Michele Shirlow – Farm Week Column

Minette Batters, the first woman elected President of the National Farmers Union (NFU), had some important points on the future of farming and food in Britain in her first major speech. I’d certainly endorse the points she made and especially those on the need for the UK Government to put the industry at the front and centre in its negotiations on Brexit.

The industry is deeply concerned about what complete withdrawal from the EU will mean especially in terms of business with the Republic of Ireland.

The NFU President is also keen to see a greater focus on measures to ensure that UK food and drink is preferred by shoppers and by foodservice organisations. This is, of course, priority for Food NI….and has been since the establishment of the body, which is fundamentally an immensely experienced single marketing agency in Northern Ireland. And we’ve been successful in promoting local food and drink in both retail and foodservice across Northern Ireland. We also have close contacts with over 400 member companies and other producers.

What Food NI is doing increasingly successfully is to reconnect farming and food with Northern Ireland people and through events, such as the Year of Food and Drink, to celebrate the reasons why people here should be very proud of our conscientious and dedicated farmers and excellent food producers and their achievements in terms of innovation, traceability, transparency and sales outside Northern Ireland. I believe our food and drink is the best available across the UK and Ireland…and has immense potential for even greater success in the future.

We are now deploying this experience to help more companies to explore the considerable business opportunities in Britain. And we are keen to do more…much more to aid the growth there of smaller food and drink producers in particular.

Minette Batters has urged the government to work with Team Agriculture to ensure the long-term growth of farming and food. There’s need for a similar approach in Northern Ireland that’s linked to Team Agriculture in Britain. As well as working with our colleagues in Britain we must continue to foster links with the Republic of Ireland, our biggest export market and the home of many businesses with operations in Northern Ireland. Our meat processing and dairy sectors, in particular, are closely linked to the Republic. The present and future of our farming and food processing sector must be solidly based on teamwork.

Food NI would also support the NFU president’s mission to take British farmed food and drink, the best in the world, and open it to export markets in a what she described as a “new agricultural revolution”.

And we’d also endorse her call to the government “not turn our back on the EU market because of its importance for farmers and food processors, important substantial amounts of our meat, poultry, dairy and seafood. She’s right when she says that it’s “vital we have zero-tariff, frictionless trade with the EU market place” and why we must pull together to address any threat to farming and food from lower standard imports under any future trade deals.