Weather: whiteout leaves farmers devastated

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BEEF, sheep and dairy farmers in many parts of Scotland are battling through some of the worst March weather on record, NFU Scotland said yesterday.

Farmers in Dumfries and Galloway and parts of Argyll and the islands are particularly badly hit.

Ewes and lambs are at risk as a result of heavy drifting snow over the weekend and deliveries of vital animal feed supplies and fuel have been severely disrupted. The daily collection of milk has also been badly affected and there are reports of dairy farmers having to pour milk from over-flowing tanks down the drain. Loss of power has placed an additional strain on many farming businesses.

“We are well through our lambing so the snow couldn’t have come at a worse time,” said the union’s Dumfries and Galloway chairman, Andrew McCornick, who farms at Barnbackle, Lochfoot, Dumfries.

“We managed to get feed to those we have found and have had to dig many of them out of the snow. The drifting snow is so bad that there are still many vulnerable sheep that we are battling to reach. We know we are likely to face losses when the snow has cleared.”

McCornick said he had sufficient hay, silage and concentrates to last until the middle of the week but clearing the farm road would become a priority to enable more feed supplies to be delivered.

To add to the problems of dealing with livestock, snow has fallen from a roof and burst the fuel line to the farmhouse, draining away all the heating oil.

“We will need to get this repaired and then get a fuel lorry in,” he said.

Unlike some other farmers, the farm has power and cows are continuing to be calved inside. But he added: “I know of some who are calving cows outside as well as lambing so they will be in a hellish place. There is a feeling of hopelessness but you just have to put your head down and carry on with what – for a lot of farms – is a salvage operation.”

The union has welcomed the decision of the Department of Transport to agree a temporary relaxation until Saturday of the enforcement of drivers’ hours and working time rules for those involved in the distribution of animal feed.

The relaxation will apply to drivers involved in the distribution of raw materials to feed mills and prepared feed to livestock farms. It includes extension of the daily driving limit from nine to ten hours and a reduction in the daily rest requirement from 11 hours to nine hours. Drivers will also be allowed to postpone their weekly rest requirement by 24 hours.

“Without this relaxation, there would not be sufficient drivers available to meet the increased demand for feed and cope with the inevitable delays on snowy and icy roads,” said George Perrott, feed sector head of the Agricultural Industries Federation.

“Much of the feed is delivered in bulk using specialist vehicles with specially trained drivers who have the knowledge to safely operate these lorries.”