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.”