16 August 2002

Floods lead to rule change

LIVESTOCK farmers in Scotland, Northern Ireland, parts of England and the Republic of Ireland can start grazing or mowing set-aside land, subject to certain conditions.

The move has been made in response to the poor summer weather, which has forced many farmers to rehouse their stock, while some are still waiting to complete a first cut of silage.

The Brussels concession means that grass which has been grown on set-aside land, and which would normally have to be cut and left to rot during the set-aside period (Jan 15 to Sept 1), may be fed to animals or harvested for winter feeding with immediate effect.

As well as Scotland and Northern Ireland, the derogation also includes the English counties of Avon, Durham, Humberside, Somerset, Wiltshire, North and West Yorkshire.

But it only applies to those farms on which at least 33% of the forage area has been flooded, and any fodder saved cannot be sold to another farm.

The Ulster Farmers Union says it is still a matter of interpretation as to what "flooding" actually means. "There is a big difference between being waterlogged and actually having water lying over the ground," said spokesman, Joe McDonald. "I doubt if anyone has had a third of their ground under water."

He is encouraged that the authorities are taking a flexible view. A statement from the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture says farmers who think they meet the conditions can take advantage of the derogation without pre-approval. But they must notify the IACS office in Londonderry.

Met Office figures show that the first seven months of this year have been the wettest since records began in 1900.

The situation is repeated in the Republic of Ireland, where grass growth is back by 50% and farmers are already digging into next winters rations. &#42

The Irish Farmers Association predicts an extra 750,000t of feed will be needed this winter, costing farmers k125m (£78m).

The IFA is calling for extra refunds for beef exports to Russia, a return to full intervention buying for skimmed milk powder and increased advanced area payments for arable farmers to alleviate the problems.

The UFU is also pressing for speedier subsidy payments and is preparing a claim for emergency weather aid, either as a state aid or from the EUs disaster fund. To qualify, it must be shown that production of any commodity is down by over 30%, (20% in LFAs), over the growing season.