The milk sector must remain competitive and profitable, and innovation is key, according to Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) deputy Secretary, Louise Warde Hunter, who was speaking at today’s the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBIdairy conference.

She added: “The milk industry must exploit the opportunities that lie ahead. These include the rise in world population and the commensurate growth in consumption.  Northern Ireland’ has a proven track record in produce food safely and meeting the highest environmental standards.

“Innovation, research and development will be at the core of the policies for the future of dairy sector. Innovation strategy will be published before the summer. However, we need to see a cultural in terms of achieving innovation change. Unfortunately, Northern Ireland currently lies near the bottom of the innovation driver league in the UK. This situation must be fundamentally changed if industry as a whole is to secure the potential for growth that undoubtedly lies ahead.”

Warde Hunter went on to point out that the drawing down of increased EU funding, which is targeted specifically at improving innovation levels, must be made a priority moving forward.

“The Horizon 2020 programme will be the main vehicle for this.  It has the potential to allow the agri-food sector develop new technologies, which will help deliver new markets and a growing customer base,” she commented.

“Growth within the dairy sector must be sustainable. And I know that the research team at AFBI are already working on this.

“Crucially, farmers must improve grassland efficiency.”

Warde Hunter then went on to point out that the Stormont Executive will deliver its response to the Going for Growth Strategy, which was unveiled by the AFBI almost a year ago, in the very near future.

She concluded: “There has already been significant collaboration between the relevant government departments on this matter. The response from the Government will be positive. But it will focus on the absolute necessity of driving innovation within the dairy and other agri-food sectors.”