I recognise the very severe impact that Storm Emma had on the horticultural sector and in particular on soft fruit and amenity plant producers. Indeed, I visited some of them.
As an exceptional measure in response to the storm, I directed my officials to reopen the 2018 scheme of investment aid for the development of the commercial horticulture sector. This competitive grant aid scheme supports capital investments in specialised horticultural equipment and buildings that contribute to at least one of the scheme’s four objectives, namely, to improve the quality of output, facilitate environmentally friendly practices, improve working conditions and promote diversification of production. The grant aid covers all areas of the horticultural industry: field vegetables, mushrooms, protected crops, nursery crops, soft fruit, apples, cut foliage, Christmas trees, bulbs and bee-keeping.
The reopening of the scheme was targeted at the soft fruit and amenity plant sectors, in particular, and approvals are limited to growers who are proposing investments in response to damage caused by Storm Emma. This targeted measure has given these growers a window of opportunity to apply for grant aid to assist their businesses to recover from the effects of the storm.
The closing date for applications in the targeted reopening of the scheme was 27 April. A total 12 applications were received by the closing date. At this stage approvals have issued to the majority of the successful applicants, with the remaining approvals expected to issue very shortly as outstanding issues are resolved.
Notwithstanding the challenges for those who do not plan to rebuild, the priority following the storm was to restore production capacity. Accordingly, grant aid was made available only for works associated with construction or investment in response to the storm. This has been provided for through the reopening of the scheme.