Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) president Ivor Ferguson has called for the immediate setting-up of a new, over-arching marketing organisation for farming and food in Northern Ireland.
The establishment of such a body was one of the key recommendations contained within the Going for Growth strategy, published by the Agri-Food Strategy Board in 2013.
“The principles contained within the proposal to go ahead with a new marketing organisation were broadly accepted by all the political parties and the various stakeholder groups back then,” Mr Ferguson further explained.
“Obviously, we have had the subsequent suspension of the Assembly and Executive at Stormont to contend with. But this should not be used as a barrier by the relevant government departments to hold up progress on this crucially important matter.”
Mr Ferguson was speaking at the launch of the 2019 Farming Life Awards.
“It’s my understanding that the hold-up in the establishment of the new marketing body is all about money,” he continued.
“But given the many challenges now facing agriculture and food here in Northern Ireland, this should not be allowed to be the case.”
Mr Ferguson stressed the need for the farming and food sectors to secure new markets, particularly in light of Brexit coming down the track.
“We already punch well above our weight in this regard,” he said.
“But we could do so much more. I welcome the news that beef from Northern Ireland will soon be on its way to China. But the question is: how do we further develop opportunities of this nature in order to make a real and positive difference for our farmers and food processors here in Northern Ireland?”
The Union president confirmed that the establishment of a new marketing body would allow Northern Ireland to have a full-time presence in all the world’s premier food markets.
He added:“This is something that we just cannot do at the present time.”
Mr Ferguson believes that the sectoral marketing bodies already operating, such as the Livestock and Meat Commission, can continue to play a vital role for the farming and food industries as a whole.
“It’s all about adding to the resources that we already have on the ground,” he concluded.
LMC will play a critically important role as part of the over-arching responsibilities assumed by the new food marketing body for Northern Ireland, according to the organisation’s chairman Gerard McGivern.
“The establishment of the new body is one of the core proposals put forward by the Agri-Food Strategy Board,” he said.
“LMC plays a critical role within the redmeat sector. This encompasses the provision of wide ranging market intelligence, promotion and marketing services that have been specifically designed to meet the needs of farmers, processors and retailers.
“In addition, the Commission has ownership of the Farm Quality Assurance Scheme, which is recognised by stakeholders as delivering tremendous value along the entire length of the agri food chain, where beef and lamb are concerned.”
According to Mr McGivern, the LMC will also play a critical role in securing new market access for beef and lamb produced in Northern Ireland, post-Brexit.
“And we already have a strong track record in making this happen. The UK currently enjoys a free trade agreement with the rest of the EU. And in this context the Commission has been consistently active in helping to secure new market outlets for local red meat businesses.”