It's been heavily anticipated for the last year and a half, but Northern Ireland farmers will finally get the first outline on the department's new bovine TB strategy next week. The disease has been a scourge on the region for more than five decades, with the Ulster Farmers' Union recently declaring its members were at "breaking point". The latest official figures (up to April) show the rolling herd incidence has hit 8.86%, up from 7.88% in the previous 12 months. Since the start of the year, 4,427 animals have reacted to the skin test. However, reprieve could finally be on the way. Speaking to Agriland today (June 30), Minister Poots said he hoped to launch the consultation within the next fortnight.

Agriculture Committee documents confirm an oral evidence session has been tabled for July 8.

"I have a lot of the documentation signed off so we are now at the point where we will be going to the committee very, very soon," Poots said. "After the committee, it will go out for consultation - hopefully in early to mid-July - so in the next couple of weeks. Once the consultation is complete then we will be making our decisions." In a letter sent last month to Farmers For Action, Poots had previously said the proposals will include recommendations covering "six key areas, ranging from herd health management and research to those more complex issues, such as wildlife intervention". The minister had previously compared the region's annual spend on TB to the RHI scandal, saying the £36 million a year costs were "not acceptable". Bovine TB has been identified as the department's second biggest priority in its 2021-22 business plan. It comes in behind climate action, which has been ranked number one.

A deadline of March 2022 was set to implement the new Strategy for the Eradication of Bovine TB within Northern Ireland.

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