£5m Covid-19 funding pot announced for NI farmers

Farmers in Northern Ireland (NI) will receive part of an £11.8m fund to help businesses recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The money was handed to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera) from the government’s Covid-19 recovery programme.

 Daera minister Edwin Poots said about £5m of the total was earmarked for agricultural market support to address difficulties in trading conditions.

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Potato growers are expected to benefit most. A scheme to help the sector recover from the loss of the food service market during Covid-19 has already been agreed.

“I am actively looking at a support package for processing potato suppliers in response to the closure of catering outlets over recent months,” Mr Poots confirmed.

Hardship evidence

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) welcomed the potato sector support. The market for processing potatoes collapsed in October after key hospitality and food service outlets went under during the Covid-19 lockdowns, a UFU spokesperson said.

Since then, growers have had to sell potatoes for livestock feed at significantly reduced prices, the spokesperson said.  

Speaking last month, UFU deputy president Will Irvine urged growers who had sold potatoes for stock feed to retain evidence of the transactions. The potato scheme may require proof of hardship which could be provided via sales invoices.

“The UFU will continue to liaise with Daera officials to ensure the support is rolled out as quickly as possible so our potato growers can benefit, and to help sustain potato businesses across NI,” Mr Irvine added.  

Aside from the £5m for farming, the remainder of Daera’s £11.8m allocation will be split between green schemes such as nature walks (£2m), a detection system for Covid-19 in wastewater (£3.8m) and £1m for a rural business support fund.