One of the most striking features of the Balmoral Show is the number of small and artisan businesses that now exist locally, and are helping to ensure NI is well known for excellence in food and drink.

Some of these may well grow into quite substantial businesses in the next 10 years, creating jobs and generating wealth in the local economy.

But we must not lose sight of the fact that it is companies like ABP, Foyle, Dunbia, WD Meats, Dale Farm, Lakeland, Karro, Moy Park etc that are still the backbone of the agri-food industry in NI.

They are companies that rarely get too much attention outside of agricultural media. In fact, if you listen to those tasked with promoting food and drink exports from NI, you might even be forgiven for thinking we are a region that concentrates on producing whiskey, tea, vegetarian and vegan foods, as well as various nuts and healthy snacks.

Yet the reality is that around 75% of the gross output from the NI agri-food industry is produced by processors of beef, lamb, milk, pigs, poultry and eggs.

In addition, there is a massive difference in the value to the wider economy of a food company that buys its raw materials off local farms, to one that ships in its raw material from Europe and beyond. Farmers circulate the money they receive for cattle, sheep etc into the rural economy. If your primary supply chain is located elsewhere, the positive impact you are having on others around you is much less.

In our politically correct society, which is becoming further removed from farming and increasingly attaches human emotions to animals, there is a danger we have become almost embarrassed to promote what we do. Our agri-food industry is largely based on animal agriculture because we have a climate ideally suited to efficiently producing top-quality livestock products.

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