Banks link up to fund agri-food loan scheme

Gary McDonald Business Editor

Farmers in the north were offered a new stream of funding yesterday when seven banks weighed in behind a £10 million agri-food loan scheme.

From next month if you supply into the agri-food sector - touted as the jewel in the crown of the Northern Ireland economy - then borrowing money should be easier.

For a limited time the north's four main clearing banks as well as Barclays, HsBC and santander say they'll make it easier to access finance.

The agri-food Loan scheme has been created to help food producers to get the cash to invest in buildings they need to increase supply of the primary produce for processing.

Initially it's open only to broiler producers but discussions are already ongoing to roll the scheme out to the pig meat, egg producers, red meat and dairy sectors.

DUP enterprise ministers arlene Foster and finance minister simon Hamilton, who launched the scheme yesterday, said it presents "major opportunities" for the sector.

It follows a 100-point blueprint devised by the agri-Food strategy Board in may aimed at increasing the north's agri-food sector's value to the economy from £5 billion to £7bn by 2020, and in the process create 15,000 jobs. ms Foster said: "major retailers are opting to sell only UK-sourced meat products which presents major opportunities for the agri-food industry locally, and we've worked with the banks to explore the potential for this loan scheme to enable businesses to

capitalise on openings." mr Hamilton said: "This scheme will see the executive work proactively with banks to provide significant finance in the form of loans to food producers who form part of an integrated supply chain.

"Discussions with the banks have been positive and constructive, and we've agreed a memorandum of understanding setting out our joint commitment to deliver the loan scheme, with the first phase open to broiler producers."

The Department of enterprise, Trade and Investment, the Department of Finance and Personnel and Invest NI are working with banks to roll out subsequent phases of the scheme. mr Hamilton said: "We are already working to develop subsequent phases of the scheme in respect of pig meat, egg production, red meat and dairy.

"We are not only listening to but acting on the concerns of industry and we've had to ensure that the scheme is as straightforward as possible for producers.

Barclays will chair of the lenders' working group, and its head of corporate banking in Northern Ireland adrian Doran said: "This is an important initiative designed to boost lending to Northern Ireland's increasingly important agri-food sector.

"as one of the largest banks in the UK agricultural sector, with over 300 years of experience of lending to the sector, we are keen to play our part and help stimulate lending to this important sector for Northern Ireland."


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