Working together across the beef industry is essential to achieving the modernisation and improvement which benefits the sector as a whole.
That was the central message from Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen when she delivered her keynote address to the Progressive Beef Production Conference in County Antrim on Thursday.
Speaking during the conference at the Greenmount Campus of the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE), the Minister said: “Today’s conference shows the benefits that can be achieved through positive collaboration across all organisations associated with the beef sector.
“Developing knowledge within the industry is fundamental to the progress of the whole industry.
“Working together on research, technology and knowledge transfer provides the building blocks which will take the industry forward and this conference encourages us all to think about how we can improve the efficiency, profitability and sustainability of our farm businesses which, in turn, will boost the entire sector.”
The conference is a joint initiative between CAFRE, Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU), Agri Food Bioscience Institute (AFBI) and Livestock and Meat Commission for Northern Ireland (LMC) and focuses on new development opportunities from both practical farming and scientific viewpoints.
Attended by some 300 farmers, industry representatives, agriculture researchers as well as students and advisors from CAFRE, the conference aims to highlight practical experiences of delegates on more efficient production methods.
Miss McIlveen said: “As one of the most successful economic sectors in Northern Ireland, agri-food remains one of our largest manufacturing industries, accounting for 25% of our manufacturing exports and directly employing 14% of its workforce.
“The red meat sector is the largest agri-food subsector generating an income of £1.3 billion and so it is critical to maintain the sector’s competitiveness and sustainability. There are several factors which influence this, including the technical efficiency of production, access to underpinning research, the adoption of new technologies and the quality of our raw material.”
Miss McIlveen highlighted the role her Department and the Northern Ireland Executive plays in supporting the industry by delivering Advance Payments, funding for research and running the Farm Business Improvement Scheme (FBIS).
She said: “In October, I launched the FBIS Capital Scheme which aims to support capital investment in the industry. 3,000 farmers are already availing of the earlier FBIS Knowledge Transfer Schemes through Business Development Groups and Farm Family Key Skills. There are almost 1,300 beef farmers participating and I welcome their willingness to share knowledge and skills.
“I am very aware that the income from Area-based payments is important to the beef industry and I trust that the introduction of advance payments was helpful this year. In addition, I am committed to paying at least 95% of eligible Basic Payment Scheme applicants in December.”
The Minister went on to say: “My Department funds research at AFBI into areas which directly benefit the primary production sector. We are unique by having CAFRE’s education, training and knowledge and technology transfer provision which aims to underpin sustainable beef production.
“Genetics provides the perfect opportunity for collaboration. There is ongoing work, led by the AFBI, in co-operation with the UFU, NIMEA, LMC, DairyUK, and Agrisearch, into the development of proposals for a Northern Ireland agri-hub. The potential exists for Northern Ireland to become a world leader in this area, and world class genetics will deliver world class animals.”
The Minister added: “My vision for our industry is a profitable, efficient and sustainable one.
“Improving production efficiency will not only improve the technical performance of beef production systems and lower costs, it can also help to meet broader sustainability objectives and deliver better environmental outcomes.”