Speech from President, Claudine Heron

New NIGTA President highlights crucial role for local agri food sectors

Claudine Heron, President Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association and her husband Robert at the NIGTA Annual Dinner in the Culloden.
Claudine Heron, President Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association and her husband Robert at the NIGTA Annual Dinner in the Culloden.

“The supermarkets are now the central link in the food retail chain. It is therefore incumbent on them to pay farmers realistic prices for their produce.” Claudine Heron, the new president of the NI Grain Trade Association (NIGTA) told representatives of the agri food industry attending the Association’s annual dinner.

Claudine Heron stressed the absolute necessity of retaining a sustainable farming sector in Northern Ireland.

She said “No longer are we viewed as an industry to be taken for granted. Instead in this period of economic uncertainty, we are seen as vital - the bread and butter of the economy in Northern Ireland. We haven’t, as the Agri-food Industry, enjoyed the highs during the boom years as some industries but generating in the region of 20,000 full-time jobs and a total of 92,000 agriculture dependent or associated jobs and £3.2bn of revenue for the province, we are now being recognised for our resilience.

“It is therefore incumbent on the supermarkets to pay farmers realistic prices for their produce. Numerous surveys have confirmed that local consumers want the continuing opportunity to select locally produced food. They will be prevented from doing this if retailers do not act to ensure the continuation of a viable farming industry here in Northern Ireland.”

Claudine highlighted the tremendous volatility on the world’s commodity markets at the present time. She went on to point out that the current economic climate is bringing additional challenges.

“Strong input costs such as fertiliser, fuel and electricity as well as fluctuating grain prices are putting our customers ‘the producer’ under extreme pressure as they struggle to achieve price increases,” she continued.

“The cautious approach taken by banks on credit and cash flow issues are part of the daily grind of business we are all dealing with against this backdrop of volatility. It is in our interest to ensure the end producer is profitable. We see it as our duty in NIGTA to support those in the dairy, beef , pig and poultry sectors, lobbying side by side with the Ulster Farmers Union, supporting their stance with the supermarkets to ensure the survival of our local producers, and our industry.

Claudine Heron is the Grain Trade’s first female President. She is also the  youngest person to hold the position. An engineering graduate from Oxford, she firmly believes that the farming and food sectors can provide exciting career opportunities for large numbers of young people.

Claudine Heron, President and Declan Billington, former President, Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association with Alan Johnston and Colin Barkley, Speakers at the NIGTA 46th Annual Dinner in Holywood.
Claudine Heron, President and Declan Billington, former President, Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association with Alan Johnston and Colin Barkley, Speakers at the NIGTA 46th Annual Dinner in Holywood.

“The challenge of feeding the world’s growing population over the next four decades is one that will ensure the central importance of the various agri food sectors during the period ahead,” she told the guests attending NIGTA’s flagship event.

“And it is only the boundless ability, enthusiasm and energy of young people that will allow us meet our goal of feeding the world on a sustainable basis.”

The new Grain Trade President also highlighted the absolute importance for the feed industry on the island of Ireland to effectively bed down its new traceability and assurance priorities over the coming months.

“NIGTA’s significant involvement in the Northern Ireland Feed Assurance Group, led by Professor Patrick Wall has resulted in the recent release of a formal industry report,” she continued.

“Entitled ‘Assuring Food Safety in Northern Ireland’, the report details industry plans for reducing risks to the feed manufacturing, farming and processing sectors in Northern Ireland particular to the potential contamination of feed material inputs to these sectors.

“NIGTA has spent a year garnering support for our ‘Fortress Ireland’ vision as an answer to supply chain security following the 2008 Dioxin scare. In the coming months key stakeholders and representatives from different sectors of the grain trade, both north and south of the border, and in conjunction with our sister organisation IGFA, will work together to provide details of the practical execution of this vision, in partnership with Global Food Safety Expert Professor Chris Elliot and his team from Queen’s University.”

Claudine Heron concluded “Minimum standards of testing will be set and incorporated into a new risk based sampling assurance model. To close the gap to unscrupulous operators the food processors will in turn demand evidence of Feed and Food Assurance along the supply chain. This is something for us all to be proud of. With the guidance of Professor Patrick Wall and Professor Chris Elliott we as an industry have taken a proactive approach to address a potentially fatal issue.”