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Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots acknowledges the difficult financial circumstances facing the agri-food industry and vows to do all he can to help.

The Minister was speaking after a week of falling prices for beef cattle, sheep and dairy products, significant market disturbances and challenging trading conditions left the agri-food sector extremely concerned for its future.

Minister Poots said: “The Covid-19 outbreak has created unprecedented challenges for our society and economy and we are all working hard to ensure that it can quickly be brought under control with minimal loss of life – that is the Executive’s priority.

“The maintenance of the food supply chain is also crucial but substantial market disturbances and realignments, both domestically and internationally present significant risks. While there is currently an increase in retail demand for food, which we are able to meet, there has been an almost total collapse in demand from the food service sector.

“Our industry will need significant help to get it through the COVID-19 crisis, which has affected almost every single aspect of food production. We need to help short-term cash flow problems and long-term market issues. The needs are so great, that the Northern Ireland Executive alone cannot shoulder the burden.

“In the past week, I have written to George Eustice, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, seeking his assurance that Northern Ireland’s agri-food sector needs are front and centre of any support packages from the UK Government and the EU.

“I have also met with many of Northern Ireland’s banks and impressed upon them the need to be helpful to the farming sector in particular. Farming is facing the brunt of the economic impacts of COVID-19 and we must find ways to support these small businesses and keep them afloat in the short to medium term. Some banks are moving faster to address the crisis situation in agriculture, and they are to be commended. Now is a time when the farming community need their banks to stand with them as they deal with circumstances beyond their control. The farming community is resilient, it needs resilient banking at this time.”

The Minister concluded: “At the end of this crisis, we must have a profitable and sustainable agri-food sector, that can continue to produce high-quality, world-renowned food. I will do all I can to speak on behalf of this sector and support it.”