The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment have today opened the first call for applications under the Government's €100m Scheme for the agri-food sector.

The scheme was agreed by Government at the end of 2020 and was set up in recognition of the sector's unique exposure to the impact of Brexit. 

Up to €70m is available under the first call, which is being administered by Enterprise Ireland.

The scheme is open to large, medium or small enterprises who are engaged in the processing and marketing of primary meat and dairy products.

The closing date for applications is April 15, 2021.

Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue said that sustainability, competitiveness and innovation are vital so that the country's agri-food sector continues to grow existing and new markets. 

"That often requires significant capital outlay and this new fund is designed to ensure that the food industry can invest now in projects that will underpin its sustainable development over the next decade," he said. 

"The projects that will qualify for funding are focused on the future, supporting either new products and/or new market diversification strategies," he added. 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the trade deal agreed with the UK last December mitigated against a doomsday scenario for the Agri-food sector, but he added there is no doubt that Brexit will still have a significant impact. 

"This fund, which will put €100m investment into helping the sector adapt, diversify and innovate, is one of the ways we are helping the sector respond," Mr Varadkar said. 

He noted that agri-food production employs more than 173,000 people. 

"This fund will not only help secure these existing jobs, but will also help companies explore new technologies, creating new jobs," he added.

Mr Varadkar also said that low cost loan schemes, direct aid for farmers, and additional resources from Bord Bia are available to help the agri sector at this really challenging time.

Enterprise Ireland's chief executive Julie Sinnamon said this is a very timely fund that supports the future product and market diversification of the agri-food sector at a particularly challenging time. 

"The challenges and opportunities facing Irish food include the fundamental change in our trading relationship with our largest market, the UK, opportunities in other markets and in sustainable food production," Julie Sinnamon said. 

"Having access to a capital investment fund will accelerate transformational investments by companies in the sector to ensure that these challenges and opportunities are addressed, that Irish food continues to be highly valued in export markets and is produced in a sustainable way," she added.

Meat Industry Ireland, the Ibec sector association representing the meat processing industry in Ireland, welcomed the opening of the €100m capital investment programme for primary food processing. 

MII said the scheme is an important step in the response to the new trading environment post-Brexit and in building the resilience and competitiveness of the meat processing and export business as it seeks to break into and develop new international markets.
Cormac Healy, Director of Meat Industry Ireland, said that investment is a vote of confidence and demonstration of ambition for the future.

"While we will continue to work to retain the place of Irish meat in the UK supply chain, Irish meat processors are focussed on diversifying our export market portfolio, wherever possible in European markets, but the major potential for growth and diversification exists in international markets." he said.

"Processing, packing, refrigeration and logistics for supplying international markets across the globe require significant new investment in capability and competitiveness," he added.