Lie of the Land

Minister voices alarm at spike in farm deaths

Minister for Employment and Small Business, Pat Breen TD, and up to 30 local farmers, attended a farm safety walk in Co. Clare this week. The walk took place on the farm of Martin Fennell, a suckler farmer in Ballyket, Kilrush.

The event was organised by the Health and Safety Authority and Teagasc and is designed to give local farmers an opportunity to learn first-hand about the practicalities of safety. It allows farmers to see and discuss good practice, while learning how to minimise the risk of accidents to themselves and their families.

There were four key areas addressed; tractors and machinery, livestock handling, farm buildings and slurry management.

During the walk farmers were given advice and information on; risks around tractor use, changing and maintaining PTO guards, vehicle safety including a SAFE STOP procedure and the additional risks involved when carrying out maintenance work.

Examples of good practice, such as yard layout and lighting, cattle handling facilities and adequate calving facilities, were also on show.

Farmers were encouraged to take more care when working at height, to use the appropriate equipment such as a mobile elevated work platform (MEWP) and not to take risks particularly while carrying out maintenance on fragile roofs.

The importance of removing livestock and only carrying out slurry agitation on a windy day was also emphasised.

Speaking at the event Minister Breen voiced his concern at the sharp increase in fatal accidents on farms recently: “Since mid-November there have been four people killed on farms, with 19 deaths in total so far this year. No other sector is experiencing that level of fatal accidents and it is greatly concerning to me that so many families are losing loved ones due to work activity. I would appeal to farmers to take some time to consider the risks in every job they do and to work out a plan to manage the hazards before they start work.

Farming is a way of life as well as an industry and we must remember that it is not the farmer that is at risk, but family members too. I believe that we must all work together, as a community along with the HSA and Teagasc, to reduce these tragedies. Farm safety walks are an excellent example of this, they encourage farmer-to-farmer learning and promote safer farming.”

Professor Jim Phelan, Chair of the Farm Safety Partnership called on farmers to commit to making changes in how they approach farm safety: “These events give the HSA and Teagasc an opportunity to meet with farmers in one location and give practical advice on farm safety. We know that farmers are receptive to the message that safety is vital, but we need to see that manifest in how they approach their work. Safety is not something you just talk about, it is something you must build into your work every day.”

John McNamara, National Health and Safety Specialist with Teagasc said that Knowledge Transfer (KT) is becoming important in all aspects of farming: “Farm walks and knowledge transfer groups are about establishing networks so farmers can learn from each other. They are integral to much of what we, in Teagasc, are working towards.”

Macra na Feirme President Sean Finan

Macra na Feirme President Sean Finan

Milk pricing model not working for young farmers – Macra na Feirme

Macra na Feirme questioned the current milk pricing model, in particular payments of milk top-ups based on litres only instead of the kilograms of solid milk supplied, at last week’s Dairy Forum chaired by Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed TD and attended by stakeholders from across the entire industry.

National President Sean Finan said, “The pricing model should be based on a monthly or quarterly forward pricing system which would enable farmers to budget more accurately. Such systems are common place across other dairy producing countries and facilitate farmers to manage price volatility.”

Speaking prior to the Dairy Forum young dairy farmer Kieran McDermott, a member of the Macra na Feirme Agricultural Affairs Committee said “A major issue is the payment on litres only instead of on kilograms of the milk solid supplied. This has a significant impact on farmers especially at this time of the year when milk solids are high. Efficient farmers could benefit more from a payment system on kg of milk solid, especially in a year where ever cent counts on dairy farms.”

Ornua’s presentation on the global market outlook for 2017 predicted an estimate of 30-33 cent per litre. “We need to gain clarity as to the European plan regarding the release of skim milk power (SMP) held in intervention. Any release of SMP onto the market must be effectively managed so as not to disrupt the improving market price” advised Finan.

Macra na Feirme was represented by National President Sean Finan, Chief Executive Denis Duggan and Agricultural Policy Manager, Derrie Dillon at the forum.


Eye on Nature
Garden Bird Survey

A sharp breeze greeted me, as I topped up the feeders from my ever dwindling bucket. Making a mental note to purchase more bird food, I started to retreat towards the relative warmth of the house. I could already hear the birds arriving through the trees, and when I was only a few feet away, a great tit was already extracting a sunflower seed.

A pair of pied wagtails arrived, and waited expectantly till I scattered a few seeds on the ground. Their bodies are not designed to land on the feeders, and they rely on the careless nature of other birds, who in the eagerness of eating scatter a few seeds onto the ground.

Birdwatch Ireland are running their annual Garden Bird Survey and every householder is encouraged to take part. This is a great opportunity to learn about the birds that inhabit and visit your garden, and provide valuable data for conservation. Our gardens are becoming more important for wildlife, as they have a good range of plants, and our need to be connected to nature, means that we encourage birds and other creatures into our gardens.

Children can take part and there are excellent bird guides for kids available from the bird watch online shop. Armed with this guide a whole new outdoor world will be opened up. Wherever they go from the city street to the beach they will be looking and learning about wildlife. So many important life skills are learned at home and giving kids/grandkids the gift of interest in nature is a really precious one.

Schools can also participate and this links into other school subjects. Maths, writing, geography and science all play a part in the survey. If you are doing a Green Flag on biodiversity this would a great project to take part in.

In this case the term garden can be misleading and location does not really matter. If your plot consists of a window box and a bird feeder you records are just as valuable as a large country garden. People living in the towns with small gardens often have good diversity right on their doorstep.

My garden is situated at the edge of a wooded valley and overshadowed by high hills. Over the years I have recorded over 20 species of birds. Some of these are common and resident like the robins, blackbirds and tits. Others are very scare like the migrant redwings and the barn owl who entertained the whole family during the Arctic winter of 2010. He came down from his home at the foot of the hills in search of food.

I love the patterns that emerge from the raw data and how stable the population of birds is in my garden. Cold and hungry weather brings peak numbers while in early spring I wait patiently for the arrival of the redpolls and siskins. Blackbird and even robins call a truce when snow is in the ground when surviving takes precedent.

Starlings are common in my village but for some reason had never come near my house. They sing across the road but have never taken a leap of faith and paid a visit. Perhaps being ground feeders they don’t like the resident cat who has a hearty appetite when it comes to wild birds.

The Garden Bird Survey can also encourages positive action for nature. You look at your garden in a more enlightened way and think about different projects that will help and attract more birds. Planting some berried bushes or trees, leaving a pile of leaves, or putting up nest boxes.

Time is precious at the moment with lots of different events and shopping to be fitted into a busy household. Taking a few moments to enjoy nature helps refresh both the body and mind. I don’t have a designated part of the day but over a bowl of cornflakes or washing the lunchtime dishes i keep a notebook and pen nearby.

I record the different species of birds that I see in the garden and at the end of each week enter the highest number of each bird on the recording sheet. For example if I saw three blackbirds on a Tuesday and five on a Thursday I would record five for the week.

When all the figures are crunched from the around the country the Robin, no surprise is top been found in 99% of gardens. The Blackbird is second with 98% and then come the Great, Blue and Coal tits.

For more information please check out or if you have any questions please contact Michelle on 01 2819878.

Comments/Questions to or 089 4230502. Also available to give walks/talks to schools, tidy towns, youth and community groups.

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