Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) potato representatives met with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Minister Edwin Poots on Tuesday to emphasise the need for a new coronavirus support scheme, following the collapse of the processing potato market earlier this year.
UFU deputy president William Irvine said: “We had a very constructive meeting with the DAERA Minister about various issues facing the sector.
“The COVID-19 support scheme appeals process has caused major difficulties for our producers.
“We requested that DAERA review the interpretation of legislation around the ‘historic relationship evidence’, which resulted in an unfair financial cap being applied in some cases.
“This reduced the grower’s compensation significantly and a change in the interpretation of the legal text is necessary, as no other sector had their compensation capped in this manner.”
Irvine said the farmers’ union was calling on the DAERA Minister to be rational and trust his DAERA potato inspectorate audit details, which showed the loss Northern Ireland potato producers experienced because of the collapse of the processing potato market.
“Something which was out of their control.”
The UFU stressed that due to the recent market collapse, which is affecting 2020’s potato crop, another support scheme is urgently required.
“Reports suggest that the impact of the market collapse for processing potatoes in 2020, will be much worse than last year. We asked DAERA to calculate the potato volumes in store to meet their administration and regulatory protocols. The Minister acknowledged some potato crops remained unharvested.
“Furthermore, we asked for guidance for those farmers who face the dilemma of high harvesting costs with no market or opt for potato crop destruction in field.
“The key message from the meeting is that while we await the DAERA Minister’s decision on a new scheme, if potato farmers are moving potatoes off farm now to be eligible should a new scheme be implemented, they must prepare and secure weighbridge, invoice for sales and payment into their bank account as proof of documentation,” said Mr Irvine.