Rebuilding trust is vital: O’Neill

Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill with Ian Marshall and Tony O'Neill at first meeting of the Supply Chain Forum.
Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill with Ian Marshall and Tony O'Neill at first meeting of the Supply Chain Forum.

There is a need to rethink the traditional understanding of the supply chain to rebuild trust across the agri-food industry.

That was the key message from Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill to delegates at a high-level conference of producers, processors, retailers and other senior representatives connected to Northern Ireland’s agri-food industry.

Speaking as she opened the first meeting of the Supply Chain Forum, the minister said: “The challenges we face provide a sharp focus on the nature and structure of the industry, particularly its vulnerability to the volatility of the global market. While the current crisis is caused by factors beyond our control, their impact can be influenced by what we do. While we produce world class food and drink, there are things that we can do better to ensure we are rewarded for the quality of our products.”

The minister tasked the Agri-Food Strategy Board (AFSB) to convene the Supply Chain Forum because she was determined to drive effective communication and collaboration across the agri-food supply chain.

This event, held at the Food Innovation Centre at CAFRE’s Loughry Campus in Cookstown, was attended by producers, processors, retailers, representatives from the food services industry as well as key individuals from the banks and feed merchants.

In her opening remarks, the minister said: “Supply chains have become fragmented. This leads to insufficient margins for all. I want to see all players in the sector sharing equitably in the risks and rewards for their hard work.

“There is a need to revisit the traditional understanding of a supply chain: to build strong relationships between producers, processors, retailers, the food service industry and other key players, such as banks and feed merchants; to improve transparency and communication; and to rebuild trust and confidence across the supply chain.”

The minister told those gathered that many of the industry’s long-term competitors come from outside the island of Ireland, and it is only by working together that the industry here can seek to compete globally.

She added that the Supply Chain Forum must be the starting point in improving communication within the industry.