Flooded farmers along the Barrow are farming by the gallon and not by the acre.
And that situation is set to continue for the next twelve months as there was no work done this year on the Barrow to improve drainage and much of the budget was spent on an ecological report.
An ecologist must be hired by the board, which covers Laois, Offaly and Westmeath, before work can continue next year, disappointed farmers were told at a meeting in Vicarstown on Monday night.
More than thirty farmers affected by flooding in north Laois and south Kildare attended the meeting organised by Cllr Tom Mulhall and they were unimpressed to hear drainage work can only take place from August 1 to October 1.
Barrow Drainage Board Chairman, John Lynch said work is done between the three counties for those who have the greatest political pull, but the ultimate decision is based on what is strategically most important for the river.
“The baby that squeals loudest gets fed first,” he repeated, but this was disputed by Charlie Flanagan TD.
Mr Lynch said demands from the Inland Fisheries Board and the National Parks and Wildlife Service make it difficult to get work done.
However, the two year plan which the recent report sets out, schedules work for the coming two years, weather permitting.
Mr Lynch said Bord na Mona mills much finer peat than in the past and when this blows into the river, it flows along until it is stopped by the first large section of overgrowth.
Bord na Mona should make some contribution to the works, he said, but also blamed significant development in Laois and Offaly over the last number of years, with “no soakage on five thousand acres above Athy.”
He also said Ireland is much more meticulous in implementing EU directives and threatened to resign if the board is asked to pay for another report requested by any other organization.
Farmer Peter Luttrell said many farmers couldn’t access their land at all this year, making it unlikely they’ll meet the Department of Agriculture’s doubling of output plans set out in Harvest 2020.
Francis Dempsey questioned whether ecological attitudes would change if it emerged more bugs and birds were drowning in floods than affected by flooding.
Charlie Flanagan said he will organize a meeting in the next fortnight with local councillors, Barrow Drainage Board, Junior Minister Brian Hayes, who has responsibility for the OPW and Environment Minister Phil Hogan.
He wants to secure “joined up action,” saying it’s a real and serious problem for farmers that no work has taken place this year because of adverse regulation and bad weather.
“Every year in this area the land available for farming is less and less and that’s wrong,” he said.
Laois IFA County Chairman Pat Hennessy said it’s unacceptable that farmers’ livelihoods are at risk because of ecological restrictions.
He recalled viewing cattle marooned for weeks on a Vicarstown farm on an island of high ground in a flooded field.