The growth in demand for animal feeds to support the rapidly expanding livestock sector in Northern Ireland has presented career opportunities for increasing numbers of graduates in Agriculture and other disciplines. 

“The industry continues to invest in bright young people to help us meet the challenges of producing ever more cost-effective diets and feed regimes for livestock while driving down the emissions from intensive farming,” says Robin Irvine, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association.

“Training is an essential element of the development of staff and our association has introduced an induction program to give new recruits a view of the feed and food chain. A full day of presentations and visits to businesses in the Belfast Harbour area highlights the importance of the agri-food sector and its dependence on safe, high quality animal feeds. Whether they are destined to be grain traders, logistics managers, nutritionists, accountants or sales staff, our Trade Awareness courses give them an understanding of the role of feed as the first link in a sophisticated food chain”, says Robin.

A group of delegates on the NIGTA trade awareness course on board a vessel discharging feed materials in Belfast Harbour.
A group of delegates on the NIGTA trade awareness course on board a vessel discharging feed materials in Belfast Harbour.

Trainees are often surprised at the contribution of food production to the local economy as our biggest export earner and the major private sector employer. We produce milk, meat and eggs to feed around 10 million consumers – and with a local population of less than 2 million that means a heavy dependence on exports. 

The Port of Belfast is the conduit for this export trade but is also key to the importation of over 2 million tonnes of feed materials required to support our population of 1.6 million cattle, 2 million sheep and 26 million poultry. Grains arrive at the port in small 3,000 tonne coasters from the East coast of England – up to the 50,000 tonnes panamax vessels with maize or soya from Argentina.   Feed ingredients are the biggest volume material handled by the port and quayside storage capacity of around 150,000 tonnes is available to service local feed manufacturers. 

Robin Irvine, CEO of NIGTA and Robert Adams briefed delegates on global grain logistics on the Trade Awareness training day.
Robin Irvine, CEO of NIGTA and Robert Adams briefed delegates on global grain logistics on the Trade Awareness training day.

There are over 60 businesses engaged in compound feed manufacture with the four largest companies accounting for two-thirds of the production. Ruminant feeds represent the biggest sector with over one million tonnes delivered to dairy farms each year. Poultry is the next big consumer requiring around 800,000 tonnes per year. In total over 2.5 million tonnes of compound feed per annum or approximately 10,000 tonnes per working day are delivered to the provinces livestock farms. 

Quality management and assurance schemes applied to every stage in the process are fundamental – with the Universal Feed Assurance Scheme (UFAS) covering the manufacture and Northern Ireland’s unique Food Fortress surveillance program protecting against contaminations. 

The trade is actively engaged in the challenge to reduce the environmental impact of food production – sustainability is a major consideration with ration formulation and feed programs focussed on precision nutrition – reducing the oversupply of nutrients, which result in emissions to air and water. In addressing this challenge, a comprehensive Feed Adviser Register (FAR) program is delivered by CAFRE at Greenmount College where compounders’ field staff are trained in the relevant aspects of animal nutrition, management and husbandry.