According to Northern Ireland's agriculture minister, Edwin Poots, dairy in NI can look forward to a very buoyant future.

He visited this week’s Royal Ulster Agricultural Society (RUAS) Winter Fair, where he also referenced supports for agricultural shows and said direct Covid-19 support may not be an option.

The minister commented: “It is great to see the Winter Fair back and the numbers of people at the event.

“The exhibition of high quality dairy animals and the tremendous numbers of people enjoying the event demonstrates the confidence in the industry.

“We have had a good run in dairy farming for some months now. This has been very well received. And we are looking at strong butter and cheese prices going forward," Poots added.

“It is very positive to see confidence returning within the industry once again.”

Poots on funding support shows

Turning to the issue of possible Covid-19 support funding for the RUAS and Northern Ireland’s local agricultural shows, the minister confirmed that direct payments to these organisations may not now be an option.

He said: “The problem that we have come against is this. The Audit Office has looked at the compensation schemes that went out for other sectors.

“It has been indicated to me that organisations with reserves shouldn’t be getting that type of funding. This is somewhat irritating for myself because I did want to provide support to the shows.

“So I have asked my officials to look instead at the option of a bounce back restart for some of the shows, instead of providing compensation for the last couple of years.

“This will help deal with the issues that have arisen because of audit. And there is no reason why this measure should not include the RUAS."

Farm Business Improvement Scheme

Minister Poots used his attendance at the Winter Fair to announce an additional £12 million funding package under the Farm Business Improvement Scheme (FBIS).

He said: “The money is going out from the end of January next. People can lodge an application up to the end of April next.

“Eligible schemes include those encompassing a spend of £30,000 or more. Up to 40% grant is available.

“There will be a degree of competition within the grant scheme. People will need to have all their ducks in a row before applying. This includes planning, if necessary, or lawful use, if planning isn’t necessary."

The minister added that the scheme will allow farmers to progress both in animal proteins and horticulture.

“So there is an opportunity to expand and do something a bit different. Young farmers, in particular, may want to consider diversification options, as they look to the future," the minister concluded.