Arable and horticulture update

Friday, 14 August, 2020

Commodity watch by senior policy officer Patricia Erwin

Update on COVID-19 Potato Support Scheme

Funding of up to £1.6m is available to potato growers who specialise in supplying potatoes for processing to meet food service and hospitality industry needs. This funding will help offset losses caused by the closure of these market outlets and subsequent market disturbance during the COVID-19 pandemic

Subject to the legislative process, the support will be a payment per ton based on the loss in value of eligible potatoes during the period 17 March to 31 July 2020. Losses will be calculated as the difference between a reference price of £200/t, and sale price if sold at a loss, or a residual value of £30/t if still in store at 31 July 2020 and inspected by DAERA.

Potato growers that are eligible for the scheme will be invited to make an on-line claim for losses later this month. They will be required to provide evidence that they normally supplied the potato processing market in the past 3 years, during the period 17 March to end of July. Claims must be supported by evidence of sales (e.g. invoices) with associated proof of payment (e.g. bank statement) to demonstrate that a financial loss had been incurred.

DAERA will make growers aware when the scheme opens for applications through the agricultural press, DAERA website and social media channels.

Details of eligibility requirements and other information is available on the DAERA website at https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk

COVID–19 financial support

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) have welcomed the coronavirus (COVID-19) financial support package for both processing potatoes and ornamental horticulture/cut flower producers. The full details for both schemes are expected shortly clearly setting out what documentary evidence will be required to secure financial support. 

Emergency Use application – UFU support NI potato industry

The Northern Ireland potato industry supported by UFU, have submitted an Emergency Use application with Chemical Regulation Division, Health and Safety Executive (CRD) for Diquat use in 2020.   

With the Northern Ireland salad potato crop reportedly lost, and others unaware of the challenges ahead the industry have presented a comprehensive emergency use application to CRD. Northern Ireland are not alone experiencing desiccation problems and it is understood that other countries have secured emergency use approval and that Republic of Ireland growers are also in discussions with Government seeking an emergency use.

In good faith with the agronomy tool kit and best technical guidance available, growers struggle to achieve crop growth control. Within Northern Ireland growing conditions, many crops are reaching marketable specification and size before crop senescence has begun. This is due mainly to a combination of our climatic conditions and soil type, hence impacting our ability to meet tight market specifications for the varieties grown here.   

A huge void limiting the technical guidance available is the impact of having no local research. One obvious omission in the trial research work completed and reported thus far in other locations of the UK is the understanding of the complexities of soils with high organic matter. Those high organic matter complexities coupled with our topography clearly challenge the research findings and best practice protocols. This knowledge gap clearly highlights and illustrates in our opinion the need for local research, and that in the interim until local controlled research findings are available an emergency use should be granted for 2020.

Labour

Access to labour and the new Home office Points based system continue to cause concern within horticulture. UFU are progressing discussions with DAERA and the Northern Ireland Office to help clarify and better understand the limitations and rules of engagement and employment legislation moving forward. 

Brexit

Discussions are being progressed with DAERA officials regarding the intricate details of the Northern Ireland protocol for moving plants, plant-based products and all seeds (grass, arable and horticulture) from EU and in particular from Great Britain into Northern Ireland. The UFU are also seeking guidance from DAERA on current and pending pesticide regulations, asking for clarity on the regulations and protocols in a bid to ensure growers have continued access to all plant protection products in Northern Ireland post Brexit.