Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) President Harry Sinclair has welcomed the Department of Agriculture’s (DARD) annual report on Northern Ireland’s Agri-Food processing sector saying that while the figures are encouraging, the current reality facing farmers cannot be ignored.

UFU President Harry Sinclair said: “The fact that the Northern Ireland agri-food processing sector has continued to grow by 6.4 per cent in 2011 and an estimated 4.2 per cent in 2012, especially since these have been very challenging economic times, is encouraging. The report confirms the crucial role the agri-food industry already plays in the Northern Ireland economy and also highlights that there is great potential for growth. However, the current reality facing farmers cannot be ignored. Farm incomes were hit hard in 2012, falling by 50 per cent, mainly as a result of production costs rising at a startling rate. Profitability remains a very significant issue for Northern Ireland’s primary producers and cannot be overlooked. The very foundations of our agri-food industry are under threat and if the industry is to grow and flourish, this needs to be addressed.”

The potential of the agri-food industry is a hot topic and earlier this year, the Northern Ireland Agri-Food Strategy Board published its recommendations to deliver a further 60 per cent increase in sales, with the aim of reaching £7billion by 2020, largely through export led growth.

Harry Sinclair continued: “It is recognised that there is a very real opportunity for growth and development that should not be missed. The Department’s annual report further supports the work and targets of the NI Agri-food Strategy Board and reaffirms that commitments made by the government are not misplaced.

“However, in order to capitalise on this opportunity there are some significant supply chain issues that need to be addressed. The central message from the Agri-food Strategy Board is that our industry can only really achieve its full potential if we are working within a fully integrated supply chain and that ALL supply chain partners are profitable. More work still needs to be done to ensure primary producers are getting a fair share of market returns and the UFU will continue to press to see that the Agri-Food Strategy Board recommendations are implemented properly.”

DARD’s annual report entitled “Size and Performance of the Northern Ireland Food and Drinks Processing Sector, Subsector Statistics” is available here. The Northern Ireland Agri-Food Strategy Board action plan entitled “Going for Growth” is available here.