Balmoral Show made a welcome return to its usual slot in the farming calendar this year and it was great to see it back in full force with everyone enjoying the opportunity to catch up with friends, colleagues and patrons.  As usual, organisers did a superb job of creating a celebratory showcase of the best that Northern Ireland agri-food has to offer. 

The hot topic of conversation was undoubtedly the ripple effects of the war in Ukraine and the resulting impact on input costs locally.  Discussed informally and formally at various events held throughout the course of the Show, the importance of the agri-industry and government working together to address the mounting pressures was emphasised.  NIGTA have been regularly and actively participating in the DAERA Ukraine Contingency Agri-Food Stakeholder Forum and CAFRE Industry Taskforce on Rising Input Costs.  

The mental health impact arising from increasing financial stress was in sharp focus with charitable organisation Rural Support leading the discussion on how to provide practical support to the local farming community.  This year marks Rural Support’s 20th anniversary since its inception.  During this time, it has grown from strength to strength, offering a diverse array of valued programs designed to support farming families with matters relating to financial management and health and wellbeing, all of which are very relevant right now.

Results from an online survey conducted across 800 farms by AgriSearch and the Ulster Farmers’ Union were also presented at the Show.  The survey taken at the end of April examined farmer decision making in response to rising costs.  Indications from this snapshot in time were that some farmers intended to cut back on feed and/or fertiliser without tackling stocking rates.  The dangers of this approach are clear and without some form of action could lead to a winter fodder shortage.

Despite a kind spring, weather conditions have been challenging for harvesting first cut silage and whilst yields are reported to be relatively good, quality has suffered.  A limited window now exists for decision-making around nutrient management, to maximise grass yields for the remainder of the growing season and to ensure there are sufficient fodder stocks for the winter.

CAFRE are hosting another series of farm walks focused on managing rising input costs which are due to take place this week and again the following week, details of which can be found on the CAFRE website. 

In these challenging times it is important to remember that support is available from various organisations.  In addition to those mentioned above, NIGTA members have a wide array of expertise available with feed advisers, agronomists and fertiliser reps ready and willing to help deal with current challenges and forward planning for the months ahead. 

Silage season has arrived bringing with it hopes and prayers for good weather.  With the precious first cut underway in parts of the country, thoughts will now be turning to preparations for second and possibly third or even fourth cut, as building good quality fodder stocks will be essential to buffer the unknown winter that lies ahead.

Managing rising input costs remains an ongoing challenge and whilst farmers will no doubt be seeking to maximise all available resources, including slurries and manures, understanding the nutrient limitations of manures is important because placing too much reliance on them at the expense of adequately supplying crop nutrient requirements could be a false economy.  Over application of manures is also not the answer and could lead to undesirable environmental outcomes.   Good management and careful planning are therefore needed to strike the right balance.

Measurement is at the heart of good management and as such, soil testing and analysis should form the basis of all nutrient management decisions.  DAERA recently launched a new Soil Nutrient Health Scheme which will provide farmers with soil analysis results and farm maps detailing the nutrient levels of each field with the intention that all fields in Northern Ireland will be sampled. 

In addition to providing information on the nutrient levels in each field, the farm maps will also be capable of identifying fields prone to nutrient loss via run-off to waterways which will enable better decision making on where and how to apply nutrient.  Nutrient loss is both an economic and an environmental problem which should not be overlooked at farm level.

Earlier this year the NI Assembly passed its first ever Climate Change Bill and whilst there was some relief that common sense eventually prevailed so that the targets set reflect the science and circumstances of NI, the challenge of achieving these targets remains.  Whilst efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at farm level will continue, it is also important for farmers to be acknowledged for the unique role that their farms can play in sequestering carbon, thereby offsetting some of these emissions.  To date, data has been lacking to be able to properly account for this, but it is hoped that the new Scheme will help to create a baseline by estimating the amount of carbon stored in farmland soils, hedgerows and trees.

DAERA’s Soil Nutrient Health Scheme is to be rolled out in stages over the next four years by geographical zone, starting with Zone 1 which covers most of County Down and some surrounding areas.  Farmers located in Zone 1 will be contacted directly by AFBI who are administering the scheme.

Recent price hikes in the gas market have been well documented with knock on effects for commodities which rely heavily on natural gas like fertiliser production.

The flurry of post-lockdown economic recovery has led to soaring gas prices as supply has struggled to keep pace with demand.  Last summer bore witness to unprecedented gas price rises which prompted a temporary hiatus in fertiliser production across Europe in the early Autumn resulting in a shortage of stock, which the market is still struggling to recover from.

External influences in the market are also placing additional pressures on product availability.  The Chinese export ban was instigated to protect tight domestic supplies resulting from the closure of many of their coal fired production plants.  Meanwhile, Russia has imposed export quotas on certain compounds with the risk of a ban looming if the geopolitical instability of the Russian Ukraine situation escalates.   As a result, traditional customers for both of these markets are now being forced to source elsewhere, placing additional pressure on the European market in particular, and with global fertiliser supplies having tightened considerably, cargoes are becoming more difficult to obtain.

The issue of working capital presents an additional challenge to the supply chain as the cost of financing fertiliser is now 2.5 times greater than last year.  It is also forecast that strong gas prices are anticipated to last into the summer months and through to next winter.

Whilst stocks of fertiliser appear to be adequate for this quarter, spring demand could be the pinch point that results in supplies being depleted and a battle to replenish in time.

As a result, routine soil testing is now more important than ever and reports are suggesting that farmers are paying closer attention to the pH of their soils and investing in lime.  This is essential to maximize the nutrient use efficiency of the fertiliser that is applied as sub-optimal soils can limit both yields and quality.  As nutrient balance is the key to success, the temptation to over or under supply certain nutrients should be avoided as this will not be economically beneficial in the long run.

World leaders gathered in Glasgow this week for the United Nations Climate Conference, COP26. With the aim of accelerating action to limit global temperature rises to 1.5C, the Global Methane Pledge was launched as a major step towards slowing warming in the short term. Over 100 countries have now committed to cutting methane emissions by 30% by 2030.

Methane emissions arise from natural sources and human induced activities such as oil and gas production, landfill and agricultural activities. While it is a short-lived gas, which means it remains in the atmosphere for a much shorter period of time than carbon dioxide, methane’s potential to warm the atmosphere is over 80 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 20 year period. At the launch of the Global Methane Pledge, European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, described reducing methane emissions as a mechanism that will “immediately slow down climate change.” The initial focus will be on the fossil fuel industry, but agriculture will also be expected to step up to the mark.

“Agriculture is part of the climate change solution and is already playing its part. There are a range of initiatives ongoing throughout the local agri-food industry to tackle emissions and improve carbon sequestration,” according to Gill Gallagher of the Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association. “The feed industry is acutely aware of the challenge and has been proactive in delivering tailored environmental training to ruminant feed advisers throughout Northern Ireland, equipping them with the knowledge and tools to guide farmers on best practice in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and nutrient losses. Our focus is very much on efficiency, as a more efficient farm tends to be a more profitable farm with a lower carbon footprint. Good farm management and precision nutrition are absolutely key in this respect. Maintaining a healthy rumen environment, improving herd health and fertility, whilst maximising nutrient management all lead to productivity gains and can in turn contribute to a lower carbon footprint. We can, and are, doing these things now. To go further, investment in science and innovation is urgently needed to identify cost-effective emission reducing technologies, alongside clear market signals and realistic policy direction.”

Northern Ireland is currently grappling with the unprecedented situation of two Climate Change Bills progressing through the Northern Ireland Assembly. “We support the need for climate change legislation, but it is essential that the targets set are evidence-based having due regard for the unique circumstances of NI. The agri-food industry is the cornerstone of our economy, and we are proud to be one of the most efficient livestock producing regions in the world. It would be ludicrous to throw this away in favour of having a 2045 net zero target. We produce food for 10 million people and we do so very well - with a low carbon footprint. To decimate our industry and offshore this production to less carbon efficient regions would simply defeat global climate change objectives,” warned Gallagher.

A perfect storm of rising prices and supply problems are facing farmers and businesses in Northern Ireland. The combination of COVID 19 disruption, additional costs relating to compliance with the Northern Ireland Protocol and the relentless demand from China across a wide range of commodities is driving up prices in virtually every sector of the economy.

Commodities affected include steel, timber, lubrication oil and a wide range of everyday consumables. A global shortage of electrical circuits is also impacting on the manufacture  of plant and equipment requiring complex electronic controls.

Sea freight prices have soared and supply chains have been disrupted as shipping schedules have suffered delays due to events such as the Suez Canal blockage.
Sea freight prices have soared and supply chains have been disrupted as shipping schedules have suffered delays due to events such as the Suez Canal blockage.

The vulnerability of global supply chains is becoming increasingly evident as production capacity in many key areas has become concentrated in a few very large scale businesses.

Transport and logistics have been a key factor with disruption to shipping due to low water in Argentina and the recent blockage in the Suez Canal causing shipping schedules to slip out of position and cause major delays in movements of all materials. Sea freight costs have almost doubled as shippers compete to secure available vessels with container freight capacity proving particularly difficult to secure.

Feed material markets are being driven by the more normal variables such as weather events - specifically drought in South America which is causing concerns about the Safrinha maize crop in Brazil. This will reduce exports from these regions, creating an increased demand for the US crop and with Chinese purchasing from the US projected to keep increasing, continued support for prices is expected. The Chinese have emerged as the worlds’ big buyers of maize and reports that their native wheat crop is not coming up to expectations fuels concerns that this will be a continuing trend. The previously strong global maize stocks which had kept a lid on world grain prices in recent years are definitely in the past and the surge in the maize price was inevitable in the face of insatiable Chinese demand. The beneficial maize discount of recent years is greatly reduced and it is now trading at similar prices to wheat.

The re-emergence of global ethanol demand also serves to keep a firm tone to grain markets as the feed v fuel debate makes a return. The UK surplus of barley which has weighed on the local market has been largely used up and prices have also recovered as stocks have reduced.

Weather stories and harvest speculation will continue to drive volatility with recent easing of futures prices in some markets unlikely to indicate any major change of direction. The fundamental concerns about supply in the face of strong demand will set the tone of global markets for the foreseeable future.

With global supply chains rocked by the war in Ukraine, attention is turning to how to manage the ongoing situation and prepare for the winter ahead.

Fodder stocks should be carefully considered, and time is of the essence given that this is the critical period for nutrient application as the window for achieving the highest grass quality potential is between now and July.  If fertiliser is not spread soon, a fodder crisis for next winter could be unavoidable.

Maximising nutrient use efficiency is more important than ever given the stark rise in input costs and the key to achieving it is to ensure soil pH is maintained at the correct level, typically 6-6.5 pH for mineral soils, as sub-optimal soils can limit both yields and quality.  Thankfully, reports from last year suggest that farmers were paying closer attention to their pH and investing in lime which will stand them in good stead for the season ahead.  Routine soil testing and analysis is a habit worth forming and should be continued in the Autumn with appropriate action taken thereafter.

Manures of all descriptions will be valued more highly this year and whilst it is important to utilise the nutrients available on farm in the first instance, it is essential that the crop requirements are fully met to build a bountiful, high quality fodder bank to buffer the winter months ahead.  The importance of growing and managing high-quality grass should not be underestimated, instead it should be the focus, as a means of maximising production and offsetting the cost of farm inputs.  As such, the temptation to cut back on fertiliser, thereby undersupplying certain nutrients, could be a false economy.

Fertiliser availability has been widely debated given the Russian invasion of Ukraine and escalating energy markets.  Sanctions against Russian vessels and commodities have further exacerbated the sourcing challenge and it is imperative that swift action is taken where Russian interests have been divested to allow trade to flow.  Clarity from government in this respect would provide companies with much needed reassurance to resume trade. 

Whilst there is no doubt that this is not a normal year and that product choice may be more constrained than previously, alternative sources of fertiliser are available, albeit with increased competition.  The time lag for shipping must also be factored in and it is therefore important that supply requirements are known in advance so that appropriate preparations can be made.  Procuring product remains very challenging and international prices are still holding firm so while farmers may have been hoping fertiliser prices would ease in the short term, this seems unlikely.

By Gill Gallagher, NIGTA CEO

 

After almost a decade of heading up the Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association (NIGTA), Robin Irvine has just retired as Chief Executive.  As Robin’s successor and as leader of the Association I took the opportunity to share his reflections on his career in the feed trade.

“The work of the Association has always held a special interest for me, having joined the feed trade straight after graduating from Harper Adams.  Working for a number of years with John Thompson & Sons, I then moved to Fane Valley Cooperative Society as Agricultural Manager and latterly as Managing Director of Fane Valley Feeds. I was always aware of the important role played by NIGTA in leading the industry and raising standards – establishing the first Code of Practice for feed manufacture, which later became the Universal Feed Assurance Scheme (UFAS).”

During this time, Robin held the position of convener of the compounder’s committee and served as President of NIGTA on two occasions.

“In those days the Presidents had to be very much engaged and were expected to lead the Association through the current challenges. In my first term the issue was the safety of our delivery drivers. This was when most milking parlours had a loft for feed storage and drivers had to climb up to secure the discharge pipes as part of the delivery. This was often quite hazardous – but with the help of the UFU and HSE we ran a campaign to raise awareness of the risks and improve the facilities on farm. I served as President again in 2007 when the environmental issues were starting to come to prominence with phosphates identified as the major issue in relation to water quality. A working group was set up within NIGTA to look at the potential for reducing feed phosphorus without impacting animal health or performance. This led to the trade taking an initiative to introduce a voluntary commitment to reduce phosphorus levels in dairy feeds which all member companies subscribed to. Ongoing efforts, based on industry funded research, have led to further reductions in the level of phosphorus excretion across all species.”

“In 2012 when the decision was taken to appoint a Chief Executive to NIGTA I knew immediately that this was a job I wanted to do and I was delighted when my application was successful. One of the first challenges was food safety – with the dioxin contamination which had caused a major food scare in the South of Ireland fresh in the memory - contact had been made with Queen’s University with a view to establishing an industry wide program to protect the food chain from contamination. This was to become the Food Fortress program – now comprising over 80 feed businesses across Ireland and covering in excess of 6 million tonnes of compound feed production. A good few miles were travelled up and down Ireland and I enjoyed meeting people in businesses ranging from some of the largest feed mills in Europe to smaller family run operations.”

Throughout his time with NIGTA, Robin recognised the importance of training as an essential element of developing people and the wider trade. Over the years he organised numerous courses, providing support to new entrants and established employees in the feed industry.  “Feed manufacture in Northern Ireland is just one link in a complex global supply chain and we have had great interest in our Trade Awareness courses designed as an induction for new entrants to the trade. The courses are hosted in the Harbour Commissioners offices and focus on the sourcing and shipping of feed materials, the assurance schemes which ensure high standards and safety along the entire supply chain, and the worldwide market for food produced in Northern Ireland.”

This concept of developing people and helping them understand their role within the food chain has been a key element of another training initiative - focused on the environment and   specifically targeted to Northern Ireland it is co-delivered with CAFRE, through the Feed Adviser Register.  “It is testament to the engagement of our members that we have managed to train almost all of the ruminant feed advisers in Northern Ireland, equipping them with the knowledge and tools to address different environmental issues at farm level.  I firmly believe that sustainability in the use of inputs is vital to our future and precision nutrition will continue to be one of the key mitigations as our industry tackles the major global issue of climate change. We consulted widely on the environmental messages and had useful input from a wide range of agencies and government bodies. The effective network of stakeholders and the good communication across all sectors is a major strength of our agri-food industry and is something we were always pleased to participate in.”

Commenting on Robin’s retirement, NIGTA President Niall O’Donnell said, “Robin has provided fantastic leadership and commitment throughout his time as Chief Executive.  Under his direction, NIGTA has grown from strength to strength, and he has expertly steered the Association throughout the years, representing it with distinction.  Amongst his many accomplishments, Food Fortress has been Robin’s greatest legacy, and is now a cornerstone of the local agri-food industry, guaranteeing the integrity of the feed supply chain.  On behalf of NIGTA, I would like to thank Robin for his dedicated service to the industry and the significant impact that he has made, and I wish him and his family all the very best following his retirement.”

Reflecting on his time with NIGTA, Robin said, “I have thoroughly enjoyed representing the Association and count it a privilege to have worked so closely with members and industry colleagues who have always been very supportive and willing to collaborate on positive initiatives for the benefit of the wider agri-food industry.  I wish the Association every success in the future as it continues to navigate the challenges of a rapidly changing world.”

Last week’s Balmoral Show gave farmers a welcome, and long awaited opportunity to take a day away from the farm. The weather was good and everyone across the industry enjoyed meeting,  catching up and renewing friendships. As always the current challenges facing the industry were discussed at length and every show has its big issue - the one that crops up in every conversation. This year farmer concerns about rising input costs was the recurring theme as escalating energy costs threaten to impact on every sector of the economy.

Fertiliser production across Europe is being scaled back in response to escalating gas prices.
Fertiliser production across Europe is being scaled back in response to escalating gas prices.

The dependence of UK industry on gas as the principle energy source has been brought into stark focus in recent weeks as supply concerns and a massive surge in contracted gas quotes have hit the energy market. For feed manufacturers running heavy production plant this represents yet another cost burden to add to a number of inflationary factors which are facing the trade. Freight costs on both land and sea continue to run at high levels and the global grain markets are very firm with all commodities trading significantly higher than last year.

The complex nature of our supply chains has been highlighted and the role of fertiliser manufacture in producing the carbon dioxide essential for the food processing sector has had to be secured by government intervention.

The consolidation of Europe’s fertiliser production in the last twenty years or so means that only a very small number of large scale manufactures remain and two businesses now dominate the market. The principal fertiliser manufacturers, recognising that their product could not be produced at a price which would be viable for their customers have scaled back production with Yara reducing their Ammonia production by 40% across Europe. CF industries decision to suspend production at two plants in England had implications beyond the fertiliser industry and caused an outcry throughout the food chain. The knock-on effect of that closure was that the supply of carbon dioxide – which is a by-product of fertiliser production, was also impacted. The three week window of government support to get these plants back in production has given a breathing space for the CO2 market to adjust but also adds to the stock of fertiliser available for the new season. In the absence of any longer term measures, or of any correction in gas prices the outlook for fertiliser price and availability will be a concern for local farmers. The Autumn requirement for planting winter crops has been met but next Spring will bring challenges. With Asia outbidding the European countries for the gas supplies and South America competing strongly for the limited stocks of fertiliser on the back of a strong global grain market Europe could be significantly short of fertiliser next year.  

The Private Members bill on Climate Change proposed by the Green Party is due to come before the assembly early next week. This bill sets a target of Nett Zero on carbon emissions by 2045 - and if successful will inflict a £1 billion per year income hit on the province’s livestock producers. It can also be expected to result in the loss of up to 50,000 jobs across the processing, agri-supply and ancillary businesses.

Over 100 local feed advisers have undergone environmental training hosted by CAFRE at Greenmount College.
Over 100 local feed advisers have undergone environmental training hosted by CAFRE at Greenmount College.

NIGTA are joining with local farming organisations and Agri-food leaders in calling for politicians to reject the bill when it comes before the Assembly.

“We believe this is an ill- considered and irresponsible Bill which flies in the face of the expert science from DAERA and AFBI - it is at odds with the UK Climate Change Committee advice and it will be devastating for the rural economy” says Niall O Donnell, President of NIGTA . 

“As an industry we are totally behind the efforts to reduce emissions  and our members are actively engaged on a daily basis in promoting sustainable practices throughout the food chain. With over 100 field staff professionally trained and competent to advise on the efficient use of inputs we have been leading the way as one of the first sectors to engage with government in joint initiatives which have had significant success in communicating the environmental messages to farmers.  Feeds and fertiliser manufacturers have made great strides towards protecting our water quality through reducing phosphate applied to land as fertiliser and manures. They have also funded extensive research into feed systems which are proving effective in reducing ammonia emissions to air”.

“We are committed to play our part in the mitigation of climate change and while we agree that the issue should be addressed by the assembly it is vital that the approach is informed by the best available science and with a full understanding of the social and economic impact of the proposed measures”.

“The UK Climate Change Committee guidelines recognise the much greater importance of agriculture in  Northern Ireland and that much of the food produced here is consumed in Great Britain. They have indicated that an 82% reduction in emissions in Northern Ireland will be sufficient for the UK to deliver its target of net zero by 2050. This is a challenging target and is the basis of a bill to be tabled by Minister Poots later this year. These proposals are evidence based - they have undergone an industry consultation and have been subject to an economic risk assessment. While it is inevitable that they too will lead to  some contraction across the agri-food sector as the inefficient operators are forced out of business,  it is believed that they can deliver a sustainable future for both environment and the economy”. 

 

Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine sent shockwaves through global markets, inducing unprecedented volatility and leading to very challenging trading conditions.

Ukrainian port operations have been suspended by the military with reports that at least one port has been damaged by Russian shelling. The full extent of the damage to port and transport infrastructure is yet to be known, but no doubt it will take considerable time to restore and rebuild what has been destroyed. There is uncertainty around how long the war will last, and ports will remain closed until stability has been restored. The major trading and logistics companies have closed their Ukrainian operations and world trade is suffering major disruption as supply chains try to rebalance in response to altered supply and increased demand. 

There is also a risk that the shipping pool will tighten considerably as a result of the recent decision to ban Russian vessels from all UK ports.  This could further exacerbate the logistical challenges of accessing products from other markets such as Europe, creating even more uncertainty in the coming weeks, and is likely to affect all commodities.

Often described as the ‘breadbasket’ of Europe, Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of grains and taken together, Russia and Ukraine account for nearly 30% of global wheat exports. It is a major supplier of maize to the European market and at this time of the year the Black Sea region would be the origin of choice for Northern Ireland importers because the Canadian Lakes are closed and the Brazilian Safrinha crop is still 6 months away. Local traders face major challenges as they strive to secure alternative supplies from a much-reduced global pool at the time of peak seasonal demand for feedstuffs.

The longer-term risk is the potential for spring planting to be disrupted due to difficulties procuring labour, fertiliser, fuel and finance - leading to further supply and demand challenges going forward as well as extreme price volatility.

Russia is the second largest producer of natural gas globally and the biggest supplier to Europe via pipelines that cross Ukraine.  The fertiliser market is heavily reliant on natural gas for production and the strengthening energy markets are suggesting that fertiliser prices are unlikely to ease anytime soon.  Russia is also one of the world’s leading producers and exporters of the three main fertiliser nutrients – nitrogen (N), phosphate (P) and potash (K), owing to its substantial phosphate rock, potash and natural gas reserves.  Last month, Russia imposed a two-month ban on ammonium nitrate exports and the recent sanctions imposed by the UK and Europe against Russian suppliers and vessels will lead to further shortfalls in product supply.  Global fertiliser supplies are already tight which could have knock-on effects for crop yields worldwide.

The conflict is likely to lead to a legacy of logistical challenges even after the war is over – adding to the ongoing impact of the covid-19 pandemic. Never before has the interconnectedness of the world and global supply chains been so apparent and it is difficult to recall another time when we were at the mercy of so many significant external factors beyond our control.

Above all, the humanitarian tragedy currently unfolding in Ukraine is at the forefront of all our minds and our thoughts are very much with the Ukrainian people right now.  We truly hope that a swift and peaceful resolution can be found for their sake most of all.

The global freight market has experienced a year of rapid growth due to increased economic activity post-lockdown accompanied by exponential demand.  However, supply chain disruptions, capacity constraints and covid continue to impact on global logistics with a direct bearing on the availability and cost of inputs.

Earlier in the year, container scarcity, labour shortages, ongoing covid restrictions and congestion at ports reduced supply capacity, which then struggled to cope with the surging demand for container freight.  This led to record container prices and the unusual situation of bulk vessels reportedly being chartered to carry containers.  Pressure on the availability of larger bulk vessels has since eased slightly and the biggest challenge currently rests in the coaster market for smaller vessels, which remains rock solid, making it increasingly difficult to procure nearby freight.  As a result, costs have reportedly skyrocketed to almost four times higher than the previous five-year average, which is impacting on grain markets for wheat and barley in particular.

Fertiliser is another major area of concern as the high energy prices have forced many manufacturers to cease production. With no production capacity on the island of Ireland, all fertiliser supplies arrive by sea and will incur high freight costs on top of prices already massively overcooked as the different regions of the world battle it out to secure the limited tonnage available. Analysts envisage that global distribution problems will continue well into 2022 as the market continues to be short of vessels, the impact of which will be felt across a wide range of materials.

This is contributing to the perfect storm of price increases faced by local livestock farmers, led by grain markets which remain firm with strong global demand for wheat set against tight stocks.  Whilst a bumper Australian crop is anticipated, harvest delays due to rain from the weather phenomenon known as La Niña are causing quality concerns. Wheat prices have been escalating since July, but took a tumble in recent days due to uncertainty around the new covid variant, although this is likely to be short term in nature.  Meanwhile, Russia has imposed a floating tax on exports in an attempt to maintain domestic grain stocks – this is likely to result in higher demand for EU wheat and a further tightening of stock levels in Europe.  Recent Rabobank analysis has suggested that high prices could create the potential for the grain area in Europe to expand in the near future.

The much publicised concerns about the environmental challenges facing the Agri-food industry in recent weeks have  long been recognised by the animal feed sector. “ Sustainability has been a major theme for our businesses for many years” according to Robin Irvine, Chief Executive of the Grain Trade Association. 

The remarkable success of the sector and the growth in livestock production have only been possible through the development of sophisticated nutritional packages and a focus on reducing emissions to air and water. “ Precision Nutrition is the mantra – as we aim to precisely establish the nutritional requirements for growth and production for the different ages and stages of farmed livestock and then supply exactly the nutrients required to support them. Avoiding over-supply of nutrients reduces the potential for surpluses to be excreted in the form of Ammonia, Greenhouse Gasses and Phosphates which are damaging to the environment and can also represent an unnecessary cost to the farm business.”

Precision Nutrition is the key to sustainable milk production – reducing both the environmental impact and the cost of production.
Precision Nutrition is the key to sustainable milk production – reducing both the environmental impact and the cost of production.

This approach has been supported by extensive research programs funded by the trade and carried out by the Agri Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI). “We have been able to establish the long term effects of dietary changes on animal health and productivity and this has enabled greater efficiencies to be achieved in rationing livestock. The use of enzymes has been particularly effective in improving the utilisation of nutrients and synthetic amino acids have been used to good effect in reducing the level of protein used in diets. The management of anti-nutritional contaminants in the supply chain has greatly improved with the introduction of the Food Fortress surveillance program. This identifies substances such as mycotoxins which impact on performance and feed efficiency and advises feed businesses on effective mitigation strategies.

The ongoing genetic improvement and productivity gains from improved husbandry and management practices are also contributing to significant improvements in feed efficiency.  Measures which extend the productive life of a dairy cow - or reduce the age at slaughter for beef animals help reduce emissions from the ruminant sector while making a major contribution to farm profitability.

Local companies are leading the development of innovative feed additives and feeding practices which have the greatest potential to contribute to reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from cattle production. Adjustments to cattle diets, such as achieving the optimum balance of concentrates to forages, as well as the use of feed additives and nutritional supplements, can reduce GHG emissions. There are several methane-reducing feed additives on the market, including products based on garlic and  citrus, clover and coriander seed, 3-Nitrooxypropanol, and seaweeds. The potential of various technologies to reduce emissions ranges from 10% to 90% reduction and is being fully evaluated and costed by the feed industry. Initial findings indicate that it is possible to significantly reduce emissions without limiting herd numbers”.

The Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association recently held their annual general meeting and are pleased to announce a number of changes to the office bearer team. 

Niall O’Donnell has been elected to lead the association as president for the coming year.

Mr O’Donnell is General Manager of United Molasses (Ireland), a position he has held since 2015,  having previously worked in the dairy industry with Aurivo and Donegal Creameries.  As a graduate of both The University of Ulster and Queens University (MBA), Niall has spent his career in a variety of roles in the Agri-Food / Feed industry.

Niall O’Donnell has been elected to lead the association as president for the coming year.
Niall O’Donnell has been elected president of NIGTA for the coming year.

Speaking after the meeting he said “ I am honoured to be entrusted with this position at such a challenging time for the supply trade. NIGTA will continue to engage fully and contribute to the issues facing we face in the Agri-food sector. We are actively working with government to establish practical working arrangements within the Northern Ireland Protocol and our association is committed to build on the success of initiatives which are effectively reducing the emissions from farmed livestock and also reducing the risk of contaminations in the food chain.

Patrick Mc Laughlin, Chief Operating Officer with Devenish Nutrition has been elected Vice President for 2021 - 2022.

Outgoing President, David Garrett welcomed the new appointments and presented a report on the Associations activities in the last year – emphasising that Brexit and Covid-19 have tended to dominate the agenda.

David Garrett reflected on an eventful and challenging term as NIGTA president at the Associations AGM.
David Garrett reflected on an eventful and challenging term as NIGTA president at the Associations AGM.

“In spite of the significant challenges and disruptions to supply we have kept up with deliveries to our farmer customers over the past year. Thankfully a trade deal was agreed between the UK and EU at the end of the year but the Northern Ireland Protocol has brought its own complications and a significant trade barrier with Great Britain. The industry has also had to cope with a highly pathogenic Avian Influenza outbreak and feed businesses and hauliers have had to be particularly vigilant in maintaining bio-security to prevent the spread of this contagious disease. The recurring themes of sustainability and the environment continue to demand our attention and the sustainability of our supply chains is becoming an increasing issue for food businesses. NIGTA is engaged with AFBI and government agencies across a range of environmental initiatives and are actively engaged in the efforts to reduce the influence of feed in Ammonia and Phosphate emissions. The executive continues to lobby government, locally and nationally, on behalf of our members and are seeking ways to have our voice heard in Brussels, given that we remain within the EU Single Market for goods but have no representation or influence there.

I would like to thank all the association’s members who have generously given of their time and expertise during the endless Brexit discussions in the past year and particularly to Lorraine Colgan who has taken over as convenor of our scientific committee. I would also like to thank all involved in our environmental training courses and in running the Food Fortress program which plays such a vital part in safeguarding our supply chains from contamination”.