It’s fair to say we will all remember where we were when Storm Ophelia hit. For me it was a busy day reporting from the office here in Mayo until we called it a day due to the risks posed by getting home.
At 12 I returned to my home farm in Longford to find the place in lockdown. My mother’s creche was closed, the farm yard secured and the family getting ready for another Oiche na Gaoithe Moire.
I was reminded of the night of the big wind of 1839 as I reported on the news from the safety of the house. Rural Ireland was not prepared for that great storm two centuries ago but we were as ready as we could be for this one.
The night of the big wind claimed between 300 and 800 lives nationwide we escaped with 3 deaths. It’s a salve that not more people were killed but is a tragedy that any died at all.
Storm Ophelia has passed and the once in a generation storm while devastating to many parts of the country was not as bad as we thought. But it did raise many questions. Are we going to see more storms like this as a result of a changing climate or is this a once off? Well Storm Brian currently heading our way seems to prove the first theory mute. We are now living in the great climate change age. Freak weather has become the norm. A few weeks ago we had the Donegal floods, 2016 saw the tillage crisis a direct result of severe weather and the floods of 2015 saw large parts of the west wiped out.
Change in the air
Talking to a well-known farm lobby representative yesterday we remarked that any farmer could now agree that climate change is real and that we need to brace ourselves for more unpredictable weather.
But what as farmers can we do to halt this seeming ceaseless onslaught? Well it would seem that the current capitalist model of building up stock numbers isn’t going to work. We need as one of the main emissions producers in the country to begin to think long term.
It might sound crazy but we could see a situation in the not too distant future with farmers being paid to reduce stock numbers in an effort to do our part.
It sounds mad but then we live in strange times. How would such a model work? Well it might not be so hard as we think. In one scenario we could actually see beef prices rise due to a smaller supply. And maybe just maybe it might allow us to really push our products as quality. We are no Brazil or Canada we have better agricultural output and maybe with smaller numbers we might be forced to articulate to the market that smaller is better and consumers need to pay for quality.
Of course everyone has to buy into this vision; consumers, factories and of course supermarkets who are the drug dealers of the farm world. The people who have fed cheap meat on the market and forced us into hard positions.
My father is a typical rural Irish man but something changed with him in the last few weeks, he has begun to ask me about organic farming and might it be the way forward for the medium sized farmer. Perhaps it might be? We will have to farm the grants in order to make it work but it might just be the next step for the normal farmer.
Storm Ophelia has got us all thinking. Perhaps change is in the air. We will just have to wait and see. I think every farmer can now agree we live as the old Chinese saying goes, in interesting times.