CONCERNS have been expressed that the DARD funded scheme to remove animal carcasses from farms following the recent harsh weather is set to end on 15 April.
Ulster Unionist Agriculture spokesperson Jo-Anne Dobson said “I am asking for an immediate commitment from the Minister to ensure this scheme remains open for as long as our farmers need it.
“Many farmers have told me in recent days that 15 days will not be enough, especially when the eventual thaw could be some way off.
“Many farmers have not yet been able to access their fields to be able to give an accurate assessment of the number of livestock lost.
“What’s more, the Minister knows this. Because like me she visited the worst affected areas last Tuesday.
“The last thing farmers affected by this crisis need to hear is a looming Department of Agriculture deadline.
“Last Wednesday, I on behalf of The Ulster Unionist Party, called for the fallen animal scheme to be fully funded for those farmers hit by this crisis.
“Indeed, we welcomed Thursday’s commitment from the Department to do just that, however, when the Minister made her statement to the TV cameras, she did not mention any deadlines.
“Farmers will be rightly concerned that the Department are running a stopwatch on this scheme.
“Whilst the Minister may well say this deadline will be extended, nonetheless it is a deadline, and her clock is ticking.
“The Minister was roundly criticised last week for her decision to stand down air support. It would be sheer folly if she decided to take further steps which would have the effect of removing direct help from farmers when they need it the most.
“I therefore call on the Minister to give urgent clarification to those farmers affected. Clarification that she and her Department will immediately lift the 15 April deadline and not leave them when they need help.
“To do so would be an uncaring act from a Department which can spend money in a carefree manner in many areas, but is clearly engaged in penny pinching when it comes to delivering effective help to farmers in their greatest time of need. Why else impose a deadline on farmers?”