The recent AFBI Stakeholder Conference gave that organisation’s scientists a tremendous opportunity to highlight the work they are doing and its relevance to the challenges facing the various farming sectors.
I was struck by the repeated references made by many of the speakers and attending delegates regarding the need to ensure that the results of applied research are effectively communicated to farmers and growers.
We can all expect the issue of food security to move centre stage as governments around the world start to develop and implement policies which will ensure that the anticipated 50% increase in the world’s population – due to kick-in over the next 30 years – is fed. Farmers will be expected to meet this need, thereby ensuring that agriculture will be a very exciting industry in which to work over the coming decades.
And it is research scientists that the industry will be looking to in order to develop the new crop and livestock management techniques that will be required to meet this need.
Northern Ireland has a strong track record in producing world class agricultural graduates and research scientists: the reality is that people of this calibre are needed more than ever if our largest industry is to grasp the opportunities that lie ahead.
It might behove the Executive at Stormont (assuming it does re-convene at some stage) to take cognisance of this reality as they assess their business development budgets for the future. Here in Northern Ireland we export 80 per cent plus of the food we produce.
At a very basic level the farming industry needs the research and advisory support required to ensure that farmers continue to make best use of the land they own. But in today’s ultra-commercial world new, proven ideas – in whatever field - are worth money.
So there is no reason why Northern Ireland could not become a centre of agri research excellence, thereby attracting support funding from around the world.
This latter point might be deemed by some as the icing on the cake. However, the bottom line is that, given the opportunities coming our way, agriculture in Northern Ireland will continue to play a pivotal role at the very heart of the local economy.
But in order to fully capitalise on this potential, farmers need access to the local research and advice that will allow them to remain efficient and profitable.