Innovation in agriculture is essential to maintaining Northern Ireland industry’s competitive position and global reputation.
That was the key message from Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen today when she addressed 800 delegates at the 23rd China Yangling Agricultural Hi-Tech Fair (CAF) – the key theme of which is innovation.
Miss McIlveen is currently on a week-long trade mission to strengthen Northern Ireland agri-food industry’s relationship with China
Speaking in Shaanxi Province, China, Miss McIlveen said: “We in Northern Ireland have an illustrious history of agricultural innovation. From the Ferguson Tractor which underpinned the modernisation of farming practice to world leading electronic animal information systems and some of the most globally important animal and fish vaccines of the past decade - all developed in Northern Ireland. It is commonly accepted that innovation is the lifeblood of any economy and I am pleased to report that Northern Ireland continues to innovate across all sectors of the economy.
“Agri-food remains one of Northern Ireland’s largest manufacturing industries, accounting for 25% of manufacturing exports and directly employing 26% of the total manufacturing workforce. With our excellent reputation for food quality we export almost over 70% of our food to many other countries - we have been exporting our safe, wholesome dairy products to the Chinese people for many years.
“I am particularly proud of the strength of innovation within our agri-food industry. My priorities as Minister are to have a profitable agri-food industry, a healthy environment and a thriving rural economy. Like China, we too are committed to the production of safe food in a sustainable manner.”
Miss McIlveen underlined the high level of scientific support available in Northern Ireland in ensuring the traceability, quality and safety of agri-food.
She told delegates from across the globe: “I place great significance on the availability of evidence-based science to underpin the quality and safety of our food and the sustainability of its production. My Department established and works with the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI).
“My Veterinary Service works closely with the scientists in AFBI and the farming industry, and in recent years this co-operation has succeeded in eliminating Aujeszky’s Disease from pigs and Brucellosis from cattle.
“In addition, the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University in Belfast is a key partner in national and global efforts to provide the world’s growing population with a sustainable, safe and secure supply of high quality food. Both AFBI and Queens University are working with organisations here in China.
“Given the subject of this conference – innovation – I am pleased to report that the Northern Ireland pig industry has worked closely with AFBI over many years to develop innovative technologies to assist in the production of pork products of the highest standards. Information Technology-based data analysis has provided farmers with real-time information on their pig carcases directly from the abattoir through the internet to enable them to make management decisions to ensure maximum uniformity and high quality of subsequent carcases.
“Similarly within the dairy and beef sectors, our farmers work closely with AFBI on a range of innovative technologies, for example, to maximise output from grass. Our extensive outdoor grass-based systems offer a unique advantage in terms of quality, animal welfare and environmental sustainability.
“With this wealth of world class science to underpin our agri-food industry, I am confident that the Northern Ireland agri-food industry will have an important role to play in providing high quality, wholesome food to the people of China, such as our pork, beef, chicken and dairy products.”
Concluding Miss McIlveen said: “We are proud of our farmers, our food processors, our scientists and our vets. Together, they ensure that Northern Ireland’s global reputation for safety, quality and innovation remains intact for the agri-food industry which is so very important to our economy.”