The dawning of a new year (and a new decade) brings hope - much needed after a prolonged period of confusion, uncertainty and political turmoil. Those in the Agri-food sector will hope for a period of clarity and good government, which will allow farms and businesses to plan, invest and look forward to a future of stability and growth.

For the businesses, which make up the Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association (NIGTA) the hope, is for a future in which food production is recognised as the key to economic success and environmental sustainability in Northern Ireland. While the next ten years will hold many challenges, the key elements are in place to ensure that food and farming will continue to deliver for the economy and communities throughout the province. A culture of excellence based on the traditional skills of the family farm, supported by a supply trade focussed on technical, science based solutions and a sophisticated and market-led processing sector can keep Northern Ireland at the forefront of food production on these islands.

Management of emissions from livestock will continue to be a major challenge for the industry.
Management of emissions from livestock will continue to be a major challenge for the industry.

This vision can only be delivered with support from government and an agricultural policy, which recognises the needs of the rural economy, the essential role of the farmers in managing and protecting the countryside, and the ever-growing demand for food.

While the detailed implementation of the Brexit withdrawal agreement is still to be worked through, it is significant that Northern Ireland product will still have access to the EU Single Market and the Irish border remains open. Local farmers and businesses will continue to conform to European standards but there are a number of questions still to be answered.

“We don’t know how farming is to be supported - nor has it been explained how Northern Ireland businesses are to engage with the EU when the rest of the UK has withdrawn. The UK government has removed its officials from Brussels and UK agencies will no longer be eligible for membership of many European committees and forums,” commented Robin Irvine from NIGTA.

“Animal feed production in the EU is subject to extensive and detailed regulations and the potential for divergence between UK and EU could create distortion in the market and we need to be able to exert some influence to ensure a level playing field.

While these new challenges will need considerable attention in the coming months and years our association will continue to focus on its efforts to protect the environment - helping reduce emissions from livestock farming through the training of feed advisors and through the development of more nutrient efficient diets and programs for all types of livestock. Much has been achieved in recent years and there is now a much greater awareness of the issues right along the supply chain”.