Agri-food firms can thrive by going green, say industry leaders

Farmers and food producers here can thrive by going green if more is done to help these businesses make climate transition a strategic priority, the chief executive of Northern Ireland’s leading dairy co-op said on Thursday at the Balmoral Show’s flagship corporate event.

Nick Whelan, Group Chief Executive of Dale Farm and Chair of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA), called for a new era of collaboration between industry and government in order to help agri-food firms fulfill their green ambitions and reduce carbon emissions.

Mr Whelan was speaking at the Ulster Bank lunch in the show’s President’s Lounge, as part of a panel which also included Mr. Justin Coleman, Agri Business and Live Production Services Director at Moy Park, and Ulster Bank Senior Agriculture Manager, Cormac McKervey.

Nick Whelan said: “The biggest challenge we must face as an industry in the years ahead is the need to continue to feed a growing world population in the most sustainable way.

“Dale Farm takes this challenge seriously and sustainability is at the heart of everything we do as a dairy cooperative – from environmental sustainability through to the economic sustainability of our members’ farms.

“For agri-food as a whole, innovation, investment and data gathering will be key to ensuring the industry plays its part in achieving UK net zero. It will also require a new era of collaboration between industry and government, and we look forward to engaging with the new Assembly on these issues.”

Representing Moy Park at the event, Agri-Business Director Justin Coleman spoke at length about the importance of sustainability to the industry. “We have always been led by evolving consumer trends and what is very clear is that today’s consumer wants to see businesses make stronger commitments in this area.

“At Moy Park we have the advantage of an integrated supply chain, which assists us in being able to work more closely and more effectively with our growers and customers. This in turn is helping us press on with our pledge to net zero by 2040, a commitment which has been validated by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi).”

Ulster Bank’s Head of Northern Ireland, Mark Crimmins, commented: “The Ulster Bank lunch at Balmoral Show has become a key event in the calendar for senior figures from within the agri-food industry.

“We’ve always had first class speakers and it has grown into a useful forum for raising and discussing important ideas and issues relevant to the sector. Both Nick and Justin provided valuable insights for our invited audience, and we are grateful that they took the time to participate in the event.

“What the contributions of Nick and Justin have really highlighted is the importance of partnership within the agri-food sector and it is imperative that farmers feel supported as they make the transition to a new, greener economy. Ulster Bank is strongly committed to providing this support so that all businesses, regardless of size or scale, have access to the tools and funding they need to make the most of the opportunities which switching to greener business practices can present. That’s why we have introduced a range of green loan options for our business customers in Northern Ireland.

“It’s reassuring to see other businesses echo this message and once again, we are grateful that our principal sponsorship of the Balmoral Show affords us this level of engagement with leaders in the industry.”

The Ulster Bank lunch at Balmoral Show is now in its 12th year and has welcomed speakers including Keelings Retail Chief, David Keeling; ABP Managing Director, George Mullan; and Professor Grainne Allen, Head of Product Development at Marks and Spencer.

Nick Whelan is Group Chief Executive of Dale Farm, Northern Ireland’s largest dairy cooperative owned by 1,300 dairy farmers. Nick has been at the helm of operations since 2016 and in that time has steered the company through a number of challenges including Brexit negotiations and the Covid 19 pandemic. Under Nick’s leadership, Dale Farm has experienced record levels of growth, thanks to continued reinvestment into its domestic and international business.

Justin Coleman joined Moy Park in 2014 and has held a number of roles within the organisation before being appointed Agri Business and Live Production Services Director. He has responsibility for overseeing the hatcheries and feedmills, and has a strong track record of leading innovation and improvement within the firm by working to deliver a sustainable, secure and best in class performance. Prior to joining Moy Park, Justin had extensive experience working with international customers and supplying retail outlets through roles with Finlay’s Horticulture and Waitrose.

Ulster Bank has a long history of being involved with the Balmoral Show and became principal sponsor of the event in 2009. Further information about Ulster Bank is available at