£3m aid package to counter low wool and sow prices in NI

Sheep and pig producers in Northern Ireland are set to receive more than £3m later this year in compensation for poor prices related to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Agriculture minister Edwin Poots has confirmed sheep farmers who have been affected by poor wool prices following the crash in the global market will receive up to £1.27m in financial support.

And pig producers are set for a £2m payout to compensate for last year’s collapse in the cull sow market.

See also: NI dairy and beef farmers to share in £25m Covid-19 aid fund

“Over the past year, I have met with representatives of the sheep and wool sectors on a regular basis to discuss the impact of the pandemic on the global wool market,” said Mr Poots.

“This financial support will compensate for losses incurred and encourage farmers to value the wool they produce, as it is a sustainable, natural product that has wonderful potential in many different product areas.”

Commenting on the cull sow scheme, Mr Poots acknowledged the importance of export markets in Europe and China, which have been “significantly depressed in the past year”, even though there were now some signs of recovery.

“This support will help to address the cashflow difficulties and financial impact of low cull sows prices on the sustainability of farmers’ businesses.”

Welcome support

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) welcomed the “much-needed” support for both sectors.

“The UFU, alongside the National Sheep Association and Ulster Wool, have been lobbying continuously since summer 2020 to get funding secured,” said UFU hill farming chairman Nigel McLaughlin.

“Northern Ireland has only one grading depot located in Muckamore, County Antrim, and we want to ensure that it survives and remains open in future for the benefit of our sheep producers.”

UFU pork and bacon chairman Glenn Cuddy said the £2m support for his sector would help pig producers who had endured a “significant fall in revenue since the pandemic hit”.

Eligible sheep and pig farmers will be contacted by the department of agriculture when the scheme opens later this year, and asked to complete a simple application form to claim their payments.

Previous payments

The news follows previous payments for Northern Ireland, including a £4m package for pig and poultry producers, which has been flowing into bank accounts in recent days and weeks.

One part of this (£2.2m) went to pig farmers who were supplying Cranswick Country Foods at Ballymena, County Antrim, where production was halted for two weeks in August 2020 because of an outbreak of coronavirus among its workforce. This was followed by a two-month export ban to China.

In total, £23.6m has now been paid out by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to NI farm businesses in the dairy, beef, sheep, potato and ornamental sectors that have been affected by the pandemic.