Farmers in turmoil after spring snowfall

Farmers in turmoil after spring snowfall

As a Stormont committee is due to hold an emergency meeting on an industry in crisis, farmers have said their livelihoods are in turmoil after the recent severe spring weather.

A Chinook helicopter was drafted in by Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill this week as deep snow drifts and wintry conditions continue to cause misery in remote parts of Northern Ireland, particularly for those in the farming industry.

The helicopter made deliveries to the Glens of Antrim on Tuesday, and on Wednesday headed to the Dromara area of South Down.

Minister O'Neill explained: "It's going to be in the area over the next couple of days delivering the feed to targeted areas. Air surveillance of affected areas together with information supplied by local farmers is being used to identify and prioritise areas of need."

Extra support was also provided by the Irish Air Corps as farmers try to find and rescue their stranded livestock, amid fears that thousands of sheep and cattle have died.

Extra livestock feed and fodder has been sourced through the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise, and is being delivered to farms on vehicles known as Snowcats.

James McHenry has been struggling to reach his sheep in Dieskirt farm, near Glenariff in Co Antrim, since the bad weather hit last week leaving many pregnant ewes and newborns stranded and dying in the cold.

His wife Ann has been trying to look after a number of orphaned lambs that were rescued while the military aircraft has dropped feed for as many as 100 animals that are still unreachable.

The family will know the full extent of their losses when the Forest Service arrives.

They have been using a purpose built soft-track to help farmers get to their animals.

Around 200 of Mr McHenry's sheep are still unaccounted for and he said another food drop will be needed if circumstances do not change.

"The food drop has helped immensely, it's a very good effort but if they're still alive, they'll soon have that eaten. We desperately need to get to them."

The impact of being cut off from his animals has put the farmer under severe strain and he has said it might mean the end of his decades in agriculture.

I realised last night, that my farming career is over and I've spoken to other farmers who are saying something similar. It's the end of an era.

James McHenry, Antrim farmer

Sean Scullion, who owns a farm near Glenarm, said mounds of snow are blocking his farm house - while 140 dairy cows wait to be fed.

Within a two-mile stretch in the Mourne mountains, Trassey Road,a number of sheep farmers are finding it extremely tough to keep going.
Desmond Patterson is a farmer in the area and also an Ulster Unionist councilor.

"I think we won't know the full scale of this for a couple of weeks until the snow starts to melt," he said.

"Certainly we have seen snow storms like this before, but I think this is the worst we've seen in 50 years.

"It's isolating working here on your own all the time, I'm quite lucky in that I have a lot of help but a lot of other farmers hasn't got help."

If you really think about, you start to think about the economics of it, you just wouldn't get up in the morning.

Desmond Patterson, Co Down farmer

"We'll be in the red after this season, any livestock farmer will be in the red."

"Time is running out very very quickly, they need to make some real decisions tomorrow."

Nearby, his neighbour Christie Devlin is also struggling.

"It's very stressful and it's very dreadful when you see your newborn lambs, rams you bought, hoping to see the best from them, it's not a very nice thing.

"Every morning we're waking up hoping for a thaw, or a bit of green field, unfortunately that hasn't came yet."

"More dead stock, more hardship, more expense and more turmoil" - that's what he predicts if conditions on the mountains do not change.

As the agriculture committee is due to hold an emergency meeting on Thursday, the farmers are calling for action from the assembly to help them repair their farm buildings and compensation for the loss of their animals.

Vice-chair Joe Byrne, SDLP, said: "I called this emergency meeting so we can ensure responses to this crisis are coordinated and communicated as widely as possible and so we can discuss what immediate measures can be put in place to support farmers, alleviate the hardship of animals without feed and assist with the removal of livestock which has been lost as a result of the bitterly cold weather."

The hardship facing farmers won't melt away with the snow.

Sean O’Hare, SDLP Councillor

SDLP Newry Agriculture Spokesperson Cllr Declan McAteer and colleague Cllr Sean O'Hare have called for a one off fee waiver on the collection of livestock which has perished during the heavy snow fall.

"We met with farmers in the Hill Town area in Newry who continue to be badly hit as a result of the treacherous weather conditions," Cllr McAteer said.

"A number of these farmers have lost valuable livestock and on top of everything else, they are now looking at substantial fees for the collection of fallen stock.

"There is a genuine case to be made for special arrangements to be put in place to collect dead stock free of charge or at the very least at a subsidised rate".

Ulster Unionist Agriculture Spokesperson Jo-Anne Dobson MLA also called for the Executive to consider funding a 'Fallen Animal Scheme' to help farmers recoup their losses.

Up to 140,000 homes and businesses across NI were affected by power cuts and damage to the grid, but electricity has now been restored to all customers.


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