First meeting of new Supply Chain Forum takes place at Cookstown

Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill with Ian Marshall and Tony O'Neill at first meeting of the Supply Chain Forum.
Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill with Ian Marshall and Tony O'Neill at first meeting of the Supply Chain Forum.

The first meeting of the new Supply Chain Forum is taking place at Cookstown today.

A need to rethink the traditional understanding of the supply chain to rebuild trust across the agri-food industry was the key message from Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill (pictured) to delegates at the high-level conference of producers, processors, retailers and other senior representatives connected to agri-food industry in Northern Ireland.

Processors, retailers, banking industry, feed sector and farmers attending the first meeting of the newly established Supply Chain Forum.

Processors, retailers, banking industry, feed sector and farmers attending the first meeting of the newly established Supply Chain Forum.

Speaking at she opened the first meeting of the new forum, the Minister said: “The challenges we face provide a sharp focus on the nature and structure of the industry, particularly its vulnerability to the volatility of the global market. While the current crisis is caused by factors beyond our control, their impact can be influenced by what we do. While we produce world class food and drink, there are things that we can do better to ensure we are rewarded for the quality of our products.”

The Minister tasked the Agri-Food Strategy Board (AFSB) to convene the Supply Chain Forum because she was determined to drive effective communication and collaboration across the agri-food supply chain. Today’s event, held at the Food Innovation Centre at CAFRE’s Loughry Campus in Cookstown, was attended by producers, processors, retailers, representatives from the food services industry as well as key individuals from the banks and feed merchants.

In her opening remarks, the Minister said: “Supply chains have become fragmented. This leads to insufficient margins for all. I want to see all players in the sector sharing equitably in the risks and rewards for their hard work.

“There is a need to revisit the traditional understanding of a supply chain: to build strong relationships between producers, processors, retailers, the food service industry and other key players, such as banks and feed merchants; to improve transparency and communication; and to rebuild trust and confidence across the supply chain.”

Pictured are guest speakers, front row (left-right) Claudine Heron, W&R Barnett, Sarah Coleman, IGD, Minister Michelle O'Neill and Tony O'Neill, Chair of Agri-food Strategy Board. Back row (left-right) Prof Chris Elliot, QUB, Tom Forgrave, Farmer and David Wright, IFJ.

Pictured are guest speakers, front row (left-right) Claudine Heron, W&R Barnett, Sarah Coleman, IGD, Minister Michelle O'Neill and Tony O'Neill, Chair of Agri-food Strategy Board. Back row (left-right) Prof Chris Elliot, QUB, Tom Forgrave, Farmer and David Wright, IFJ.

The Minister told those gathered that many of the industry’s long-term competitors come from outside the island of Ireland, and it is only by working together that we can we seek to compete globally.

She added: “We have a clear strategy - called Going for Growth. It is based on the premise of a single supply chain - integrated, sustainable and profitable - focussed on delivering the needs of the market. It calls on government and industry to work together and is about adding value across the supply chain by meeting the customers’ needs.

“This requires a new approach, a new mindset even, to ensure we all work more closely. We need to produce the right food at the right time for our customers. The only way to do this is by ensuring that all parts of the supply chain know what they are supposed to be doing and understand the impacts that their operations have on the rest of the supply chain. This can only be achieved through enhanced two-way, continuous communication.”

The Minister said the Supply Chain Forum must be the starting point in improving communication within the industry. Delegates at the conference received a number of presentations designed to illustrate the market context and to highlight what it is that the market wants.

The Minister concluded: “Be in no doubt, I am committed to the long-term sustainability of the entire agri-food sector. I am working hard to open up new markets. I have secured the largest ever Rural Development Programme funding which will provide farmers with the skills, training and investment that they need to improve how they produce; and provide processors with financial support to innovate. I will continue to promote and represent the interests of the sector, whether at home or abroad. But it is only in partnership with the industry, that we can deliver the full potential of our agri-food sector.”

Chairman of the Agri-Food Strategy Board Tony O’Neill said: “In Going for Growth, AFSB was clear in its assertion that for the agri-food sector to achieve long term sustainability, the key was for the supply chain to work together, working as one. It is with this in mind that we called together representatives from all parts of the sector to this Supply Chain Forum to encourage collaboration and improve communication across the sector.

“Today’s session has been important in that through honest open discussions, we have been able to identify areas where we believe that there is room to improve how we work together. Most importantly of all, we are all agreed that things can improve and everyone at the Forum today is committed to delivering a stronger, more sustainable supply chain.”