Meath IFA Chairman Dermot Ward said the weather is causing huge stress for farmers and their families.

'If it doesn't dry up some way by the middle of April it is going to be a very serious situation for all farmers'

Pesristent rain and saturated ground conditions are causing huge problems for farmers across the county who have been unable to get into fields to plough or sow crops while livestock farmers have no choice but to keep their stock inside as fears of a fodder crisis mount.

By April, cattle would usually be out grazing but the adverse weather conditions mean most farmers have been continuing to feed silage and fodder inside while others who have no slurry storage left have been forced to let them out regardless of the damage it is doing to the ground.

Meath IFA Chairman Dermot Ward said it is a very stressful time for farmers and they have huge concern for the mental health of farmers and their families.

To help those who are running low on fodder, he said Meath IFA has set up a helpline so that farmers in need of fodder can be connected with farmers who have a surplus. He added that farmers are being very generous and are charging the going rate and are helping each other out in whatever way they can.

John Curran is an organic sheep and suckler farmer in Fordstown and is also the IFA National Rural Development Chairperson. He said normally all livestock would be out in the fields by now and that feed is getting scarce for farmers and what is left is poor quality.

He said: "Cattle were in a month early and they are still in, a month later than usual. Farmers have budgeted feed for five or six months and are now running into their seventh month."

"Slurry storage is full as farmers couldn't get out with slurry and farmers are letting smaller animals out to relieve the pressure even though the fields are not suitable.

"Lambs are struggling outside as there is no place dry to lie and sheep are being fed rations twice a day to keep them right when usually they would be on grass only.

"The general mood among farmers is that they are fed up and drained and there is no light at the end of the tunnel or promise of anything better for the next week to ten days either," he said.

The planting season is usually well underway by now but prolonged spells of persistent rain mean farmers are weeks behind schedule and if the weather doesn't soon pick up, a shortage of potatoes is predicted as potato farmers struggle to harvest crops that should have been done months ago and can't get into the fields to plant for the coming season.

Stephen McCormack of McCormack's Farms in Kiltale who produce salad leaves and herbs described the weather as an "absolute nightmare".

"We are already a good three weeks behind. Land is absolutely saturated. Regardless of what type of soil it is, whether it is heavy, sandy, stony, peaty, they are all saturated. Even though we are seeing a little bit of drying some days, it rains at night and we are back to square one again.

"If it doesn't dry up some way by the middle of April it is going to be a very serious situation for all farmers."

Stephen said normally they would have 40-50 hectares sowed at this stage but we have nothing in the ground. We got three hectares ploughed three weeks ago but they have nothing sown yet.

Sporting fixtures are also feeling the full effect of the wet weather.. racing at Navan on Tuesday (9th April) has already been pulled beacuse of a waterlogged track

"I have half a million plants between herbs and lettuce coming next week for planting. If I can't plant them within 7-10 days of arriving here, I am going to be dumping them."

Thomas McKeon is a tillage farmer from Castletown and said a big issue at the moment is trying to get out with fertiliser and spray on winter crops as they can't travel on the ground. "If you go out on land now, it will leave it in a mess and you will run into trouble at harvest time with machinery."

"We would usually have our corn in by now and be starting our potatoes. If weather came good, it still wouldn't be fit to plough for a week. It's starting to get late and this affects yield. There's an optimum time for putting it in and we are at that time now and there is no sign of any change in the weather."

Meanwhile Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue has asked the department to pause farm inspections not specifically required to support payments until 22nd April and has also asked Teagasc to establish a system for co-ordinating advisory supports to help farmers maximise existing fodder stocks and provide a basis for those with surpluses to engage with those who are struggling.

"I also met recently with the main banks and my department is continuing to engage with them. I have impressed upon them the need to show forbearance with farmers where cashflow issues are emerging in response to current difficulties. I also asked them to ensure access to short term finance and overdraft facilities where needed to deal with the pressure arising from the current exceptional weather conditions,” he said.