Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Snow-hit farmers in plea to banks

Thousands of sheep were buried in heavy snow last month, and owners were unable to make it into some remote areas to deliver feed

Banks in Northern Ireland have not realistically tackled financial problems caused by the heavy snow, farmers have claimed.

The National Sheep Association (NSA) called for more Government support to help repair broken fences and sheds but said lenders also needed to respond to hardship facing many farmers.

Thousands of animals were buried in heavy snow which drifted 20ft (6 metres) deep last month and owners were unable to make it into some remote areas to deliver feed.

Association representative Campbell Tweed said: "The banks do not appear to realistically address the situation a lot of businesses are in. Their credit departments should be out shovelling some snow for a while and they might get a different view of things."

Sheep escaped over the top of fences along high snow drifts and many died or aborted their lambs because of lack of food amid freezing temperatures, Association members told Stormont's Agriculture Committee. One man had three sheds damaged but has been unable to persuade insurers to pay out.

Mr Tweed added in England, Wales and Scotland an Agricultural Mortgages Corporation lent about 60% of the value of a property at low interest rates for 25 years. "That is very considerably different from what is available in this country at the minute," he said.

He said legal obstacles had prevented the mortgages corporation from establishing in Northern Ireland. "I don't know what those legal snags are but I think they are something I would love the Assembly to address," he said.

"I think they would be pushing at an open door as far as the Agricultural Mortgages Corporation is concerned and it would be an opportunity to, dare I say it, shake up what appears to be a comfortable status quo for the individuals we are having to deal with at the minute."

The carcasses of thousands of farm animals which died in the bitter weather have been collected in a state-funded disposal scheme established by Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill. Helicopters from the Royal Air Force and the Irish Air Corp, and specialist snowcat vehicles, transported bales to the affected farm in counties Down and Antrim.

John Blaney from the NSA said the thaw had still not reached some high-lying parts, farmers were struggling to reach animals and did not have the resources to dispose of carcasses.

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