Pressure heaped on farmers to meet strict slurry deadline a concern, claims councillor
Concerns have been raised that farmers are being put under too much pressure to make the slurry deadline, given the recent terrible weather conditions in Northern Ireland.
One local politician also said the "unrealistic regulations" amounted to "even more red tape" that the farming industry did not need in light of the persistent rain since the summer.
UUP councillor Bert Wilson made the comments following news that two men - understood to be a father and son - in the Fermanagh and Omagh district council area were overcome by fumes last weekend when working with slurry.
Emergency services attended the farm in the Fintona area, where the incident occurred after the men are believed to have gone to the aid of animals in trouble.
It is thought the fumes claimed the lives of three cattle, but they survived after being treated at the scene before being later transferred to the South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen in a non-life threatening condition.
This week, the widow of dairy farmer, Alistair Sloss (52), who was overcome by fumes and fell into a slurry tank at his farm near Coagh on October 14 last year, also spoke of her concerns.
The tragedy happened one day before the deadline for slurry spreading passed.
She told the Belfast Telegraph that it was raining that day, "but he had no option because of the slurry deadline".
Councillor Wilson, who has repeatedly argued for an extension to the slurry deadline due to the exceptionally bad weather, said farmers could do without this type of pressure at this time of year.
"There's been so much pressure heaped on farmers to make the slurry deadline that everybody was panicking in case they missed it," he said.
"The deadline is so strict and, to be honest, some of these rules need to be more flexible. They don't take the bad weather into consideration and the difficulties it brings. How can farmers spread slurry before October 16 when they still can't lift the grain or silage off the land?
"I think those who make up these rules are in an underground office with no windows and they've definitely neither been to or worked on a farm."
Mr Wilson stressed that farmers used the good days, which were few and far between, to their advantage. He said: "I know many farmers who packed three days' work into any good day that came along, but deadlines fly in the face of their so-called health and safety regulations.
"A farmer can't leave off until next week what needs to be done today. This is a no-win scenario for the farmer.
"He knows better than anyone he has to get rid of the slurry, but he can only work when the conditions allow him."
A ban on spreading slurry came into effect last weekend, which lasts until February.
But farmers have said soft ground conditions had made it difficult to empty tanks ahead of the close of season.
The Northern Ireland Environment Agency said it was aware of the pressure and would treat the issue "sensitively", but it also said it had a responsibility to protect water quality.
Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA Rosemary Barton called for the Department of Agriculture to show flexibility to farmers and to work in partnership with them.
She added that it was important to issue deadlines and to demonstrate flexibility to those farmers who found themselves in an impracticable position to spread slurry.