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Page last updated at 16:20 GMT, Tuesday, 17 February 2009
Farmers sleep rough for EU cash

Farmers waiting in line
The government says a first-come first-served system is the fairest way

By Greg Dawson
Newsbeat reporter in Ballymena

It's something you might imagine a few devoted music fans would do to get their hands on some festival tickets, or maybe gamers wanting to buy a console.

Spending a cold February evening lying on a pavement with nothing except a sleeping bag.

Last night in Northern Ireland thousands of farmers did exactly that - but for many of them it was about trying to stay in business.

Some of the farmers in Ballymena started the long wait outside government offices on Sunday night.

They're waiting to apply for a grant from the European Union of up to 5,000.

The cash is to help farmers buy new equipment to modernise their business.

George, who runs a dairy farm and was in the queue since Monday afternoon, said: "We have to improve our houses for our animals. If we don't do it we won't be able to keep our cows."

The kind of equipment this money will be spent on includes cow mattresses and new computers to identify livestock.

'Ridiculous and degrading'

If a farmer gets the maximum grant of 5,000, they must spend 7,000 of their own money on improvements to their farm.

The problem is only around 1,200 farmers will get the maximum pay out and it's first-come, first served.
Farmers waiting in line
Some started queuing for the 5,000 on Monday afternoon

Beef and sheep farmer William McMaster started queuing at 9pm on Monday night.

"It's just ridiculous. We had to stand here all night. There's got to be easier ways of doing it. Maybe if they just drew names out of the hat."

Ministers in Northern Ireland said there was no fairer way of handing out the cash, so this was the only option.

Lots of people disagree though.

"This is degrading for all of us", said one man. "We've got better things to do than hang around for hours waiting for something there's a good chance we might not get.

"There are lots of us here this morning that won't see a penny of this cash and we badly need it."

Tough times

Like other businesses in the economic crisis, these are tough times for farmers.

Dairy farmer George said he's not getting the profit he needs from the dairy farm.


I'm 33 and have done this all my life. It's a way of life and I know nothing else

George

"The price of our milk is going down so much. Last year we were selling it for around 26p a litre.

"This year we'd be lucky to get 18p. So it's harder for us to keep going - but it's in our blood to keep going.

"I'm 33 and have done this all my life. It's a way of life and I know nothing else."

The offices for the applications to be handed in opened at 9am this morning. Now the farmers face a few weeks wait to find out if they're going to get what they want.



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