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The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed T.D., today announced that approvals will issue this week to applicants under the new Calf Investment Scheme. In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the significant demand for this scheme, the Minister confirmed that he has increased the scheme’s budget from the original €1.5 million to €4 million, to fully fund all eligible applications received. The scheme supports investments for calf rearing and welfare facilities and some 2,500 farmers will be directly funded under the scheme.

Commenting on this the Minister said,

The high application rate for this scheme is evidence of the strong commitment of Irish farmers to high standards of animal welfare. I am delighted to be in a position to fund every eligible application at the maximum grant rate. To do that, and against the background of the restrictions arising from COVID 19, I have increased the budget for the scheme from €1.5 million to €4 million. This represents a massive investment on Irish farms, and will further improve calf welfare and management. It is vital, especially in times such as these, that Ireland’s reputation in areas of animal health and welfare is not compromised, to ensure that the regard in which Irish Agri-food produce is held across the world in maintained.

The Minister also spoke in relation to his priorities for the agri-food and fisheries sector in response to the challenges of Covid-19.

My Department and I are in touch with stakeholders across the sector on a daily basis to share contingency planning and address issues as they arise, as part of the whole of Government response. Arising from this continued dialogue and cognisant of the advice of the Government, today I am confirming that;

• My Department is to issue guidance to marts on a very limited range of essential services that comply with Government guidelines and do not require people to assemble. These included measures to facilitate calf sales and the weighing of livestock, and on line or brokerage services, and are subject to the approval of Standard Operating Procedures by my Department.

• For the next two weeks routine Departmental on-farm visits will not be taking place, unless required on a risk basis. Essential services, such as disease control or reactor removal will continue. This will be kept under review as the situation evolves. Some inspections such as under the ‘Young Farmer Scheme’ are being conducted by telephone.

Farming, fisheries, food and beverage production, and ancillary services, have been designated by the Government as essential services. Employers, employees and the self-employed, including farmers, in the sector must carefully follow the guidance provided to protect each other and the community as a whole [] . I would appeal to farmers to maintain farm safety as a priority at this difficult time. Communities are looking out for each other, and any farmer who is experiencing difficulties should not hesitate to ask for help.

The agri-food sector is essential in keeping food on Irish supermarket shelves at a time of unprecedented retail demand. I know that many food businesses have been badly affected by the loss of the food service markets, and my Department and agencies are available to support these businesses to re-orient their products towards the retail market. Irish food and drink exports are an essential part of complex food supply chains internationally, and now more than ever, quality, safe and nutritious Irish food needs to stay on supermarket shelves around the world. Trade is always a two-way street, and my Department is in touch with the authorities in the UK and Northern Ireland, as well as EU colleagues, on a regular basis, to discuss our shared interest in keeping food supplies moving.

Minister Creed concluded,

I know that the agri-food and fisheries sector supports jobs and livelihoods in every part of rural and coastal Ireland. We know that the economic impacts of this crisis on agricultural and other commodity prices are only beginning to be felt, and are likely to be severe. For many families, this impact will be compounded by the loss of off-farm employment. I am asking the food industry to do whatever it can to support its thousands of farmer suppliers at this time. The Government has already introduced a range of supports for employers and the self employed, and along with colleagues across the EU, I will vigorously pursue the market support options available under our shared Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policies, which should be deployed as soon as possible to mitigate the economic shocks.