With a strategic review of the NI agri-food sector due to be complete by the middle of October, Sir Peter Kendall, the former NFU president who is leading the review team, has given an insight into some of the challenges and changes that lie ahead.
Contributing to last Friday’s NI Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) conference, Kendall highlighted the opportunity to exploit NI as a food tourism destination, and said he looked on enviously at the research and educational resources available to NI agri food.
However, he also said big challenges lie ahead, driven by climate change and wider environmental targets.
“We can’t have watercourses damaged by slurry. You will have to reduce ammonia emissions,” he said.
The Kendall-led review has a wide remit, but two long-running issues are expected to come to the fore – the need for a marketing body to promote NI food, and a grant scheme to support food processing.
When asked about the marketing body, Kendall said it cannot be an excuse to carry on doing what you always have, suggesting it will need to be underpinned by strong verifiable standards going back to farms. “Certify that you have the best traceability, food etc. and then you can brag about it,” he said.
On the issue of a processing grant, he was also pretty vague, pointing out that government spending is under pressure, so it will have to deliver something innovative and new. That could involve more automation in processing, or schemes that deliver higher environmental sustainability or contribute to the drive to net zero carbon emissions.
While Kendall wasn’t giving too much away at the NIFDA event, his colleague in the review team, Dr Clive Black from financial services business, Shore Capital Markets, made more pointed remarks.
He said all farms will have to measure what they do in terms of inputs and outputs.
“The NI food industry has to embrace measurement – you can be world leading in animal welfare, sustainability. It is an enormous opportunity, but it will require discipline, and involvement. If you keep your head in the sand, you will suffocate,” he said.