SDLP MLA for South Down Sean Rogers has highlighted the struggle faced by Hill Farmers and said the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development Michelle O’Neill needs to provide urgent assistance to people working on this challenging type of land.
Mr. Rogers was speaking during an Assembly debate today (20 May). He said: “Two months ago an unusually late fall of snow in the Mournes, the Sperrins and the Glens hit the farming industry and had particularly disastrous consequences for the hill farmer. As a former sheep farmer who experienced many lambing seasons I felt a great sense of upset at the loss experienced by many farmers.
“The announcement by the Minister for Agriculture at the weekend of additional funds for fodder is welcome, but we have been playing catch up with our Southern counterparts.
“Farmers in my constituency who lost stock are no longer bewildered but angry about the lack of support from DARD- nearly two months has elapsed. We have been promised a Task force yet no task force will pay for the extra feed and the Bank Manager won’t take the Task Force as security for an unaddressed loan.
“Our Hill farmers are in dire straits -the collection of dead stock wasn’t a free collection as it will be removed from any hardship payment. The dead stock tally doesn’t in any way reflect the level of losses in the Mournes, Sperrins or Glens.
“Feed costs have spiralled out of control this year due to the poorer value of feed and the late spring. The quality of last winter’s fodder when measured against previous years was only of 30% value – the lack of sugars in the silage and the general lack of dry matter , meant more meal had to be bought in and fed.
“To sustain the livelihood of hill farmers the Minister needs to; make an immediate payment of £2000 per farmer severely affected by the snow; a scheme to repair sheds and fences; see CAP reform through; incentivise the promotion of native breeds; encourage farmers towards more sustainable farming; introduce a rural environmental improvement scheme and give farms on the hill greater support,” said Mr Rogers.