Northern Ireland sheep farmers 'need new markets'
The Ulster Farmers' Union has welcomed confirmation that Kuwait in the Middle East will be importing sheep meat from the UK.
Crosby Cleland, the beef and lamb chairman at the UFU, said Kuwait's move was "encouraging news for producers".
According to figures for 2015 from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), the Northern Ireland sheep industry is worth around £63m.
Food producers from around the UK recently took part in the Gulfood exhibition in Dubai.
But Mr Cleland said an expansion of the UK's export market portfolio was necessary if it was to build a thriving sheep industry post-Brexit.
"The return of Kuwait as a lamb buyer is welcome and it is encouraging that three major UK processors are already preparing shipments," he said.
"The Middle East is one of the biggest sheep meat consuming regions in the world and it is positive that the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) is reporting a high level of interest from Kuwaiti importers, following the Gulfood exhibition in Dubai," added Mr Cleland.
The UFU said the sheep industry was facing sharp difficulties following the vote to leave the EU. A spokeswoman said: "This reflects its reliance on the EU market and makes it vital that exports beyond the EU grow, if farmers are to be part of a viable industry in the future."
And Mr Cleland said new markets for beef and lamb was a "must" for the UK government.
"We know that there is good demand in our existing markets for certain cuts of meat and weaker demand for other cuts. At certain times this can present carcase balance issues and affects the overall value of the carcase," he said.
The UFU beef and lamb chairman called on DAERA to increase efforts to secure new market access.