Weather woes and rare orchids mark 2018

By Conor Macauley
BBC NI Agriculture & Environment Correspondent

Published
image captionSodden fields in spring caused problems for farmers

The weather was a huge talking point for farmers this year.

First, there was a long wet spring.

It created problems for some worried about silage stocks for cattle stuck indoors due to waterlogged fields.

Then in the summer came weeks of unrelenting sunshine.

image captionThen by summer the fields were being baked

Crops wilted in the heat and vegetable producers on the Ards Peninsula resorted to irrigation methods more commonly seen in the south of France.

image captionPumps were used to irrigate fields in County Down

On the environment front, conservationists were busy trying to protect sharks, skate and rays off our coast.

image captionTagging sharks as part of a conservation project

The idea is to use the information to put protection measures in place in those areas to boost numbers.

Not every conservation project can be a success.

image copyrightRSPB
image captionAn attempt was made to re-home the eggs from this poisoned Red Kite

The eggs were placed in surrogate nests under licence but, in one, the donor egg didn't hatch and, in the other, evidence of the outcome was inconclusive.

But there was better news in County Antrim where a pollinator project produced 60 rare orchids on the side of a school playing ground.

image caption60 rare orchids popped up at a Co Antrim school

To their surprise, Irish Lady's Tresses orchids turned up.

image captionOrchid enthusiasts turned up to record the unusual event

There are only 2,000 of them in Europe and Ireland is a bit of a hot spot, but nobody was expecting them to pop up in school grounds beside a main road.

And finally Brexit - the implications and opportunities of the UK's departure from the EU was on the minds of farmers this year.

With the final countdown on to 29 March 2019, there's still great uncertainty about future trading relationships.

image captionThe future of farming was a big talking point for farmers

At least farmers know there'll be minimal change in the support payments for a couple of years as plans to keep the status quo going kick in.

There is a framework for a Northern Ireland-specific future farm policy on the shelf at Stormont.

But there'll be no movement there until devolution is back and an agriculture minister is in place.

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