Northern Ireland's agricultural college - CAFRE - has ceased all face-to-face teaching and education programmes.

The decision was made by DAERA Minister Edwin Poots at the weekend as part of the broader effort to reduce the spread of Covid-19 and came into effect on Monday (March 23).

It brings the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (CAFRE) into line with the other Further and Higher Education establishments.

Minister Poots said: “In line with Public Health Agency and Government advice, I have decided that CAFRE should cease the face-to-face delivery of its educational programmes from Monday.

I am taking this step in an effort to safeguard the health and well-being of students, staff and, of course, the wider public. This will take effect at all three of our campuses - Greenmount, Loughry and Enniskillen.

“Our primary concern in the midst of these unprecedented challenges to public health - and indeed the very fabric of our society - is fundamentally the preservation of life.

“So, whilst this has been another very difficult decision to make, amongst the many others facing us, we take it in the knowledge that it is for the common good.

“My department is continuing to work extremely hard to do all that it can to help maintain the operation of the food supply chain."

Advice service

Minister Poots explained that CAFRE advisors would be able to continue to offer advice to farmers if required.

"CAFRE is at the very heart of the innovation, technological advances and education that help to ensure the agri-food industry in this country, survives and thrives for generations to come," he said.

“On March 18, I had already taken the decision to stop the delivery of all Knowledge Advisory Service programmes including industry training, conferences and seminars.

"However, CAFRE advisers are available to support the agri-food supply chain with any technical queries they may have and can be contacted through the local DAERA Direct offices."

CAFRE director, Martin McKendry added: “Despite these challenging times, we are very mindful that our hardworking students will, of course, be concerned about the completion of their exams and qualifications in recognition of their academic achievement.

At this stage, students have completed the majority of their courses and outstanding assignments can be submitted online.

“I can assure all students that CAFRE staff will be in continual communication with them over the next number of weeks, using CAFRE Online, emails and texts to keep them fully informed of what they need to do, to complete the remainder of their course.”