Edwin Poots, Agriculture Minister for Northern Ireland, has said he will do all that he can to help the agri-food sector during this difficult period.
Poots’ statement comes after a week of falling prices, significant market disturbances and challenging trading conditions.
The minister said he acknowledges the difficult financial situation that the agri-food sector is facing and has vowed to do his utmost to help. He 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 foodservice sector.”
Poots continued to explain the help that will be needed to help the industry through Covid-19, such as assistance with short-term cashflow difficulties and long-term market issues.
He said that these needs are so significant that the Northern Ireland Executive cannot provide these on their own.
“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.”
Banks and sustainable farming
“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.”
“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.”