Good evening, distinguished guests, past presidents, ladies and gentlemen.

I am honoured to be speaking to you tonight as President of the Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association. It is a privilege for a maiden city boy to be in such an esteemed position in the Northern Ireland agri-food industry.

We gather here tonight to celebrate the agri-supply sector in Northern Ireland and the pivotal role that you all play in ensuring its growth and success.

I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the exceptional circumstances that we have faced in the past few years - but as always, we have stepped up and faced those challenges head on.

During the past 12 months, uncertainty and volatility have dominated the agri-supply trade, largely driven by the devastating war in Ukraine, which has had a profound effect on the entire economy, not least the feed, fertilizer, and energy markets.

Given the importance of Ukraine to global trade, considerable efforts have been made to facilitate the flow of grain from Ukraine, through the European solidarity lanes and the landmark Black Sea Grain Initiative. However, the situation remains fragile and is something NIGTA is closely monitoring.  The invasion has brought the animal feed and fertiliser sectors sharply into focus for all of society and highlighted the vital role our industry plays, as the first link in the food chain, and the valuable contribution that it makes to our agri-food industry, and to Northern Ireland as a whole.

Every sector has faced its own unique challenges, but despite the difficult trading conditions, our entire industry has shown incredible flexibility, agility, and resilience.

When it comes to EU-Exit, NIGTA has been at the forefront of protecting our industry’s best interests, and through the Northern Ireland Business Brexit Working Group, NIGTA has engaged extensively with various officials and stakeholders to bring understanding and influence to issues relevant to the agri-supply sector.  We welcome the Windsor Framework as a step forward and it is reassuring to see that relations have visibly improved between the UK and EU, which we hope will continue, so that pragmatic solutions can be found to the outstanding issues that are being worked on.  In particular, managing regulatory divergence will require properly developed structures and meaningful engagement with business and stakeholders, whereby NIGTA will continue to ensure that the voice of the agri-supply sector is heard.

With the world’s eyes on Northern Ireland this month - reflecting on the peace, prosperity and economic opportunity brought about by the Good Friday Agreement - I hope that it shines a spotlight on the need for clarity, certainty, support, and leadership from Stormont in the years ahead.

Sustainability remains a key priority for NIGTA, with mounting pressure coming from both policymakers and the marketplace.   We are acutely aware of the challenges related to air, soil and water quality, and the risk that environmental targets could become our agri-food industry’s licence to operate, but we are also focused on the opportunities available within the animal feed and fertiliser sectors to help support our farming customers in reducing their environmental footprint to enhance the green credentials of Northern Ireland agri-food.  For many years, we have been proactive in driving forward better nutrient use efficiency, and precision feeding strategies, as well as delivering professional advice at farm level, provided by our FAR accredited feed advisers, but ultimately, widespread industry collaboration will be needed to help deliver the emission reductions required.  Fortunately, within Northern Ireland, we have an excellent track record of the agri-food industry working together for the common good, as demonstrated most recently by the establishment of the industry driven Carbon Steering Group, which is developing a carbon footprint programme for farms across Northern Ireland, because it is only by measuring that we can better manage.

There are green shoots emerging and much to be hopeful about. We want to be part of a region that leads in all areas, rather than one that follows.

By working together, through networks like NIGTA, we are stronger and better equipped to tackle whatever comes our way and by joining forces with others from across the industry we can ensure that our voice is heard, and that politicians and decision makers recognise the true value of what we have to offer.

The success of NIGTA is ultimately the strength and collaboration of its membership.  As such, I would like to recognise the efforts of some specific individuals this evening:

Firstly, Jim Uprichard, who is the chair of our newly established NIGTA Sustainability Committee and has been representing us on the Carbon Steering and Technical Working Groups.  Mary Preston who leads on all things legal and scientific.  Amanda Orr who sits on the UFAS working group, which advances the high-quality assurance standards that underpin our industry.  Declan Billington for the exhaustive role he continues to play in the lobbying efforts around EU-Exit and energy.  Robin Irvine who diligently manages Food Fortress, our world leading feed assurance scheme, which is continuously evolving under Robin’s expert leadership, always with the aim of protecting the food chain and the end consumer.  And most of all, Gill Gallagher, our Chief Executive. Those of you that know Gill will know that she works tirelessly for the betterment of our industry. On behalf of us all, thank you Gill.  Finally, one of the veterans of our feed industry is retiring later this year and we could not let him go without a special mention. George Starrett from John Thompsons & Sons will no doubt be well known to you all in the room this evening. He is a stalwart of our industry, and we would like to pay particular tribute to the significant contribution that he has made to NIGTA for almost half a century.  George has convened our NIGTA Scientific Committee, Chaired the AIC Organics Committee and been an active member of the NIGTA Feed Executive, always giving willingly of his time and expertise to help the Association.  George, we wish you all the very best with what the next chapter has in store.

Tonight, as you are aware, we are supporting Cruse bereavement, a charity that is close to my heart as I have had personal experience of their amazing support. Thank-you for your support.

Finally, I would like to thank you all for coming this evening and propose a toast to NIGTA.

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

“The Association”