Minister bids for £70m aid package

Farm minister Edwin Poots MLA claims that a £70m Stormont aid package is available to farmers in Northern Ireland.

The money can be used to soften the impact of fast increasing energy, fertiliser and feed costs within production agriculture.

So much for the good news: the bad news is that Stormont’s politicians cannot agree on how to make the support funding available.

Poots is firmly of the view that Finance minister Conor Murphy has the authority to make the money available right now.

Murphy is claiming that a full Stormont Executive meeting is needed to allow the release of the support funding package. And, what’s more, he has the advice of Northern Ireland’s attorney general to back him up on the matter.

The farm minister discussed these matters with the members of the Stormont Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (AERA) committee earlier this week.

Courtesy of his presentation he made it clear that farming businesses, particularly in the pig sector, will go out of business, if they do not get significant government support as a matter of urgency.

Poots is also calling on the supermarkets to take a greater proportion of the pain that now exists within the farming and food chain.

In other words, they should be prepared to pay farmers higher prices while not passing on the full impact of these increases to consumers.

The minister has justified this assertion on the basis of some food retailers making £1 billion profits over the past 12 months.

Minister Poots has also met with Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) Secretary of State George Eustice over recent days to discuss the economic crisis now unfolding within local agriculture.

According to the AERA committee chair, Declan McAleer MLA, there is scope to draw down a £70m support package from Stormont.

“But it will require a full meeting of the Executive to unlock it,” he added.

“I am not sure how the farm minister has arrived at this figure. But, obviously, civil servants have analysed the various options.

“While addressing the members of the AERA committee, the minister talked about making the aid money available through the basic payment mechanism.

“But this approach does not cover all farming sectors.”

McAleer concluded:“The farming industry needs a crisis response. Westminster has made an additional £300m available to allow Northern Ireland cope with the cost of living crisis that is now unfolding.

“Agriculture has a right to receive a proportion of this money. But we need a full meeting of the Stormont Executive to make this happen.”

Farmers for Action (FFA) has welcomed the commitment made by Edwin Poots to secure an aid package for agriculture.

The organisation has also written to the minister, pointing out that all support monies, if successfully secured, must be given fairly to all active farmers.

An FFA spokesperson added:“The majority of family farms find themselves in a position of having virtually no reserves of cash to weather the current storm.

“Yet again farmers are forced to seek hand outs from government, only for this money to find its way into the profits of corporate food retailers, food wholesalers and, to a lesser extent, food processors.

“In reality, many of these problems could be solved by the enacting of a Northern Ireland Farm Welfare Bill.

“If adopted, the draft legislation, which is currently with the Stormont agriculture committee, would return farmers their costs of production plus an inflation-linked margin.”