It goes without saying that agriculture is one of the most significant industries in Northern Ireland and farming is vital for the NI economy.
In July this year the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs produced a report on the Northern Ireland Agri-Food Sector showing that in 2017 Northern Ireland’s total income from farming was £473 million; an impressive 87% increase on the previous year. This was largely due to a recovery in milk prices and a more favourable sterling/euro exchange rate, according to the UFU.
Bank of Ireland UK has been supporting its agri customers through this growth period, listening and responding to business needs to expand their businesses and contribute to the overall growth in the sector.
Niall Devlin, Bank of Ireland UK, commented: “We recognise the huge importance of the agriculture industry here and are committed to doing what we can to help our customers thrive in this sector by offering support, insights and flexible funding to those who are seizing growth opportunities.”
One dairy farmer who has witnessed growth on his own family farm is Phillip Toner from Collone, County Armagh whose family have been Bank of Ireland customers for over 50 years. His farm began as a small holding with a few animals in the 1930s when his grandfather was in charge. Philip has been farming in partnership with his father since 1991 and now continues with his two sons. During that time he has increased from 60 to over 300 dairy cows.
“Bank of Ireland UK’s constant support and my growth plans allowed me to take the farm to where it is today,” said Philip. “They supported my ambition to buy more land and their lending enabled me to diversify the business into poultry farming. We built our first poultry unit in 1991 supplying chicken to Moy Park. Two more units followed in the next 10 years, and most recently we’ve expanded our land base to grow the dairy enterprise.”
Phillip has two sons, Stephen (23) and James (21), who both play a key part in the business. Stephen studied at Greenmount agricultural College and now works full time on the farm while James is currently completing his Degree in Agriculture at Queens University Belfast and also works part time on the farm.
“The communication and support we’ve had from Bank of Ireland has been excellent. James, Stephen and I have plans to grow the business in the future so we look forward to a long and successful relationship with Bank of Ireland.”
Richard Primrose, Agri Manager for Bank of Ireland UK commented: “We are proud to be able to support many farmers like Philip achieve his goals and ambitions for his family run farm. Hardworking farmers like Philip are at the backbone of the agriculture industry in Northern Ireland producing some of the best food the UK has to offer. At Bank of Ireland UK we are keen to play our part in supporting this industry now and in the future.”
In a rapidly changing business landscape it’s more important than ever to innovate and according to a KPMG report published in May, 41% of people in the agribusiness sector agreed innovation is the most important driver of growth.
One such business is Strathroy, a milk processing business operated by the Cunningham family in Omagh.
Today, brothers Patrick and Ruairi are at the helm of the business. They are committed to the constant innovation and continued evolution of their product and brand portfolio. In 2015, they established Biogrid Omagh, an evaporator plant which dries off liquid from excess milk. The evaporated milk is then sold to market or other dairy producers who dry it into milk powder.
In a further step to innovate, Biogrid installed an Anaerobic Digester plant which generates electricity to run both Strathroy and Biogrid’s operations.
Patrick Cunningham, Managing Director NI Strathroy Dairy Ltd, commented: “The significant investment in both of these new technologies, with support from Bank of Ireland UK, has provided our business with flexibility to adapt to changing market conditions and deliver sustainable profitability into the future.
“Bank of Ireland UK have been with us from the very beginning and we have an incredibly trusting relationship. In business, no one wants surprises and we avoid that with very open communication both ways.”
Niall Devlin added: “We are proud to partner with Strathroy Dairies. Building lasting partnerships in business is at the core of what we do at Bank of Ireland. We look forward to working with businesses like Strathroy and developing trusting relationships to navigate for whatever opportunities or challenges that may arise.
“With Brexit on the horizon, there are some challenging times ahead for industry, however, with developments in technology it’s also an exciting time for producers to explore ways to innovate to stay relevant and Bank of Ireland UK is committed to supporting its customers’ opportunities to thrive.”