Beef and dairy farmers in Northern Ireland are set for a £25m funding boost, to help offset the negative income effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Announcing the package on a farm visit in County Down on Wednesday (20 May), rural affairs minister Edwin Poots said the money would be a “lifeline” to many farm businesses.
“We know that with falling demand and prices for beef and dairy products, many farm businesses have been among the hardest hit, so the funding I have secured will certainly go some way towards helping the sectors,” he said.
In another piece of good news, Mr Poots also confirmed farmers would receive their full basic farm payments in October this year, “a first for Northern Ireland farmers and ahead of every part of the EU and UK”.
Few details are available on how the £25m fund will actually be distributed to farmers – though the Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) has asked the department of agriculture (Daera) to enter into discussions with stakeholders as soon as possible.
“This is vital, as Daera is responsible for allocating the support appropriately between agriculture commodities, ensuring that individual farm businesses in Northern Ireland can benefit from this package,” said UFU president Ivor Ferguson.
It is believed there will be an emphasis on simplicity, suggesting that dairy farmers might be paid on a per-litre basis, while beef finishers could be paid according to numbers delivered to the slaughterhouse.
The NI move follows specific aid packages announced for dairy farmers in England and Wales in early May, which will pay up to £10,000 to those hit by the near closure of the food service and hospitality sectors.
At the time, Mr Poots said such assistance was not appropriate for NI producers, as their problems were more related to an overall downturn in international markets.
“The impact for our dairy farmers may become evident more slowly, last longer and be more widespread,” he said. “On that basis, we are considering a different approach to address our particular circumstances.”
Mr Poots has also indicated that he is looking to find additional funding for the horticultural sector, which is facing particular problems, partly linked to the closure of garden centres during April and May.
“I will monitor the effects of Covid-19 on the horticulture sector over the next few weeks to assess the level of financial support required,” he said.