Saturday, May 18, 2024

ZERO HELP FOR FARMERS

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A COMBER farmer who has lost almost £90,000 in crops due to the recent floods said farmers like him have received ‘zero help’.

While local high street businesses which incurred losses from water damage benefitted from emergency funds announced by the Secretary of State, Chris Heaton-Harris, farmers have been left out.

Seventh generation potato and vegetable farmer Paul Hamilton said relevant government departments have visited local farms to see how bad the situation the floods have left but this has led to no such financial assistance.

He also warned of potato shortages in the new year and rising prices for those that are available.

Stating that ‘we have received zero financial help’, the 34 year-old farmer asked: “Why are we not seen as businesses? We are a farm business. We are growers, processors and packagers in a farm business.”

He said the recent floods couldn’t have come at a worse time.

“All this all comes on the back of a very bad year,” he said. “This season has been a difficult one from the very start. We should have started planting sometime in February or March but it was so wet we had to wait until April.

“Then the next anomaly was about six weeks of very dry weather until the start of July when it began to rain and it’s been wet really since July, aside from about three weeks in September.”

He said that despite that brief spell of dry weather, nothing could be harvested because of the late planting.

“The rain started again in September and then the flooding a few weeks ago was just the icing on the cake.”

That of course comes on the back of rising prices in the fuel, chemical and fertiliser sectors which has had farmers tightening belts like the rest of commercial and domestic fuel users.

Explaining that his Newtownards Road farm was situated within what is essential like a basin or ditch, Paul said despite investment in underground drainage, the outlying water table was higher, preventing proper drainage.

As a result, everything has been left rotting in water and is completely destroyed.

Speaking of his two of his farm’s adjacent fields, one six acres and the other seven acres, he said he could normally expect to yield between 16 to 18 tonnes of Maris Piper potatoes per acre, for example, at between £380 to £400 per tonne.

Based on those parameters, he said his losses totalled at least £88,000 and said that he was ‘not able to salvage anything because they are completely rotten’.

“We can save nothing whatsoever from those two fields,” he stressed. “Can’t even dry them in the spring, those left in the fields, because they’re rotten.”

Paul told of a recent visit to local farms by heads of the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Regional Affairs and CAFRE, Northern Ireland’s agricultural college and said officials had been surprised at just how severe the situation was.

“They got a real insight into how bad it was for us and realised it was a ‘complete loss’ of the crops. A complete wipeout,” he reiterated.

Paul said farmers are not yet able to judge whether they’ll be able to rally the ‘wipeout’ and stay afloat for a while yet. Explaining that November is the month in which field rents are paid, as well as fuel, chemical and fertiliser bills are routinely paid, he said it will be up to the patience of creditors for many farmers.

He said these payments usually have to be completed by Christmas, but it was a case this year of ‘paying for something that we won’t get anything out of’.

Turning to the anticipated potato shortage due to the crop destruction, Paul said growers in Scotland and England have had much of their yields decimated by extreme water as well.

“So the ones that do come through will be more expensive,” he warned.

He said that as a community farmers are now crossing their fingers that the winter doesn’t bring too many frosts, for the danger that presents to other crops. 

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