CARDIFF, Wales, April 1 (UPI) -- The Welsh government says dealing with the effects of a devastating March snowstorm on livestock farmers has been elevated to an "urgent priority."
Natural Resources and Food Minister Alun Davies said he has asked Wales' chief veterinary officer to look at what the government can do to alleviate pressures farmers are facing due to livestock losses caused by last week's snowstorm.
Welsh farmers say they were already struggling to cope with the effects of one the region's wettest periods, stretching back to last fall, and a "massive fall in incomes" when they were hit by last week's blizzard, which left snow drifts as high as 15 feet in northern Wales, burying hundreds of sheep, the BBC reported.
Parts of country were particularly hard hit by snow and freezing temperatures, with weather forecasters predicting the coldest March in Wales since 1962.
The Farmers of Union Wales has reported high levels of ewe and lamb loses during the crucial lambing season, pressures on livestock housing, collapsed or unstable buildings and severe shortages of grass and fodder.
The group on Thursday called on the Welsh government to introduce emergency aid and a special dispensation -- or "derogation" -- from European Union rules "in recognition of the severe hardships and livestock losses" allowing them to bury fallen stock.
Davies said Saturday is he closely monitoring the situation.
"I'm very aware of the extreme difficulties farmers in Wales are experiencing as a result of the extreme weather we have witnessed over the last week," he said. "Sheep farmers are facing their busiest time of the year with the lambing season, which is not yet over in some parts of Wales. The extreme weather has put an added strain on them.
"One of the most pressing issues farmers have told me they are now facing is how to deal with fallen stock.
"I asked my chief veterinary officer, Professor Christianne Glossop, to look urgently at what the Welsh Government can do to alleviate the burden on farmers. I will say more about our intentions early (this) week."
FUW President Emyr Jones told the BBC he welcomed the announcement but called for regulations on burying animals to be lifted or to allow carcasses to be collected for free.
"We have a ridiculous situation whereby it is illegal under EU regulations to bury animals and have to pay for them to be removed and disposed of," Jones said. "However, a derogation is available in exceptional circumstances and we desperately need this to be applied."
The full toll of the snowstorm on livestock won't be known until the snow melts, which it is proving reluctant to do as cold weather lingers into April.
The snowstorm came after a 2012 that was also marked by tough weather and income losses for Welsh farmers, forcing many of them to seek government grants to pay utility bills or even to buy their children's school uniforms, The Telegraph reported.
"Their crops were washed away in the rain last year," Philippa Spackman of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution told the newspaper. "Animals had to be brought inside, which meant substantial additional feed costs. Many farmers are finding their feed merchants will no longer supply them because they used up all their credit over winter."