There once was a wonder grass called Fiorin. Foirin was the kind of grass you'd want with weather, and a fodder crisis, like we've had recently.
Fiorin was resilient. It had “sticktoitivness” to use a word Erin Brokovitch used to describe herself some years back.
Foirin could turn unfarmable land into economically productive land.
Called Shammer around Cork, Foirin could reclaim deep bogs and moors. Underground, its grew out rather than down, hence its other name – creeping bent grass.
John Feehan tells a wonderful story about Foirin in his weighty, worthy tome Farming in Ireland. In outlining the enthusiast's case, he exclaims: “it grew nearly as well in the Winter months as Summer, and foirin hay could be saved as easily in Winter or Spring as in Autumn - it could be saved in wet weather!”
Feehan continues: “Horses sheep and cattle preferred foirin to “natural hay and clover hay” and that the milk of cattle fed on it was superior”
What's more Foirin was especially suited to wet ground and cold clay though, with careful management, it could be a useful grass on dry ground too.
Fiorin stayed green when cut as hay, and it was reputed to produce between 10 and 20 tonnes of green food yearly, as reported in the Munster Farmer's Journal of 1812 and elsewhere. Alcohol could also be made from Foirin, due to its high Saccharin content.
This historical story doens't end there. For Foirin is still with us, and the very occasional farmer still benefits from its presceint presence.
One such farmer is Joe Condon in the Commeragh-Knockmealdown mountain range on the Tipperary Waterford border, of Omega Beef Direct. I worked with Joe for some years helping other farmers learn from the production and indeed distribution system he practiced.
Joe practices transhumance with his Galloway cattle. The animals rotate between the lower green land around the home farm and the upland commonage, from winter to summer.
“When the hill comes on, the land will get a rest” he tells me. Each year recently, the animals have gone out onto the hill at different times, due to the erratic weather. “It will be June this year, it was may 17th last year, the year before it was April”
Creeping bent grass (foirin) andf other upland grasses like purple moore grass, works well with his lighter, hardy Galloway cattle, a breed especially suited to the outdoors and the hills.
The mat creeping bent grass forms stops these lighter animals from poaching the land. Condon sees creeping bent grass as a resilient grass, one suited to the challenges our ever more erratic climate is bringing.
While Galloways suit this weather, they will never get to the massive weights Continentals achieve. But then, they don't need the same levels of compound feed, imported hay to or heavy doses of Nitrogen on land that can't take it up when its too cold anyway.
Galloways are smaller, but have a distinct, grass fed taste that's all the more complex due to the range of grasses consumed, as well as its outdoors lifestyle.
“It would make a lot of sense to research these grasses, and to try to develop high end products off the types of animals that can thrive in these sorts of weather conditions” Condon thinks.
Technically, Ireland has a plan to increase the national herd. Yet hay is being brought in from France in yet another emergency farming situation. With climate change, weather extremes are now the norm.
The horsemeat scandal, the fodder crisis and climate change all point to the need for a different type of farming and food production. But as business-as-usual rolls relentlessly on, surely its time to initiate a long overdue debate on these matters.
(All photos taken on Joe Condon's farm and/or nearby commonage)
To read about the day John Feehan visited Joe Condon, click here and then here