Edwin Poots in £70 million bid to help farmers in Northern Ireland hit by supply woes due to war in Ukraine

A Stormont minister has bid for £70 million to help Northern Ireland farmers hit by supply issues linked to the Ukraine war.

Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots said the sector is facing a “perfect storm” of rising costs of energy, grain and fertiliser.

Mr Poots told members of his Assembly scrutiny committee that farmers need support to absorb soaring bills until such time as the farmgate prices paid for their produce rise

He also warned that food prices in Northern Ireland are set to increase significantly as a result of the conflict

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The minister said he has made a bid to Stormont Finance Minister Conor Murphy to allocate £70 million to his department to help the agriculture sector

Mr Poots said Ukraine exported grain to Northern Ireland, much of which was used for animal feed, and warned that a fall in supply will have significant consequences for the chicken, pork and dairy industries.

The minister said the problems are most acute in the pork sector and some pig farmers are at risk of going out of business

Mr Poots said farmers in Northern Ireland also rely on nitrogen fertiliser imported from Russia and any reduction in supply would result in lower crop yields.

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“I think there’s every possibility that we may have global food shortages and rising prices this year on the back of what is happening in Russia and Ukraine,” he said.

“We all need to recognise and realise the risks that are involved. Given the crucial role that Russia and Ukraine play in global agri-food markets, I have grave concerns that the longer the conflict goes on the more likely we are to see a real and damaging impact on our local industries.”

Mr Poots met with ministerial counterparts from across the UK on Monday to discuss the situation

He has also written to UK Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary George Eustice to urge greater Government intervention

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He called for a reduction in excise duty on fuel, a limited suspension of the road transport fuel obligation and engagement with the supermarkets to ensure UK farmers are supported

Mr Poots said Irish Sea trade disruption caused by Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol is also an issue.

“In order to address the rising input costs, an improvement in farmgate prices is ultimately required to offset those costs but I wouldn’t expect that to occur immediately,” he told MLAs.

“In the meantime, farmers have to carry these extra costs and I am concerned that this will substantially reduce their returns and cash flow, seriously affecting their livelihoods. And it’s to that end I have put a request to the Department of Finance for £70 million of support for the agri-food sector and I trust that will meet the support of this committee.

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“The Northern Ireland agri-food sector has already undergone a period of severe disruption as a result of the global pandemic and unworkable complexities of the Northern Ireland Protocol. So, alongside reductions in labour supply, rising input costs, supply chain disruptions and concerns about long-running inflation, they’re all combining to create that perfect storm.”

Mr Poots added: “It is vital we protect Northern Ireland’s food supplies, making sure everyone can access safe quality food at prices that are affordable.”