Almost 4,000 farmers have still not responded to claim their share of Northern Ireland’s agricultural Covid-19 support money.

Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots MLA has urged all eligible farm businesses to apply to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs’ (DAERA’s) £21.4 million Covid-19 Support Fund, and to do so as soon as possible.

Applications from the dairy, beef and sheep sectors opened on September 7 and will close on September 23.

Applications from the potato sector opened on September 9 and will close on September 30.

The ornamental horticultural sector will see their application process open later in September.

Minister Poots said: “This significant amount of financial support is to help those in the dairy, beef, sheep, potato and ornamental horticulture sectors deal with the worst impacts of Covid-19 and help these sectors to stabilise and remain sustainable in the longer term.

“Given the scale and reach of the schemes, I am really pleased to visit the DAERA Direct Office in Mallusk and meet with staff who are here to help people through the application process if needed.

“I want to thank them for their diligence and commitment in assisting us to roll out such sizeable schemes. With such a tight deadline, it’s important that people are able to get their online form submitted as quickly and easily as possible.

So far, over 7,500 applications have been received which is very encouraging but of course with 11,300 farm businesses eligible, that means there are still thousands of businesses yet to apply.

“I am calling on anyone who has been contacted by my department already to say they are eligible, to get their applications in as soon as they can. There is only a week left to apply for the dairy, beef and sheep element of the scheme.

“Through this financial package, eligible farm business will recover some of the losses incurred as a result of the impact on trading caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“This funding package was the only one of its kind made available by any of the UK administrations in the midst of this crisis when it was announced in May and the most comprehensive financial aid scheme launched anywhere in the EU for agricultural and horticultural businesses.”

Farm businesses considered eligible to apply will by now have received a letter from the department which contains instructions on how to access their application form and receive help to complete it.