Northern Ireland's political heavyweights descended on south Belfast yesterday for the second day of the Balmoral Show.
Among Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew's guests at the traditional DARD breakfast were Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and MEP Bairbre de Brun, as well as guest of honour Mary McAleese, the first Irish President to attend the event.
Meanwhile, Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster addressed business and food sector leaders at an Ulster Bank lunch at the Arena Suite as stunt motorcyclists flew through the sky outside.
And members of the Stormont Agriculture Committee competed for public attention with a very vociferous Titan the Robot as they convened in the Assembly tent.
Later, a smorgasbord of yodelling from a live Hugo Duncan broadcast kept the crowds of visitors energised as the rain began.
At the DARD breakfast, President McAleese spoke of the importance of presenting a single face to the world as part of a shared island and commended the joint work that has already taken place in the agricultural sector, including the development of an all Ireland Animal Health Strategy.
She reminisced about her childhood visits to the Balmoral Show, brought by a country-born father who was worried that he would rear “city children with patent shoes and sticky-out skirts”, and was determined that they would know the difference between a cow and a bullock.
Ms Gildernew told guests the agri-food industry has continued to be the backbone of the economy in a difficult economic climate and has not only shown staying power, but has continued to grow against extremely difficult odds.
The minister outlined progress on key issues and revealed her forward work programme on renewable energy, greenhouse gases, the Farm Modernisation Programme, Manure Efficiency Technology Scheme and the Nitrates Action Programme.
She announced that in June she will be unveiling a new financial support package aimed at developing renewable energy on farms.
The Biomass Challenge Fund will be a capital grant scheme to encourage agricultural businesses to introduce farm scale biomass fuel scheme to aid farm activities.
“The British Government has set overall targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 and our own Executive is aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2025.”
The minister said the agricultural and forestry sectors must play a role in reducing Northern Ireland's carbon footprint.
The minister also outlined the measures that DARD is taking to tackle European Commission criticisms of its handling of Single Farm Payments, noting that the Executive has set aside £4.8m to make a start on farm maps.
She warned she would be disagreeing with the British agricultural department Defra over Common Agriculture Policy reform, by making her own submisson stressing the need for an adequate budget to support CAP.