IAgrM Newsletter February 2021
2 | www.IAgrM.org.uk On Thursday 28th January 2021, The Institute held a 60 minute CPD session entitled ’Northern Ireland’s Agri-Food Industry in 2030.’ The online event generated significant interest with over 140 attendees, from a range of backgrounds all logging on to hear from key speakers Justin McCarthy, editor of the Irish Farmer’s Journal and Conall Donnelly, Executive Director of the Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association. The speakers acknowledged that it was a time of great uncertainty and that it was particularly difficult to predict how events would unfold in the next ten years. However both speakers also stressed that at this time of change there are also significant opportunities for the industry to grasp. Conall stressed that Brexit was an ongoing process. The emphasis on quick fixes of the recent past has gone, and now there is the long and challenging road ahead to establish new stable and profitable trading patterns. Justin talked about the importance of the GB market to NI farmers and producers, highlighting that consumers in GB spend one of the lowest percentages of their income on food when compared globally. The expectation of cheap food will be ongoing, however already there are added costs in delivering food products from NI to the marketplace. The place of science and technology is paramount to continue to give a profitable edge to farming. The farming sector needs to embrace science and work hard to harness its benefits. The industry faces great demands from the public to produce food in a sustainable manner and farmers need new knowledge and technology to meet these challenges. Clean air, clean water, healthy soil and a reduced carbon load are all in the list of demands. It can be achieved, but will require ongoing change and learning throughout the industry. Justin considered the options for structural change in the industry. The production of beef from suckler cows is a feature of the industry in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In the local context this sector can only continue to contribute to the NORTHERN IRELAND’S AGRI-FOOD SECTOR LOOKS TO 2030 overall economy if there is financial support for the primary producer. Without effective future support mechanisms for the beef and sheep sectors there is likely to be greater movement to increased production of milk and grain in certain lowland areas. Both speakers stressed the need to respond positively to the challenges arising in the coming decade. Underlying this was the increased availability of cheaper food on the world market and the inevitability of the UK Government developing trade deals with at least some of the economies who would be delighted to supply the food demands of the UK consumer. How this aspect develops over the decade will probably be the biggest single factor affecting the local Agri-Food industry. The event was concluded with a question and answer session during which there was a strong focus on how the industry could work together to achieve the demands for improved environmental and financial sustainability.