Flood support money is issued
In August 2017 farmland was damaged by Storm Lorenzo and the Department provided immediate assistance to farmers on the ground in addition to the provision of £500,000 for remedial works by the Loughs Agency.
Minister Poots gave a previous commitment to consider a compensation package and announced in July of this year that he had allocated £2.7million in support for those worst affected by the flooding.
Minister Poots said: “Earlier this year I visited farmers in the North West whose farms were impacted by the flooding and landslides as a result of Storm Lorenzo. I heard about the challenges they faced at the time and the work required since then to restore land back to productivity. There is no doubt that it was a severely stressful time for those farmers, both financially and emotionally.
“As a result, I was very keen to provide some financial support to compensate for their loss of income and restoration costs. I subsequently announced, in July, that I had allocated funding to support farmers in the area and I’m pleased that 200 farmers in the North West will begin to receive payments from my Department this week.”
Meanwhile, Stormont agriculture committee chairman Declan McAleer MLA has queried why the flood relief budget has been reduced from its initial figure of £3.45m to the £2.7m now on offer.
Edwin Poots responded in writing to the West Tyrone MLA on this matter. The Minister pointed out: “The initial budget of £3.45 million for a financial assistance scheme was estimated before a complete in-depth analysis and verification of the data provided to the Department was undertaken against the scheme eligibility criteria.
“This work has led to a reduced budget of £2.7m for a number of reasons including self-declared areas that did not match the Maximum Eligible Area (MEA) held by DAERA, field numbers and land types that were incorrectly recorded, and fields that were ineligible for support.
“There was also some duplication of data where farmers reported that both fencing and land had been damaged. In addition, the introduction of a third support rate for Common’s Land of £145 per hectare to replace the initial rate of £4,092 per hectare for all SDA/DA land also reduced the budget.
“This Common’s land was impacted by landslide and erosion, and it had been recommended by an independent expert that areas affected by landslide and erosion should be left to naturally regenerate.
“Therefore, those farm businesses reporting damage to Common’s Land should not have incurred expenses associated with restoration and reseeding. Making this change to the policy was essential to ensure regularity and accountability of public money.”
Declan McAleer commented:“The devastation caused by the storm on 22-23 August 2017 was on an unprecedented scale. According to the MET office, 63% of the average August rainfall fell in the affected areas of the Sperrins and Inishowen in a period of 8-9 hours.
“It was a shocking sight to see rivers re-routed with livestock, equipment, fencing and trees washed away in a huge landslide that went downstream and pummelled Plumbridge causing devastation to the playgroup, the cattle mart, recreation facilities and other buildings and facilities.
“I want to pay tribute to the Loughs’ Agency who carried out an extensive riparian fencing scheme and to the UFU who joined with political representatives from all the parties to get this compensation scheme in place. I also want to commend Minister Poots for taking the decision to proceed with the scheme.
“Whilst I appreciate the reasons for adopting an area-based approach, I continue to lobby the Minister and department for a bespoke scheme for farmers who did not have many acres damaged but who had their fodder, buildings and equipment destroyed.
“In most cases these have not been covered by insurance so these farmers are still carrying the losses. In addition, there are farmers who did not submit a force majeure application at the time and they are also not part of this scheme despite enduring losses.
“I have also made representation to Minister Poots on behalf of farmers who worked strenuously at great cost in the immediate aftermath of the deluge to keep some of their land in agriculture use. “As such, they did not include these fields on the 2017 Force Majeure and now as a consequence they will not be compensated for these hectares despite reclaiming them at great cost. This is unfair and I have asked the Minister to reconsider and include these farmers in the scheme.”