to me, but as I considered what to say about the only topic occupying farmers' minds this weekend, I decided to look for positivity, because we really need to stay positive in these difficult weeks.

Taking a leaf out of the wonderful Ian Dury and the Blockheads (song)book, here are my list of reasons to be cheerful in April 2024.

1. Trouble in the Fields

The phenomenal Nanci Griffith wrote the song with the above title at the height of the income crisis on American family farms in the 1980s.

Somewhere in the region of one in three farms foreclosed during that awful time. Our own Maura O’Connell has a great version of this song, its success first popularised Griffith in Ireland.

The song accurately reflects the financial hardship that people were going through at the time, but the message is one of solidarity. It’s one of hope, of endurance and of renewal.

It harks back to the 1930s and the Dust Bowl, when adverse weather cleaned out the Midwest during the Great Depression, with the Okies traveling from their native state all the way to California.

Weather so often is the root cause of the problems facing farmers and it's certainly the root cause here and now.

Irish farmers are experiencing significant weather-induced work and financial hardship, with rain and poor ground conditions a constant since the end of June - that’s nine months ago.

Immediately prior to that, we had almost six dry weeks, following the wet spring that lasted from early March until well into May.

Following last year, my biggest fear is not that it won’t stop raining. I’m sure the rain will stop at some point, with hopes for the middle of the month.

My biggest fear is that when it stops raining, it stops raining. The six-week drought last year, sandwiched between the late spring and awful autumn and winter, was the absolute hammer-blow on our farm, particularly with cereals. Maize and beet cared less.

The most important thing, though, as Nanci Griffith infers, is that if the trouble is only in the fields and not in the house, we have reason to count our blessings. I don’t mean it to sound trite to say that, but it is the truth.

We have to keep in mind that if we all have our health, then these awful months can soon be put behind us. I remember 1986, 1998 and 2019, not because of the weather or the farming challenges, but because of family bereavements.

I’m sure everyone is the same in that regard. So let's keep the trouble in the fields, and out of the house, by keeping a positive mental attitude. Wipe the worries of the farm off your feet when you wipe your wellies at the back door.

2. You’ve Got a Friend in Me

I love Toy Story. The lads grew up with Buzz, Woody, Jessie, Rex and Hamm. I’ve no idea how a series of films that are, on the face of it, simple and silly can at times be so deeply moving and affecting.

I suppose it’s because the themes are of loyal and enduring friendship and the magic of childhood.

If we’re very lucky, we get to keep a little of a child’s sense of wonder at the world into adulthood. I can’t help thinking of the loss of innocence being experienced by children in Gaza and in all the war-torn and deprived areas of the world.

The title song to the first Toy Story movie is You’ve Got a Friend in Me, by the wonderful Randy Newman. It sums up the truth that friendship makes everything in life better, be it good times or bad times.

Around the country, farmers are starting to organise small social events to bring people together - coffee mornings and breakfasts and the like. There’s a mass being held over in my neighbouring parish on Monday evening. Whatever your personal beliefs, it all undoubtedly helps morale.

In the same vein, make sure to call in to your neighbour, especially if they are alone. Or if you are alone. Talking won’t improve the weather, but it might just shorten the day and the winter.

3. We All Stand Together

Paul McCartney wrote many great songs. The Frog Chorus is not one of them, I’m afraid, but it does bring to mind the code of rural Ireland - the meitheal.

At times of hardship, people group together. Once, that related to neighbours working by hand in the field to save the hay or harvest.

Today, it could be that offer of a few bales of straw or a trailer of beet or the use for a few days of a stubble field for relief from a sodden paddock.

Help is available - there is no need for people to suffer on their own. Don't be afraid to ask for assistance, whether from the local branch of your farm organisation, your co-op or merchant, or from Teagasc or your private planner.

Whether you need some help with a bit of work if you're overwhelmed or maybe it’s fodder or bedding - the meitheal is still there, we just have to remember who we really are.

Remember, we really all are in this together. Every single farmer in the country is affected by this weather. There are 100,000 livestock farmers waiting for the winter to end so they can get livestock out and properly end the housing period and kickstart the grazing season. Get slurry out and silage ground closed.

Meanwhile, tillage farmers are twiddling their thumbs, regreasing ploughs, checking pipes on corndrills, ready for the off like coiled springs.

Diesel tanks are full, everything is serviced and ready, so when the weather comes there will be this explosion of work.

It's hard waiting and waiting and waiting for the weather when it's not coming. Waiting and watching as windows pass and deadlines for work drift by.

Deadlines like having beans sowed in February, wheat in March, early spuds by St Patrick’s Day, which is the ideal date for spring barley planting.

But here we are in April and there’s nothing done. But we're all in this together, no-one has much done, it’s not like it's a pocket of the country left behind.

There is strength in those numbers; there is a solidarity among farmers and a wider recognition of the scale of the problem right through society. We should take comfort in that knowledge.

4. A Change is Gonna Come

I love Sam Cooke and his greatest song speaks of how it’s been a long time coming, but change is on the way. Unfortunately, he didn’t live to see the civil rights he advocated for come to pass, but change did come.

Of course, the change that we are looking for is a change in the weather. It looks like next weekend might see the turning of the tide. At least, that's what the current indications are.

It gives us reason to hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel, that the onset of spring is at hand. When we get some weather, with the clocks gone forward, we won’t know ourselves, as sunshine stretches toward nine in the evening.

We'll have the long days in the fields we're all looking forward to. As Red says in Shawshank Redemption: “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.”

Let’s all hang in there for a while longer.


I’ve put together a little playlist associated with this article. Bookended by two versions of Trouble in the Fields, it has the songs referred to above, some of which might help you to feel seen, others which might raise your spirits.

I’ve spared you the Frog Chorus, but instead added a few of Paul McCartney’s most beautiful songs. I’ve also added a few songs that make reference to farming, sometimes only in passing, but sure. I've even added three songs dedicated to storm Kathleen, just to show there's no hard feelings.

Here’s the link if you’re interested.