Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle O’Neill MLA has welcomed newly released figures on the performance of the local food and drinks processing sector.
The figures were published on Friday in the annual report, ‘Size and Performance of the NI Food and Drinks Processing Sector, Subsector Statistics 2013, with provisional estimates for 2014’.
The minister said: “Let me start by acknowledging the very real financial difficulties facing the agricultural sector at the moment. Talking to dairy farmers yesterday at Stormont I heard at firsthand about the devastating impact of the downturn in milk prices over the past 12 months. I am also fully aware that a number of other farm sectors are hurting because of global market conditions.
“Turning to the figures published today I’m pleased with the positive figures in this report which indicate that the food and drinks processing sector continued to expand its turnover, employment and exports. Gross turnover grew by 5.8% in 2014.”
The minister continued: “The local food and drinks processing sector has been, and continues to be, a real force within the local manufacturing sector. There is clear potential for further growth in this sector in the longer term, driven particularly by growth in export markets seeking high quality, safe and traceable food. It is therefore all the more important that we find a way through the current downturn in farming.
“Looking to the future, I remain committed to helping implement the agreed actions outlined in the Executive’s response to Going for Growth, so that as much as possible of this potential can be realised for the benefit of the wider economy and farmers in particular.In the meantime, I will work collectively with the industry, the Executive and the Agriculture Committee to improve the present situation for our industry.”
The minister concluded, “I am keen to get our draft Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 approved as quickly as possible so that significant support can be rolled out to the industry to help it develop a solid foundation for a sustainable future.”
Agri-Food Strategy Board Chair, Tony O’Neill welcomed the signs of positive growth in turnover and value added, whilst acknowledging that there are significant issues currently facing the sector.
He stated: “The general trends outlined in DARD’s stats make positive reading for the sector and demonstrates that agri-food continues to make a significant and positive contribution to the Northern Ireland economy, providing considerable employment opportunities in rural areas.
“Our Going for Growth strategic action plan targets export-led growth and the fact that external sales made up over 73% of the sector’s turnover in 2013 shows that this is where our future efforts should lie.
“Although the focus of the AFSB is on the longer term sustainability of the sector, we appreciate the significant difficulties facing the industry at this time. Right across agri-food, there are significant pressures on all parts of the supply chain, primarily as a result of volatility in the global marketplace from which no-one is immune. We have seen the impact that this has had, particularly on farm gate prices and producer confidence.
“One of the aims of the AFSB continues to be to explore how the sector can be structured and work together to minimise the impacts that such volatility has on the local supply chain. I am confident that with the right approach, we can secure this in the longer term.”