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Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots MLA has announced the opening of the first Covid-19 Support Schemes from Monday 7 September, the most comprehensive and extensive package in the UK and EU.

Speaking about the scheme opening, Minister Poots said: “I am very pleased to report that over 11,300 local farm businesses will benefit from the £21.4m Covid-19 support funding package. When the funding was announced in May, it was the most extensive and comprehensive financial allocation to the agricultural and horticultural sectors within the European Union, and the only support package by any of the UK administrations, making £7m available to the beef sector in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic.”

Minister Poots continued: “Since the Northern Ireland Executive approved the support funding, I consulted widely and regularly with a range of stakeholders and representatives across the industry to discuss their concerns and their proposals about how the sectors should be supported.

“During those discussions it was clearly accepted that financial support should be targeted at the hardest hit farm businesses who suffered verifiable financial loss as a direct result of the pandemic. As a result, I decided to target £21.4 million towards businesses in the dairy, beef, sheep, potato and ornamental horticulture sectors.”

Eligible farm businesses in the dairy, beef and sheep sectors will be able to apply for the support package by completing a short application available on DAERA Online Services from Monday 7 September to Wednesday 23 September 2020. These farm businesses will receive payments if they were the qualifying keeper of eligible animals presented for slaughter and / or sold milk during the qualifying periods. The eligibility criteria and explanatory information will be published on the DAERA website on Monday, and all farm businesses considered eligible by DAERA will receive a letter next week providing them with instructions on how to access their application form and receive help to complete it.

Applications for support to potato businesses will open on Wednesday 9 and close on 30 September 2020, with the ornamental horticulture support scheme scheduled to open later in the month, subject to relevant approvals. These businesses will also be provided with guidance on how to make their application and the evidence they are required to submit.

The Minister added: “We cannot rule out the possibility of further market disturbance as a result of this pandemic and the need for support to farm businesses. For that reason, I have retained a budget of just over £7 million based on the residual funding of £3.6 million (from the £25m) and the £3.6 million that was reprioritised from within my Department. This will allow me to address additional issues and challenges that Covid-19 may present in the weeks ahead."

Further information on the scheme can be found on the DAERA website from Monday 7 September.