Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Will plight of farmers melt hearts at Stormont?

Farmers are always complaining. We know that because everybody says so. Especially in the city. Farmers with their big subsidies and their hi-tech machinery to do all the work. Don't know they're living, do they?

But who would want to be a farmer right now? A farmer with livestock caught out in the fields in this, the worst freak weather conditions in living memory.

Those television scenes this week of men hauling half-frozen sheep from snow drifts were distressing enough to watch.

How much more terrible to actually have to do that? To pull that poor, oul struggling creature out from its almost-grave. And to know that elsewhere in the impacted snow, dozens more, hundreds more of your animals are beyond help.

How do you ever recover from that? Not in financial terms. But in terms of the trauma – and it is undoubtedly trauma – of witnessing so many animals die such a slow, gruesome death.

To add to the horror, barns and outhouses used to shelter animals including newborn lambs have collapsed under the weight of the snow.

The thaw will eventually reveal the full, terrible scale of this disaster. And true, it has been visited upon both urban and rural communities.

But it's also true that country areas have borne the brunt as the weather closed in with such ferocity.

Surely to God more could be done to help them?

MLA Basil McCrea has talked about how farmers have been "abandoned and left to fend for themselves" in the current emergency.

The eventual impact on the local agriculture industry will be colossal. But it's the impact on the human beings who work in that industry which should be regarded as priority.

Coming from a country background myself, I know many farmers and what I know about them is that while they do indeed think in terms of making a profit (it is, after all, a business) they just don't care for animals, they care about them.

What many of those stricken farmers will be feeling right now isn't just dismay at the disaster that has befallen them.

It will be a very real grief.

Farming is tough, gruelling, relentless work. And all of us benefit from those hours put in out in the fields. In all weathers.

Put simply, without the farmer the rest of us would starve.

City dwellers don't always get that. There's often that sense that farmers are a bunch of moaners who get it easy.

There's that remove between the city shopper picking up his pre-packed mince and bag of spuds and the man and woman working long, often difficult days to bring that to our table.

Those awful pictures from the Glens and the Dromara area show just something of the calamity that has befallen farmers worst hit by the blizzards.

Maybe not a whole lot more could have been done to prepare for this sudden, freakish spite of mother nature.

But the test now for the Assembly in general and Department of Agriculture in particular will be in terms of response – not just immediate but also long-term.

Financial compensation will be vital to help the local agriculture industry regroup.

But equally important must be a recognition from government of the impact of all this upon the people who work in that industry.

Your heart bleeds for those poor animals. But this is also a human catastrophe.

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