Local feed businesses are having to put some purchasing decisions on hold as uncertainty continues in relation to the operation of the Northern Ireland Protocol in the absence of a trade deal between the EU and the UK by the end of the transition period on the 31st December. 

Close to 3 million tonnes of bulk feed materials arrive at Northern Ireland’s ports each year
Close to 3 million tonnes of bulk feed materials arrive at Northern Ireland’s ports each year

With Northern Ireland still operating to EU rules after the rest of the UK has exited, import checks on many goods arriving from Great Britain will be inevitable as the UK diverges from the European Union standards and tariffs.

 “ Our traders looking to source materials and set up shipping programs for next winter don’t know if they can access UK grains without having to pay duty or what level of import inspections will apply. Opportunities to source from the cheapest origins could be missed while key questions remain unanswered” according to Robin Irvine of the Grain Trade Association.

If no deal can be agreed, tariffs of up to £60 Million could be payable on imported feed materials if they are deemed to be at risk of entering the EU (Republic of Ireland). These tariffs should be refundable at the point of consumption if it can be proved that they remain in Northern Ireland. Given that the point of consumption is on Northern Ireland’s 25,000 livestock farms this would be a massive administrative burden for which no rebate system has yet been tabled by HMRC.

With the worlds’ attention diverted by the ongoing Covid–19 pandemic the clock is steadily counting down to 31st December and the end of the transition phase of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union. The fact that the Withdrawal agreement effectively leaves Northern Ireland still firmly fixed in the EU as far as trade in goods is concerned creates challenges, particularly in relation to trade flows from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. 

The Northern Ireland Protocol is intended to create unfettered access for trade throughout the Island of Ireland but  much remains to be clarified around how this will be delivered against the backdrop of UK divergence from the European Union standards and tariffs.

The Protocol indicates that Northern Ireland is to continue to operate within the European Union, with goods considered to be in free circulation. As a result there will be no duties payable on goods moving in or out of Northern Ireland from or to European member states. 

The signs came down as the EU closed its office in Belfast – while Northern Ireland businesses continue to trade freely throughout the EU and remain subject to many of its regulations they have no direct engagement with Brussels in relation to the detailed operation of the N Ireland protocol.
The signs came down as the EU closed its office in Belfast – while Northern Ireland businesses continue to trade freely throughout the EU and remain subject to many of its regulations they have no direct engagement with Brussels in relation to the detailed operation of the N Ireland protocol.

 

The more difficult issue seems to be around the movement of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland – this will effectively will be treated as an import into the European Union unless it can be proved that the goods do not move out of Northern Ireland. 

The implementation of an effective Irish sea border for GB goods entering NI will add an administrative burden as UK goods become subject to 3rd Country import requirements. 

For example, Northern Ireland livestock producers currently enjoy easy access to GB grain with  around half a million tonnes crossing the Irish sea each year. In the absence of a favourable trade deal this will require a 33% increase in import activity in terms of physical checks, increased customs paperwork, delays and related activities such as training and development of IT systems. These business transaction and set-up costs will reduce the competitiveness of GB grain and could add to feed costs in Northern Ireland. This is before we consider the requirement for verification of compliance with the EU SPS regulations and for tariffs to apply. There is potential for local feed businesses to be liable for tariffs of around £60 million per annum - which would be refundable subject to proof that the product is consumed within Northern Ireland. 

There are hundreds of similar challenges facing every sector of the economy and for the Northern Ireland business community there are major concerns as to future engagement with the EU - who will represent us if we have no seat at the table ?

Complex and detailed negotiations around the operation of the Protocol will take place over the coming months  - the outcome is vital to the future of the Agri-food sector and to the prosperity of Northern Ireland - it is essential that the province has an effective voice, and the opportunity to influence these discussions.

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”.

Climate Change, Global Warming and the damage the human race is perceived to be doing to the environment are hot topics at the moment. Every news bulletin brings fresh images of melting ice-caps, smouldering rain forests and the all-pervasive pollution by plastics. Viewers are left feeling shock at the enormity of it all and helpless as to what they can do.

Viable farm businesses are essential to maintain rural populations and ensure the management of the countryside.
Viable farm businesses are essential to maintain rural populations and ensure the management of the countryside.

The role of food and farming is at the centre of the debate – whether it is farmers in South America wishing to turn rainforest into productive pasture or our own local beef and dairy herds contributing ammonia to the atmosphere. One of the major challenges for the world is how to support a steadily growing population while reducing the environmental impact of food production. With a growing awareness of the problems and willingness to tackle the issues there is much that can be done. 

Not all contributions are helpful however and there are always interest groups who can distort the facts to put their own particular spin on events. The vegan lobby who promote the vision of a world free of farmed animals fail to recognise the health benefits of meat in a well- balanced diet or how the rural economy and our green and pleasant landscape is sustained. The fabric of the countryside depends on farm businesses providing income for families in rural areas and giving them a livelihood in regions which would otherwise be neglected and abandoned. That these businesses are engaged in food production and are essential to provide the population with grains and vegetables – with milk, meat and eggs is not fully appreciated. The role of the farmer in managing the land and the landscape is also fundamental - maintaining wooded areas, hedgerows and waterways - managing the soil to promote carbon sequestration – developing productive grasslands and pasture based systems.

Precise rationing of protein to farm livestock can help reduce ammonia emissions to the atmosphere.
Precise rationing of protein to farm livestock can help reduce ammonia emissions to the atmosphere.

This threefold contribution of agriculture in preventing rural depopulation, maintaining the countryside and producing food is crucial in an era of increasing urbanisation and population growth. It cannot be denied however that farm practices and livestock management can have a significant influence on emissions to air and waterways. Much has been achieved through improved storage and management of farm manures and in devising feed programs and formulating diets which reduce any oversupply of nutrients which would be lost as emissions to the environment. Precision nutrition ensures optimum performance, minimal waste and boosts feed efficiency. This approach, when applied to rationing protein for example, is helping to minimise ammonia emissions and can reduce feed costs.  

Everyone has a part to play in the protection of our environment – from the consumer who opts for bio-degradable packaging to the farmer who plants trees in that awkward corner in the field - or maybe takes a second look at the protein content of his diary cow diet for this winter– along with his registered feed adviser of course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

The recent USDA report on farmer planting intentions served only to confuse the market with corn acreages exceeding expectations and soya planting far below the projected area. Industry analysts are not convinced and the market has now switched its focus to European crops and the issues around heat and drought.

The impact of the torrential rains on maize plantings and subsequent crop development in the US has served to firm up maize prices. It is no longer the bargain basement for grain buyers as wheat prices have eased back on favourable crop reports throughout the world and expectations of a record harvest.  

From the local perspective feed formulators are happy to see maize and wheat going into rations at the same price and offering more opportunities to achieve the optimum balance of starch sources.

The swine flu epidemic in China and Eastern Asia has led to a major cull of the pig herd and has reduced the demand for feed materials in this region
The swine flu epidemic in China and Eastern Asia has led to a major cull of the pig herd and has reduced the demand for feed materials in this region

Another major element of uncertainty is the African Swine Fever (ASF) epidemic and  the impact this may have on feed demand in China and Eastern Asia. China accounts for half of the worlds pork production and it is the most popular meat in that part of the world.

Reports vary widely as to the numbers lost with some observers suggesting that as many as half of China's breeding pigs have either died from African swine fever or been slaughtered because of the spreading disease, while the officially published figures report a loss of 24% in sow numbers compared with a year ago.

Either way, the plunge in the number of sows is poised to leave a large hole in the supply of the country's favourite meat, pushing up food prices and devastating livelihoods in a rural economy that includes 40 million pig farmers.

Losses are not only from infected pigs dying or being culled, but also farmers sending pigs to market early when the disease is discovered nearby. This has helped keep up the supplies of pigmeat and analysts say it has kept a lid on pork prices in recent months.

However prices have begun to rise substantially and China's agricultural ministry has said they could surge by 70 percent in coming months as supplies run down. This may create opportunities for growth in the regions unaffected by ASF and will strengthen global pigmeat prices as China has to seek out new supply chains. 

The effect on China’s feed requirement will be felt at a global level as the demand for grains falls in line with the shrinking pig herd. Increased pig production in Europe and the USA will compensate to some extent depending on the ability of President Trump to find a solution to the ongoing trade dispute between China and USA. India may also see gains having seen significant increases in pork production in 2018 thanks to the growth of industrialized farming and increased domestic feed milling. Feed production across all species jumped 13% in India in 2018.

 

 

 

The impact of the Covid 19 Pandemic on trade and the global economy has been significant and will be felt across every aspect of our daily lives.

It is hard to believe that crude oil is trading at less than 20 dollars/barrel with demand for fuel collapsing as the world’s population cancelled their flights, parked up their cars and went into lockdown at home. The impact on agricultural production is felt across a range of sectors as food service winds down and retail sales patterns change to reflect the home - based lifestyle.

Changes caused by the Coronavirus Pandemic include a major increase in home baking and bread making.
Changes caused by the Coronavirus Pandemic include a major increase in home baking and bread making.

Demand for wheat has benefited as flour sales reflect more baking and breadmaking - and the fact that humans rather than farm livestock consume the vast majority of the world’s wheat.       The wheat market remains strong and is trading at a premium of around £30 per tonne to the other cereals in response to continued demand and some dry weather concerns about the 2020 harvest. While feed formulators will look to maximise the use of maize and barley in their diets many rations will require a base level of wheat to deliver the required performance. This along with supply issues for some of the main protein materials and the weakening of sterling against the dollar is a driving a firmer tone to feed prices for the summer months.

The vast majority of the global wheat harvest is for human consumption and the demand for bread making flour has grown in recent weeks.
The vast majority of the global wheat harvest is for human consumption and the demand for bread making flour has grown in recent weeks.

Soya is the principal protein source and following supply issues and a price spike in recent weeks the market is settling back to within £20 to £30 of the pre Covid-19 levels although renewed buying activity from China is likely to limit further reductions. The flow of material to the ports in Argentina has improved but the water level at the river berths is low, reducing the draught available for vessels and hence the tonnage which can be loaded. By-products from the oil and ethanol industries such as Rapeseed meal and Distillers Grains are major protein sources particularly in ruminant feeds but availability is reducing, as these plants have to wind down production as global oil demand plummets. With close to 40% of the maize grown in North America going to produce ethanol the scale back on production makes more maize available for livestock feed and prices have eased.   With supply far exceeding demand, maize has become the best value grain for livestock feeders but at current prices, it is triggering a tariff of $5.27 per tonne on entry into the EU. This is despite the fact that US maize is not used in the EU because of GM regulations but it is the Chicago price, which is used in the EU tariff calculation. 

Barley is also over-supplied with big stocks and demand from the malsters falling as the breweries reduce production in line with the wind down of the hospitality sector.

These disruptions to supply chains and trade flows are inevitable and always add cost - among the essential materials affected are vitamins and amino acids, largely sourced from China, and these have suffered significant price increases in recent weeks.

The Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC) which represents the agri supply trade throughout the United Kingdom has recently completed a series of seven regional feed meetings. All were held in venues with a connection to the livestock industry and finished at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute at Hillsborough, N Ireland. The format for each meeting consisted of political, technical and legislative briefings from AIC, an update from AIC services on the industry feed assurance schemes and then a presentation from the host at each venue followed by a tour of the facilities.

AIC Director, Declan Billington with James McCulloch, Head of Feed Sector, Roberta Reeve, Technical Manager, AIC Services and David Garrett, President of NIGTA.
AIC Director, Declan Billington with James McCulloch, Head of Feed Sector, Roberta Reeve, Technical Manager, AIC Services and David Garrett, President of NIGTA.

The objective was for AIC to engage with those employed in member businesses and assurance partners who do not have direct or regular contact with AIC through committees or working groups and to convey a better understanding of the work AIC carries out in terms of policy and legislative engagement both in the UK and in Brussels. Members were brought up to date on the gathering pace of the sustainability agenda and how the organisation was working to define a sustainability roadmap to enable the feed industry to deliver on commitments made by Government in terms of net-zero carbon and clean air and water. Key to this is the development of efficient and cost effective diets and promoting the concept of precision nutrition through the network of registered feed advisers (FAR) trained in the management of emissions from livestock farming.

AIC’s development of assurance schemes for the feed sector have raised standards across the industry and are recognised by both regulators and food chain partners. James McCulloch, head of the AIC feed sector reported on upgrades to the schemes, which ensure that they continue to meet the expectations of the food chain. The schemes include the Universal Feed Assurance Scheme (UFAS) for feed production, the Feed materials assurance scheme (FEMAS) and the Trade Assurance Scheme for combinable crops (TASCC). The schemes have been aligned to ensure consistency of standards and strengthened by the introduction of more “short notice” and unannounced audits. The standards have been rewritten – members have been consulted – and auditors are now being trained to the new standards, which will take effect from 1st February 2020. 

James McCulloch (centre), with feed company representatives from across Northern Ireland at the AIC members meeting in Hillsborough.
James McCulloch (centre), with feed company representatives from across Northern Ireland at the AIC members meeting in Hillsborough.

Mr McCulloch reported that the feed sector was engaged in defining positive and sustainable policies for a number of challenges which face the livestock sector, including Anti-Microbial Resistance, responsible sourcing of feed materials and setting goals for economic, social and environmental sustainability.

The event held at AFBI was well attended with representatives from 16 separate feed manufacturing companies. Declan Billington of John Thompson & Sons Ltd delivered the political briefing and Dr Elizabeth Magowan, Director of Sustainable Agri-Food Sciences Division at AFBI presented the work of the Institute and delegates were given an extended tour of the farm and facilities.

The turbulent tone of grain markets in recent weeks has abated somewhat with the recent USDA reports allaying concerns about the American maize crop. Predictions of a major reduction in planting due to persistent rains in the main corn belt had driven prices up to 4.85 $/bushel – recent crop surveys reporting 90 million acres planted with a predicted yield of 1.69 bushels per acre would indicate that these concerns have been overstated and the market has slipped back to the pre – rains level at around 3.60$/bushel. Weather could still deliver a sting in the tail however - with much of the acreage planted late it will require a longer growing season to come to maturity and early autumn frosts could reduce yield before harvest.

The European grain harvest is producing a bumper crop of wheat and barley.
The European grain harvest is producing a bumper crop of wheat and barley.

At a local level a big wheat harvest in England has weighed heavily on the markets in recent weeks. With a 16 million tonne crop to be marketed farmers discounted to gain export business to Europe before the threatened no deal Brexit on the 31st of October. Spain and Holland were substantial buyers as English growers offloaded surplus wheat. The mood changed as the threat of a no-deal deadline receded and harvest pressure eased – farmers are now more confident to hold on to their grain and wheat prices, supported by a slight strengthening of sterling, have rallied by £7 to £8 per tonne. The market is still well supplied with both wheat and barley and this has brought the price of these grains into closer alignment with maize. Wheat and maize are very similarly priced at the minute with barley lagging £7 to £8/tonne behind. At these prices wheat and barley will displace some of the maize in feed formulations.

US maize products play a significant part in the supply of high protein materials to the Irish market. Ethanol, biodiesel and starch production consume a major portion of the US maize crop and by-products, such as corn gluten and corn distillers are widely used in ruminant rations here. Poor margins in ethanol production and maize supply concerns have resulted in plant closures and a reduction in the availability of the by product. This reduction in supply has been compounded by increased purchases of maize by-products in Turkey and prices have firmed by around 15$/tonne in recent weeks.

The world protein market is focussed on soya and in particular the level of demand from China and their ongoing trade war with the US. The African Swine Fever epidemic which has devastated the national pig herd in China has significantly reduced the demand for soya in this region and President Trumps tariffs have redirected this reduced tonnage to Brazil. America’s soya growers are less than happy with the loss of a major  customer and the downward drift in prices which has seen soya drop below the 300$/bushel in recent days.

This weakness in the global markets has been largely reflected in current ration prices but there is always the potential for volatility if the current manoeuvres in Westminster further undermine an already weak sterling.

Prolonged wet weather in the US corn belt is having a serious impact on the planting of the 2019 maize crop. With less than 60% of the crop in the ground (compared with 90% on the 5 year average at this time) and more heavy rainfall forecast over the next 2 weeks it is looking increasingly likely that a significant acreage will not get planted this year. The big maize states around the major processing area in Chicago,  - Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, South Dakota and Indiana are worst affected and the yield reduction due to poor establishment and water-logged soils together with the reduced acreage could well knock 70 million tonnes off the 2019 corn crop. This prospect is pushing the corn price up towards the $5/bushel mark.

Flooding on the Mississippi is delaying the movement of river barges bringing corn by-products to New Orleans for shipment to Europe.
Flooding on the Mississippi is delaying the movement of river barges bringing corn by-products to New Orleans for shipment to Europe.

Elsewhere in the world big corn crops are still expected with Brazil forecasting 100 million tonnes, Argentina, 50 million tonnes and the Black Sea region 30 million tonnes. While there is no real concern about global supplies the markets have become nervous and the news has moved the funds to cover in around 70% of their extremely short positions on grains.

At a local level the grain markets, which have been extremely quiet, have come to life with more buyer interest and maize prices moving up around  £24 per tonne in the last couple of weeks. This has brought maize much more into line with the wheat and barley price and may reduce the heavy emphasis on maize in many livestock rations.

On the protein side the rains in America are also a factor with the potential for farmers who are unable to plant corn to switch to soybean – but soya plantings are also delayed with only 29% complete compared with the 5 year average of 66% at this stage. US growers are confused by the options available to them  - it’s still not clear how President Trump’s $20 billion compensation to farmers will be distributed and for many there is the option to claim on crop insurance.                  With no sign of any resolution to the trade war with China US growers will be concerned about the lack of customers for their crops. Even their close neighbour, and major customer, Mexico is now bringing corn from Brazil.

The local feed trade is suffering from late arrival of some key protein materials as logistical problems continue to delay movement of corn gluten and distillers from the US corn regions to the ports. The barges which travel up the Mississippi with fertiliser at this time of year are unable to move because of the floods – these vessels back load with corn by-products to the Gulf of Mexico for shipment to Europe.

The new decade has started with a significant hardening of prices across a range of feed materials.   A combination of technical factors are in play and will inevitably drive up ration costs in the coming weeks.

Wheat has been the major mover with the effect of heat and fires in Australia, and the wet weather in Europe causing concern about global supplies. Expectations are for the English wheat harvest to be much reduced in 2020 - with autumn plantings down by 30% England is likely to be an importer rather than an exporter of wheat in the next year. Prices have moved up by around £30 per tonne since harvest as farmers have been reluctant to sell with a shortfall expected and the market still rising.

Harvesting Wheat.

Maize is also enjoying a stronger trade – gaining around £20/tonne - with Ukraine the only competitive supplier until the Brazilians come back to the game. The South Americans have a new friend however as China has had to find alternatives to the USA as a source of feed materials. China is also a bigger buyer of meat and animal proteins to fill the gap left by the decimation of their national pig herd. The increased interest in Brazilian beef is creating a demand for maize from the local feedlots which could reduce the tonnage for export. Maize stocks are still strong in the USA but the material offered for export is of poor quality and with issues around genetic modification it is not attractive to European buyers.

Barley remains the poor relation following a big harvest last year - but it too has benefited from the rising tide of grain prices - gaining around £15/tonne in recent weeks.

On the protein side it is the mid-proteins which are presenting the biggest challenges. Availability of the US corn by products is tight and prices have been forced up as buyers compete for limited supplies. Poor margins for US ethanol producers has led to plants scaling back their throughput and reducing the volume of distillers grains produced. European ethanol producers are enjoying better times however and European distillers are making up some of the shortfall from the USA.

Rapeseed has also been in short supply on the back of reduced European plantings last year and access to Canadian supplies has been hampered by increased use of genetic modification in that region. A tightness in the availability of soya hulls from Argentina – increased demand for palm kernel from New Zealand and Australia due to drought and South America’s  increasing focus on China are all adding to the challenges for our local traders and importers at the moment.

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.

The activities of anti-farming groups determined to discredit the production of livestock for consumption are becoming more of a concern to the industry with farmers coming under attack from very organised and well funded groups.

Much of the ‘noise’ in the debate comes from the vegan lobby. Surveys show that 2% of the UK population claim they are vegan (30% of which live in London), 7% of the UK population think they may become vegan but only 14% of vegan meals are eaten by vegans.

An analysis of 80,000 messages anti-meat messages on social media has shown that 48% are based on concerns over animal welfare, 31% on human health grounds and 21% relate to the environment. Of these, concern for the environment is the fastest growing reason for people choosing vegan or vegetarian foods.

Precision nutrition ensures efficient use of feed and reduces emissions from livestock farming.
Precision nutrition ensures efficient use of feed and reduces emissions from livestock farming.

The Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC) is working with food industry partners to identify a number of objectives to help communicate and promote the positive story of livestock farming and sustainable production of animal products with the aim of demonstrating a united voice along the entire livestock supply chain.

AIC which represents feed manufacturers and supply businesses throughout the UK believes the industry has a great story to tell on health, welfare and the environment. This message needs to be delivered in the digital environment – on social media, using better search engine optimisation to get across positive information about meat and other livestock products. 

Effective promotion of a livestock supply chain that acts responsibly and addresses societal and environmental concerns in a direct and measurable manner is required. A proper assessment of the alternatives also needs to be carried out – what are the impacts of a vegetarian/vegan diet on the environment ? – how will the countryside be managed in the absence of livestock farming ?

Livestock production in the UK and the EU is efficient and well controlled in relation to the concerns which are being raised – the bigger threat comes from imported product from regions which practice deforestation and extensive production systems which are highly inefficient in terms of land and water requirements and produce much greater emissions per kilogram of meat produced. 

There are many positive messages which need to be communicated to a wider audience. At a local level the supply trade has played a major part in improving the efficiency of livestock production through precision nutrition - which reduces emissions to air and water. Feed advisors have been trained to help producers mitigate the impact of intensive livestock production on the environment and are influencing behaviour at farm level.

Animal welfare is also benefitting from improved nutrition as evidenced by a major reduction in the requirement for antibiotics to be added to feeds.

Perception is everything in these debates and it is important that all stakeholders engage to claim greater control of the conversations - to get the message beyond the confines of the livestock industry – to consumers and society in general.

New methodologies are to be employed to ensure that Food Fortress members can effectively manage the growing challenge from mycotoxin contaminations in feed materials.

Network members attending the Food Fortress annual meeting in Armagh heard that while current results indicate that the risks to the food chain from Dioxins, Heavy Metals, Aflatoxins and Pesticides residues are well under control, increased  levels of some mycotoxins are being reported. While the toxins detected pose no threat to human consumers they have the potential to impact on animal health and performance. 

Speaking at the meeting Professor Chris Elliot, Director of the Institute of Global Food Security at Queens said,  “The search for more advanced analytical techniques to meet this challenge has led to an agreement with the University of Vienna where new methodologies have been developed which will widen the scope of our testing and help identify the most effective mitigation. This new methodology will be employed at the Queens University laboratory in Belfast and will improve our ability to manage these toxins”. 

Professor Chris Elliott Director of the Institute of Global Food Security at Queens with Robin Irvine, Food Fortress Director.
Professor Chris Elliott Director of the Institute of Global Food Security at Queens with Robin Irvine, Food Fortress Director.

Robin Irvine, Food Fortress director explained that measurement of these anti-nutrients and effective mitigation is the key to driving livestock performance and guidance on the safe inclusion rates for different raw materials, the susceptibility of different species and ages of livestock and the use of binding agents which neutralise the anti-nutrient activity is provided on the members website”.

FOOD FORTRESS UPDATE

In his report to Food Fortress members, Director Robin Irvine stated that the sampling program now covers 79 compound feed manufacturers – including 16 in the republic of Ireland and 7 on the UK mainland. He confirmed that the program was now self-financing and acknowledged the assistance of InvestNI who had helped to fund the network through the start-up period.  

“We have 5 million tonnes of compound feed production covered by our surveillance and with around 80 samples passing through our system every month we have amassed a substantial database of results and a clear understanding of the contamination risks facing the industry. The fact that the principal importing companies are also contributing their test results on imported feed materials adds another dimension to the program and allows us to identify the challenges coming from other parts of the world.”

Professor Elliot reported that the annual review of Food Fortress carried out by Queens’ confirmed the effectiveness of the program  - “Northern Irelands feed businesses have the world’s leading program for the management of risks to the feed and food chain and the Food Fortress network is the envy of every other region - it gives a competitive advantage to the product of Northern Ireland. “The local feed trade is to be congratulated for what has been achieved through the collaborative approach to feed surveillance. The sharing of information with the authorities is also a first, and has created a positive relationship between industry and the regulators with the common aim of protecting the food chain”