Edwin Poots intends to stay on as Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister despite winning the DUP’s leadership contest on Friday (May 14), Agriland can reveal.

Traditionally, the leader of the DUP has also held the role of First Minister of Northern Ireland; however, a party source confirmed he will be the first holder of the position not to do so, adding that he will instead continue his position as Agriculture Minister.

A spokesperson for the department declined to comment. However, it’s expected the decision will be confirmed this afternoon after Poots meets with the party’s MLAs.

Poots is thought to be the first Minister of Agriculture in Northern Ireland to have any formal training in agriculture, having attended Greenmount College in his youth and later gone on to run his own family farm.

He took on the role in January 2020 with big ambitions to get a handle on NI’s soaring bovine tuberculosis (bTB) rates and tackle climate change through supporting efficient and environmentally-sustainable farming methods.

Despite a challenging year facing personal illness and the Covid-19 pandemic, his environmental achievements include committing DAERA to planting 18 million trees within the next decade, offering £15 million support for Low Emission Slurry Spreading Equipment, and securing future rounds of the Environmental Farming Scheme.

There has been less progress on the TB front. However, his plan to tackle the disease is expected to be published imminently, having now completed its business case and final advice stages.

Poots has long hinted the plan will pave the way for wildlife intervention, potentially through a combination of culling and vaccination, but he has also previously warned it will also contain “things that farmers may not like”.

Plans as party leader

In his new role, as party leader, he is also likely to oversee some big changes within the DUP. In his manifesto, Poots called for reform within the party saying he wanted to “rebuild ” and “revitalise” the DUP and said that he would separate the role of party leader and First Minister, explaining “one person cannot do justice to both demanding jobs”.

Speaking after his election, Poots said it was the “greatest honour” of his life.

“I look forward to engaging with my party, Executive and wider membership in the days ahead. Again, thanks to God for good health, to my family and friends for their enduring support as I step forward into this important role at this pivotal moment in our country’s history,” he said.

“I am convinced that Northern Ireland’s best days lay ahead and secure in a union that works for all its people. The task ahead is great but together we will take this party forward and lead our country to a better place.”