Edwin Poots £70m bid to help farmers and warns food prices will rise 'significantly'

The Agriculture minister Edwin Poots made the remarks while appearing in front of the Stormont committee that oversees his department

Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has bid for £70million to help Northern Ireland farmers hit by supply issues linked to the Ukraine war, and has warned that food prices in Northern Ireland are set to increase "significantly" as a result of the conflict.

Mr Poots said the agri-food sector was facing a "perfect storm" of rising costs of energy, grain and fertiliser.

The minister said he has made a bid to Stormont Finance Minister Conor Murphy to allocate £70m to help farmers.

Mr Poots told the Committee for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs that farmers need support to absorb soaring bills until such time as the farmgate prices paid for their produce rise.

The minister further warned that there's "every possibility" that we face "global food shortages and rising prices" due to the war in Ukraine.

"Given the crucial role that Russia and Ukraine play in global agri-food markets, I have grave concerns that the longer the conflict goes on the more likely we are to see a real and damaging impact on our local industries."

Mr Poots met with ministerial counterparts from across the UK on Monday to discuss the situation facing the agriculture sector.

He has also written to UK Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary George Eustice to urge greater government intervention.

He called for a reduction in excise duty on fuel, a limited suspension of the road transport fuel obligation and engagement with the supermarkets to ensure UK farmers are supported.

Mr Poots said Ukraine exported grain to Northern Ireland, much of which was used for animal feed, and warned that a fall in supply will have significant consequences for the chicken, pork and dairy industries.

The minister said the problems are most acute in the pork sector and some pig farmers are at risk of going out of business.

Mr Poots said farmers in Northern Ireland also rely on nitrogen fertiliser imported from Russia and any reduction in supply would result in lower crop yields.

Mr Poots said Irish Sea trade disruption caused by Brexit's Northern Ireland Protocol is also an issue. He described the "unworkable complexities of the Northern Ireland Protocol" as a threat to farmer' livelihoods.

The DUP politician has takena hard line against the protocol. In February, he ordered civil servants in his department to suspend the checks mandated by the protocol.

This order was later suspended by a judge pending a judicial review into the decision.