Northern Ireland's Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has been granted a further £12.4 million to fund its Covid-19 support programmes.

DAERA Minister Edwin Poots said it increases the support level from his department during the pandemic to over £60 million.

The department received the allocation after successfully bidding as part of the Executive’s 2021-22 Final Budget and Covid-19 funding exercises.

Speaking about the funding, Minister Poots said: “As we move towards the next phase of the pandemic and into Covid recovery, this £12.4 million will be crucial to help protect and boost those sectors within my remit, that have suffered significant losses since March 2020.

£5 million for agricultural market support

“Adding to last year’s investment, some £5 million in 2021-22, is earmarked for agricultural market support to address any difficulties in trading conditions," he said.

"For example, I am actively looking at a support package for processing potato suppliers in response to the closure of catering outlets over recent months.

"This funding is in addition to the £25 million I secured last year for agriculture, which offered a lifeline to thousands of beef, sheep, pig, horticulture and dairy farmers, and the £3.9 million for aquaculture and fishermen."

Benefactors of the money will include DAERA's new wastewater monitoring programme for SARS-CoV-2. £3.8 million was used to establish an environmental monitoring hub for at Queen's University Belfast, which will work with partners at the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), the Public Health Agency (PHA), Department of Health, Department for Infrastructure and NI Water.

"The Northern Ireland programme is working closely with the other devolved administrations and with colleagues in the ROI," Poots said.

"As SARS-CoV-2 is shed in high levels in faeces, wastewater testing is a complementary, long-term tracking system for coronavirus in the community and is becoming an important element of continuing arrangements to monitor and track virus activity.

£2 million for a 'green recovery'

“Finally, as we come out of lockdown, the all-important green recovery will receive £2 million," Poots added.

"This funding will promote the green economy and provide strategic sectoral support to the environmental not-for-profit sector, which has been impacted by Covid-19 both financially and in terms of business operability. The delivery of projects associated with this money would support job retention, business continuity, further development of walking routes in nature and the development of future green economy initiatives.

“I am also very pleased to provide £1 million of additional funding for a Rural Community Ornamental Garden Scheme and a Rural Community Business Fund.”

Minister Poots continued: “I am very proud of all the hard work my has department completed during the pandemic to ensure they were able to target last year’s monies towards those who needed it most. This new round of funding will provide us with the means of addressing the needs of those who require help urgently.

“It’s been a very challenging time for everyone and hopefully now we are going towards brighter days and a Covid recovery for our economy."