RTÉ One, Thursday, 8.30pm
Ear to the Ground

Programme 10

Ear to the Ground

Chicken is the most popular meat in Ireland but the industry is in dire straits. Ella McSweeney visits Alo Mohan, a chicken farmer in Co. Cavan who tells her of the difficulties faced by those rearing chickens. Following a notoriously bad summer, feed prices are soaring and the price of energy is skyrocketing. This means farmers like Mohan are struggling to make ends meet. Irish chicken farmers also face stiff competition from cheap imported chicken. Supermarkets are keen to keep prices low for consumers in these price conscious times, which means the price paid to farmers for each chicken is as low as 37 cent. Chicken farmers are warning that they simply cannot continue, and that unless we are prepared to pay our farmers a higher price, we are facing the death of the Irish chicken industry.

Right in the heart of Wicklow town Dominican nuns have cultivated a tranquil, organic farm. Sister Julie retired from teaching in 1997 and spent four months in New Jersey in the Earth Literacy Centre at the Genesis Farm. She returned to Wicklow and, with the help of her fellow nuns, established a farm in the convent. The nuns not only raise cows and sheep and grow fruit and vegetables like other farmers, they also run an Ecology Centre on the farm. The Ecology Centre serves the local community by teaching them about sustainability and living in an environmentally friendly way. The convent itself is almost 100% self-sufficient and the nuns sell their surplus produce in their farm shop on-site. Helen Carroll visits their little bit of paradise in Wicklow.

In 2006 the farming calendar was introduced in an effort to minimise water pollution caused by farming. Ireland had a massive fish kill problem caused by polluted rivers and lakes. Previously, farmers had been allowed to spread slurry on their land whenever they saw fit but the EU directive established specific dates, usually during Spring and Summer, during which the spreading of slurry was permitted - otherwise it was banned. However, this Summer was particularly wet, farmers were unable to spread during the permitted dates and so the period was extended. Today, farmers are allowed to spread again, earlier than ever before. Many question whether there is any point in spreading during winter, while there is no growth. Farmers are in a difficult position however, because when a slurry tank is full, it has to go somewhere. Darragh Mc Cullough looks at the changing weather patterns and asks whether it is time to rethink farming by calendar?

Ear to the Ground is produced by Independent Pictures for RTÉ

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