Spring usually marks a period of rejuvenation and prosperity for farmers across the Isle of Man.

However, severe downpours brought on by recent storms during ‘one of the worst winters in recent memory’ have had a devastating impact on a variety of traditional springtime activities - including lambing, calving and seed planting.

There are now fears that the impact of the wet weather could have a serious knock-on effect on the entire agricultural industry in the coming weeks and months.

Ean Parsons is president of the Manx National Farmers’ Union and a farmer at Baljean Farm on Baldhoon Road in Laxey.

The beef and sheep farmer said he has not experienced anything like the recent wet weather and it was a cause for concern for the industry as a whole.

He said: ‘The rain seems to have been pretty relentless since the middle of September, to be honest.

Ean Parsons, president, Manx National Farmers Union (NFU)
Ean Parsons, president, Manx National Farmers Union (NFU) (Media Isle of Man/Dave Kneale)

‘But it was really, really exacerbated last Tuesday afternoon, I’ve not known anything like it, certainly not in April.

‘We got a weather station here from Manx Technology Solutions and in 17 hours, we had 61 millimetres of rain.

‘It was horrendous, absolutely horrendous.

‘There was a lot of loss.

‘We were trying to drag animals in to give them shelter but it was gale force winds as well, and because it’s been raining all winter the ground is totally saturated, so the runoff was horrendous.

‘So in the short term, quite major losses in that 24 to 36 hour period, and I think in the longer term, specifically for the livestock sector, one of the big concerns that will be the effect it’s also had on the cereal growers.

‘We rely on cereal growers for winter feed for barley, beans, straw for bedding and peas, and the fact that it's been so wet they'll have no crops in the ground yet so that will have a massive impact on yields and crops coming off in sort of August September time.

‘It'll be a major impact on the cereal growers themselves but also a major impact on the livestock sector as well who rely on them for feed.’

Boosh Kerruish Junior, a popular livestock hauler and hay and straw dealer known throughout the island’s farming community, has witnessed first-hand the devastation caused by the bad weather.

In recent weeks he has seen everything from dead lambs to rotting crops, circumstances which he speculated could have an impact on the mental health of those toiling hard to make ends meet in the industry.

He said: ‘This last month has just been horrendous.

‘I’ve been on farms where there has been three generations working and they're all wrapped up in the waterproofs soaking wet through, and they’re all looking at each other as if to say “what the hell are we doing?”.

muddy field
Extreme weather posing challenging for farming (Image by Wolfgang Claussen from Pixabay)

‘But the sense of humor hasn’t been lost, and yes, it’s pretty depressing at the moment but I try and make people laugh when I go there.

‘I go to farms with brothers and sisters working, fathers and sons, families, and it’s just heartbreaking to see the losses.

‘You go to a farm and see a heap of dead that can get picked up by animal waste and it’s just heartbreaking because that’s their harvest if you like.

‘Luckily, we've had no snow to speak of, but it's certainly made up for with incessant rain and cold.

‘We're now in the middle of April and there’s no cereal to speak of in the ground, you know barley, and wheat and oats, which are the staple feeds for the animals, and then the straw which is a byproduct for next winter for the livestock farmers.

‘And the spuds, the boys are putting in spuds in Ballaugh but there’s one farmer I was talking to a couple weeks ago and he had spuds in the ground for a month and they were just rotting in the ridges, the seed spuds which are expensive this year because of the weather last year.

‘And there’s the family down south [Coole family from Ballaquinney Farm] who aren’t growing them this year because of the cost of them, they’re such a high risk crop potatoes, but as we know with Tesco they can ship them in much cheaper can’t they!

‘It’s pretty demoralizing really but farmers are a resilient bunch, and I can go to five, six or seven farms on my rounds and we all say; what else do we do? We don’t know any different!

‘People talk about mental health issues, well farmers have got to be the most at risk! But we’re good at talking to one another and that's the most important thing people talk to people.

‘It's like a relief when you can make them laugh!’

Late last week Clare Barber, the Environment, Food and Agriculture Minister, acknowledged the severity of the situation and extended her sympathies to the island’s farming community.

She said: ‘I value the vital role that our farmers play in local food security and their contribution to the landscape, and am sorry to see the struggles being faced.

Texel sheep lambing at Ballaglonney farm in Crosby -
Texel sheep lambing at Ballaglonney farm in Crosby (Dave Kneale)

‘The impact on the sector has not gone unnoticed and officers are working with the Manx National Farmers Union (MNFU) to understand the long-term impact and how we can best support action to address the consequences.

‘I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to everyone for all that you are doing during this challenging time, on top of all you do all year round.’ But the statement did not resonate with everyone in the island and Mr Boosh thinks that it came too late.

He said: ‘It’s been silence for the last six weeks and it’s been the worst winter I can remember and I’ve been involved in the farming industry all my life, apart from the snow ten years ago.

‘DEFA don’t seem to be at the sharp end, and they say they are but they’re far from it!’