Sinn Féin MLA and chair of the Assembly’s Agriculture committee Declan McAleer has said suckler farmers are deeply disappointed they are unlikely to receive support from the £25 million COVID scheme.
Mr McAleer said
“Since Minister Poots released details of the scheme I have been inundated with calls from farmers with suckler herds who are angry that the criteria will effectively exclude them from the scheme.
“These farmers have also suffered as a result of COVID brought about by the lockdown of the food service sector, the closure of marts in April, and increasing inputs costs. I have spoken to farmers who contracted COVID themselves and could not work for weeks, which had a detrimental impact on their farm businesses.
“It has been pointed out that a higher threshold has been set for farm businesses accessing COVID funding compared to non-farm businesses. For instance, the application process for the Department for the Economy £10k small business grant and £25k business grants were relatively straightforward and there was a justifiable acceptance that all business had been impacted by the pandemic and as such, deserved support.
“However, in relation to farm businesses a different approach appears to have been taken. There has been an exceptionally high burden of proof placed on farmers and this has had a particularly devastating impact on suckler farmers who don’t have the receipts from meat factories or milk processors to demonstrate a loss but who have suffered greatly due to increased input costs and the closure of marts which forced them to sell livestock farm to farm at huge losses.
“I raised these issues directly with the Minister when he came before the committee a few weeks ago. I told him there were many disappointed beef and sheep farmers and I lobbied him to include these farmers in the £7m funding he has retained and in any additional funding his department receives from the Executive.
“This £25m support is very welcome but we also know that it will not address the multitude of challenges faced by farmers. At the outset, Sinn Féin proposed a blended approach to allocating this funding with a sizeable proportion distributed using entitlements.
“By taking this approach, every farmer would have got something but in the current scheme, suckler farmers will get nothing. Minister Poots needs to seriously consider how his department will support our primary sheep and beef producers going forward.”