The Irish Natura & Hill Farmers Association have called on the Minister for Agriculture to establish a Taskforce to assist farmers that could be affected by the coronavirus. In expressing concern on the impact this could have on farm families National President Colm O’Donnell stated “how the coming weeks will be very demanding on all farmers, especially our suckler and sheep farms who will be calving and lambing down their stock.”
This stated the INHFA President “is stressful for farmers at the best of times but the added pressure of poor weather conditions and the potential risk posed by the coronavirus means many farmers are in a very vulnerable position.”
Farmers he added “need to know that support is there if they contact the virus and are unable to carry on farming. This support needs to be available through advice and on the ground assistance so as to avoid possible animal welfare issues.” It is continued O’Donnell “the view of the INHFA that the Department of Agriculture is best placed to co-ordinate and deliver this support, which should at a minimum involve the following
• A National Taskforce involving Department Staff and other stakeholders such as Teagasc, Farm Relief Service, Co-ops and Farming Organisations. The responsibility is to work with Government, other agencies, Banks etc. and to oversee a support structure in each DVO Region
• At National level the taskforce will need to ensure that farmers with the virus can easily avail of the State-funded Illness benefit which will rise to €305/week.
• They will also need to ensure flexibility from our Banks and Lending Institutions and where required rescheduled loan repayments and ensure working capital through extended overdraft facilities.
• At DVO level we need manned telephone lines that farmers can contact if sick with the virus, so assistance can be provided in the form of advice and farm labour
• In order to provide personnel for the telephone lines and other requirements we suspend all farm inspections and re-deploy the staff.
• At county/DVO level there will be a need for ongoing co-operation between Department of Agriculture, Farm Relief and other farm labour providers, Teagasc and other Farm Advisors, the Co-ops and the Farming Organisations to ensure farmers have the support they need in terms of labour, fodder and cash
O’Donnell stressed the need to get this taskforce up and running as soon as possible and is hopeful that the Minister will recognise the merits in this. However, he also acknowledged that this could take a week or possibly longer and in the meantime has called for the following measures to be implemented, to assist farmers diagnosed with the virus
• The immediate pay-out of the balancing payments in GLAS and Sheep Welfare.
• The re-opening of GLAS with an up-front payment to assist the many farmers currently frozen out.
The farm leader concluded by stating “how farmers need to know that there is support there for them and the measures we have detailed here can form the basis of that support.” He further added “that all support measures must be accessible to all affected farmers and not have terms and conditions that excludes as what happened with the fodder transport scheme the BEAM Scheme.”