UFU deputy president Ian Marshall has confirmed that the report of the Agri Food Strategy Board will be published in March.
The new body was established by Farm Minister Michelle O’Neill last year to develop a coherent development plan for Northern Ireland’s farming and food sectors,
Mr Marshall, pictured, who represents the union on the board, added: “And we will meet this deadline. I am confident that the recommendations of the Board will make a positive difference for the farming and food sectors in Northern Ireland moving forward.
“It’s also worth pointing out that the final report will not simply be a re-write of the Harvest 2020 strategy produced in the Republic of Ireland. While this has certain merits, we will be taking the specific requirements of the farming and food sectors in Northern Ireland fully into consideration when it comes to agreeing our final recommendations.”
Meanwhile, Agri Food Strategy Board member David Dobbin has indicated that the organisation’s final report will focus on further growth in the local dairy industry. The dairy sub group, whose draft recommendations are still being considered, believes that the emphasis in dairy farming should be on growth in the total dairy solids being produced rather than the literage of milk.
The dairy sub group has also looked at further growth in the processing sector and how the value added can be increased. In overall terms the sub group is seeking to maintain the current growth trajectory achieved over recent years which is circa two to three per cent per annum.
Significantly, the body’s final recommendations will also address three cores issues which are having a major impact on every local dairy farm: fast rising input costs, market volatility and efficiency.
The United Dairy Farmers chief executive went on to point out that a major proportion of the increased output achieved by local milk producers over the past numbers of years had been ‘feed’ based.
“With feed costs rising to record high levels we must maximise our use of grassland which has slipped backwards over the last decade,” he added.
On the subject of market volatility, Mr Dobbin confirmed that the Agri Food Strategy Board is looking at the feasibility of price hedging mechanism or longer term contracts, which would serve to remove the extreme peaks and troughs that had so characterised farm gate returns over recent years.
“Such a system would allow local farmers and processors to better plan their businesses for the future,” he commented.
“More importantly milk producers need margin stability not just price stability as they plan for the coming years and an effective hedging/contract system incorporating input costs such as feed and fertilizer could help deliver this for them.”