Calls made for coronavirus taskforce to support farmers

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is being called on to set up a taskforce to support farmers in light of coronavirus (Covid-19).

The Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association (INHFA) said that 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”.

Colm O’Donnell, the association’s president, warned that the current situation “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 need to know the support is there if they contract 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 the view of the INHFA that the Department of Agriculture is best placed to co-ordinate and deliver this support,” O’Donnell added.

This support, O’Donnell argues, should involve the following;

  • A national taskforce involving department staff and other stakeholders such as Teagasc, Farm Relief Service, co-ops and farming organisations, which would work with other agencies, such as banks, to oversee support;
  • This taskforce would need to ensure farmers who may contract the virus that they can avail of state-funded illness benefit, which would rise to €305/week;
  • Flexibility from banks and lending institutions would also be necessary, with loan repayments rescheduled, and extended overdraft facilities, where necessary;
  • At the level of district veterinary offices (DVOs), manned telephone lines would be necessary to provide assistance, and for this purpose, staff should be redeployed;
  • Farm inspections should be suspended;
  • Ensuring, through co-operation among various bodies, that farmers have support in terms of labour, fodder and cash.

O’Donnell also stressed the need to get the taskforce “up and running as soon as possible”.

In the meantime, the INHFA president is calling for the immediate pay-out of balancing payments under the Green, Low-carbon, Agri-environment Scheme (GLAS) and the Sheep Welfare Scheme.

“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. All support measures must be accessible to all affected farmers and not have terms and conditions that exclude [farmers],” O’Donnell concluded.