President of NIGTA, David Garrett speaking at the 54th Annual NIGTA Dinner welcomed visitors and guests to the event:

Before I propose a toast to the association, I would like to say a few words about our industry, its successes, its opportunities and the challenges we face. Moreover, how we might be able to overcome some of those challenges.

I am delighted to report on a year of significant growth in demand for animal feeds across all sectors.

Pictured at the Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association Annual Dinner were, from left: Gary McIntyre, Speaker; Geoff Miller, Guest Speaker; David Garrett, President, NIGTA; Ruth Brammal, NIGTA and Robin Irvine, Chief Executive, NIGTA. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/
Pictured at the Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association Annual Dinner were, from left: Gary McIntyre, Speaker; Geoff Miller, Guest Speaker; David Garrett, President, NIGTA; Ruth Brammal, NIGTA and Robin Irvine, Chief Executive, NIGTA. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/

I would suggest that the feed industry is the bellwether of a healthy food industry and to quantify that, every weekday in Northern Ireland, we produce ten thousand tonnes of animal feeds. That was over 2.6 million tonnes in 2018.

This past year we have experienced strong demand for ruminant feeds, which was anticipated considering the weather challenges and forage shortages that farmers have faced over the past couple of years. From flooding to drought, they have had to be resilient to cope with it all.

Increasing pig feed demand has been a feature for many years now and greatly improved genetics has led us to the point where we are producing as many pigs now as 20 years ago with far fewer sow numbers. Our factories want more pigs to remain efficient and to meet market demand, so there is further potential growth there to be grasped.

Poultry feed demand continues to grow, especially for layers and broilers. The increasing demand for chicken and eggs has been a feature in homes across the UK and beyond and our farmers and food businesses here in Northern Ireland have been very successful in getting a significant share of that business.

The success of our burgeoning feed industry is echoed across Europe and indeed globally. The Alltech Global Feed Survey estimates world animal feed production at 1.03 billion tonnes in 2018, up 3% on the previous year.

Each week the population of the world’s cities grows by 1.3 million people.

The increasing demand for feed is due to these growing urban populations wanting to eat more meat and dairy food products.
This can create its own challenges as many consumers now have little connection to food production or knowledge of farming.

City dwellers, particularly in affluent societies can often misunderstand farming practices and as a result, they can gain the impression that animals are harshly treated. It is not a fair representation as farmers care passionately about the welfare of their livestock.

We can only meet this increasing demand for food by the application of good science and technology including the use of products, which protect animal welfare.

One such example is the use of Ionophores as coccidiostats. Recent media attention on these additives demonstrates the misguided and unscientific perceptions, which add nothing to food safety but have the potential to impair efficient production, harm animal welfare and add to the cost of food.

It can be difficult to have a sensible debate with people who believe something strongly because of propaganda on social media, however erroneous.

On social media especially, “Beliefs Trump Facts”.

The disruptive and malicious activities of some pressure groups towards livestock farmers is something that ought not to be allowed to continue.

Farmers have enough to do without having to defend their farms against wanton vandalism as is happening in some parts of the UK.

The agri-food sector in Northern Ireland is our biggest industry, biggest export earner and provides high levels of quality employment.

Our livestock sector is highly efficient and well managed. Output has grown through efficiencies at farm level, involving better genetics, improved nutrition and more integrated supply chains.

Efficiencies of scale have also played a part in growing our industry and many farms are orders of magnitude larger than a generation ago.

The grain trade has supported this growth through investment in plant and equipment, in research and development, in the establishment of robust quality systems to protect the food chain and most importantly of all, by training our people to produce better nutritional solutions, provide relevant advice and to deliver much of the technical support that the industry needs.

It is clear that our industry is now attracting bright young people at the start of their careers. This bodes well for our collective future.

We as an agri food industry are heavily dependent on selling our food products outside of Northern Ireland. We export three quarters of our production with mainland GB and its large population a ready market for our wares.

This is a success story for our industry and for our food companies but it does bring challenges. Our industry now carries the environmental footprint of food consumed beyond our shores as well that of our local customers.

Sustainability has been a major challenge as the industry has grown and as a trade, we recognise that the efficient use of inputs and the reduction of emissions to our atmosphere and our waterways is a key area, which we can influence.

Our industry is meeting the challenge of more environmentally sympathetic farming with the ongoing training being delivered to our registered feed advisors.

The FAR training program has been refined and developed by NIGTA and endorsed by all the industry agencies and regulators.

Over 130 FAR advisors are registered here in Northern Ireland. These are our sales specialists and technical experts who are talking to farmers every day.

They are the trusted people that our farmer customers listen to and this means we are in a position to deliver the key messages on nutrient efficiency – particularly in terms of feed and fertiliser inputs.

The concept of efficiency is readily understood at farm level and efficiency in nutrient management ensures financial efficiency for the farmer as well.

I would like to thank Gill Gallagher for all the work she has put into this and to CAFRE for its help in the delivery of the training at Greenmount College to address the environmental challenges faced locally.

Farmers are aware of the need for environmental responsibility in terms of reducing phosphorous and ammonia emissions and now they get the best possible advice to achieve it. The trend for more accurate rationing of all farm livestock has led to lower levels of phosphorous and protein in diets.

Each one percent reduction in protein leads to a reduction in ammonia of eight percent, with a commensurate reduction in phosphorous, because many high protein ingredients also have high phosphorous levels.

With that in mind, I would urge all parties involved in the planning process to work together to facilitate the continued growth of our industry by allowing new development where it is more efficient than what it replaces and where it improves the environment by reducing the emissions of ammonia and other potential pollutants.

We do not want to see narrow environmental considerations cap our ambitions to grow.

The big picture must be taken into account in that we have no polluting heavy industries and a much lower vehicle density than in GB.

The greatest uncertainty we are still facing is the withdrawal (or not) of the United Kingdom from the European Union.

Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have had an open border for trade in the single market for 26 years since 1 January 1993.

Put in context, that is a whole generation...

Over those years, the economies and especially agri-businesses on both sides of the border have grown, integrated, and blossomed. The threat of a customs border is understandably weighing on the minds of all of us that would be affected.

To borrow a strapline, we have grown better together and we do not want to jeopardise that progress.

Our supply chains now operate on an all-Ireland basis - often with short lead times. The efficiencies that have allowed grain and other cargoes to offload in multiple ports could be curtailed with different treatment of imports between UK and EU.

Any delays or complications to our supply chain, physical or otherwise, will inevitably create additional costs that business will need to absorb or pass on to the end consumer.

Our feed mills and livestock producers depend on imports of over two and a half million tonnes of feed materials.

We therefore need to have tariff-free access to the global market for grains and proteins to ensure a competitive cost base for local farmers and a level playing field with our nearest competitors.

In GB, the situation is significantly different with a substantial arable sector producing a high level of self- sufficiency in feed grains.

It is highly regrettable that we have been without a working executive at Stormont at the time of our greatest need.

Nevertheless, NIGTA has been at the forefront in working with other stakeholders within the Agri-food sector to ensure that the integrated nature of our agri food industry is understood, and the unique consequences for Northern Ireland are recognised in Whitehall.

Special thanks must go to Declan Billington, Michael McAree, Keith Agnew and others for their commitment to representing our industry’s interests in the face of all the challengesof leaving the EU.

I have the privilege to nominate our charity this year.

Many people say that charity begins at home and I see that many of our local charities are well funded. However, folks in Northern Ireland are more than generous in supporting overseas charities as well.

This year I have nominated “Fields of Life” which operates in east Africa. Many of you will be aware of the great need in that part of the world currently where even fresh clean drinking water is a luxury.

Here we put on our feed labels, “ensure access to fresh clean water” for the welfare of our animals.

It is fitting then that we think of others that are not as well off as our animals when it comesto the most basic of life’s necessities.

I would urge you to give generously to this worthy cause this evening.

Finally, I would like to recognise the hard work of our CEO Mr Robin Irvine. He ensures that the association is run smoothly and fairly represents the interests of its members and by extension, their customers.

I want to take this opportunity to thank him for the valuable support he is giving to me while I fulfil the duties required as President.

I would also commend him for his valuable work with Food Fortress as the membership and engagement across the Island of Ireland has continued to grow.

On behalf of the Grain Trade, I would like to thank members and their guests for your continued support of the Association.

Rest assured the executive will continue to work hard for the interests of our members through what is expected to be an interesting and challenging year ahead.

In proposing a toast to the association, I would ask you all to charge your glasses and be upstanding as we drink to our Association and its continued success as a partner to andadvocate for agriculture and the food industry here in Northern Ireland...

“The Association”