2018 will be a year of many challenges for the province’s agri-food sector – and not least in the area of farm supplies according to Keith Agnew president of the Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association – the organisation which represents local feed and fertiliser distributors.
“The incoming year should see new trade arrangements and the shape of future agricultural policy for the United Kingdom evolving, as it looks to a future outside the European Union,” says Dr Agnew.
“Our food businesses are very dependent on exports and their ability to compete in the world market for milk and meat products is critical to the local economy. But trade is a two-way flow and we must not forget that our livestock producers depend on imports of well over two million tonnes of feed materials. We need access to the global market for grains and proteins on favourable terms to ensure a competitive cost base for local farmers. In mainland UK the situation is significantly different with a substantial arable sector producing a high level of self-sufficiency in grains. This is an area where Northern Ireland is vulnerable and we continue to stress the importance of these inward trade flows in our meetings with DEFRA and other government departments.
“An area of immediate concern, as we embark on the New Year, is the supply of the key vitamins essential to animal health and performance. A fire in a major manufacturing plant for Vitamins A, D and E has caused a global shortage of these nutrients. The loss of production from the BASF facility in Germany will take several months to restore and the company have declared Force Majeure on their customer contracts. Suppliers of premixes and supplements to feed businesses are working with their customers to minimize the risk of welfare issues in the most vulnerable species.
“The work of the association in protecting the food chain from contamination continues to provide an unparalleled level of assurance and the Food Fortress program has been acclaimed as world leading. We look forward to further development of the Food Fortress brand and to working with our food chain partners to add value and competitive advantage to milk and meat products from Northern Ireland.
“One of the key events planned for the coming year will be the launch of an environmental training program for feed advisors and sales specialists. The environmental impact of intensive livestock farming needs to be fully understood and carefully managed to ensure the sustainability of food production.
“As suppliers of farm inputs, the Associations members have an important part to play in helping farmers tackle issues such as phosphate balances and ammonia emissions.
“This training program is designed to equip field staff with the knowledge and practical skills to deliver key messages, relating to the use of feed and fertiliser, within sustainable livestock production systems.
“The New Year starts, however, with our businesses focussed on the day to day challenges of meeting the high demand for feed ,as most livestock sectors enjoy a period of improved profitability and growth. The priority for the trade in 2018 will continue to be the production of cost effective nutritional packages for all species to support an efficient and competitive livestock sector in Northern Ireland,” says Dr Agnew.