The Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association has entered the CAP reform debate by telling Farm Minister Michel O’Neill that future Pillar One monies must go to those active farmers with the wherewithal to increase food output.

Speaking at the Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association (NIGTA) Annual Dinner, the organisation’s incoming President  – Alan Johnston – added that agri food in Northern Ireland is on the cusp of a tremendous opportunity for growth.

“But to make this happen, it is vitally important that future CAP support payments should be used to underpin those farm businesses that will provide the additional raw materials required by the processing sector,” he further commented.

Alan Johnston believes that the Going for Growth Strategy, published by the Agri-Food Strategy Board almost a year ago, is the blueprint which the farming and processing sectors must follow over the coming years.

“The key challenge for agri food moving forward is that if achieving sustainable expansion. This means producing safe food in ways that align Northern Ireland with more environmentally friendly production and processing practises. In turn this will require a fundamental change in the way every sector within the the agri food chain goes about its business. However, I am more than confident that we can all meet this challenge head on,” he stressed.

Alan Johnston also highlighted the work now ongoing at Queen’s University, Belfast to provide a ‘Fortress Food’ compound feed assurance scheme. “This ground breaking initiative is already ensuring that livestock farmers in Northern Ireland have access to a uniquely safe feed supply chain,” he said. “And, of course, this will have tremendously beneficial implications for our food industry as a whole. Every sector within Northern Ireland’s agri food chain must be inherently profitable. And, obviously, this includes farmers. One of the biggest challenge already facing primary producers is that of volatility. And it goes without saying that measures must be put in place to allow farmers cope effectively with these extreme market shifts.”

Alan Johnston made his speech against the backdrop of the 5½% increase in compound animal feed tonnages that were manufactured in Northern Ireland during 2013. The actual figure for the year was 2.3 million tonnes.

“A tremendous opportunity now exists to significantly develop the agri food industry here in Northern Ireland. But to make this happen we need to see the implementation of the Going for Growth Strategy and the ongoing endorsement of the Fortress Food feed assurance scheme.”