OFFICIALS will be using four helicopters to deliver emergency food parcels to stranded farmers and their livestocks on Thursday.
Two helicopters from the Irish Air Corps are on their way to Northern Ireland to assist with delivering emergency aid to farmers affected by the heavy snow which has left thousands of sheep stranded in isolated areas.
They will be working alongside two RAF Chinook helicopters which will drop fodder and provisions in one of the worst affected areas in Co Down around Dromara, Castlewellan and Slieve Croob.
The step up in emergency provision supplies comes as a Stormont committee will hold an emergency meeting on Thursday to discuss the crisis facing farmers over the recent snow storms.
The Agriculture Committee will also discuss the department’s response to the recent severe weather which seen an RAF helicopter drafted in to drop food for stranded farmers and the sheep livestock on their land.
Heavy snowfall has caused hardship across much of Northern Ireland, with some areas buried under drifts up to 18ft deep.
Farmers livelihood is now in jeopardy amid fears that thousands of sheep and cattle died in the freezing temparatures.
Politicians will be briefed by Department of Agriculture officials at Stormont later on Thursday.
Compensation for farmers will be one of the issues discussed, as search operations for stranded livestock continue.
Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill will also hold talks with the Stormont Executive to work out possible hardship payments to farmers who now face financial ruin.
“Every day that passes farmers are incurring more and more hardship and loss,” said Committee Vice Chair Joe Byrne, SDLP.
“I called this emergency meeting so we can ensure responses to this crisis are coordinated and communicated as widely as possible.
“We can discuss what immediate measures can be put in place to support farmers, alleviate the hardship of animals without feed and assist with the removal of livestock which has been lost as a result of the bitterly cold weather.
“There are still parts of the north which are completely impassable and a number of farmers remain unable to get to their livestock.
“We must all work together to prevent this crisis escalating further and to provide as much support as we can to help the farmers who have been dealt a hard blow by this heavy snow fall”.
A military Chinook helicopter has been drafted in to airlift emergency supplies to remote parts of Co Antrim and Co Down.
It spent Wednesday making deliveries to the Dromara hills to some of the most affected farmers, their families and livestock.
Extra support is also being provided by three helicopters from the Irish Air Corps.
Farmers who need assistance across South Down on Thursday should contact the hotline number on: 0300 202 007 852
Meanwhile livestock feed and fodder has been sourced through the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise, and is being delivered to farms on vehicles known as Snowcats.
James McHenry, who has been struggling to reach his sheep near Glenariff, said: “The food drop has helped immensely, it’s a very good effort but if they’re still alive, they’ll soon have that eaten. We desperately need to get to them.”