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Agriculture Minister outlines £25m Covid-19 fund

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Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has outlined the sectors eligible for a £25million Covid-19 financial support package today in a Written Statement to the Assembly.

In the statement, the Minister confirmed that businesses in the beef, dairy, sheep, potato and ornamental horticulture sectors are able to avail of the funding, to help them offset the losses incurred as a result of short term market disturbance.

Speaking about the announcement, the Minister said: “Covid-19 was a shock to the agri-food industry and caused a significant downturn in the trading ability of the sector. I made the case that the industry should be supported by the NI Executive during this difficult period and on 19 May, the NI Executive agreed a support package to help alleviate the emerging threat to Northern Ireland farm incomes.

“Since then, I have met with numerous industry representatives and stakeholders to examine the nature and extent of the financial losses that are being incurred.

“I have decided to target £21.4m of the £25m support package towards those businesses in the beef, dairy, sheep, potato and ornamental horticulture sectors that have been hardest hit financially and those in most immediate need as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Since other support measures are available to agricultural and horticultural businesses, rates of compensation for losses incurred have been set at 100% or 80% – depending on the nature of the business and other support already available.”

Breakdown of the £21.4m (indicative figures) is as follows:

– Support for the Beef Sector – £7m (100% losses covered)
– Support for the Dairy Sector – £11m (80% losses covered)
– Support for the Sheep Sector – £232k (100% losses covered)
– Support for the Potato Sector – £1.2 – 1.6m (80% losses covered)
– Support for the Ornamental Horticulture Sector – £1.2m – £1.6m (80% losses covered)

The Minister continued: “The financial interventions that I am proposing to make will go a long way in helping these businesses survive the current crisis. However, I want to be prudent at this stage with the funding as we cannot rule out the possibility of further market disturbance as a result of this pandemic and the need for additional farmer support.

“For that reason, I want to retain a budget of just over £7m based on the residual funding of £3.6m (from the £25m) and £3.6m that has been reprioritised internally within my Department. This would allow me to address additional issues and challenges Covid-19 may present in the weeks and months ahead. As far as I am aware, this is the most comprehensive support scheme for our primary producers available anywhere within the EU.

“It is vitally important that we recognise the hard work of our farmers and those working within the wider agri-food sector who have, through these extraordinary times, ensured we have food on our tables.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank my Executive colleagues for their support thus far in my endeavours to support our vitally important agri-food industry and support our local economy during these extremely challenging times.”

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