Farming sector to grow as global population soars
While the outlook for the Northern Ireland economy might be subdued, the agri-food sector here has huge potential to grow in the coming years, an audience of industry leaders has heard.
A surging global population is expected to see demand for food increase sharply and will make the targets set out in the Agri-Food Strategy Board's (AFSB) Strategic Action Plan 'Going for Growth' easily achievable, said Owen Brennan, chief executive and executive chairman of Devenish Nutrition.
"Welcome back to the centre of the economy," he said. "This renewed focus on our business has to be wholly welcomed."
Mr Brennan, who was speaking at an Ulster Bank lunch at Balmoral Show, said an expanding global population and one which is more wealthy stands Northern Ireland in good stead.
The fact we also have an industry which is focused on dairy products is good news as the annual global increase in demand for dairy products is expected to equate to the annual output of dairy products for New Zealand.
But Mr Brennan said time is of the essence.
Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster, also speaking at the event, said the AFSB targets, to increase employment in the industry by 15,000 by 2020 and to boost exports, were sound.
"I also share the board's conviction that the growing demand from consumers worldwide for food and drink offers enormous growth potential."
And the minister said she and Finance Minister Sammy Wilson are going to work with banks in Northern Ireland to free up finance to the sector.
"I will be looking at how we can work with local banks to help provide the necessary finance required by the agri-food industry. I would urge banks to do all they can to help improve access to finance not just for the agri-food industry but for all local businesses."