A £1.2 million Covid-19 support scheme has opened for applications from sheep farmers affected by the global slump in wool prices.

A payment of £1.40/ewe will be made to eligible sheep farmers, Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has announced.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on wool prices has been well documented with Ulster Wool parent company British Wool warning the business had experienced the most challenging 12 months in its 70-year history.

The closure of large parts of the economy as Covid restrictions took hold severely impacted global demand and resulted in significant oversupply through much of 2020.

When the first Covid lockdown was imposed, the scouring plants in the UK closed and manufacturers stopped processing. Exports were also put on hold.

Wool marketing cooperatives faced a situation where, in effect, there was no market for the product and as a result, the 2019 season closed with 11 million kilos of unsold stock in the UK.

How to apply and how much might I get?

Applications to the support scheme can now be made on the DAERA website and must be submitted by August 12, 2021.

A flat-rate payment of £1.40 will be made for each breeding ewe and ewe lamb or shearling put to the ram.

Payments will be made to sheep farmers based on the number of ewes they recorded on their holding in the 2019 Sheep Inventory. As a result, only sheep farmers who completed the 2019 Sheep Inventory are eligible.

Payments are expected to begin by the end of August.

'Based on verifiable losses'

Announcing the support scheme for sheep farmers, Minister Poots said: “I am pleased that my department has been able to secure £1.2 million in support for those sheep farmers who were impacted by the dramatic fall in wool prices as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. I am hopeful that this funding will help in offsetting those verifiable losses in the past year.

I met with Ulster Wool prior to the development of the scheme and I am grateful to them for their input and information that demonstrated evidence of verifiable losses in the sector and helped inform the final support measures that I have made available.

“Those who are eligible for the scheme will receive a letter inviting them to apply, and I would encourage them to do so before the closing date of August 12, 2021.”

Further explanatory information and guidance can be found on the DAERA website.