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THE LEINSTER LEADER OF SEPTEMBER 1959 REPORTS ON A REVOLUTIONARY FARMING EXPERIMENT

Leinster Leader 19th September 1959
 
 
Kildare Experiments on Cut-Away Bogs
 
 
 
It is not possible, in the scope of a newspaper article, to give a detailed account of all the experimental and practical work carried on at the North Kildare farm of the Irish Agricultural Institute at Derrybrennan where a revolutionary farming experiment on fifty acres of cut-away bog is taking place which was described in a first article two weeks ago.
 
            In a long term scheme of this nature, much of the work is theoretical, and some schemes planned are still in the laboratory stage.
 
If the wheat and other cereal plots on the bog are the heart of the experiments, then Derrybrennan’s tiny “lab”.—located in what was once a stable – may well be called its brain. Here, the various sowings are planned after painstaking research and experiments.
 
Scores of plants and seeds, in bottles and in jars, each treated with different formulas of chemical manures, stand around on the laboratory shelves.
            Looking at these, one is struck by the fact that many of them may not be harvested for another twenty years! By that time a new generation of farmers may be reaping the fruits of the patient research work now being carried on in Derrybrennan’s little laboratory.
 
WATER FOR GRASS
 
The various stages of these unique experiments and their results are carefully recorded and tabulated and then submitted to the Institute of Agriculture in Dublin.
            Take for instance, the grass crops in two greenhouses which have been erected at the back of the laboratory, and which are covered with sheets of polythene plastic an economical substitute for glass. The experiment here is to determine the correct amount of water needed to grow good crops of grass on the bog. The grass is growing in scores of small boxes, each placed at a different level above a “water table.”
            Already proved by these experiments is the fact that grass can be made to out-grow even rushes on the bog. And their full value becomes apparent when it is remembered that in the Midlands alone there are roughly 500,000 acres in bog; 150,000 of these are in process of development by Board Na Mona.
 
            THINK OF THE VAST AREAS OF POTENTIALLY GOOD AGRICULTURAL LAND WHICH WILL BE AVAILABLE WHEN ALL THESE BOGS ARE CUT AWAY?
 
            In a document on this, Mr. J. Delaney, B.Agr.Sc. who is in charge of the farm, said that the development bogs are being cut away at the rate of one foot each year. Some of them would be entirely cut away in 15 years time, some would take up to fifty years to eliminate. Eventually, however, up to a quarter of a million acres would be added to Ireland’s potential farming economy.
By that time, thousands of men would have lost their employment with Bord na Mona. All of them would be settled on bog farms of 40 acres.
 
“Market gardening may be the answer to the question of the future crops on these farms but we do not know yet” he told our reporter.
            An extremely valuable and informative report on the project to grow crops on our bogs was submitted this year to the County Kildare Committee of Agriculture. It was written by Mr. Sean Colgan, B.Agr.Sc. Edenderry, an instructor for the North Kildare area. Mr. Colgan has taken a very keen interest in the Derybrennan project and his factual report is a very able and scholarly analysis of the problems presented to Mr. Delaney and his staff.
 
BOG COMPOSITION
 
“To understand fully the major problems that lie ahead it is necessary to firstly examine peat types, system of turf harvesting etc” writes Mr. Colgan.
            He gives a “profile” picture of the composition of the bogs of the Midlands which shows that one bog is covered to a depth from two to four feet with sphagnum moss, below that, to a depth of 10 to 15 feet is wood of fen peat, and underneath a layer of marl and limestone rock.
            Explaining how the above was formed, Mr. Colgan writes that it is necessary to consider the geological origin and different conditions which prevailed.
 
            ORIGINALLY THE PLAINS OF KILDARE WHICH HAD MAINLY A PARENT ROCK OF LIMESTONE (SOILS DERIVED FROM LIMESTONE) WERE WELL ABOVE SEA LEVEL AT A CERTAIN GEOLOGICAL TIME. IN THIS PARTICULAR AREA, FORESTS, CHIEFLY OF OAK FLOURISHED ABUNDANTLY.
           
            In the period which followed there was a gradual subsidence in the central plane. This resulted in the blockage of drainage with a resulting accumulation of vegetable matter, trees, etc. Under these conditions reeds (Phragnites) mainly flourished which gave rise to fen or black peat. Later still, the acid conditions resulted in a change of vegetation from reeds to moss (Sphagnum) and gave rise to brown peat.
            After analysing the various types of peat, the report states that black peat offered the greatest potential for development.
“After harvesting of the fen peat to provide fuel and light, a certain depth must be left to provide a basis for future cropping. In the traditional method of past harvesting the fen peat is cut down to the highly-calcerous marl. A similar complete removal under large scale machine harvesting of the pet would render future cropping very difficult or impossible.
“A depth of 2 to 3 feet may be sufficient as a base for future workings. Raw peat when exposed to the air oxidises and mineralises; in theory 4-5 feet of peat would gradually decompose to carbon dioxide, or to put it simply, rot away until eventually only the marl would be left exposed.
“To counteract this, it is necessary to mix the peat with the underlying subsoil – in this case the marl etc. On the continent, where work of this type is desert-bed as “fen culture” a large plough is used to mix a certain portion of the subsoil with the peat.”
THE FUTURE
 
Mr. Colgan refers to the fact that in Derrybrennan there have been satisfactory results so far, in the growing of root crops, grasses, bush and soft fruits, though the application of lime, nitrogen, Phosphate and Potash.
Referring to the extensive areas that will become available for the cultivation when the bogs are cut away, Mr. Colgan states that it would seem best from an economical point of view to develop industrial crops on a large scale, such as trees for pulp, grass meal plants integrated with horticultural crops (soft fruits, vegetables etc.) Potato growing, flax or hemp, bamboos for wood pulp were crops to be considered.
AFTER MAKING A CASE FOR CONCENTRATING ON FORESTRY ONLY HE ADDS THAT A CASE MIGHT ALSO BE MADE FOR THE LARGE NUMBERS OF SMALL UNECONOMIC HOLDINGS OWNED BY FARMERS WHO MAKE THEIR LIVING FROM WHOLE OR PART-TIME WORKING ON BOGS.
These farms might be made economical by the addition of cut-away bog to existing holdings. The capital requirement for the carrying out of drainage, purchase of suitable machinery, etc would however make it necessary to look for some other system for optional agricultural utilisation of the bogs.
In this direction, Mr. Colgan suggests that the solution might lie in the formation of a State sponsored or privately sponsored company to operate the bogland in large units, or units to provide efficient production.
His report concludes: No matter what system of agriculture, or horticulture, or forestry is carried out, it is necessary to look to the not too distant future, when the bogs no longer provide fuel, to ensure that the large numbers at present employed will continue to make a good living, a living under a new system – a system which, by then, will help to boost still further the existing high agricultural output in Ireland.
 
The whole picture presented is one of hope for the future. It confounds the many critics who scoff at any talk of crop-growing on the bogs, and envisages a time when thousands of young Irishmen may turn form the emigrant ship to the bogs for gainful employment at home.
            And to those of us who remember the bogs as a vast area of almost useless territory, and who now see them worked by thousands of Irishmen in a great national scheme, this “vision of the future” brings renewed hope for the Ireland of to-morrow.
            When that to-morrow dawns, a future generation of Irishmen will owe much to Derrybrennan farm and the men who work it to-day.
           
           
           
           
 
 
 
 

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