Ulster Farmers’ Union president Ivor Ferguson has said he was delighted to welcome over 300 guests, including UFU members, key representatives from the agriculture industry, and leading politicians from our local political parties to the UFU’s annual dinner, which was held in the Lough Erne Hotel last week.
Notable guests included Ian Wright CBE, Chief Executive of the Food and Drink Federation; Denis McMahon, DAERA permanent secretary; Norman Fulton, DAERA deputy secretary; and Richard Percy, NFU Mutual Chairman as well as representatives from the National Farmers’ Union, NFU Scotland, and NFU Cymru.
“The UFU annual dinner is a night of celebration,” said Mr Ferguson. “Northern Ireland has an impressive story to tell when it comes to food and drink. We produce some of the highest quality food in the world and our family farming structure is unique and the envy of the world.
“It is concerning to hear some MPs at Westminster, mostly staunch Brexiteers, pushing to open the UK market to cheaper, lower standard food imports. UK food prices are the third lowest in the world, and yet consumers enjoy some of the highest environmental and animal welfare standards. Opening up our home market to cheaper imports would have serious consequences for farmers and their businesses in Northern Ireland. Retailers have faith in the food we produce and more importantly, so do consumers. Our politicians would do well to follow their lead.”
The UFU president went on to say he was disappointed by Northern Ireland’s political stalemate.
“We have heard the excuses but it is time Northern Ireland had a functioning devolved government again. Farming and food play a large part in the Northern Ireland economy and civil servants are making their own rules to the detriment of the farming industry. Poultry farmers are only the latest ones to suffer at the hands of an overzealous department,” he said.
Following the president’s address, the Belfast Telegraph Cup for outstanding agricultural achievement was awarded to Thomas Gilpin.
Mr Ferguson continued: “Thomas Gilpin is the founder of Gilfresh produce, whose wealth of experience and innovative ideas, has helped put Northern Ireland on the map as a major vegetable growing region. Through Thomas’ dedication and commitment his vegetable growing and processing enterprise has grown from a mere 4.5 acre field in 1965 to a multimillion operation with an annual turnover of approximately £18 million. Providing employment for 130 people at the company’s processing site located at Loughgall in Co Armagh, Thomas has been instrumental in securing contracts with multinational retailers such as Tesco and Lidl helping put Northern Ireland vegetable produce on the shelves of supermarkets across the world.”
The UFU also presented two other awards on the night. The Mary Wilson Trophy for best overall UFU group performance in 2018 was presented to the South West Down group. This award recognises the group’s outstanding performance in membership recruitment; securing subscription income; their successful delivery of group meetings and social events throughout the year; and supporting UFU competitions and group publicity.
Mr Ferguson said: “Last year, the South West Down group were highly commended for their fantastic 2017 results. This year group managers Sarah Macauley and Diane Simpson have pulled out all the stops and gone that step further to win the Mary Wilson trophy for 2018.”
The Cuthbert Trophy was awarded to the West Antrim group for retaining the highest percentage of their members in 2018. The dedication and commitment shown by the group managers and their staff over the year have enabled them to achieve a retention rate of over 99.71%.
“I would like to congratulate group managers Ivan Johnston, Hilary Maybin and Linda McNeilly on their impressive retention rate and all the work they do for UFU members. Unfortunately, this is Ivan Johnston’s last year with the UFU as he plans to retire at the end of 2019. Ivan has given over 30 year’s service along with his esteemed colleague Ivan Tierney, fondly known as ‘the two Ivans’. Sadly, Mr Tierney passed away earlier this year after a long illness but this award is a testament to the commitment shown by both men to their members in West Antrim. We would like to wish Mr Johnston and his family a long and happy retirement,” he added.