Steve Barclay appointed Defra secretary

Conservative MP Steve Barclay was appointed Secretary of State at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on Monday.

He was moved from the Department of Health during a cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Barclay takes over from Thérèse Coffey, who held the position for just over a year.

The high turnover rate of ministers in UK government departments in recent years is particularly evident at Defra, which has responsibility for farming and food security. The latest reshuffle means there have been eight different Secretaries of State at Defra since the Brexit referendum in 2016.

NI farmers want online courses, survey finds

There could be a higher uptake of educational courses among NI farmers if most of the content is delivered online, the results of a new study suggest.

As part of the study, researchers from the Agri Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) surveyed 372 farmers to assess attitudes towards agricultural education.

“Our results show that farmers exhibited a preference for short courses delivered in the evenings, with 75% of the teaching time delivered online,” the AFBI researchers state.

The study, which has been published in the Journal of Agricultural Education and Extension, found that respondents preferred topics that were linked to farm performance over topics related to the environment.

Farmhouses avail of domestic rates relief

There is a high uptake of rates relief for domestic properties among NI farmers, figures obtained by the Irish Farmers Journal suggest. A Department of Finance spokesperson said 26,298 domestic properties in NI currently benefit from the 20% discount in rates for farmhouses.

To be eligible for the relief, a dwelling house must be connected to agricultural land and be lived in by a person whose main job is farming the land.

The new figures suggest that the majority of eligible properties are currently availing of farmhouse rates relief, as DAERA statistics show there are just over 26,089 active farm businesses in NI.

Guidance on eligibility for farmhouse rates relief and the application process is available at

Progress on new renewable schemes

Preparations are being made for various new schemes to incentivise renewable energy generation in NI, according to Richard Rodgers from the Department for the Economy (DfE).

“In the first quarter of 2024, we will be establishing a new business support scheme for energy decarbonisation,” he told a committee of MPs on Wednesday.

Rodgers said the new scheme would provide grant support for investments that reduce energy costs and cut carbon emissions. Public consultations on other aspects of renewable energy policy are also to be launched by DfE over the coming months.

DAERA survey deadline extended

The deadline for responses to an online DAERA survey on potential investment needs on farms, has been extended to Wednesday, 29 November.

The survey was launched last month with the aim to gauge the readiness of agricultural and horticultural businesses to invest in new capital equipment and infrastructure, while also identifying potential challenges and barriers to making a new investment.

The survey is anonymous and information gathered will only be used to inform the development of capital investment measures as part of future farm support. It can be found on the DAERA website.