Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen, and Economy Minister Simon Hamilton have met the Chair and members of the Agri-Food Strategy Board (AFSB) for an update on implementation of Going for Growth and key priorities for the Board’s remaining term.
Speaking after the meeting at Stormont, Belfast, Michelle McIlveen said: “Agri-food is one of our most important economic drivers here in Northern Ireland, and will continue to be so.
“It is important that we in Government work together with industry to ensure that the sector is well positioned to achieve – and indeed exceed - the ambitions set out in Going for Growth. That is why Simon Hamilton and I were very keen to meet with the AFSB and discuss progress to date, both from a government and industry perspective. For our part, Simon and I will ensure that both our departments will continue to work closely together in supporting the AFSB and creating a single point of contact for the food industry.
“Since the launch of Going for Growth in 2013, good progress has been made across a range of areas and most of the agreed actions are either complete or on target for completion. Key achievements include opening up a further 49 new markets for the sector, launch of the knowledge transfer element of the Farm Business Improvement Scheme, development of a Sustainable Land Management Strategy, and the work of the TB Strategic Partnership Group to develop a long term strategy for eradicating TB.
“We also took the opportunity to discuss with the AFSB future priorities for the remainder of its term and the challenges and opportunities for the sector in a post-Brexit era.”
Economy Minister Simon Hamilton MLA said: “I am delighted to have had the opportunity to meet with the AFSB, given the significance of the agri-food sector to the Northern Ireland economy. Since the launch of Going for Growth in May 2013, Invest NI has made substantial progress in improving the competitiveness and capability of the processing sector. Over 1,300 financial and advisory projects have been delivered during the period, offering £38 million assistance and levering £442 million of total planned investment. The total investment of £442 million is good progress towards the target of £1billion by 2020, set out in the Going for Growth Strategic Action plan.
“Key achievements which fall within my remit include the establishment of a £6.7 million Agri-Food Quest Competence Centre, with £5 million funded by Invest NI, the extension of Gas to the West, and solutions for the Sustainable Use of Poultry Litter with the creation of a loan scheme which has funded two projects to date.
“I appreciated the opportunity to discuss with the Board the work on an industry-led agri-food marketing body. We have a shared goal of improving promotion of Northern Ireland’s excellent food and drink products.”
Tony O’Neill, chair of the AFSB, said: “It is now three years since the AFSB published Going for Growth, and in that time we have seen encouraging progress made by both government and industry in delivering our vision of a sustainable and profitable agri-food industry. The meeting with both Ministers provided a very useful opportunity to update the two Ministers on that work, and to discuss our remaining priorities.
“In particular, we provided an update to the Ministers on the work we have been undertaking on the development of the new strategic marketing body. It is important that we make sure that the core objectives and focus of the body are appropriate from the start to ensure it can hit the ground running and help our industry make the most of any opportunities arising from the recent Brexit decision.
“We are proud to have helped shape the Farm Business Improvement Scheme, and promoted the Business Development Groups which offer key support in terms of knowledge transfer and capability development. Over the coming months we will continue to progress our livestock genetics initiative and sustainable land management strategy to underpin longer term sustainable growth within the sector.
“Agri-food historically has been central to the economic development of Northern Ireland, and that will remain the case in the future. We have a strong and vibrant industry, and we will be working hard to ensure that continues.”