A powerful evening of prayer for the farming community facing difficult weather conditions was held at Letterbreen Methodist Church on Tuesday evening, April 16.

Members of the congregation gathered for private and public prayer over a two-hour period, with a short address given by David Brown, President of the Ulster Farmers' Union, on the current state of farming here.

With the heavy rain continuing into this week, farmwork has been badly affected this year, he said.

Very little slurry and fertiliser has been spread and cattle are mostly still confined to their winter accommodation.

Mr. Brown said he has had phone calls from farmers, many of them under pressure, and some in desperation.

He said: "The challenge of wet weather is something that farmers are all too familiar with. The issue in 2024 is that it started with the wettest July on record in 2023, and has continued to rain, now into the tenth month.

"Last autumn, arable farmers struggled to gather in the harvest, with lots of straw lost to the weather and some fields unable to be combined.

“The vegetable and potato growers met an even more difficult challenge with machinery unable to operate in saturated fields.

“At a cost of more than £3,000 per acre to plant potatoes, the financial implications were severe, with areas in Co. Down where some farmers lost up to 50 acres of potatoes.

"Planting of winter crops was extremely hampered with only 60 to 70 per cent of the normal crop being established; unfortunately, some of that has not survived the winter.

“That meant an anticipated increase in Spring crops to be planted; however, the weather so far has prevented that happening, as well as a delay on potatoes being planted."

He said he had visited farms in the Ards Peninsula recently and soils were just waterlogged.

Mr. Brown continued: "Unlike grassland farms, where the hope remains of weather improving, for arable and vegetable farms if you have no planting, you have no harvest to look forward to, and with each passing week the expected harvest yield is diminished.

"The lack of crop planting has implications for livestock farms, with reduced availability of straw.

“Livestock farms have struggled last year to make second-cut silage and empty slurry tanks heading into the winter.

“Early housing of livestock has put pressure on fodder supplies locally; however, in counties in the Republic, or the east of Northern Ireland where normally cattle are out in March, there is huge pressure as fodder supplies have run out, and ground conditions are atrocious.

"Spring lambing has been a real struggle on lowland farms and the later-lambing hill farms who normally lamb outside in April are losing lambs due to the extreme wet.

"The one feature of this extremely wet period is that it has impacted right across all sectors, and across the rest of the UK as well," added Mr. Brown.

During the evening, prayers were also extended to those known to have suffered in recent road accidents, or who are ill.