Crowds plough on in ‘ponds, pools and puddles’

It was a day for disposable ponchos, colourful brollies, designer wellies, and hoodies galore as rain lashed the National Ploughing Championships at Screggan, Tullamore, Co Offaly, yesterday.

Crowds plough on in ‘ponds, pools and puddles’

The dramatic change in the weather from the opening day’s sunshine resulted in difficult ground conditions in some of the green-field car parks as the crowds began to make their way home last evening.

Steel trackways within the site itself coped well with the downpours, but the grass areas around some of the trade stands had muddy conditions, described by one wit as “ponds, pools, and puddles”.

Despite the conditions, visitors retained their good, if sometimes exaggerated, sense of humour.

“What some people forget is that this is ploughing weather,” one farmer was overheard telling another.

The attendance at the championships yesterday was 87,000 compared with 111,000 for the same day last year.

The falloff was attributed to the wet weather. A record first-day crowd of 112,500 had attended on Tuesday.

An improvement in the weather is expected today when Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is due to visit.

Met Éireann is predicting a clearance to finer weather with a bright and mostly dry day including sunny spells.

The record crowd that attended the first day of the championships was partly attributed to visitors opting to attend then after hearing the weather forecast for the following day. But there was still a large crowd yesterday.

Despite the weather, many of the issues affecting farming, including Brexit, were discussed with Agriculture Minister Michael Creed, who stressed that the industry is resilient and determined.

Irish Farmers Association president Joe Healy said the Food Wise 2025 road map for the sector sets ambitious targets for exports and employment. However, he felt there isn’t enough emphasis on a fair return for farmers.

Farmers are proud to be part of the important agri-food sector, delivering employment and economic activity in every part of the country, and supporting agri-food exports of over €11bn, he said.

“Irish farmers continue to actively participate in schemes and initiatives that are delivering a higher value, differentiated, and sustainably produced product, which is exported to over 150 countries.

“For the Food Wise 2025 [rad map] to succeed, farmers have to be properly rewarded for their work and investment,” said Mr Healy, claiming there is a real weakness in the strategy.

“While it sets a target for growth in the value of farmgate output of 65%, to €10bn, in a 100-page document, there are no explicit targets set for improvements in farm viability and profitability.”

Mr Healy welcomed Mr Creed’s announcement of a special conference in relation to the strategy on December 4. “The issue of farmer incomes/profitability must be the top priority at this event,” he said.

Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association president John Comer described the EU’s continuation of trade talks with the Mercosur bloc as a reckless endangerment of indigenous beef production as well as being a threat in terms of food safety and the environment.

He warned that the terms of the likely deal will mean a volume of beef imports from South America that will severely damage Ireland’s beef sector — already anxious about the looming threat of losing their UK markets through Brexit.

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