AFSB chair updates committees

Tony O'Neill (centrei) with James Withers, Chief Executive of Scotland Food and Drink (left) and Michael Bell
Tony O'Neill (centrei) with James Withers, Chief Executive of Scotland Food and Drink (left) and Michael Bell

AFSB Chair Tony O’Neill met with a joint Committee session of the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee and the Enterprise Trade and Investment Committee recently to provide an update on progressing actions arising from Going for Growth.

Tony O’Neill, accompanied by senior officials from DARD and DETI, was able to inform the Assembly Committees on the key role that the AFSB has played in support of the Government-led actions, including the Farm Business Improvement Scheme, the establishment of the Agri-Food Quest Competence Centre and Food Innovation Centre, as well as an update on plans to develop the new Agri-Food Marketing Body.

Speaking after the meeting, the AFSB Chair said: “The fact that both the Agriculture and Rural Development & the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committees came together to receive an update on Going for Growth demonstrates the importance of the agri-food sector to our politicians and the wider local economy.

“I was able to update them on a number of key actions that are currently being taken forward by the industry and government.

“We have a long-term strategy for the sector and I believe that with the actions that we have taken to date, as well as those still under development, we will be on track to meet the challenging targets that we set for the industry. They will only be met however, as long as we continue to work in collaboration to develop a single supply chain.

“Key to the future of the agri-food sector is a sustainable production base, which is why I told the joint Committees of the importance of securing agreement at EC and DFP level of the Rural Development Programme as soon as possible. The proposed Farm Business Improvement Programme is the cornerstone of the Agri-Food Strategy Board’s vision of the sector.”

Meanwhile, Mr O’Neill recently met with James Withers, Chief Executive of Scotland Food and Drink to hear at first hand the process by which Scotland Food and Drink was established and how the organisation was able to bring the entire Scottish agri-food sector along with it.

The AFSB has been tasked by the former DETI Minister, Arlene Foster to develop a proposal for a new industry-led agri-food marketing body.

The AFSB Chair was also accompanied by Michael Bell, Executive Director of the NI Food & Drink Association.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr O’Neill said: “The Scotland Food & Drink model has worked well for their industry, which has seen significant growth over recent years. This demonstrates the benefit of a strategic approach to the marketing of the entire agri-food sector. If the NI industry is to meet the export driven targets set out in Going for Growth, we need to be in a position to identify and access key markets for the entire industry, as well as developing a unifying brand under which we can all operate.”