Good communication within an integrated supply chain in order to match growth with market opportunities is the way forward for the Northern Ireland agri food industry.

Clarke Black, UFU, Guest speaker at the NI Grain Trade Association quarterly meeting chats to NIGTA members Norbury Royle and Clarence Caulderwood. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
Clarke Black, UFU, Guest speaker at the NI Grain Trade Association quarterly meeting chats to NIGTA members Norbury Royle and Clarence Caulderwood. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

This was one of the comments from Clarke Black, Chief Executive, Ulster Farmers Union when he spoke at a recent NI Grain Trade Association meeting. He pointed out that the industry here had excellent facilities producing top quality products backed by natural resources and innovative people and companies, but they need to work closely together throughout the supply chain to brand and promote Northern Ireland. 

Communication within the chain is vital to meet the innovative challenges. He cited the recent situation in the beef industry where specifications changed but there was a lack of communication regarding the proposed changes and the reasons for their implementation.

Demand for food is growing throughout the world providing market opportunities both locally and internationally. It is important that we understand the needs of international markets  - it was noted that Ian Marshall the UFU President was part of the delegation from the LMC in China recently. Clarke emphasised that each country has its own unique procedures for doing business and product specifications. We must familiarise ourselves with these markets. 

Immediate NI Grain Trade Association, Past President, Owen Brennan with President Alan Johnston at the NIGTA quarterly meeting. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
Immediate NI Grain Trade Association, Past President, Owen Brennan with President Alan Johnston at the NIGTA quarterly meeting. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

Such developments will provide innovative challenges in terms of policy, product development, marketing, quality control and branding but the opportunities are there to grow and develop our industry if we co-operate and communicate.

Commenting on CAP support Clarke pointed out that it is almost £300 million per year coming into Northern Ireland and is 87% of total farm income therefore it is vital to maintain it. He pointed out that this support was originally coupled to numbers of livestock and acres of grain but the current proposals are to have it paid on an area or hectarage basis which, in effect, will move the support away from areas with a higher productive capacity and which offer greater support for the economy. However, he stressed that we must also find a way of supporting those in the more disadvantaged areas, particularly beef producers in those areas. It is vitally important that these changes in support must also be phased in gradually in order to give farmers time to adjust.

Clarke concluded by commenting on the lack of decisions from government for the agri food industry and especially on the “Going For Growth” strategy. He said, “We need support from government, regulators and the financial institutions to ensure a fully integrated agri food chain that is co-operating to take advantage of all of the innovative market opportunities that will be available.” 

NIGTA UFU Meeting June 2014