Slieve Gullion Councillor Oonagh Magennis  has urged the DAERA Minister Edwin Poots to do more to support beef and sheep hill farmers.

It follows the announcement of an allocation of £25 million financial assistance for farming for COVID-19 relief by Agriculture Minister, Edwin Poots.

Cllr Magennis said “My understanding of the Ministers statement is that  it looks like good news for the dairy sector and beef finishers but bad news for beef and sheep producers, who are mostly hill farmers and appear to have been overlooked.

The Minister states that his decision is based on evidence, however he seems to have taken no account of the closure of the marts during the month of April and the impact this had on primary producers who also had to contend with rising input costs, the impact of COVID, the loss of ANC support and a drying up of their cash flow forcing them to make farm to farm sales at poor prices”.

Cllr Magennis continued “According to the DAERA, during April when the marts were shut, 21,691 cattle were traded between farms and Minister Poots knows from evidence provided to him that cattle value had plummeted by £240/head and sheep by £31/head.

However, it looks as if no consideration has been given to these farmers, despite them being one of the few sectors whose income is so low that they could not benefit from other COVID support measures as the self-employed Income Support Scheme”.

Cllr Magennis concluded "This announcement is disappointing for beef and sheep hill farmers. Sinn Féin will continue to highlight their concerns and I would urge the Minister Edwin Poots to support our beef and sheep primary producers, who are at the very beginning of the food supply chain and the backbone of the agri-food industry.”

Most Immediate Need

Making the announcement Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots said “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."

Concluding Minister Dodds added “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.

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