Councillor calls for weather aid

Rain water surges out through a farm gateway as Tyrone farmer Drew Fleming shows UFU leaders Barclay Bell and Ivor Ferguson some of the storm damage on his land. Picture: Cliff Donaldson

Farmers in the mid-Tyrone area need immediate access to a weather aid package, such has been the impact of the recent torrential rain in the area, according to Ulster Unionist Councillor Bert Wilson.

“The Gortin area has been worst affected,” he said.

“It’s a tale of catastrophe with farmers reporting drowned sheep, lost cattle and destroyed silage.

“Miles of fencing have just been washed away and the same can be said for top soil in fields that had been ploughed for re-seeding purposes. It really is a scene of total devastation.

“One family, in particular, has had a poultry shed totally destroyed and another severely damaged with flood water. It could be at least two years before they are fully back in business.”

Wilson added:“There is a flood help number, which people are supposed to ring. But the staff answering these calls are based in the North of England. They do not know where Gortin is, never mind getting a sense of the problems facing the people of the area right now.

“We need a help-line number that will be manned by local people, who will be able to provide genuine assistance to stressed families, who need it right now.

“Adding to the problem is the fact that we do not have a functioning Stormont Executive at the present time.”

Ulster Farmers’ Union President Barclay Bell and Deputy President Ivor Ferguson visited flood-affected areas in Counties Fermanagh, Tyrone and Derry on Thursday past. They have also been in discussion with Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) staff on the matter.

“We were met by a scene of total devastation, the likes of which I have never witnessed before,” said Bell.

“We have asked DAERA Permanent Secretary Noel Lavery to get out and see the carnage caused by the floods for himself. Hopefully, this should happen today (Friday).”

“Our plan is to meet DAERA officials on this issue early next week. The affected farmers need financial support. But they also need practical advice on how to get their businesses back on track as quickly as possible.”

The Union president went on to highlight the specific challenges facing arable farmers, particularly in the North West.

“There is still a significant proportion of this year’s cereal crop yet to be saved. And harvesting conditions are deteriorating with every day that passes.

“Many growers have already had fields of straw completely destroyed and the drying costs incurred against crops that have been harvested continue to mount.

“Harvesting delays have already prevented growers from sowing-out next season’s crops.”

DUP MEP Diane Dodds visited a small section of the flood-affected area.

“I am in no doubt of the impact this has had on many farmers and given the range of destruction caused, it is not only financially difficult to deal with but also mentally draining,” she added.

“Given the force and scale of the flooding it is a blessing that no one was killed.

“Farmers face significant losses whether that is livestock, fencing, grass, machinery, flooded slurry tanks, land, crops or indeed on farm infrastructure. The clean-up job is only starting and the needs of farmers will evolve during that process.

“I will continue to monitor this situation alongside my colleagues and lobby for action. I have already started this process by contacting DAERA asking for immediate action to help these farmers.

She added: “Given that some land is temporarily out of agricultural production after the flooding I would encourage those affected to contact their local DAERA office to notify a “force majeure” as soon as they become aware of the problem. This may impact upon Basic Payments.”

Veterinary, environmental health staff and farming advisors from DAERA have been out on the ground to help local farmers respond to the flooding in the North West.

DAERA Permanent Secretary Noel Lavery confirmed that many farmers had been badly hit by the heavy flooding.

“We have had reports of livestock losses and damage to farmland and properties, with the Glenelly Valley and the North West particularly affected.

“Since the early hours of Wednesday morning our animal welfare, environmental officers and CAFRE advisors have been working with farmers, industry representatives and other government agencies to help alleviate the impact,” he said.

“Our colleagues in the Northern Ireland Environment Agency have also been working on site to determine the type, source and scale of any pollution within the flooded areas. They are also providing advice to the multi-agency flood response team and where possible taking action to mitigate any pollution.

“However, given that areas remain underwater and roads closed, it is difficult to access some sites and therefore too early to determine the full impact of the flooding event.”

He added: “We are urging farmers to take extra precautions if working in flooded areas or damaged property to keep themselves, their family and anyone else working on the farm safe. As well as DAERA and CAFRE advisors, local vets are available to provide advice to livestock keepers concerned about the welfare of their animals. CAFRE will also be issuing an advisory bulletin to assist farmers in their recovery efforts.”

The advice to farmers and others is to:

Not enter flooded areas unless it is absolutely necessary to do so.

Work in pairs or let someone know where they are going and carry a charged mobile phone.

Wear appropriate protective clothing including a high visibility jacket.

Take extra care when using machinery and drive slowly and carefully on flooded roads.

Remember flood water can lift manhole covers so extra care should be taken and particular care is needed in deep water or where is it flowing rapidly.

Contact their local vet if they are concerned about welfare or disease risk to stock.

Farmers whose homes have been impacted by the flooding can apply to Derry City & Strabane District Council for emergency financial assistance. Further advice will be issued by the Council about this scheme and will also be available on its website: http://www.derrystrabane.com/Subsites/flooding.

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