Northern Ireland's Minister for Agriculture, Michelle McIlveen, has announced a £4m package of support for local livestock farmers, which is provided under the EU Exceptional Adjustment Aid package.

Livestock farmers, including dairy farmers will be able to apply for the supports under the package.

It will enable these farmers to apply for assistance to incentivise the humane destruction of BVD Persistently Infected (PI) calves within four weeks of an initial BVD test; improve pig meat quality; manage soils and nutrients more effectively; and receive training in business planning and risk management.

"I am acutely aware of the extreme and prolonged difficulties faced by many of our livestock farmers over the past two years."

I am encouraged that dairy farmers have already had the opportunity to bid for EU aid to reduce their milk production, where that suited their particular business circumstances.

"Those farmers should receive a much-needed cash injection in the new year. However, I want to be able to do more for all livestock farmers affected by the recent market turbulence and to help build a stronger, more sustainable and competitive industry for the future.

"That is why I pressed for a favourable share of the UK Exceptional Adjustment Aid envelope and why I have decided to use our £4m allocation to fund measures that will support all eligible livestock sectors here, including milk producers."

The following schemes will be supported:

1.BVD Eradication Scheme

Details of the operation of the scheme have yet to be finalised, DAERA has said. However, it is envisaged that the scheme will incentivise the removal of dairy and beef calves persistently infected with BVD (PIs) at a flat rate which is a contribution towards the cost of replacing the animal.

It is envisaged that the payment will be made according to the category of the calf, based on breed and sex information held on the Department’s Animal and Public Health Information System.

Legislation will be needed to give effect to the scheme and, subject to progress on that, the scheme could be operational in the new year.

PI calves will only be eligible if they have remained in the farm of origin as required by legislation and have been humanely destroyed and registered as dead on APHIS not later than four weeks from an initial BVD positive result.

2.Pig Industry Competitiveness Scheme

Details of the operation of the scheme have also yet to be finalised. However it is envisaged that the financial support would cover the cost of in-feed medication for pig herds and the blanket treatment of sows where verified by the veterinary practitioner for the pig unit.

It would also cover the cost of medication acquired from the veterinary practitioner for the individual treatment of sows prior to farrowing.

Legislation will be needed to give effect to the scheme, and, subject to progress on that, the scheme could be operational in early spring.

3. Pilot Soil Testing and Analysis Scheme

Details of the operation of the scheme have yet to be finalised. However, it is envisaged that soil sampling would be conducted on all fields in two targeted catchments.

Additionally, an open soil sampling scheme will be advertised and made available to all livestock farmers across the province (for a limited period), and with a points scoring system. At this stage a call is expected to issue mid 2017.

Measuring and managing the results of soil testing assists farmers in examining their inputs of inorganic and organic fertilisers to ensure best return for their investment through improving the productivity of grassland/arable crops and farm business efficiency.

It also helps to prevent applying nutrients to land blindly which can have a detrimental impact on water quality. The provision of the service will save a farmer time in taking the samples and the cost of analysis.

4.Training in business planning and risk management

The provision of the training will mean that farmers would be better equipped to respond to future market volatility.

The training will be run under the existing Farm Family Key Skills programme at CAFRE and farmers would register their interest through the CAFRE website when the training is launched. It is anticipated that courses will be available early in the new year.

Further details of the schemes and how to apply for support will be announced in the new year.

In considering the measures to be implemented, the Minister said that she wanted to maximise the impact of the available money and ensure that it makes a meaningful difference to our industry going forward.

"My officials and I have consulted a range of key stakeholders in the sector to seek views on where the support could best be targeted.

"The measures I am now announcing have been shaped by the feedback from that consultation. There was consensus around a number of these measures and I am confident that many local farmers will see tangible benefits as a result."

Minister McIlveen said that she has asked her officials to work up the detail of these schemes for implementation as soon as possible and that she will announce further details soon.

"In the meantime, I urge all dairy and beef farmers to continue to tag and test for BVD in line with the legislation and to continue to remove BVD PIs promptly in order to reduce the disease risks."